Retail Therapy


Retro Resale

Vintage Shopping on College Avenue

By Elise Proulx

If there’s one thing Oakland knows how to do right, it’s vintage—from the recently renovated Craftsman-style houses to the clothes on our backs. On a quest to find the city’s best second-hand stores, Retail Therapy took a trip to the heart of Oakland’s vintage scene, College Avenue, and discovered a wealth of new-to-you duds.

Madame Butterfly

Billed as a purveyor of “collectibles, vintage clothing and thrift,” this small, cluttered shop wins the prize for longevity—it’s been doing business on College Avenue for 24 years, according to proprietor Kay Charles. Charles has a wonderfully eclectic personal style, and her shop does, too. There’s a mishmash of stuff here, including vintage slips ($10 and up) as well as tulle 1950s prom dresses, 1970s polyester print dresses, vintage coats, sweaters, fancy dresses of a more recent era and a smattering of menswear. You’ll have to come with your editor’s eye, since not everything is a standout, but true vintage fiends will always find something to take home. Check out the glass case under the register for a cache of sparkling costume jewelry.
5474 College Ave., (510) 653-1525, closed Sunday and Monday.

Bella Vita

Bella Vita is the epitome of charm. Half the fun in this shop is combing through the offerings—the display is well stocked but not too crowded and is as fun as the gear. The store carries a mix of new, vintage, vintage-inspired new and new-made with vintage. For instance, the shop carries backless tops made of vintage tablecloths and doilies ($50-$60) and reversible purses made of vintage fabric and funky buttons ($28-$42). In terms of straight vintage, there are several racks of 1950s-1960s era dresses, mainly of the cocktail variety, in the front and rear of the store. They’re not a steal (a recent visit uncovered a white lace dress for $98) but are in perfect shape and well worth the cost. You’ll also find leather gloves, Bakelite bracelets, rhinestone jewels galore, beaded evening bags, bridal sewing patterns and more. Upstairs, check out the kids section, with vintage dresses and sailor suits mixed in with the new goods.
5407 College Ave., (510) 653-1639,, closed Monday.


Next door to Bella Vita is the ultra-glam Soirée. Known for wedding dresses (both new and vintage), this elegant boutique also stocks vintage dresses, sweaters, coats, jewelry and more. An embroidered 1960s-era silk dress with matching bolero (très au courant!) was $80 on a recent shopping excursion; a crocheted dress (high 2006 style) was a little more pricey at $220. The shop has a special section of Chinese-inspired jewelry, including a beaded necklace bearing a cloisonné medallion ($150), lots of glittering rhinestones and a clever line of vintage earrings remade with backings for pierced ears, rather than the dreaded, headache-inducing clip-ons. The most spectacular items in the store are the beaded, embroidered and bejeweled flapper dresses that line the upper walls. These historic artifacts have prices that are as awe-inspiring as their workmanship, ranging from $1,200 to $3,000.
5405 College Ave., (510) 601-5822,, closed Monday and Tuesday.

Crossroads Trading Co.

This outpost of the Crossroads mini-chain skews young and hip with designer jeans and fashionable stilettos in spades and really reasonable prices. Most of the gear is recent vintage, although there are a few truly vintage items here and there. A recent perusal around the shop’s ample shoe selection found the usual trendy, less-expensive brands such as Steve Madden and Banana Republic but also a pair of vintage Ferragamo heels for $45 and black Costume Nationals for $47.50. Marc Jacobs, Abercrombie & Fitch, Diesel and local designer Erica Tanov were also on hand, with the most couture of the bunch hanging on the walls. The store buys used clothing on the spot (no appointment needed; they buy anytime the store is open) with a 35 percent cash or 50 percent trade-in reimbursement. Wondering if your garb will make the cut? Crossroads buys seasonally; check out the Web site for more information. And, remember, Crossroads buys so much so frequently, there’s always something good hanging on the racks.
5636 College Ave., (510) 420-1952,, open daily.

Rockridge Rags

This consignment shop, tucked away behind the glorious display of Spring Fever Flowers, is the spot to hit for more conservative duds for both men and women. If you’re looking for gray skirts for the office, check out the selection of brands like Max Studio, Liz Claiborne and Ann Taylor. Shirts are organized by color; bottoms by size, although there is a rack dedicated to women’s plus sizes. But in between the more staid items there are some gems and some vintage finds. (On a recent jaunt to the shop, we discovered a faux crocodile vintage bag for $30.) Consignments are accepted Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; sellers receive 50 percent of the selling price. A word to the wise: The shop has a fair number of resale rules, so you may want to call ahead to make Rockridge Rags will consider your used-clothes bounty.
5711 College Ave., (510) 655-2289, open daily.

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