Retro Chic: Hunting for Vintage Gold in Washington D.C.

Beyond the monuments, memorials and marbled halls of government, Washington, D.C. is a retro shopper’s paradise.

On a recent afternoon at Adams Morgan’s long-time vintage den Meeps, a skinny, gray-haired glamazon is trying on a bunch of 1970s men’s tuxedo shirts.

They’re ruffled and come in macaron-hued pastels: baby blue, mint, a Pepto pink that’s somehow charming. “People just like the originality of older things,” says store owner Cathy Chung.

That might be the battle cry for all retro seekers, whether they’re here buying a turquoise lamé 1960s ball gown ($75) or hitting one of the area’s many other vintage clothing or furniture stores. Even in an era of the Internet ruling retail, D.C. still boasts a strong throwback shopping scene. 

Here’s a look at a few top shops for retail bargain hunters looking for style.

CLOTHING

To trawl for a “Mad Men”-ish men’s suit or a 1980s Versace party dress (ooh, ruffles!), start at Meeps, where a snug, tin-ceilinged storefront specializes in well-priced clothing from the 1930s through the 1980s.

“Younger female customers are all about the high-waisted mom jeans and windbreakers,” says Chung.

Recent finds: a 1960s Hawaiian blouse in a Tiki-rific print (marked down to $5!) and the aforementioned tux shirts ($75). A back costume room boasts wigs and quirky pieces like clown shoes.

Meeps

A few blocks away, climb the narrow staircase to weekends-only Mercedes Bien, where the stylish owner with the same name deals in Audrey Hepburn-ish sheath dresses, men’s leather jackets from the “Grease” years and vintage sunglasses and jewelry, like a $50 cocktail ring with M&M-sized gray stones.

Nearby suburbs also rock with frocks and other looks from bygone decades. Thousands of dresses, hats and jackets from the 1900s through the 1980s fill Arlington, Virginia’s appointment-only Amalgamated.

Owner Shelly White also supplies the wardrobe for screen projects like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and Woody Allen’s 1930s Hollywood flick “Cafe Society.” Her deep (yet surprisingly well-priced) inventory ranges from a 1980s Diane Freis gypsy dress in a purple floral ($75) pattern to a 1950s box handbag embellished with a furry French poodle.

“People mix this stuff in with modern pieces, like a 50-year-old silk kimono over a cami and jeans,” says White.

Amalgamated

And funky his-and-hers vintage/consignment emporium Bespoke Not Broke in Takoma Park, Maryland, sells storied military stock ($29 for an East German army shirt with a tiny ag patch), 1960s cocktail dresses and Kate Middleton-worthy hats. Plus, there’s a section of curvy girl attire in extended sizes and a few things for kiddos.

HOME

Room vignettes—think a leather Chesterfield sofa the color of a baseball glove, a 100-year-old Turkish rug and a brass Moroccan coffee table—summon a Brooklyn townhouse vibe just inside Shaw’s GoodWood. Open since 1994 in a warehouse-like space, Dan and Anna Kahoe’s vintage furniture, art and accessories souk also sells new women’s clothing, gifts and a modern boho lifestyle.

“A lot of customers are shopping vintage for environmental reasons, which is totally cool,” says Anna. “Our customers are indie. They don’t like having their aesthetic directed by a corporate entity, and they want to be the creative force behind their own style.”

The constantly updated stock might include a taxidermy shark head, a burl wood 1920s dining table ($900) or a stylized, mid-century oil painting of a horse ($75).

Less than a half mile away, Miss Pixie's Furnishings and Whatnot marches to a whimsical vibe: take an acid-green 1960s Chinoiserie cabinet ($165), a ceramic end table shaped like a camel ($425) and enough Kennedy-era barware to launch a thousand cocktail parties.

Miss Pixie's Furnishings & Whatnot

Further from the city center, groovy Modern Mobler offers up mid-century walnut furniture, Eames chairs and lighting behind its bright blue façade. Big names headline, such as a Hans Wegner teak wall unit ($6,050) and mod, pod-like 1970s Knoll office chairs ($389 a pair).

And to toast all your newfound throwback style? Grab a set of colorful highball glasses or a chrome cocktail shaker from your grandma or great-grandma’s time at Old Town Alexandria, Virginia’s buzzy The Hour.

The Hour

Jennifer Barger
About the author

 

Jennifer Barger is a Washington, D.C.-based travel and design writer who spe...