It’s not hard to find cool clothes in Ann Arbor. Minimalist patriots can go spend $20 on a tri-blend tee at American Apparel. Young’uns who prefer vintage-inspired garb can grab their favorite crochet tank at Urban Outfitters. But a substantial chunk of Ann Arborites actually buy real vintage clothing.
Most are lured by the music perpetually blasting outside of Star Vintage. Some prefer the semi-discrete but unapologetically colorful Getup Vintage. But fashionistas craving a change in scenery may want to explore some of Ann Arbor’s lesser-known resale shops. Visiting these stores may entail extreme rummaging sessions, but they can result in inexpensive, one-of-a-kind successes to wear in class — or maybe the next world war.
The first step on the path to thrifted bliss is to cancel whatever plans you may have made for Saturday morning. Whatever they are, they’re probably inferior to the shopping spree you could experience from 9 a.m. to noon at Kiwanis Thrift Sale, located on South First Street next to the Blind Pig.
There are the usual thrift-store goodies — innumerous self-help books, neon windbreakers, sweatshirts from mysterious high-school sports teams. Jim, a Kiwanis volunteer, elaborated on a few particularly atypical donations.
“We received a WWI uniform,” he said. “Hat, belt, everything. All complete, all wool and in immaculate condition. And last week, we got a brand new Red Wings jacket.”
Kiwanis isn’t too concerned about prices because the store isn’t profit-driven. It’s completely run by volunteers, and money from sales goes directly toward scholarships and other organizations that service the needy. It’s not selective and it’s not pricey, so while you may have to look a little harder for something hip enough to pass the scrutiny of Ann Arbor trendsters, your money goes toward a good cause — and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than anything you’ll find at Am Appy.
If the philanthropic aspect of Kiwanis sounds appealing but Saturday morning beauty sleep is nonnegotiable, perhaps the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store is more appropriate. Located next to Northside Grill on Broadway Street, St. Vincent is a trek — and it’s tiny — and it has some fashionable garments.
But finding wearable clothes at St. Vincent is almost as difficult as finding the store itself. As Rose Ann Yurko, a volunteer at the store, explained several times, “We’re the best-kept secret in Ann Arbor!”
Upon first glance, the store seems understocked and unpromising, but hidden among the fair share of unmemorable articles are some remarkable finds, such as flashy ’80s sweaters, dizzying arrays of flowery button-ups and thick-heel pumps in every color.
Since St. Vincent is a charitable business, it accepts everything and trashes nothing, resulting in sometimes freaky commodities. Gail Hallman, the jewelry counter volunteer, recalled a giant crucifix someone donated that was made out of mystery bones. “We never found out if they were human bones or not, but we did end up selling it,” Hallman said. “It was very creepy.”
Thrifters looking for a bone-free shopping experience may want to head over to Avtomobile, a newer store on East Liberty. Shopping at Avtomobile is kind of cheating when it comes to buying used clothes — most of the clothes are re-creations made from vintage fabrics and materials, and some items are brand-new and fresh off the printing press. But you don’t have to worry too much about originality — there aren’t a ton of duplicates, and all the prints are the creations of artist Maris Turner, who owns the store with Sara Renner.
Avtomobile has a discrete home in a cozy basement, with exposed rock walls and a faint smell of burning firewood that complements the clothing’s outdoorsy “Up North” theme. The store has an unprecedented sense of character, each item evoking strong Americana pride, and more specifically, an affinity for all things Michigan-related. There’s even a section dedicated to authentic vintage University apparel, containing years of Wolverine pride you won’t be able to buy at The M Den.
But Avtomobile is a well-traveled shop. You can find vintage tees that come from a variety of locations such as Houston, Iowa and — oh dear — East Lansing. Traveling is a necessity for Turner and Renner.
“We’re closed Monday and Tuesday,” Turner said. “So we’ll drive around and take road trips to some weird antique stores — sometimes tourist trap areas and sometimes even Salvation Armies, but we try not to go there as much.”
“We’re very picky with our fabrics,” Renner added.
Avtomobile’s stock is diverse, including jackets with colorful Native American prints and an assertively feminine collection of polka-dotted silky blouses destined to be worn with a poodle skirt. Probably the most unforgettable item at Avtomobile is a small series of black sweatshirts with nothing but “DEATH” printed on the front.
Looking ahead to the summer season, however, Avtomobile plans to roll out less morbid designs in the future.
“I design whenever I’m inspired,” Turner said. “I try to be consistent with the seasons — we’ll be doing stuff that’s more spring-related, more happy, more upbeat. … But we don’t want to force anything.”