Thrifting in New York City isn’t just fun—it’s aspirational. Everyone who moves here from another place quickly realizes they’ve outgrown their old sense of style. Coming from Florida, I traded heeled sandals for sneakers and denim shorts for a puffer coat that I have to wear for six months of the year, whooshing while hurrying to catch the train.
When I first moved to New York, my route home along Eastern Parkway was a daily source of inspiration, where stylish Brooklyn Museum–goers piqued my interest with their spring duster coats, size-too-big blazers, and an array of chunky dad sneakers. Dressing for four seasons instead of one became both a financial and emotional investment, one that helped fill the hours in my early days of not knowing many people in the city. Running my fingers across the polyester minidresses at the Greenpoint Beacon’s Closet helped me imagine a fuller life here—a life of first dates, nights out dancing, anniversaries, and professional victories—one that previously was a blank canvas. Beacon’s was one of the first places I found pieces that seemed to fit the person I was becoming.
That’s saying something, as the options for secondhand shopping in New York are endless, especially, it seems, at the four wallet-friendly Beacon’s Closet locations scattered throughout the city: Manhattan and Brooklyn’s Bushwick, Park Slope, and Greenpoint. If you’re a fan of thrifting, which, let’s face it, is the millennial version of a yard sale or flea market, New York can feel like you’ve fallen into a grandmother’s chest of drawers.
When you arrive at 74 Guernsey Street, the large, loft-style windows make it easy to peek in. Light pours in while you browse, which makes me feel a little less guilty when I skip a run in the park to go shopping. You can tour the entire thing virtually on Google Maps, which will give you a good idea of what to expect before you’ve even put on pants to leave the house.
This is a relic of a kind of New York that isn’t all beanies, normcore, and athleisure.
The clothing racks are organized by color, texture, and season, and, as a person who will occasionally cancel plans to organize my closet by color, the Greenpoint Beacon’s might just be the closest I’ll get to heaven. White T-shirts dating back to the mid-’90s? There’s a whole rack for that. Men’s plaid gets its due, too. Dresses—red, pink, purple, green, black—fan out by color. Even when crowded on a weekend, the over-5,000-square-foot Greenpoint location feels pretty spacious.
In an era where minimalism and KonMari-ing your closet are still sweeping our collective consciousness, at Beacon’s, more is more. The pieces aren’t meant for a quiet Friday night in. These shirts and dresses are loud. They’re a relic of a kind of New York that isn’t all beanies, normcore, and athleisure. To say Beacon’s is curated would be too simple. At some shops, curated means two racks of highly deliberated pieces that you can’t afford. In others, it can mean rows of clothes devoid of uniqueness. Curated takes on a different meaning here, though. The Greenpoint Beacon’s mostly feels like playing around in a closet that’s not yours, trying on all the people you could be. Maybe it’s meant to be a place where you lean into the quirkier styles, silhouettes, and shapes you’ve always been afraid to pull off.
I’ve learned a lot from my field research since moving to New York in 2017. While the layout of the Bushwick Beacon’s is great, it gets impossibly cramped on weekends. I’ve never found a piece there that I had to have, but its selection of jackets, particularly for men, is wide and glorious. Skip the Park Slope location. It’s one of the smallest, and the items are way less funky, except the outfits on the mannequins, which are affectionately labeled “Please don’t touch. Items available Thursday at noon. First come, first served.” (That’s how you know they’re good.) Mostly I feel a twinge of envy at how stylish the ladies who work there are, knowing they probably get their pick of the donated litter first.
Looking polished in a city that destroyed at least four pairs of my shoes in less than a year can be a real undertaking.
Looking polished in a city that destroyed at least four pairs of my shoes in less than a year can be a real undertaking, and getting dressed in New York requires a detailed understanding of how the weather will change every hour. You have to wear three layers to walk to the subway, only to peel off two of them once you’re underground. The summer heat can stifle, and the skyscraper wind tunnels can knock you over. These days I like to play a game while commuting, where I look around the train car and name one person “best dressed” for that ride. Sometimes I even muster up some courage, remove my headphones, and ask, “Hey, where’d you get that?”
The response quite often is: “Beacon’s.”
Moments like that remind me that gone are the days of bringing a change of shoes in my car. After all, New York isn’t built for that. You have to be ready for anything.
Caitland Conley is a freelance writer and digital strategist living in Brooklyn. Her writing appears in Bodega Magazine and various other corners of the Internet. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @stateofcaitland.