Thousands of New Yorkers are expected to gather this weekend in Chelsea for what some fans say is the Beyoncé concert of the retro clothing world: the Manhattan Vintage Show.
The event happens three times a year and has elements of a museum exhibition, a shopping extravaganza, and a fashion show rolled into one. It kicks off Friday and runs through the weekend at the Metropolitan Pavilion.
“It’s a celebration of vintage clothing and personal style,” said street style photographer Liisa Jokinen, who’s attended most shows since 2017.
“I can shop any decade, any color, any print, any item type,” she said. “Whereas if I go to a regular store they only sell items that are currently in fashion, which for me is a bit limiting.”
Past attendees said people come for a variety of reasons: to shop or admire old clothes – many of which you can touch and feel – as well as show off their best outfits and build community.
While some items won’t cost more than an Uber ride, some will cost more than $5,000 according to the event’s co-owner Amy Abrams.
“It’s like a car show,” said vintage clothing seller Tomide Moradeyo, who sells vintage motorcycle jackets and trench coats. “You could have someone displaying an item that was worn in a movie from the 1970s. That’s how rare and how unique the pieces that come to these markets are.”
For decades, the Manhattan Vintage Show was run by husband-and-wife team David Ornstein and Maureen McGill before Abrams and Ronen Glimer bought it in 2021.
The show, which also boasts DJs and a bar, has been a space for vintage clothing consumers, stylists and even designers to see and be seen.
Attendees often wear their most eccentric outfits as they browse clothes from “every era, style and price point,” according to Abrams.
“I firmly believe that the future of fashion is vintage,” she said. “I’m committed to having more people buying things that already exist.”
While the Y2K trend may be taking over thrift stores around the city, the Manhattan Vintage Show goes even further back in time through clothes.
Raissa Bretaña, a fashion historian who teaches courses on 20th century fashion and art at the Fashion Institute of Technology, said people come to the show searching for various time periods.
Bretaña said she’s seen people who love swing dance looking for 1940s-era clothing, and lovers of Art Deco design shopping for items from the 1920s and ‘30s.
She’s planning to go to this year’s event, in search of an even older time: the late 19th century. “Being able to not only look at and try on these garments but [have] the opportunity to purchase them is actually quite rare.”
Colleen Hill, a curator of accessories at the Museum at FIT, has been going to the event for 15 years. She said she’s always amazed at the specialties of the vendors.
“There’s someone who is devoted entirely to vintage lingerie,” she said. “There’s another vendor who only sells kimonos. Although they’re vendors, they’re also collectors in a way.”
For devoted fans like Hill, Jokinen and Bretaña, the Manhattan Vintage Show is fun for another reason: there’s less worry about following trends and more emphasis on developing one’s personal style and connecting with others.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie and this feeling that we’re all there because we love looking at these vintage clothes, and I think that’s what makes it so fun,” Hill said.
A few tips for first-timers: come to the Pavilion with an idea of what specific pieces you want to add to your closet, said Jokinen.
“It makes the experience easier when you have something specific in mind,” she said. That way, “you can also avoid the impulse purchases that you might regret later.”
Jokinen said she still regrets not buying a vintage Moschino corset top one year, so she aims to buy at least one statement piece when she goes.
Also, it’s a good idea to have your measurements on hand so you can save time trying on clothes.
“There is a lot to see, but I think it can still be a very happy and joyful and successful experience, even if you didn’t buy anything,” said Jokinen.
This year’s Manhattan Vintage Show starts Friday at noon and Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. It runs until 6 p.m. all three days. General admission tickets are around $23. Student tickets are around $16.