With prom fast approaching, the quest to find the perfect dress commences. Although an exciting occasion, nightmares of twinning and hundreds of dollars in receipts can make prom dress shopping stressful and overwhelming. However, there is an alternative option to the most popular trends and department stores — vintage designs and thrift stores. To help the teen shopper, Verde has reviewed a selection of thrift and vintage stores in San Francisco. Shop on!

Relic Vintage

Upon opening the glass door, you are greeted by 1950’s-style swing music bouncing through the store, evoking images of teens dressed in leather jackets and poodle skirts. The long, velvet couches and antique, wooden furniture complete the transportation to another era. Urged on by the entrancing atmosphere, you approach the spinning racks of dresses seemingly plucked from your grandmother’s teenage collection.

As the dresses are organized by color and length, Relic Vintage is the perfect place for someone with a specific idea in mind. From short, pink cocktail dresses to long, blue ball gowns, this store has it all. Once you are weighed down by a pile of dresses, a store assistant will lead you to a curtained changing room and help you into your soon to be prom dress. To complete the princess experience, the store assistant will bring you matching shoes, bustiers, and hoop skirts to fit your specific gown.

Overall, the customer service and quality of dresses is superb. Relic Vintage is a definite must for dress-seeking prom goers.     

Thrift Town

An obtrusive sign with “Thrift Town” painted in red letters lends an easy eye to a passerby in the colourful Mission district of San Francisco, Haight Street’s lesser known cousin of the Bay Area’s thrift scene.

A step into Thrift Town gives way to high ceilings and an open layout, lending itself to a vast, albeit a tad overwhelming selection of clothing. The business exists as a chain across California, New Mexico and Texas, boasting a claim of receiving 4,000 new items being delivered to the location daily, with a first impression garnering this to be true.

Among the racks of worn-in flannels and faded jeans, a humble size of prom dresses can be found hanging along the side of the store neatly divided into an inclusive selection of sizes 2 through 20. 90s slinky and sequined dresses, over-adorned satin numbers reminiscent of the 80s, timeless chiffon maxis, along with repurposable bridesmaid dresses all can be purchased for less than $20 and some under $10. The dresses are close to prime condition, with smooth zippers, intact hanger straps and no visible stains or tears, with many of them even sporting pricey department store brands.

After claiming a dress, saunder over to the wall across from the changing rooms to be faced with shelves of footwear to complete the total prom ensemble. Echoing the wide range of sizes among dresses, the women’s shoe selection offers sizes 5 through 10 in already broken-in heels.

Further discounts are periodically applied to the already modest prices: each item for purchase is labeled with color-coded stickers, yellow, purple, blue and so forth, with each color alternating to be on sale.

Tried and true, Thrift Town embodies the classic thrifting genre: inexpensive and containing an abundance of clothing that could need some weeding through.

Mission Thrift

Located just down the street past a Vietnamese grocery store is Mission Thrift, a smaller and more tailored emporium.

A glass wall encasing vintage dolls and stuffed toys to the left, along with gingerly coordinated mannequins to the right, all posed in front of gauzy floral backdrops greets customers from the exterior of Mission Thrift. Taped onto one of the glass panels, a flier proudly announces that half of the store’s proceeds go towards the American Civil Liberties Union, with a scrawled message underneath welcoming ethnic and LGBT minorities.

Upon entering, quiet air of antiquity envelops customers, with stacks of pretentiously assembled bowler hats and fedoras scattered throughout the store. Although the clothing selection itself is a fraction of that of Thrift Town, the ratio of dresses to other clothing results in much larger quantity.

The nature of both prom dresses and clothes Mission Thrift has to offer give off a much more selective impression, selling carefully curated merchandise much more hip than the likes of a local Goodwill. The prices reflect this, with a comparatively higher bill of $25 for the majority of the dresses, which are propped against the back wall of the cozy establishment on three racks of color coordinated apparel stacked hanger-to-hanger.

Rather than a lineup of decaded styles, delicate Victorian lace pieces channeling a petticoated princess juxtaposed with contemporary designs seen on the previous season’s prom runway, make up the majority of the dresses. Unfortunately, a lack of clearly distinguishable size labels creates a setback for customers guessing the size of the gowns and making a lot of trips to the dressing rooms.

The changing rooms themselves present an interesting set up: a set of short, swingy doors don’t give off a very safe feeling, with one wrong move risking your exposure to the rest of the store and the single cashier sat right next to the changing room.

The minimal amount of changing rooms and checkout area, one each to be precise, could create traffic among customers on busy days, however the high-end selection of dresses makes it a worthwhile trip.

Decades of Fashion

Rows of floor length velvet ball gowns, taffetta draped hoop skirts, and polka-dotted party dresses line the racks. Bejeweled head dresses and feathered hats resting on manequin heads line both sides of the store. Acutely pointed heels, shiny leather dress shoes, and beaded sandals rest in glass cases near the front counter. Strolling through the eye catching displays of clothing, one can literally walk through ten decades of fashion – from the 1880’s through the 1980’s.

Although it may be overwhelming to sort through the seemingly endless options, the variety in styles ensures everyone will find a perfect, unique fit. Essentially timeless in style, these dresses can be worn well after prom, making them well worth the price.

According to the store’s owner Cicely Hansen, Decades of Fashion is the perfect place to shop for a prom dress, as every dress is one of a kind. Not only will you avoid twinning, but you will be wearing a dress with a story. Whether your chosen gown was made by a 1950’s Hollywood designer or worn by a Victorian era socialite, your prom dress will have a rich history.

Further, Hansen herself dressed in a feathered hat and black flapper dress will help customers pair dresses with accessories including shoes, hand held purses, and shawls. It’s safe to say that, if you shop at Decades of Fashion, you will attend prom in style and stand out with your unique gown.