If you grew up in Hong Kong, odds are that even if you do crave a vintage shopping scene, you'd have no idea where to start in the first place. See Exhibit A: (imagine my face in place of this text.) I've been thrifting before, which is an entirely different thing, and involves sorting through bins of crap, crap and more Salvation Army crap to find something that sort of, might maybe, possibly work in your wardrobe, but only after a good tailor has shared your vision and completely reworked the garment. Note, also, that the cost of tailoring will far outweigh the price of the secondhand garment, but at the very least you do walk away knowing that you, like the legions of personal-style bloggers labeling their thrifted outfit photos, are marginally cooler for having gone through this process.
Vintage shopping is somewhat less agonizing. You won't necessarily find $3 shoes or $2 oversized men's shirts, but you generally will find off-season, branded merchandise that's of relatively good quality. I didn't get a chance to attack any stores in New York (being stranded uptown didn't help) but on my home turf of Boston, we got to hit up a few shops on Newbury Street, including two branches of Massachusetts' most prolific secondhand chain, Second Time Around. Salvation Army this is not, but nor is it the kind of flashy New York pit stop you see in episodes of The Rachel Zoe Project. What you'll find is loads and loads of BCBG, Tahari and discarded prom dresses, and a small smattering of some really good stuff -- depending on how hard you're willing to look. You'll need to pull tags out all over the place in order to ascertain what you're looking at, so don't be shy about it.
I assume that because BCBG is so popular with the Newbury set (Boston college kids with cash to burn and countless Asian student smart-casual functions to attend), those dresses are priced pretty close to rack rate, in the US$100-200 range. A flirty electric blue Zac Posen was US$250... but then a Gianni Versace crop top and pencil skirt set came to US$150 together. I guess if you haven't had a Target or H&M collection, you're nothing on Newbury Street.
Imagine my surprise, after I'd perused the "designer" rack and returned to the regular Joe's browsing area, to find a pristine strapless Alessandro Dell'Acqua with tags for US$45? And then, venturing optimistically into the size 4 zone, a freaking Vera Wang gown (okay, bridesmaid's gown, but who can tell the diff) for US$89? Even though my arms frothing with mint tulle by then, I took a last pass at the designer rack and found the sweetest Anne Valerie Hash blouse for US$39. Done, done and DONE. At this point, my fellow press-trip compatriots were on the verge of desertion, so I scurried to pay. Material-girl guilt and a dearth of luggage space prevented me from similarly indulging at Rescue and The Closet, but those too are worth a rummage if you're out there. I'll try posting pics of my finds when I get my act together and take photos.
Second Time Around, for anyone visiting the US, has multiple locations across New England and further. Check them here.