Benjamin Franklin has been famously quoted as saying, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” I’d like to amend that with a less sobering certainty: Fashion will always recycle itself. Just one glance at this season’s runways proves this axiom is true. Subtly 1990s peg-leg jeans are paired with sharply-defined shoulders and men’s blazers a la the 1980s classic “Wall Street.” The cage platforms stalking down runways, with their stacked heels and earthy hues, are strongly reminiscent of 1970s sentiment. And as for that trend of “prairie chic,” it’s nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt at 1960s hippie prints and fabrics.
It’s safe to say we’ve entered a fashion era devoid of its own identity. But while this may be somewhat discouraging for, and disparaging to, the industry, it’s definitely good news for us shoppers out there hungry for a bargain. I’ve made peace with this certainty because it allows me to mix and match different styles to create my own looks with essentially one-of-a-kind pieces. What’s more, this “what’s old is new again” mentality is great for the money-conscious out there, and these days who doesn’t fall into that category? This town is full of great vintage and thrift stores, and I am determined to find some of spring’s hottest trends without blowing a month’s salary because, well, those pesky taxes are right around the corner…
I begin my search at Miss Claudia’s Vintage Clothing and Costume, looking for a great men’s blazer. I know the trend of the season seems to be keeping the whole look structured from head to toe, but I kind of like the idea of wearing one of these over a short, billowy dress.
Most people know Miss Claudia’s only as a costume destination, but I’ve found through trial and error they have the best selection of vintage men’s blazers and suiting anywhere in town. They also have the most varied collection, ranging from modern suiting to double-breasted jackets that look like they would be best paired with a Tommy Gun in the original “Scarface.” I’m in the market for a black, low button, double-breasted blazer that’s got more of a ‘80s vibe as opposed to a Zuit suit, and in a lighter, more versatile fabric. I know I’ll need it tailored through the body, but hey, what’s another $25 if the blazer is about the same price? That’s still three figures cheaper than a new one from a “bargain” retailer like Zara or Topshop.
Finding men’s suiting in a size to fit a smaller woman’s frame can be a challenge, but Miss Claudia’s is organized in a surprisingly efficient manner, making my hunt a bit less taxing. I find a few decent candidates and ultimately settle on a two-button suit jacket, because it was one of a handful in a smaller size and wasn’t a winter fabric. It will definitely need the touch of a skilled tailor, but the sleeves fit me well, the length comes far below my hips (almost long enough for tights), and the price tag is a mere $30. My mother, a savvy shopper indeed, always told me to invest in things I’d wear forever, like suiting. With tailoring, this jacket will probably only cost me around $60, but for a suit jacket, that’s quite a bargain investment.
Next it’s on to my favorite destination for party dresses, Lili Vintage. I must confess, this is my favorite vintage store around, both for shopping and just plain perusing. The quality and selection is outstanding, and the owner Laura may be one of the most convivial and helpful people I’ve ever encountered while shopping. Store hours can be a bit finicky, so I usually call ahead. The boutique mostly specializes in occasion dressing, but there are also great purses, shoes and costume jewelry. Everything in here runs the gamut from Old Hollywood glam to modern wrap dresses, with a healthy dose of slinky ‘70s frocks and lace-infused “Mad Men” era party dresses. The owner puts a lot of time and TLC into the clothing that comes her way. She fixes hems and lace, removes stains, and even goes so far as to re-dye garments all together sometimes. Yet she manages to keep her prices low, despite all the extra work she puts into her collection. Shoppers can still find a vintage dress in perfect condition for under $70. Of course, she does carry some pricier items (check out some of her vintage wedding dresses and furs), but even those won’t set you back too far.
The last stop on my vintage excursion was Bloomin’Deals, a thrift shop run by the Junior League of New Orleans. And if you know any of these perfectly coiffed, well-heeled and immaculately dressed women, you can imagine a store filled with their and their friends cast-offs. It’s not hard to find designer duds here with rock bottom price tags. I was looking for spring and summer dresses in abstractly floral prints in light, billowy fabrics. Something one would wear to a garden party, but I’d give it some edge with my new blazer and some tough-looking gladiator sandals. Step aside, Laura Ashley.
Bloomin’Deals is a bit more of a thrift store than vintage destination, but that just means the selection is that much more extensive, and their prices that much more approachable. I found three floral dresses, one black, one white, and one rose pink, with flowers of varying sizes and colors. Their silhouettes are all a bit more ‘80s than I wanted, but again, a nip here and a tuck there from a tailor and these dresses-all under $25 – are absolutely au currant.
All in all, I am pretty satisfied with my finds. I hit on three of the major trends for spring – menswear jackets, floral, breezy dresses, and ‘60s-silhouette party frocks – without hitting a financial wall. But the trick to modernizing any look is personalizing it. There’s definitely a fine line between pulling off a vintage vibe and looking like you’ve donned a costume. The key is putting a bit of “you” in your outfit with accessories. And as if you need another reason to buy vintage, it’s also a great for the environment; the more people who buy vintage or secondhand, the less toxic byproducts created by clothing factories. So, go green, save green and happy hunting!
Lili Vintage Boutique
4514 Magazine St.
Bloomin’Deals Thrift Shop
4645 Freret St.
Miss Claudia’s Vintage Clothing and Costume
4204 Magazine St.