New York City thrift-shopping: Where to find the best pre-loved clothes in the Big Apple

New York City thrift-shopping: Where to find the best pre-loved clothes in the Big Apple.
Op-shopping cities don't come much better than New York. Photo credit: Newshub.

Once upon a time, I purchased a vintage Yves-Saint Laurent shirt at the Brown's Bay Hospice shop in Auckland for just $0.80.

It's probably my favourite shirt and I'm very proud of how shrewd I was. 

In retrospect, it was basically a matter of luck; also the garment could easily have been sold for upwards of $50, so I was essentially exploiting the ignorance of a charity organisation.

But I tell this story often because despite buying the majority of my clothes at op-shops, this shirt - now tattered around the collar - is one of just a small handful of great finds I've made in New Zealand.

Maybe the problem is our small population, or perhaps there's a lack of diversity in style.

Neither of those are problems in New York City. So when this Kiwi had a week to kill in the Big Apple, I was blown away at how superior the thrift-shopping experience was.

That heaving metropolis is a melting pot of styles; from retro sports clothing and mom'n'pop-owned clothes-by-the-kilo shops, to high-end vintage and New York-specific stores.

Here's where you should go if you're looking to pick up some new (old) threads. Trust me when I say they'll eclipse even your best experience in a small-town North Shore charity shop.

Fantasy Explosion

This spot in the trendy Brooklyn neighbourhood of Williamsburg opened just a few months ago, but is already hugely popular with locals.

The store is small, but Fantasy Explosion's success lies in its decision to specialise in New York-centric goods - think old-school Yankees merchandise, T-shirts emblazoned with the city's tourist hot spots and public transport-themed garments.

It might sound like a sort of glorified souvenir shop, but the clothing is almost all pre-loved, meticulously curated and frequented by some of the most intimidatingly hipster individuals you can imagine.

Even if you're not planning a trip to the Big Apple any time soon, Fantasy Explosion ships internationally, if you want to shop on its website.

Where to find it: Brooklyn Mini Mall, 218 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Crossroads

While not an institution isolated just to New York, Crossroads can still be considered one of the best spots in the city to find designer and on-trend styles.

Its solitary Manhattan store is much more extensive than many of the other places on this list, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to wade through more chaff to find any gems.

Crossroads is one of Brooklyn's best second-hand clothing stores.
Crossroads, Brooklyn. Photo credit: Newshub.

A quick look at Crossroads' online reviews might give you a warped idea of the quality, but most complaints centre around embarrassed sellers' failure to convince the store to buy their garments.

The staff are notoriously picky, which is bad news if you want to sell your old clothes - but great if you just want to peruse a selection of the best vintage and second-hand designer gear in NYC.

Where to find it: 24 West 26th Street, Midtown, Manhattan

Mr Throwback

In Manhattan's East Village lies a treasure trove of '90s-era US sporting merchandise that I'd argue trumps anything like it from anywhere across the globe.

Michael Spitz, aka Mr Throwback, is something of a local celebrity largely thanks to his store's status as New York Magazine's best nostalgia shop and its loyal, 100,000-strong social media fanbase.

It's easy to see why it's so highly rated - it has a ridiculous range of retro merchandise from the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB, the likes of which would sell for a small fortune in New Zealand.

There's also a range of sneakers and other '90s gems like authentic Ninja Turtles figurines and classic kids' books you'd all but forgotten about but will be delighted to rediscover.

The in-store experience is a must, but most of the products can also be bought via the online store and shipped to Aotearoa.

Where to find it: 437 East 9th Street, East Village, Manhattan

Brooklyn Flea Market

Located in the carpark of the extremely swanky Williamsburg Hotel, this Saturday morning market has become one of the city's top attractions outside Manhattan in little more than a decade.

The place is extraordinarily busy mid-morning, but settles at about noon, when you get a chance to look through numerous vendors' clothing racks without feeling like you're getting in the way.

The Brooklyn Flea Market is one of the best places to buy pre-loved threads in New York.
The Brooklyn Flea Market. Photo credit: Newshub.

You'll find plenty here to pique your interest, from old band T-shirts to sports memorabilia to punk and hippie styles.

Once you're done shopping, it's well worth a visit to the hotel's rooftop bar which, while expensive, gives you a stunning view over Brooklyn and across the East River to Manhattan.

Where to find it: 96 Wythe Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Awoke Vintage

Who would've thought it? One of the best thrift stores in New York City was founded by a bunch of Aussies.

Launched in Perth in 2006, Awoke Vintage is now slowly taking over the borough of Brooklyn, where it now has three stores since shifting its HQ there eight years ago.

While on the more expensive side, each of the shops offers a curated collection of most fashion-forward vintage styles for women - be it dresses, designer jeans, tops or sunglasses.

The original store is in Williamsburg (right next to Fantasy Explosion in the Brooklyn Mini Mall), but each of the three locations is well worth a visit.

Where to find it: Brooklyn Mini Mall, 218 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Buffalo Exchange

This store, with locations across NYC, is in the same buy'n'sell ilk as Crossroads, but is a little more accessible and your wallet will take less of a pounding.

The stores themselves are a little overwhelming; people are everywhere and the sound of metal hangers scraping as people peruse the stock does get a little grating after a while.

Buffalo Exchange is one of the best op-shops in New York.
Buffalo Exchange. Photo credit: Newshub.

But Buffalo Exchange is also by far the largest of all the op-shops on this list, and each of its stores is organised so satisfyingly by gender, clothing type and size that you won't be aimlessly looking round for ages for something that'll look good and fit.

Where to find it: There are five locations in NYC. Find the one closest to you here.

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