Vintage Wars


Remember how people used to say that if we had a socialist government there’d only be one kind of toothpaste in the stores? One of the joys of the capitalist marketplace, it was argued, was that it gave consumers unrestricted choices, and that all that competition is just ducky.

But unfettered competition, we alleged then as now, can have a dark side. To wit: This weekend (actually Friday and Saturday, October 1 and 2) there are two separate vintage clothing shows in Manhattan within walking distance of each other. One is the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show at the Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street, which is charging a $20 admission fee; the other is the New York Vintage Fashion & Antique Textile Show & Sale at the New Yorker Hotel, 481 Eighth Avenue, also charging $20, or $15 if you print out their Web page.

So, math majors, this means if you go to both shows you will be out $40 in admission fees alone, which is a hefty amount if you were planning to spend, say, only around $40 for a ’50s housedress or slightly banged-up beaded purse.

Rumors in the vintage world, always a hotbed of intrigue, whisper that a fight between the two show promoters has led to this sorry situation. Whatever the story, the consumer is left facing a ridiculous, wildly overpriced predicament. (Attention show promoters: Can’t you be satisfied with the amount you charge the vendors? Why should customers have to pay for the opportunity to spend even more money? Just asking.)

So let’s say you have to choose between the two shows. The one on 18th Street has a special section of vintage textiles — intended for home decorating purposes, not so you can make your own vintage dress. This show’s promoters also allege in their press release that “Fur is fun again!” (“Sex and the City‘s hip singles wear it…”) If this is in fact your idea of fun, mangy muskrats and ratty raccoons will no doubt fill the racks; on the other hand, if this sort of fun makes you sick, the price of admission also includes an exhibit called “The Couture Accessory,” which offers, among roughly 200 examples, a Schiaparelli evening bag shaped like a vase and a pair of Alaia leopard boots. (Alas, not for sale.)

Not to be outdone, the show at the New Yorker, an old dowager of a hotel that still bears faint traces of its glory days when rich people actually took trains (it’s near Penn Station) is presenting what it promises will be a big stock of this year’s fashion staples: big brooches, tweeds, crocodile handbags, and something called Steno Chic. (What fun! Dressing like an underpaid 1940s clerical worker!) Among the dealers setting up is one of our favorite fellows, Bobby from Boston, who sells the kind of British-gentlemen public-school/private-club clothes we’ve always been suckers for. (Not that we’d join any club that would have us, but still…) One year Bobby’s entire booth was housed in a wood-paneled interior that he transported piecemeal from Boston and reassembled for the show. He didn’t have to take it home — the people from Ralph Lauren bought the whole room right then and there.

Of course, it’s possible that you have no intention of spending $20, or any other amount, to go to a show, in which case you will be happy to know that smack in between these two venues, at 26th and Sixth, is the venerable Chelsea flea market (every Saturday and Sunday, the earlier the better). The market in the lot between 25th and 26th streets still charges $1 admission, as it has for decades, but other fertile hunting grounds — the indoor multi-dealer complexes on 25th between Broadway and Sixth; the two-story garage just west of Sixth on 25th — are absolutely totally, unambiguously, deliciously free.