ARTS

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March 9, 2004

Style with Diana Michelle Fox

Vintage shopping. These words always held such intrigue for me, mainly because the actual thing always seemed like a massive, daunting task. I've never known where to begin—vintage clothing, after all, encompasses most clothes that are, say, pre-1985. Furthermore, I've never known quite where to go to vintage shop—my few attempts in Belmont were basically fruitless.

However, the thought of "real" vintage shops has always produced a romantic desire in me to indulge in fashion nostalgia. I love to drool over the clothes my mother might have worn as a girl and pour over classic clothes that could have come from my grandmother's closet. While I have definitely not finished exploring the Belmont area, suggestions from friends motivated me to journey to a new Chicago neighborhood this past weekend: Wicker Park.

I'd heard tales of this small, artsy neighborhood and its surrounding shops—real vintage shops with inexpensive designer labels and a smattering of new things as well. In an effort to add some vintage coolness to my wardrobe and deepen my historical fashion sense, I took the Blue Line to the Damen stop with a friend and eagerly began exploring the neighborhood. What I found was the old, the new, the wearable, and the museum-like scattered up and down Milwaukee Avenue, the main drag of shopping in Wicker Park. I share with you my opinions on the best Wicker Park shops.

My first stop was Recycle Designer Retail, which stocks half-vintage, half-thrift store selections. The back of the store has some wonderful vintage stuff—flower power dresses, bell-bottom disco suits, and a variety of accessories. These reasonably priced offerings are perfect for the fashion collector or anyone looking for a costume of sorts. However, the front of the store is not nearly as interesting as the back, consisting mostly of label clothing from the past 10 years. As far as I'm concerned, 10 years is not far enough in the past to constitute "vintage." Unfortunately, it's old enough to look outdated. These offering were not even reasonably priced. It was time for the next vintage shop.

It was at the second store that I found what I was looking for—pure nostalgia, 1940-1980. I looked at dresses from the Marshall Fields Junior Department from the '50s. I was severely tempted to buy an original 1960 Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress. It ended up being too big, but it was very cool to see one of the dresses that sparked the first wave of the wrap dress craze (as well as its current revival). The '40s party dress rack is full of long skirts and ruffles, and there is a rack devoted to bright '60s flower prints. To most, this shop will be more like a museum than an opportunity to add to one's wardrobe, but it is worth the trip to see the progression of dresses through the ages. Be sure to check out the hats, the scarf selection (small but colorful), and the '40s women's suits.

U.S. #1 Vintage Clothing and Denim stocks some wonderful leather and fur coats, along with a good selection of second-hand Levi's. Don't be deterred by the prices on the blackboard; feel free to haggle with the shop owner. It was here that I picked up the crown jewel of my shopping trip—a short suede purple jacket, circa 1960.

Although I came to Wicker Park primarily to buy vintage clothes, I discovered two particularly great shops stocking other things—records and books. Reckless Records is a huge store with bins of well organized vinyl records, VHS tapes, laser discs (remember those?), and CDs. Myopic Books comprises of three floors, with a thorough fiction section and a good sampling in most other departments. (For example, I managed to get some Roman history books that I wanted for a sixth of the original price). This is a bookstore that you will most certainly lose yourself in, so make sure you have plenty of time.

Three new shops on the street are particularly interesting. John Fluevog, which stocks the some of the chunkiest, clunkiest shoes I've ever seen—and at reasonable prices! Look along the floor for the sale shoes (which are often the last pair in a particular size). Xcito has some adorable and short, ruffle-y skirts, as well as an interesting selection of print shirts. Finally, Hot Pink is a brighter, trendier, and more upscale version of Forever 21. It's a great place to pick up some flashy party clothes.

That brings my Wicker Park vintage adventure to a close. While I'd hoped that my search would yield more shops worthy of mention here, I'm excited to have found a few fun vintage shops in the Chicago area. I urge you to take the ride over on the Blue Line and add some vintage to your wardrobe. Just remember—nothing feels hipper than wearing a piece of clothing that's just as cool today as it was 40 years ago.