Sunday, July 10, 2011

Classic Looks in the Classic City: Athens, GA Vintage Clothes Stores

Walk a few blocks through downtown and you'll start to notice something, whether it be your chic barista at Espresso Royale or the window display of a hip boutique. The proof is everywhere: Athens, Ga has style.  

The eclectic atmosphere of the city is not missed on the retailers in the downtown area. Of the many fun and quirky shops lining the blocks of this historic part of town, one type of store in particular seems to be a specialty of Athens fashion: Vintage. With seven vintage and consignment shops within a three-mile radius alone, the classic looks of the past are revived in the streets of the Classic City.  

So when it came time to start shopping for a birthday present for my sister this year, knowing I wanted to find something completely unique and special, I decided a day of vintage scavenging was in order. After enlisting the help of my most enthusiastic and fashionable friend, Emily, I devised a plan of action. We would visit all seven vintage stores in the downtown area in one afternoon. And we would find my sister the perfect gift. 

After a delicious lunch of jerk chicken and spicy squash at the new Indian and Jamaican restaurant, Kabana, Emily and I were energized and ready for our shopping day adventure.

First Stop:  Ohh Boy! located at 766 W. Broad at The Money Machine! slightly outside of downtown. Somewhat new to the scene, Ohh Boy! is host to a collection of vintage clothing and housewares as well as artwork from local, independent artists. The shop functions almost as a gallery to local craftspeople who volunteer to work the cash register in exchange for space to display and sell their work. Racks of colorful and interesting old clothes greeted us even before the friendly cashier offered her assistance. After spending a sufficient period of time trying on old fur coats and holding up polyester pant suits to myself in the mirror, I finally got down to business. While Emily tried on handfuls of vintage treasures in the dressing room, I perused the jewelery and art section with a regained focus of purpose. Ooh Boy's accessory and craft section is like a candy land of unique and beautiful art in the form of silk bow ties, abstract hair clips, hand drawn postcards, bejeweled light switch covers, and much more. A string of finely detailed charcoal drawings hung on the wall at an almost devastatingly affordable price by a local artist looking to make a few bucks. Though it was just the first stop of a long day of vintage scavenging, I knew the charcoal drawing would make the perfect birthday gift for my sister- it was charming and completely unique. After much discussion, Emily decided on a couple clothing items and we both made our purchases, but vowed to continue on our vintage journey of Athens anyway. After all, I had a birthday coming up myself and I figured I could use a unique gift as well! 

Second Stop: Community, located at 119 Jackson St., puts a chic spin on vintage in its upstairs boutique location. The store's interior design is as charming as the re-designed retro merchandise it displays. Color-coded racks of of all fabrics and cuts hang delicately around the loft space like they were always meant to be there. Community has the quality and feel of upscale and expensive tastes, but a few discreet peeks at the price tags will put the thrifty at ease. Each tag marks whether the item is vintage, locally designed, or redesigned for a better fit or a more hip look. Owner Sauni  Baumg√§rtner and collaborator Karen Freed create the line of redesigned clothing, aptly named Community Service, in order to give life back to clothing that has fallen out of fashion or form- all in the spirit of the store's mission of promoting sustainability and local design. Open since September of 2010, Community has since proven worthy of its name as the store consistently hosts and partakes in local events. Scheduled to run at least 10 more classes in the month of July alone, Community frequently offers a wide variety of sewing and redesign workshops in the store's studio area- welcoming all who share a passion and interest in creative design.

As I slowly took in the chic Community store environment, Emily, who was visiting the store for the second day in a row, was already heading to a dressing room. After a friendly chat with the beautiful store owner, I found out about the store's sewing classes, recent fashion show, and the new vintage merchandise just brought back from Germany. I eventually broke down and tried on a few pieces for myself and immediately understood why Emily was back for a second trip so soon- the thoughtfully chosen and designed clothing has a very high quality feel, but is, best of all, completely original, local, and sustainable. One hour later, Emily made her purchases, and we slowly made our way on the next store.

Third Stop: Minx, located at 166 W. Clayton St., more than just sells vintage, it embodies it. The bell on the door is like the ringing of a time machine transporting anyone who enters into the mid to late 20th century. Old arcade machines, globe lighting, a friendly owner and his dog greet all who visit their retro model of the past. Minx has a style all its own in the Athens vintage scene with an atmosphere so lively you can almost feel its heartbeat. Overhearing Emily and me discuss the diminishing time on our parking meter and collective lack of change, owner Dave Wolfe popped open the cash register and handed us a quarter like he owed it to us. Left to my own devices while Emily added time to the meter, I managed to try on a few vintage dresses suggested by Mr. Wolfe (who seemed to instinctively know the complete fashion history of every item I picked up). Minx is a great store to spend extended periods of time in, trying on big hats, clip-on earrings, silk scarves or whatever suits your fancy- you'll always feel welcome and free to explore. A long debate about broaches carried on at the counter after I purchased a 50s-style, summer dress, until it was time for us to move on to our last stop.

Final Stop: Agora, located at 260 W. Clayton St. No vintage shopping day in Athens, GA would be complete without a stop at Agora. Prepare to be momentarily stunned by the famous labyrinth of antique furniture, home decor, jewelry, clothing, and miscellaneous other packed tightly into the store space. To fully peruse the hearty spread of Agora's merchandise requires patience and dedication, but the rewards are plenty if the right amount of time is allotted. Agora's stock is an amalgam of the best and most valuable items collected, it would seem, from the roadside yard sales and dusty attics of our nation's grandparents- which happen to include quite a few designer brands. There isn't a corner empty of antique or vintage artifacts waiting to be picked up and cherished  by the next passerby- old bikes hang from the ceiling and plastic lamps illuminate the darkly lit aisles holding boxes of old campaign buttons, slightly damaged musical instruments, heavy racks of vintage apparel, or tall stacks of old luggage. Emily and I quickly lost each other in the jungle of mementos covering the store. The sound of haggling at the counter can usually be heard throughout the store as it is a special part of the Agora shopping experience. And Agora is, without question, a major part of the Athens Vintage experience.

After managing to hit 3 other vintage hot spots like Dynamite, Gigworn, and Cillies along the way as well, Emily and I finally ended our journey with empty pockets, tired feet, and a bounty of eclectic treasures. The vintage retailers of Athens provide more than just an abundance of unique options for today's retro trends, but also an appreciation of the value of history captured within the memorabilia of the past.




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