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Costume Crawling in The Haight

Bay Area steampunks spent a day touring vintage fashion stores in SF’s Haight-Ashbury district

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

In 1967, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district was the epicenter of the Summer of Love. More than 50 years later, September 22 was a Day of Steampunk as a dozen or so neo-Victorians engaged in a “costume crawl” of vintage fashion retailers.

The gathering was organized from afar by Charlie Wong on behalf Steampunk Field Trips - Northern California. He chose a handful of stores and alerted them ahead of time that a steampunk invasion was afoot. All were welcoming, but one in particular, Distractions, went above and beyond by offering a 20 percent discount.

Charlie was 3000 miles away in Massachusetts, so he designated costuming aficionados Sabrina Nelson and Joan Sundt to lead the crawl. He credited Joan for suggesting most of the locations.

Chard Lowden

We first gathered at Flywheel Coffee Roasters at 672 Stanyan St., across from the entrance to Golden Gate Park. As steampunks streamed into the place, we soon became a spectacle, drawing smiles and questions from the other patrons. “What is this? Steampunk? What’s that?” This became a theme for the afternoon. Later, at Decades of Fashion, a grinning woman told us that we had made her day.

(This also happens in other places. Honolulu has an active steampunk group that goes on monthly excursions. They often encounter people who want to join.)

Our itinerary was as follows:

Center for Intergalactic Arts — This was an unplanned stop, but we couldn’t pass it up. The Center is a small outdoor gallery at the corner of Haight and Shrader, behind Whole Foods Market. It has a bit of an Alice in Wonderland vibe, loosely resembling a giant mushroom, albeit with sharp corners. The art is most definitely intergalactic. But we were here for costumes, so on to. . .

Decades of Fashion

Decades of Fashion — This is a huge outlet featuring men’s and women’s fashions from the mid-1800s through 1980s. When we entered, a helpful employee directed us to a section in back containing older items best suited for steampunks. She later posed for a photo with the group. Location: 1653 Haight Street.

Relic Vintage — This is a smaller place specializing in men’s and women’s apparel from the 1920s through 1960s. A leopard print chaise lounge in the middle of the floor proved to be an irresistible resting spot for a couple of folks in our party. Location: 1605 Haight Street.

Held Over Vintage — This is another large vintage retailer covering a wide range of fashion eras. In back, a neon “Meat Locker” sign leads to a room containing menswear and accessories, including a large selection of hats. It appears that it was once a real meat locker. Location: 1543 Haight Street.


Distractions — This was undoubtedly the highlight of the crawl. Before we arrived, the ever-dapper Chard Lowden told me Distractions was his favorite store in the Western Hemisphere, and it was easy to see why. Describing itself as “Haight Street’s Original Eclectic Emporium,” the shop specializes in steampunk and neo-Victorian apparel and accessories, though it also has items from other eras. A sign outside the store welcomed the Steampunk Crawlers and offered the aforementioned 20 percent discount. Many bank accounts were soon depleted. Location: 1552 Haight Street.

Mendels — As a retailer of fabric, craft supplies, and costume accessories, Mendels is geared more toward folks who want to make their own costumes. When you walk in, you soon notice all the whimsical artworks hanging from the walls and ceiling. The fabric section in back includes furry materials dubbed “Punky Muppet” in various colors, including Plum, Denim, and Dayglow Pink. Location: 1556 Haight Street.

Exhausted, we ended the crawl at The Alembic, a purveyor of craft cocktails and American food. Location: 1725 Haight Street.

With just one afternoon on our hands, we couldn’t hit every outlet in the Haight. A few places we missed: Wasteland, Gypsy Streetwear, and Loved to Death. The latter isn’t a clothing retailer, instead describing itself as “Haight Street’s Original Oddities shop” with art, antiques, jewelry, and unusual home décor such as skulls and cauldrons. We also missed Costumes on Haight, which is in the Lower Haight neighborhood below Divisadero Street. Nevertheless, by day’s end, we had contributed handsomely to San Francisco’s retail economy.

See photos of the crawl in the gallery below. You can also view Sabrina Nelson’s photo album on Facebook.

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