WHILE THE REST OF US ADOPT EVERY fashion trend that arables down the runway, the vintage faithful-those who scour vintage shops the way the less-inspired comb the malls-stay true to the past. True to hand-embroidered bodices. True to polyester hip-huggers. True to gabardine Western shirts.
Now that “vintage” has become the buzzword for spring-designers from Giorgio Armani to Marc Jacobs are offering their takes on the look-the vintage faithful suddenly look anything but dated. They almost look fashionable.
Although “vintage” has become a catchall to describe anything old, the term actually refers to any accessory or piece of clothing that predates 1980. The late ’60s/early ’70s influence is most closely associated with the look, but “vintage” encompasses more than bell-bottom blue-jeans and collars that could take flight. Traces of every decade since the turn of the century can be found in the spring collections of the biggest names in fashion. You can buy the designer version of vintage. Or you can buy the real thing-for a fraction of the cost.
Besides, as the vintage faithful will tell you, buying designer vintage is, in a word (or two): Not Done.
Part of the fun of shopping for vintage is the hit-or-miss nature of the game. Unlike hopping over to a department store-and finding six racks of eight styles of cocktail dresses in four shades of red and every conceivable size-shopping vintage requires several trips before you find exactly what you’re looking for.
Gretchen Bell, a salesperson at BCBG at NorthPark Center, sells a lot of the ’60s and ’70s retro look, but her closet at home is filled with the real thing. Evita-inspired dresses in romantic florals and sheer fabrics cost as much as $200 apiece at BCBG. but Bell has seen the same type of dresses at local vintage shops for $45. And, she says, ’lthe quality of the original ’40s dress far exceeds that for which you would pay $200 today.”
Indeed, many vintage pieces feature the kind of handwork now available only in couture. Embroidered and hand-beaded evening bags by Prada and Fendi, for instance, have the vintage look-and start at about $1,500. The originals, meanwhile, cost $25 to $50. For still-hot ’70s funk, you’ll pay up to $100 for a polyester top and bell-bottoms, as opposed to $12 to $20 for the same items at a vintage shop.
Adding vintage to your wardrobe happens one piece at a time. Those who are successful have an eye for what will work with what they already have. On this day, Bell-who shops vintage three to four days a week-wears a pair of BCBG boot-cut black pants with a pair of boots from Ragwear and a faux fur coat from LuLa B’s Antique Mall.
She scours thrift shops and checks out garage and estate sales, but prefers vintage shops because they “have already done the sorting for you, so it’s easier to find great things they have picked out, dry-cleaned and possibly refurbished.”
Dallas’ vintage shops run the gamut from a step above bad-garage-sale to pricey-couture dating back to the Civil War. Most carry pieces from the ’40s to the ’70s, and the best refurbish, clean and label items with price, size and decade. The following all keep request lists, so be sure to let the owners know the items you’re looking for.
THE 2000 BLOCK OF LOWER GREENville is a vintage bonanza if you’ve got the stamina to sort through the masses in search of a treasure. On a recent trip, we saw a little bit of everything, including a young man who walked into a shop needing to buy a pair of pants because, well, he wasn’t wearing any.
Along with the weirdness were some wonderful finds. The Lower Greenville Antique Mall and LuLa B’s Antique Mall had, among other things, several coats with mink collars and suits from the ’50s , a huge selection of rhinestone accessories at great prices, an assortment of evening bags and a striped gabardine overcoat that looked more like this season’s Talbots than vintage. Next door is Ragwear. a vintage shop that carries mostly ’60s and ’70s, with a few ’50s Western shirts and a wall of go-go boots. Rag wear, which specializes in bell-bottoms and recycled denim, also rents retro-wear.
A word of advice: These shops are for the hardy and open-minded, but that’s part of the adventure.
Ahab Bowen customers are more mainstream than the Lower Greenville crowd. They are loyal to this vintage outlet because the clothes are clean, repaired, marked by year and organized by style.
When he opened Ahab Bowen 20 years ago, Michael Longcrier specialized in clothing from the *20s, ’30s and ’40s. “Fashion in the 70s was so hideous,” he says. “I wanted to open people’s eyes to alternative fashion.” Today, most of his stock is ’70s and flies off the racks. Still not a huge fan of the decade, Longcrier insists that “people don’t take ’70s clothes seriously and they shouldn’t.” Most of the ’ 70s-style shirts at Ahab Bowen cost about S14. There is a great selection of ’60s sundresses that cost $20 to $35.
Darci Isom, a Dallas make-up artist, usually shops at stores like Neiman Marcus and Chanel. She doesn’t consider herself a vintage shopper. “In fact,” she says, “the stores on Lower Greenville drive me crazy.” But she has at least a dozen 1940s jackets hanging in her closet that she picked up at Ahab Bowen for about $20 apiece. “The quality of these jackets is better than what I can find in [specialty] stores,” she says. “I’m a size 2, and they fit me perfectly. Neiman’s is showing some of the same styles that I buy, but there is no reason to pay $400 if I don’t have to.” Her best find yet : a 1940s gray flannel jacket (cost: $ 18) that matches her gray Chanel skirt perfectly.
Visiting Puttin’ on the Ritz is like attending a mini-seminar in costume design beginning with the Civil War and ending in the ’60s. For 14 years, owners Siri and Patrick Ahearne have catered to Dallas women who can afford to shop in Highland Park Village but prefer to buy vintage for special occasions. Each piece is selected because it represents a classic design from a specific time period. Siri Ahearne does all the refurbishing herself; each item is like-new.
From behind the counter, Siri pulled a 19th-century West Point uniform in navy wool with hunter green epithets that would make Ralph Lauren drool ($790); a 1927 violet silk velvet evening gown ($1,200); and a black, double-breasted wool coat dating to the Civil War ($490). Each item is impeccably preserved.
Don’t be intimidated by the prices of some of the truly antique items. There are plenty of great deals, including a cotton pique ’60s sundress ($34) and a ’50s red wool jacket with sheared lambswool shawl collar and banded sleeves.
Also: Ask to see the lingerie. It’s kept in tissue-lined boxes, and peeking through it is a treat. There are wonderful silk gowns ($50 to $200) and handkerchief-linen teddies from the ’20s with hand-sewn laces and satin ribbons ($69-$ 100).