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American Rag

The Union Between Vintage and Designer

On the corner of Van Ness and Sutter, amongst the row of car dealerships sits, American Rag, a pillar in San Francisco fashion. Three electric blue “American Rag” signs light up the large white building.

The storefront windows show mannequins dressed in oversized white T-shirts. “S-A-L-E” is written on each shirt in red paint. Obviously American Rag knows that these tempting letters would lure any clothing aficionado to at least peak inside. And that is exactly what I did.

American Rag opened its doors to San Francisco shoppers in 1985. Although I have lived in the city for two and a half years I have never ventured over to this store. Word on the street is that they have a remarkable range of new and used clothing, but unfortunately the prices are unreasonable. So I put it upon myself to see if the rumors were true.

Truth: it is the perfect marriage between trendy designer fashions, used gems and tacky costume clothing.

The generous space opens up to a maze of clothing. My eyes adjusted to the considerable amount of merchandise that lay in front of me. I began to sift and search through the racks of new, fashionable pieces.

I came across a loose orange cotton tank with a large breast pocket. I looked at the price tag and re-read it. $80? Hmm, I think I saw the same one at Crossroads for $6.

Moving on I found a well-crafted black romper with small gold buttons. I cautiously turned over the price tag and was happily surprised to see $85. So I settled on the notion that it is a gamble in the designer clothing section.

I strolled toward the middle of the store where they display a great spread of artful footwear. The shoe stand held everything from patent leather stilettos to leather moccasins to pink Converse.

With three pairs of shoes in hand I walked to what I affectionately call the Wall O’ Jeans. This was, by far, my very favorite part of the store. In a dark wood cabinet, neatly folded were tons of jeans.

The store flaunts a wide variety of denim from purple zebra to tie died wash to black to gold jeans. All kinds, all brands. The list of designer jeans include J Brand, April 77, Joe’s Jeans, Paige, Naked and Famous and many, many more. Suffice it to say I will be returning to refresh my jean selection as soon as my True Religions start to get worn down.

The next part of the store took me off guard. I am used to the polished vintage selection of Wasteland and Buffalo Exchange. These racks were filled with everything vintage. And when I say everything I mean old prom dresses, tutus, bonnets and 50s style lingerie.

I had a lot of fun rummaging through the racks of old clothing. The quinceańera dresses, netted shirts and bow ties were quite amusing. After thirty minutes of sifting through items that I would never buy, I saw it: the exact replica of the jacket Kate Hudson wore in Almost Famous.

Cartoon hearts floated above my head as I slipped on the furry, suede sleeve. My hand hesitated at the thought of how much it might cost… $55, yes! I didn’t take the jacket off for the remainder of my time in the store.

Perusal of the boys section yielded the same perks and drawbacks. The men’s half of the store was littered with bright graphic tees, sexy leather jackets and a variety of hats.

The front of the store has two large glass display cases that hold jewelry and stacks of sunglasses.

American Rag CDs are littered across another long wooden table. The CDs span through genres and consist of fare like the Slumdog Millionaire Soundtrack, Massive Attack Greatest Hits, Latin Lounge and Buddha X.

The feel of American Rag brings shoppers back to a different time in San Francisco. It is a mix of old and new, hand-me-downs and refined style. Friendly yet unpretentious sales assistants persuade shoppers to mix and match their choices and incorporate the various options that are displayed.

Wrapped up in my new favorite jacket I looked back on a store I would definitely revisit and the pile of jeans I can’t afford, but would be saving for in the coming months.