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Revisiting The Fashionable Past: An Overview Of Brooklyn’s Jewish-Owned Vintage Hotspots

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“I’m sorry, but vintage shopping isn’t for me,” said one girl apologetically to the owners of The Pink Rack, a small vintage shop located in Midwood. The owners, sisters Chani Deutsch and Rivki Oppenheim, were faring their goods at Ohr Naava’s Brooklyn Market, a two-day shopping event that curated a group of sartorially-savvy Jewish vendors in Brooklyn and raised money for the famed women’s Torah center. Deutsch and Oppenheim wanted Orthodox-concentrated areas, like Flatbush, to embrace the vintage trend that other Brooklyn hotspots (e.g. Crown Heights, Williamsburg, and Park Slope) have enjoyed for years now. And with this in mind, they drove several racks of ‘70’s caftans and ‘50’s skirts to the Brooklyn Market.

Chani Deutsch and Rivki Oppenheim

Chani Deutsch and Rivki Oppenheim

Yet, like the girl mentioned above, there are still those who are reluctant to sink their fashion-hungry claws into these particular styles. “But this girl was only reluctant until a fabulous leather vest caught her eye,” said Rivki about the former vintage nay-sayer. “And then she ended up leaving with not one but six other vintage pieces!” concluded her sister, Chani. The Pink Rack owners, who started running their business from their house last August, sometimes experience a customer’s hesitance to abandon the predictability of Macy’s shopping for the quirky adventure that is vintage scouring. Nevertheless, with their no-nonsense styling tips (“we’re absolutely honest about which vintage cuts we think will flatter you and which ones won’t”), their collection of contemporary belts available to quickly modernize, say, a wide ‘80’s dress, and their pre-purchased dry cleaning services, Deutsch and Oppenheim take away much of the doubt that may surround vintage shopping in the Orthodox community.

Keep in mind, however, that Deutsch and Oppenheim are not the only sister entrepreneurs to proudly bear their style-conscious swag. Simi Polonsky and Chaya Chanin, co-owners of Frock Swap, a consignment store based in Crown Heights, are the very first Orthodox women to have kicked off the vintage craze. The sisters, who grew up in Australia, founded Frock Swap in September 2009. Armed with the nostalgia of their hometown’s unique style and beaches, they introduced an at once modest, creative, and “let’s-not-take-fashion-so-seriously” panache to Brooklyn’s female Orthodox community. They also, of course, shared their love for vintage: “When we were 15 years old, we begged our mum to drive us to the vintage shops every Sunday. We knew all the best ones around,” said Simi. And what, precisely, are the benefits to hunting vintage rack, I ask? “Well, vintage clothes tend to be much more modest than what they sell today. They didn’t have miniskirts in the ‘50s,” answers Simi. “Also,” adds Chaya, “vintage clothes allow Orthodox girls to look uniquely fashionable and individualistic.”

Simi Polonsky and Chaya Chanin

Simi Polonsky and Chaya Chanin

Indeed, anyone who favors vintage knows this is true; Frock Swap’s racks have everything from a refined, 40’s-chic Christian Dior coat to a long-sleeved 80’s party dress with a one-of-a-kind print. Surely one cannot find these pieces, at such reasonable prices, (Frock Swap’s clothes are marked down from $400-$1000 to $50-$400) at Saks or Neiman-Marcus. When asked how one can revamp vintage clothes, Simi responds that it’s smart to pair with them with contemporary items, like modern stilettos or a denim button up. “We wouldn’t tell you to wear a vintage dress with a vintage purse and a vintage pair of kitten heels. It’s definitely more aesthetically appealing and creatively engaging to mix the new with the old.” Chaya adds that one can also take off shoulder pads or fix the sleeve style to make a vintage item look more current. “When shopping for vintage, always pay attention to cut, fabric, and pattern,” she advises. In addition to vintage, Simi and Chaya buy and consign contemporary merchandise from high-end brands like Missoni, Chloe, and Prada. Frock Swap has what to offer for every sartorial taste and every fashionable inclination.

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