Walk down the 1800 block of 14th Street and up a narrow staircase, and you’ll find a deceptively tiny gem: Treasury. Although the boutique opened just a couple years ago, co-owners Cathy Chung and Katerina Herodotou have been collecting an assortment of vintage items for even longer. What began as a pop-up shop and traveling display for vintage parties and events became a brick-and-mortar haven for thrifty D.C. fashionistas.
The shop carries clothing and accessories ranging from the 19th century to the 1980s, and each piece is chosen carefully to be part of a “curated vintage collection,” according to Chung.
Over the past few years, vintage and consignment stores like Treasury have slowly been cropping up around the city. According to Chung, there have always been old-school record stores and shops in the District. Yet she claims that there seem to be a lot more of late.
Elise Peterson, store manager and main buyer for It’s Vintage Darling in Columbia Heights, had to agree that there has been an influx of vintage shops, especially along the U Street corridor.
“I think D.C. people are getting into fashion, and they are also savvy shoppers,” Chung said, noting that vintage items are generally more affordable. Chung added that there is a growing interest in style in D.C., which she hopes will draw more people to the District fashion scene.
“D.C. has its own diverse style that doesn’t conform to trends,” she said. “I would love people to recognize D.C. as a destination spot for vintage.”
Where to Begin
Rummaging through racks of old clothes can be daunting to say the least.
“A lot of people will be intimidated,” Peterson said, noting that a lot of variety, color and prints can overwhelm customers.
Clare Davis, store manager of Adams Morgan shop Meeps, admitted that shopping for retro styles is not for everyone — but for those with a keen eye for fashion and a persistent browsing ethic, stumbling upon the unexpected find is possible.
“You really have to dig through the racks,” she said. “It requires a certain personality.”
Chung recommended that customers wary of finding the right fit start with accessories. Vintage bags are often the design inspiration for current designers, she said. Chung also stressed that it’s not about nailing down the full vintage ensemble at once, but about mixing and matching, too.
“You want to make it your own,” she explained.
Peterson suggested that shoppers search for something both timeless and unique.
“Look for a classic cut and maybe something funky about it,” she said. “You’re just going to get something really funky and special.”
Columbia Heights — It’s Vintage Darling
The Columbia Heights boutique It’s Vintage Darling resembles a dream closet. Leather handbags and fabulous hats line the walls, a rustic, exposed brick wall boasts racks and shelves filled with one-of-a-kind clothing and antique trunks overflow with shoes, vinyl records and more.
The two owners, Amira Hikim and Kindall Hudgins, met at Eastern Market while showcasing their wares and decided to open a store together. One year later, store manager Elise Peterson describes the shop as “cozy,” adding that it’s located in the “up and coming” area of Columbia Heights. Peterson was a regular customer of It’s Vintage Darling before quickly becoming the manager and store’s main buyer.
Peterson described the store as a “funky eclectic mix of pieces [you] don’t see everywhere.” There are constantly new items, from the 1940s through the early 1990s. She said that the store’s standout season is fall and winter due to its large collection of boots, coats, leather jackets, fur and faux fur.
“You can always find a bargain here,” she said, making a nod to the unbeatable prices, especially the $10 bins of vinyl records, shoes and other items.
Their men’s section is smaller, which Peterson attributes to the difficulty in finding used men’s clothes. “Men will wear clothes until they’re falling off of them,” she said.
The boutique also has an online inventory, which differs from the clothes carried in the store, and will soon begin uploading bimonthly segments on how to shop vintage. Peterson often uses social media with tweets alerting loyal customers of new, special items in the store,
Adams Morgan — Meeps
Located in AdMo, Meeps is a D.C. vintage mainstay, officially opening its doors in 1992; it made the switch from U Street to Adams Morgan about five years ago, however. The store focuses less on the boutique feel, instead amping up the clothing volume with an entire rack of jeans and a sizeable selection of men’s suits.
Meeps also carries the pieces of local designers, with everything from animal-print T-shirts and necklaces with hotdog pendants. Though the amount of clothes present in the store requires more digging, you’re more likely to find the item you’re looking for. Racks feature show-stopping dresses, leather jackets, bags and belts that round out the collection.
According to Davis, Halloween is Meeps most popular season, and the store brings out its funkier items in the inventory to ring in the holiday.
“I don’t know where some of it comes from,” she said.
Georgetown — Tari
Unlike some other merchants who focus on time period in their merchandise, upscale Georgetown’s Tari puts an emphasis on designer labels. But the consignment shop carries great vintage pieces if you are willing to sort through current brand-name pieces. However, the collection of new and vintage Chanel is to die for, and the collection of women’s pumps is impressive.
Tari opened in late 2010 after a different consignment shop in its spot closed that spring, and according to storeowner Sara Mokhtari, the boutique has been faring well ever since.
“The store has been doing well since we opened, but I think we get more popular with every day,” she wrote in an email. “This concept is popular in Georgetown.”
U Street — Treasury
A trip back to Treasury reveals a collection of jewelry and handbags that beckons customers into the boutique with a signature trendy-meets-natural vibe. While there’s a small collection of men’s clothing, the store is mostly filled with chic pieces for women — complete with cowboy boots and cute jackets.
“We handpick everything ourselves,” Chung said.
The compact space packs a stylish punch, carrying its own line as well as pieces by local designers. Chung said the U Street location has been a great asset to the store’s success, especially due to the high number of independent businesses there and the neighborhood’s rich historical backdrop. Other local favorites such as Dr. K’s, Rock It Again and Junction make the neighborhood a go-to spot for treasure hunting.
The Vintage Advantage
Treasury manager Peterson began shopping in thrift stores out of necessity. As a college student inD.C., she needed to find chic, quality pieces at lower prices. After discovering the cheap but chic items, she quickly became attached to the fashion genre.
“Once I started finding designer things,” she said, “It was an addiction.”
Peterson started to go constantly checking for new things, and landed on her original obsession: clip-on earrings. And after she found a Dior trench coat, she was sold.
Davis agreed that shopping vintage is a sure path to a distinctive look. “You can wear something nobody else is wearing,” she said.
For Chung, vintage clothes put the wearer in a special position; by adding a flourish of modern clothing to their ensembles, savvy shoppers can bring the high-fashion, high-quality clothes of yesteryear back to life.
“It’s an easy way to be an individual,” as Peterson put it.