Vintage Treasure Hunt Through Oakland
Guest Contributor: Lea Goodsell
Oakland is certainly not a one-note town - its diversity and multicultural tapestry are legendary, and the creativity that flows from that influences everything in the city, including the vintage clothing stores.
And those aren’t one note either. Almost all feature additional temptations including vinyl records, vintage housewares, locally produced jewelry and beauty products, candles, workshop space and so much more, including a hair salon in the back of one jewel. And the owners? They’re not one note either. You’ll find stylists, live show producers, playwrights, those who have set up their shops as collectives, makers and even a shop dog or two.
Your tour of vintage shops will also be a tour of Oakland, as it will take you to a variety of neighborhoods including Temescal, Piedmont, Laurel, Rockridge and near Lake Merritt.
I couldn’t bear the thought of missing a single treasure, so I devoted a whole weekend to sussing them out. I consistently found gems at many different price points, along with owners and managers who were super helpful, excited to be “urban foragers” finding treasures to share, and all grateful to be living in Oakland, where inclusivity and community support go hand-in-hand.
One of my favorites stops was LaliSimone in the Laurel district, and meeting founder/owner and stylist Judith Soto. As she describes her store, “a boutique specializing in fashion-forward vintage. Find rare and unique vintage, curated selection of designer, and upcycled jewelry handcrafted by local artists.” A small space where she has made every square inch count, it was wonderfully warm and welcoming, and what a bonus to have an owner who can help you understand how to pair a vintage floral designer top with your existing plaid festival pants, and look runway ready.
At Kostum I met Tamera Duckett, who has had the store for 10 years, buying what was practically an institution, first opening in the mid-90’s. She moved back to Oakland about 15 years ago from New York City because her family could afford to buy a home here. Now, she says her Oakland is “a diverse community of people, places and community support.” Her 1,000 sq. ft. shop is bright and filled with “warm, engaging” people, according to more than one review. The store features women’s contemporary, design and vintage consignment, and prides itself on selecting only the most desirable items for their store. Employees are known as the Kostum Krew, the prices are good, and it will be hard to leave empty handed.
Also on Piedmont, include Mercy Vintage on your list. Owners Karen and Rachel describe their day jobs as “professional treasure hunters”, scouring for the best vintage and designer pieces in the Bay Area and beyond. “Outrageous”, “simplistic” and “quality” are words they use to describe what you’ll find and they’ll help you mix items together to find a look that works for you. Mercy also takes consignment pieces in case you’re ready to do a closet clean out or everyone has seen your statement piece and you’re ready for another! The girls have an eye and it shows.
If vibe were a color, it might very well be shades of pink, which is what you’ll find when you walk into Down at Lulu’s, a kitschy vintage shop with a full service two station hair salon in the back. Vinyl and books round out the store. The gals who were there the day I visited, Jes and Amber, do a lot of the lifting, although it’s a collective of about eight. Focusing on the 60’s - 90’s, with men’s and women’s offerings, this intimate 600 sq. ft. space has owners who love their nice, unpretentious part of Oakland, which is dubbed Temescal, but according to them, might more appropriately take on the moniker of a nearby business, Alcatrash. They claim the area fits them like a well worn cherished piece of clothing. Nearby you’ll find everything from high-end antiques to cheap burgers, as well as the oldest gay bar in Oakland. Voted Best Vintage 2017 by SF Magazine.
Also technically in Temescal you’ll find Wild Child, “uncommon goods for the wild at heart” from partners Kai and Sadie. This two year-old shop combines vintage clothes, apothecary tonics, balms and potions, CBD products, candles, art and so much more from local artists, makers and herbalists, including Kai’s own line - Golden Goddess. If you have a hard-to-shop for friend, and we all do, something from here is sure to make your gift the talk of the party, and you’ll likely head home with something wild and empowering for yourself.
Want vintage that goes way back? Walk into All Things Vintage and you’ll likely find Lucy and co-owner Claudia in sassy outfits from the 30’s, and they’ll gladly help you find your own statement piece from their amazing collection of pieces from the 30’s - 70’s. Additional items include gloves, vintage linens, art, pottery and more.
Another shop where you start with the vintage clothes and marvel at everything else is Knimble. Head to the second floor for the vintage clothing, but good luck just passing by everything else like vintage classroom wall world maps and solar systems, English tea towels with vintage images, Green Tea jewelry, Lucia soy candles and a sprinkling of handmade fair trade metal art from Haiti. Owner Amanda has managed to take really disparate items and curate them in a cohesive style that beckons you from one part of the store to another.
Tucked back in an alley dubbed the Courtyard fronted by an outdoor flower shop, Five and Dime Vintage feels like one of those little shops you stumble onto while on vacation overseas and are totally charmed by. Opened in late 2017 by Terrie, in addition to her vintage clothing selections for men and women, her offerings include some great, much coveted dead stock vintage tennis shoes (which I learned means they were in a store at one time but never sold and are still in the box). There’s a lot of mid century modern items like Thermos’ and small housewares, as well as vinyl records and handmade jewelry and other gifts.
Now in its 6th year, VAMP, or Vintage, Art & Music for the People, is a cozy 650 sq. ft. shop in the downtown area owned by partners Fernando and Tracy, along with shop dog Maxine. They choose to focus on the 50’s - 80’s, as “the most important thing to offer is quality, and it really dropped off in the 90’s.” Items are selected and curated with an educated eye toward the condition of the pieces and it shows in their selection. You’ll find men’s and women’s items here, along with shoes and an extensive vinyl record collection, all at very accessible price points. Fernando, who is also head of the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society, puts together monthly shows at the Grand Lake Movie Theatre.
Around the corner is Regina’s Door, which wasn’t open the day I visited, but is described on their website as a boutique specializing in exquisite vintage dresses and pieces from the Victorian Era to the 1980's, along with gently worn wondrous consignment pieces. Owned by playwright Regina Evans, her shop also serves as a sanctuary of solace for survivors of sex trafficking, young creatives, at-risk youth, homeless youth and women, and will be providing healing theater/creative arts through its partnership with Eliza's Pearl Arthouse, located in the same space.
In Rockridge I found 24 year-old Carolyn’s 5 star-rated Hello Vintage near a big Saturn Records neon sign, a shop about a year old filled with “vintage clothing addicts”. They buy and sell clothing and accessories for men and women that are at least 20 years old and in great condition and label each piece with its decade of creation, so you know more about what you’re getting. Going deep into vintage? They also boast some museum-worthy pieces, with clothes from the 1790’s to the 1990’s. Sneak upstairs for the rare and Victorian, Edwardian, 1920s and designer pieces.
Dig through current styles at thrift store Out of the Closet, which benefits the AIDS Foundation, for an occasional vintage treasure in this expansive store (with its own parking lot!), where I found some sparkly silver ankle boots for $6!
Look for a newly re-opened and re-imagined Makers Loft from Rachelle and Xela with retail sales featuring Xela’s upcycled vintage, consigned goods, and offerings from other local women designers and artists who belong to their collective, and ask about workshops in the evening.
There were so many jewels, and each shop had something wonderful to offer and treasures to discover. If you’re fortunate enough to live in Oakland, you can make the rounds on a regular basis to check out the new pieces that are constantly being brought in, and let the owners/managers know if you’re looking for something specific so they can keep an eye out. If you’re a visitor, it’s a great way to see the city and poke into some really cool neighborhood nooks and crannies. Happy treasure hunting!