Emma Rogue has been an avid thrifter all her life. As a kid, she stopped by a secondhand shop near her gymnastics club in New Jersey, every weekend to scour the racks for used clothes from brands like Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister instead of buying the pricier models at the local shopping centre. A decade later, she turned her lifelong affinity for thrifting into one of Manhattan’s most popular vintage shops, Rogue.
The store, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary, is known not only for its vast selection of '90s and Y2K clothing, but as one of the city's most coveted hangout spots — both online and IRL. On the weekends, the Lower East Side-based shop, whose TikTok channel boasts over 170,000 followers, hosts pop-up events that draw the city’s Gen-Z crowd en masse. “I didn't really know what to expect,” she says of the overwhelming response. “I’m still winging everything.”
And the crowds keep growing. On a recent Saturday in July — when a heat wave and sweltering humidity is making Manhattan feel like a massive boiling pot — Rogue is wearing a black tank top with low-rise cargo shorts and a vintage Fendi Baguette bag to welcome customers to celebrate the store’s new capsule collection with Minxcenter. Outside the store, a man is handing out snow cones to attendees, who, despite the 90-degree temperatures, are decked out in the season’s top trends, from sheer tops and low-rise cargos to platform flip-flops and laced corsets.
For Rogue, this is the kind of scene that defines her space. Since opening in 2021, she’s hosted a myriad of events, including pop-up shops with brands like Brooklyn-based Could Be Maria and Izzy’s World, as well as creators like Paige Sechrist, not to mention welcoming celebrities like Post Malone and Gossip Girl’s Whitney Peak. “At this point, we’re also a venue,” she says.
The store’s success is part of a bigger phenomenon happening in New York’s thrift and vintage community. Alongside Rogue, other TikTok-famous stores have also become the most coveted places to shop, network, and hang out in IRL, including Tired Thrift — located in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighbourhood, and owned by cousins Lediona Zharku, 23, and Elona Zharku, 22 — and Funny Pretty Nice — owned by Natalia Spotts, 26, with two locations in Manhattan’s East Village. In their quest to establish go-to spaces for curated vintage shopping, they’ve also reshaped what it means to be a brick-and-mortar store in the era of TikTok, creating communities that exist in the virtual and real worlds. “We like to say that we're a store for Gen Z, by Gen Z,” says Lediona Zharku.
What started as New York City’s vintage shopping scene in the 1960s, with hole-in-the-wall stores on Essex Street, has become a bonafide industry that ranges from chains like Beacon’s Closet and Buffalo Exchange to vintage shows like the Manhattan Vintage Show and A Current Affair and one-of-a-kind storefronts like Designer Revival. Pandemic lockdowns hit the thrifting scene hard, but a TikTok boom is helping popularise this landscape for a new generation: The hashtag #nycvintagestores has over 50 million views, while #nycvintage has 8 million views.
Scrolling through the stores’ TikTok and Instagram channels, it’s easy to see why crowds have flocked to them in search of treasures from yesteryear: Their feeds are rife with behind-the-scenes videos from the stores’ employees, on-the-street interviews about the latest trends, and ideas for how to style going-out tops, low-rise jeans, crochet pieces, and chunky accessories that have become eponymous of Gen Z fashion. Moreover, the channels have a personality of their own that position the owners and employees as cool, stylish kids you want to hang out with, as well as carry a piece of their fashion sense home.
“I think Gen Z likes to see there is someone who is sort of running the show,” says Spotts. This might explain why Rogue's interviews with her community generate over 30,000 views. It might also be the result of these conversations happening organically; whenever she’s at the store or during weekend pop-up events, she pulls customers aside to ask them questions like, “What’s your least favourite fashion trend right now?” and “What brand is an immediate turnoff?”
For stores like Tired Thrift and Funny Pretty Nice, the retail strategy has long relied on TikTok. That’s because, when the stores launched amid the pandemic, the social media platform was their only marketing medium.
Tired Thrift’s owners opened their location in November 2020 after years of selling at pop-up markets and online. Soon after, they posted a TikTok video giving a behind-the-scenes look at putting the shop together, from painting the murals to getting clothes in. The next day, there was a line out the door. “We didn’t know the power of TikTok until that video went viral,” says Elona Zharku, adding that two years later, they’ve grown to over 50,000 followers. “It was a game-changer.”
Spotts says that Funny Pretty Nice is also the brick-and-mortar manifestation of TikTok views — only, in her case, it’s her personal accounts that attract the most customers. “I think the real draw was to the community that I created versus the actual store,” says Spotts, who has over 130,000 followers on TikTok and nearly 45,000 followers on Instagram. “It was definitely what I was posting that was getting people in.”
For Spotts, her online branding is heavily intertwined with her shop’s, particularly because it was all born out of pop-up events she hosted in her apartment amid the pandemic. “It was a lot of people who were just very fresh on the scene, coming into their own, finding their own niches online,” she says. “I think that that created an incubation centre.” Similarly to Spotts, Rogue has also cultivated an online presence that rivals her store’s, amassing nearly 45,000 followers on Instagram and almost half a million on TikTok. The tagline for her store’s TikTok channel simply reads: “Shop Rogue with Emma.”
Spotts sees this new wave of retail success as a continuation of the city’s long history of vintage shopping — with a twist — rather than a new phenomenon. “I think a lot of people were very surprised about this retail boom in New York City that is happening now, especially over the past couple of months,” she says. “I don’t think retail was ever dead, it was just not fun.”
As this new fashion community blossoms in New York City, the stores’ Gen Z owners are optimistic — not only about the future of secondhand shopping and the retail scene in New York but how their generation’s social media tools usher in a novel era for the city’s long-standing vintage fashion landscape. “I'm not 100% sure how this sort of boom is going for all of us,” says Spotts, “but hopefully it's going to be a permanent space where we can all stick around.”