A lot of people know that Athens, Georgia has a music scene. Oh, you didn’t? Allow me to inform you.
Not only did hugely recognizable names like the B52s and REM come straight out of Athens, but present day indie artists like Of Montreal, producers and DJs like DangerMouse, and rap artists like Bubba Sparxx also call Athens, GA their born-and-raised home.
But what about fashion? That’s the scene I like most — and the scene I spent a whirlwind of 48 hours checking out in this awesome college town about two hours outside of Atlanta. The short story? I had an awesome time finding vintage co-ops the size of mini warehouses, rock music apparel stores and loads and loads of independent boutiques. I didn’t get a chance to hit up the thrift stores, but I drove past many — plus great buy-trade-sell consignment shops.
In true SDV-Meets-Jay-Leno-Top-10-Style, here are my top 10 fashion memories from my time spent in Athens, Georgia for my work with the web series RoadHug. Check out the RoadHug site for my road trip partner’s top 7 food picks and top 6.5 music picks in Athens — and to learn a little bit more about why Darla, Julia & I are giving America the giant hug it deserves.
FASHION #1: When Athens, Greece Influences Athens, Georgia [And Some Killer Vintage Fashion]
I obviously have to write about a vintage store first!
Agora, which meant “open marketplace” in ancient Athens, Greece, also means the same thing by modern day definition — but with a little bit of a blast-to-the-past twist.
Above: Airee Hong, owner of Agora, and me!
Owner Airee Hong founded Agora in 2002 so that the town’s many antique and vintage dealers could have a one-stop-to-sell-and-shop venue where they could leave their wares and know that Airee and her store associates would sell them on their behalf. It’s like a co-op store without the burden of paying for the rent yourself.
Airee said that 8 vendors have actually left her store to launch boutiques of their own in Downtown Athens. In other words, Agora is like the mother to some of the most popular stores in the Athen’s shopping district. And what a proud mother she is. You know that you’ll be greeted with a genuine smile and given genuinely sincere and honest service when you step in Agora. She’s known for cutting deals and supporting the standard student budget. Plus, if you are a student and you bought furniture from her at the beginning of the year and no longer need it, you can resell it back to her at the store so that she can pass along the love to a future buyer.
So what’s in Agora exactly? Vintage clothing for men and women, 50s-60s-70s vintage furniture [spotted: a fold-up television stand!] and kitschy collectibles [spotted: a "dating" 8-ball]. I didn’t get a chance to visit Agora after shooting for RoadHug, but I know that when I return to Athens [and I've promised myself that I will] that Agora will be one of my first stops.
FASHION #2: Over 400 Bands in Athens? Bust Out Your Music Tee
Gigworn stocks up on band tees from local musicians to showcase and offer a product to support the thriving music scene in Athens. According to Sheridan, the owner of Gigworn, there are over 400 bands currently jamming in Athens. For a town with a population of about 100,000, that’s about one band member every 4 people. I saw tees from local bands Modern Skirts [who we had a very special jam session with -- complete with an end-of-night breakout dance] and definitive Athens bands like R.E.M.
Gigworn even offers 20 percent off to musicians who shop at the store — and when PopFest [a huge music festival of indie and emerging musicians] came to Athens, Sheridan had a special shopping event at the store for the musicians who were in town. She gave ‘em some booze and let them check out the store for stage outfits. Athens supports musicians because musicians support Athens — it’s the karma effect that keeps everyone happy and feeling good [not to forget, looking good, too].
FASHION #3: College Community = Fresh Fashion
There’s nothing better than walking onto a college campus and seeing just what’s hot right now. It could be what’s hot to wear among the Greek population, or those theater kids, or the hipster-coffee-drinking-cig-smoking lit majors. I love seeing how collegiate circles differentiate themselves by what they wear. It’s like high school all over again — except this time, your parents probably aren’t around to criticize your outfit.
We explored the University of Georgia campus, which is smack in the middle of downtown Athens on Broad Street. Classes weren’t in full swing yet, but I still managed to catch a peek at some of what UGA students were wearing right now — lots of awesome strap over bags with fun, vintage prints [think a zip bag with a cartoon character on it], plaid prints for the boys and gingham prints for the ladies, and of course, anything bike-culture-influenced. Why biking? The town is perfect for it, so when the college ladies and gents who ride bikes to campus need to choose their fashion for the day, they’re opting for cut-off denim, button up shirts and flat boots and sandals.
FASHION #4: The “Green” Fashion Exchange
I saw at least four vintage stores in Athens. And if you know anything about vintage, you know that it’s an easy way to recycle clothing without buying into merchandise that was produced without regard to the environment and its potential to land in a landfill. Buy vintage and you’re buying clothing so that it doesn’t do just that — land in a landfill and sit useless.
The Athens community appreciates and supports the anti-consumerist, pro-environment mentality of a “trade” economy too. You can trade clothes to consignment shops for new duds, or you can invest in local designs like the band shirts at Gigworn or any of the cool, eclectic and non-name-brand stuff at Junkman Brother’s Daughter. If you have eyes and ears [or just a pulse] you can easily find sustainable style options in Athens — and the best part is, that you’ll never have to venture into a mall again.
FASHION #5: Yes, I Saw Cowboy Hats
I’m going to keep this one short and sweet — I just wanted to let ya’ll know that I did see cowboy hats and I did see cowboy boots. There, I said it ;-)
Oh, and I dressed as a southern belle — footage in our Athens episode coming soon!
FASHION #6: When There’s a Face to Local Business
Agora owner Airee Hong hangs out with me — and rocks vintage!
What I loved most about shopping in Athens is that every single store owner was connecting with the customer. I especially saw this demonstrated at Agora, where Airee was literally dressing up every customer and catering to his or her every need. One customer was interested in buying a dress from Agora for her engagement party. She was inspired by Mad Men the show and wanted a vintage/60s inspired wedding. Airee found her the absolute perfect dress for her engagement party that looked like a mix between a J.Crew summer dress and something Jackie Kennedy would have worn.
Having that personal style service is to your due benefit. You’ll buy what makes you feel and look your best, and not just what you think “is hip” on the mannequin in that non-descript, store mall window.
FASHION #7: Canceling Out the Chain Stores
Sure, I heard the “T” and the “W” words mentioned — but they were at least a few miles away, and off the downtown Athens street grid. The residents of Athens love nothing more than supporting local business. We saw this and heard this first hand, explained most by rock-inspired retail & vintage store owner Sheridan. She talked about how the typical Athenian — even the college students — prefer buying and shopping local to maintain a thriving shopping, food and entertainment district in Athens.
Jittery Joe’s is one of the independent coffee shops we visited in Athens — no Dunkin’ or Starbucks for us!
And it makes complete sense. When the Targets and the Wal-Marts [those are the "T" and "W"s I was referring to] encroach upon the local shopping community, they bring with them unattractive facades, parking lots and congestion. By keeping business local, you empower the people to create the environment that is best for that community. And in Athens, this environment is a downtown that is accessible via foot and bike, welcoming and still affordably priced.
FASHION #8: Name that Store
These are just some examples of the many unique names that lined the streets of downtown Athens. I stumbled upon them all (especially Junkman Daughter’s Brother — I kept wanting to call it “Uncle’s Daughter’s Father” or something like that!] but I love that the owners of these retail stores personalized their establishments in such a way that you just felt that cool upon entering the store.
It’s like you have access to some best-kept secret when you shop at stores with names that you can’t find in any other town. Take that, generic Urban Outfitters and H&M.
FASHION #9: The Story Behind the Piece
At Jittery Joe’s, I met a University of Georgia student named Parker who showed me a new bracelet a friend had recently sent him.
The bracelet was a sterling silver and turquoise wrist band, engraved with designs representative of Tibetan culture and over hundreds of years old. I cracked a joke that it was so valuable and old he should permanently glue it onto his body so it wouldn’t fall off. He replied that the bracelet was so special to him, since his friend had literally sent it from her home abroad, that he did struggle with the thought of NOT wearing it everyday. But the beauty in having that go-to unique piece is that it’s always a conversation starter. Parker’s piece of one-of-a-kind fashion jumpstarted conversation between us, which led to an awesome afternoon sharing iced coffee and tips on what to do in Athens.
FASHION #10: The “Something for Everyone” Mentality
The best thing I heard about fashion in Athens is that “there’s something for everyone.” The town is a collegetown, yes, but it’s not JUST a collegetown. It’s also an artists’ community, a hippie retreat, a musical haven and a locals-born-and-raised southern hamlet … whatever you wanna call ‘em, there’s various groups representative of various styles and personal preferences on just how to dress everyday.
And that’s what I love most about fashion: Learning what it is that drives the clothing that makes you look and feel good. And Athens, you definitely left me feeling great — can’t wait to visit again!