The town you probably think of as specializing in staid shops for the Greatest Generation is becoming a thrifting mecca for Gen Z.
In a little mustard-colored house on Orleans’s Main Street, Helen Carrier and Kay Brown are lost in the world of 1960s and ’70s fashion. Home from college for the holidays, the Nauset High graduates are reuniting at their favorite secondhand clothing haunt, Vintage in Vogue. Carrier tries on a burgundy ball gown. She says she’s bought gowns from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s here — “It’s all pretty affordable.”
Maureen Leavenworth, the owner, stocks the consignment shop’s collection exclusively with garments that predate the 1970s. Thick textures, elaborate stitch work, and one-of-a-kind patterns bring you back to a time before fast fashion took hold. Mannequins are dressed with care, each ensemble thoughtfully accessorized.
Now in heels and a black cocktail dress, Brown is rummaging through a coat rack. “You should try this fur coat with that dress,” she suggests to Carrier.
“But you can’t really dance in fur,” Carrier replies.
Across the street, tucked behind Orleans Cycle, Richard and Wendy Hammond are maneuvering a plaid-patterned sofa into Nauset Vintage. After years of selling retro-modern furniture and clothes on Etsy and at the Antiques Center of Cape Cod in Dennis, the Harwich couple took a leap and opened the brick-and-mortar store here in 2023.
“A lot of our customers are from Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown,” says Wendy. “It just made sense to open something in Orleans.”
The furniture is mainly midcentury: teak coffee tables, oversized lamps, sharp-cornered armchairs. Ball caps and tchotchkes line a shelf above a collection of vintage records. At the back of the shop, the secondhand apparel is the place to find 1970s Americana — lots of floral, flannel, and checks.
The Hammonds source their finds from private sellers around the Cape and estate sales across the state. “We’re always on the hunt for new items,” Richard says.
Walking into RippedIt Vintage on South Orleans Road is like stepping back into an Urban Outfitter store circa 2004. Or at least that’s how owner Jessica Howarth, an Orleans native who’s only 23, imagines it. Most of her customers are close to her age, she says. She has made every corner of her shop a tribute to Y2K fashion, hitting right at the heart of Generation Z’s style cravings.
Howarth started selling clothes online in 2020. “I’ve always wanted to do things my way,” she says. Her store is a spot where pink hues and personal touches are everywhere. But it’s not just about style for Howarth. “I’m passionate about the environment, especially about fighting waste,” she says. Howarth sees her secondhand clothing store as a way to promote sustainable fashion.
Back on Main Street at Sandbar Denim, Michele Keeney shows Melissa Brenton, a visitor from New Jersey, how to style a cape.
“Yep, I’m taking this,” Brenton decides, as Keeney snaps her photo in the vintage wool wrap.
“Thanks for being my model,” Keeney says, uploading the photo to the shop’s Instagram page. Stacey, Keeney’s teenage daughter, is at the iPad register, ready to ring up the sale.
The shop gives off a cool, coastal vibe, with vintage clothing, jewelry, and accessories hanging on weathered wood furniture. The denim selection, from jeans to jackets and shorts, is as robust as a collection in Brooklyn or Los Angeles could be. Keeney has sizes for everyone, too, including for guys. Everyone likes secondhand denim, she says. It feels better because “it’s already worn to fit the way it should.”
When it comes to stocking her store, Keeney is all about quality. “Fast fashion isn’t my thing,” she says. “I look for pieces that will last decades, not just a season.”
On Cove Road, Nora Elliot, a 28-year-old who lives in Richmond, Va., is rummaging through the racks at the Local Colour Resale Boutique. “Look,” she says, grabbing a pair of chunky penny loafers. “Twenty bucks for Steve Maddens!”
Visiting the secondhand shop with her mom and sister is a holiday tradition. “It’s always a jackpot here,” she says. The broad, budget-friendly selection impresses her on every visit. “Back home, everything’s picked over and pricey.”
Behind the register, Dale Tracy sits between stacks of clothes, tagging new arrivals for the racks. Tracy, who opened the store in 2009, likes to mix high- and low-end fashions. A Brooks Brothers button-down hangs beside an H&M cardigan. Half a dozen pairs of leather cowboy boots dangle from the ceiling. Not to be missed is the “3 Dollar Bin” back by the dressing rooms, filled with a hodgepodge of accessories.
Tracy doesn’t limit her inventory to any particular style or era. Her goal is straightforward: to offer a wide range of well-made, affordable secondhand clothing. And on a December Saturday, the shop is packed. “The past two years have just been a lot busier” she says. “I’m seeing a lot more young people.”