As I jump out of my Uber on the corner of San Francisco’s Haight and Ashbury streets, I feel that all-too-familiar rush as I spy psychedelically painted shops and windows filled with old fringed leather jackets and tie-dyed T-shirts. A vintage shopping tragic, I’d dreamt about combing to this strip – the famed home of the 1967 Summer of Love and the world’s hippie counterculture movement, as well as some of the world’s best vintage fashion – for the past decade.
On my right, a pint-sized shop called Love Street Vintage lures me in with its taxidermied deer heads, Edwardian capes, cowboy boots and printed ’50s dresses. I finger the delightful items but force myself to leave it at that, remembering the first rule of vintage shopping: don’t blow your budget too early.
Further down Haight Street I discover Decades of Fashion, a cavernous space crammed with clothing from the 1850s to the 1970s, including a particularly fetching ’70s sparkly gold jumper that I claim immediately. As I continue flicking through the racks I start chatting to the flame-haired, blue-eyed owner, Cicily Ann Hansen, who tells me she’s been collecting vintage for 60 years.
“The lovely thing about coming here as a fashion model in 1966 was I had no idea anyone wore vintage clothing but me; I thought I was just a freak!,” she says. “So when I came down to the Haight and people were wearing vintage I thought ‘Oh my god, kindred spirits’.” She raced home, got through high school, came back and became part of the scene, opening her first vintage store in the area in the ’60s. Nowadays, she’s quick to tell me that that when she’s not selling her covetable pieces to the likes of Jean-Paul Gaultier and Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine, she’s trotting down red carpets for Vanity Fair and Turner Classic Movies.
As I try on a floor-length green velvet coat, I ask Hansen what she loves about vintage clothing. “It’s the sense of style and materials,” she says. “I mean, where do you find hand-beaded gowns that are not a hundred thousand dollars in couture? You find them in vintage.” And with that, it’s time for me and my $40 sparkly jumper to continue our vintage hunt.
A few minutes down the road is the small but superbly curated Relic Vintage. As owner Oran Scott, with his ’50s quiff and brown striped shirt, shows me through his collection of 1930s gold cocktail dresses and fabulous array of hats, I ask him for his top vintage buying tips. “If you find something that fits, buy it – you won’t find it again,” he says. “And you’ve got to be on the hunt, all the time.”
As if to prove his point, he pulls out a 1950s swing skirt that I’ve just walked past. It has squirrels embroidered onto it with – get this – real squirrel tails and real walnuts, too. They certainly don’t make ’em like that any more, I quip as he pulls out another gem, a striking black-and-white ’50s cocktail dress by the celebrated American designer Ceil Chapman. All these stunning pieces of history, and nothing in the store over $500.
I bid Scott adieu, bookmarking that Chapman dress, and finish up my vintage trawl roving through Held Over, a vintage warehouse organised by style and era, where the racks heave with army and denim jackets, patterned smoking jackets, ’80s party dresses and more – so much more. I pick up a ’70s sheep-wool vest, then head to my final stop of the day, Wasteland, where I spin through its stellar selection (think designer pieces from Europe, Indian cotton gauze dresses and beaded vests) all too quickly.
I’m late for drinks, it’s time to leave. As I grab a taxi, I promise myself I’ll be back – if only for that Chapman dress – real soon.
Qantas flies six times a week between Sydney and San Francisco direct from about $2000 return.STAYING THERE
Set in the vibrant Fisherman’s Wharf area, Hotel Zephyr has an arty, hip vibe thanks to art installations scattered throughout the property and the nautical in-room decor. Some rooms have views of the bay and Alcatraz. Rates from $274 a night.