Say yes to the dress: How I found the perfect vintage summer dress in Brooklyn for under $20

Say yes to the dress: How I found the perfect vintage summer dress in Brooklyn for under $20

For my first stop, I dug through the racks of juicy summer dresses at Fox & Fawn. All photos by Jess Keefe/Brokelyn.

You can do two kinds of thrift shopping in Brooklyn: the first is the heavily curated, heftily priced experience of the high-end vintage boutiques. Think a perfectly broken-in, 1994-era Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, or a handmade 50s pin-up dress, each with triple digit price tags. The second is the more appealing kind for the budget-conscious crowd. It’s the kind that involves rolling up your sleeves and digging through the heaps of WWE t-shirts and tattered peasant skirts in order to find that perfect $10 gem.

I enjoy doing the second kind of thrift shopping all year round, but especially in summer, because this time of year, I’m always on the hunt for the perfect summer dress. The kind of dress you can imagine yourself wearing while holding a rocket pop, or a sparkler; while strolling on a boardwalk, or standing on a rooftop. To me, it’s something just a little specialer, weirder, and cooler than my usual style. And of course, it’s gotta fit right.

Since this season’s trends are not appealing to me (Off-the-shoulders? Laces? Pseudo-bohemian nonsense? No, no, no), I decided to take my quest exclusively to the thrift stores. Bushwick is teeming with affordable shops lately, and friends tipped me off to great stops in Greenpoint and Park Slope/Gowanus. My perfect summer dress was in reach, I could just feel it. Here’s how I found it. 

GREENPOINT

First stop: a lesson in thrifting heartbreak
Fox & Fawn
570 Manhattan Ave
Dress price range: $20–$30

Fox & Fawn feels chock-full from the moment you step in, housing tons of packed racks in a narrow space. The selection is broad and varied, and the clothes are in good condition. The dresses are helpfully organized by style: striped, button-fronts, bright yellow colors, and so on.

I scooped up plenty of gorgeous finds as I made my way to the back: a full-sleeved Mormon-sister-wife-esque shirt dress, a yellow linen 60s shift, a ditzy printed frock that looks like it fell out of a Tiffany music video. But I struck out again — none of the pieces fit. That’s the occasional heartbreak that comes with thrifting; sometimes something is so close to being perfect, but it just doesn’t quite work. The waist is too baggy, the sleeve too tight, the collar too stretched. I sniffled back my disappointment and soldiered on.

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BUSHWICK

Behold, the thrift store mecca that is Urban Jungle.

Behold, the thrift store mecca that is Urban Jungle.

Stop #2: thrift-store wonderland, but no wonder dress
Urban Jungle
118 Knickerbocker Ave
Dress price range: $10-20

Urban Jungle is an outpost of the much-loved L Train empire of thrift stores, and it’s packed with true vintage — not last season’s Forever 21 dresses. There’s all kinds of wacky stuff, and it’s organized by style. A rack of black tees here, a row of old-school bowling jackets there. I could spend hours roaming this collection of wonders.

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Oh sure, I've always wanted a spearmint-colored dress with a pattern of winking snails.

Oh sure, I’ve always wanted a spearmint-colored skirt with a pattern of winking snails.

I hit the dressing room with heaps of pieces. (One thing to be aware of: The fitting rooms do not have individual mirrors. You have to come out to the main area to scope yourself out in the large shared mirror. Introverts, plan accordingly.) I settled on a couple of cute things: a floral skirt, a long-sleeved dress. But no luck in the summer dress department: while the shop has a long rack filled with options, I didn’t come across any that suited my style as well as the season.

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Cute, and affordable.

28 Scott Vintage is cute and affordable.

Stop # 3: Good looks, but no score
28 Scott Vintage/The Mobile Thrift Shop
Showroom at 28 Scott Ave.
Mobile Thrift Shop parked at Bogart and/or Wyckoff St; Call for location and times
Price range: everything, including dresses, is $10

This spot is that rare unicorn of Brooklyn thrifting: it’s as elegantly curated as the pricier boutiques, but everything—from dresses to purses to perfectly broken-in Levis—is $10.

I originally set out to shop in the truck, but I kept missing it (always call ahead, friends). But I’m actually glad I ended up at the brick-and-mortar 28 Scott location, because it was a total oasis. Hipper than the hippest Anthropologie you’ve ever sniffed overpriced candles in, every detail of 28 Scott is spot-on styled. And each rack of clothes has a unique point of view and aesthetic. Instead of shopping by pants or tops, you’ll shop by rich reds or nautical vibes. The clothing is all in great condition, to boot.

There’s also something freeing about browsing the racks while knowing exactly how much everything costs. No stressful pawing for the price tag when you find something you like, and no hemming and hawing while trying to decide if an item is worth the cost. $10? That’s the same cost, if not cheaper, than one Bloody Mary.

I tried on a very cool Joan-Holloway-style summer dress, but alas, it didn’t fit. Luckily I didn’t have to leave empty-handed: I scored an ankle-grazing shirt dress that I can’t wait to bust out come late August. As far as quality and price go, this stop is a can’t-miss.

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I found perfect summer dress #2 at Vice Versa.

I found perfect summer dress #2 at Vice Versa.

Stop # 4: the runner-up
Vice Versa
550 Fifth Ave
Dress price range: $10

This is another L Train joint, and it’s packed with rows and rows of pure kitsch. I was greeted by a rack of Hawaiian shirts upon entry, and there’s a whole section of shoulder-padded sequins that looks like it was donated from SNL’s Coffee Talk costume department.Vice Versa’s selection seems to have more imperfections woven in. You’ve got to carefully scope garments out for holes and stains, but at prices like these, that’s the trade off.

I had better luck with dresses at this shop than I did at the Bushwick incarnation. I grabbed a gold mafia wife dress for an upcoming birthday party, and even scored a close-to-perfect summer dress.

This puppy, which only cost me $10, looks like part waitress uniform, part ’60s Hawaiian vacation frock, part nursing home mumu. I can’t wait to put a can of beer in each of those pockets at a party.

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PARK SLOPE/GOWANUS

Life1

Life Boutique’s vibe is part Salvation Army, part old Broadway costume shop.

Final stop: the winner
Life Boutique Thrift
515 Fifth Ave.
Dress price range: $15-30

Stepping into Life Boutique is like entering a garage sale in a hip Portland neighborhood. It’s cool, collected, and among the racks of clothes there are thoughtfully arranged knickknacks and pieces of furniture. Kitschy and brimming with personality, Life Boutique has a great selection that feels like part Salvation Army, part old Broadway costume shop.

Prices are very fair — I spotted major labels like Ben Sherman and Juicy Couture for around $15. And this one has a do-gooder edge, as it’s an actual non-profit with proceeds going to charity. I tried on plenty of good finds, and finally managed to find one: a perfect summer dress, priced at $15! Ding ding ding!

Me in this dress=summer

Me + this dress+eating a rocket pop=SUMMER

I dug the fit-and-flare silhouette, and the fabric has a helpful bit of spandex in it, which will come in handy as my beer bloat grows. The candy colors are a little out of my comfort zone, but I really dig the mod appeal. I can see myself eating a rocket pop in this baby, for sure.

All of these shops are reasonably priced with great selections, and I really recommend a Saturday afternoon clutching an iced coffee and lazily browsing through any of them. Go forth and thrift your hearts out. And if you find your perfect summer dress at any of these stops, I want to hear about it.

Say yes to (following) the Jess: @JessKeefe.