Hand me down
Don’t call them old-fashioned. Whether vintage or thrift, second-hand duds are an individualist’s alternative to chain-store mimicry.
Shelly Marcum never dresses “normal.” Today, she’s sporting bright pink shoulder-length hair to match her black, white and pink polka-dot mini-dress. Her pooch, Spike, even has a matching pink Mohawk running between his ears.
Newly-traded clothes make mountains on the table behind the counter at Rad Betty’s Fresh Thrift, and Marcum, the store’s owner, has her work cut out for her. The place is already jammed full of circular and rectangular racks of clothes. A back wall sports a floor-to-ceiling rack of striped tights and a few lacy garters. The dressing room is occupied by a group of chatty teenagers getting ready for a party. The place is hoppin'.
Vintage stores aren’t preyed upon by capricious fashion trends. Rather, these boutique-like enterprises thrive on the rejected cast-away garments of nearly every fall from fashion grace.
In Reno, various dealers carry period clothes from the 1920s through the new millennium, along with all the extras. But why is vintage popular?
One reason is the relatively painless price of the second-hand and the thrill of the hunt. Marcum says used clothes generally go for a third of the original cost. No wonder so many teens and 20-somethings dig through racks of usually clean, pre-owned crap to find the gold nugget.
Simone Sheneman, a Rad Betty’s regular, says, “My mom always took us to thrift stores when I was growing up, so I think it’s like treasure hunting.”
America is the proud sponsor of that pain-in-the-proverbial-ass—rugged individualism. When translated into fashion, that means, “For God’s sake, no one should wear the same clothes!” But the fashion industry primarily markets to the lemming culture of the American female (and occasional male). So we turn to thrift and vintage clothes to find our individualism again. Deep breath. Sigh.
Seamstress Nataliya Solace runs her own alterations shop inside Coral Rose Vintage on Virginia Street. Young and spunky, Solace likes to dress up vintage-style for a Friday night on the town. Her slight frame is perfectly suited to the vintage dresses hanging on the wall, which tend to favor less buxom women. She smiles a mile wide and says, “Personally, I think every dress needs a special customer. With some of my dresses, I’m waiting for the customer. I know I’ll sell it.”
Though these clothes have all been worn before, they aren’t worn by any majority now. Sure, the ’80s styles are in again—leg warmers, arm warmers, elastic headbands. But the folks who wore ’80s clothes in the ’80s probably aren’t still wearing them. And if they are, they’re only a small group (now looking around in delighted surprise to find themselves cool again).
With decades of trends from which to choose, vintage stores are likely to offer something even with fashion’s ever-changing nature. “Last year at this time, people were starting to shop for formals,” says Marcum. “They wanted poofy, overblown … polka dots, bubble skirts, lace overlays, all that ’80s crap. This year, they want the exact opposite. They want svelte, solid color and almost like a bridesmaid style. Over simple.”
Marcum, who specializes mostly in ’60s, ’70s and ’80s wear, says costumes for parties are her biggest sell. That’s what recently brought Lisa Braun to Rad Betty’s.
Her blond hair fluffed into the Jessica Simpson/Daisy Duke do, she says, “That’s why I’m here, this time. But I do think buying vintage is more unique.” She laughs, though, explaining that the snug jeans she’s sporting are decidedly non-vintage BCBG. “And I love to buy vintage hats. I think it’s just a personal thing. I’m trying to find my husband a tie for tonight. He’s going to be a bookie.”
The costumes at Coral Rose are a bit more upscale. Solace mends and drycleans all of the clothes before they reach the racks.
“You see those dresses,” she says, flinging her hand towards the wall adorned with classy dresses. “They’re repaired. They’re clean. They’re beautiful.” A shopper could come in, pick out a dress and wear it that evening.
“We have mostly ’60s, and people love the ’60s,” says Solace. “We have ’40s, ’50s, ’20s. A lot of people are going to parties.”
Vintage vs. thrift
The words “vintage” and “thrift” mean different things to different people. Some say vintage is really old. Others say it’s really expensive. Thrift generally means cheap and lower quality. But here, Marcum and Solace both define the difference by dates. And yes, even the dates differ.
Solace says she thinks thrift means clothes from the ’70s and ’80s.
Marcum, however, counts anything 20 years or older as vintage. “So anything from ’85 or before, I guess, would be vintage,” she says. “Things tend to go in 20-year cycles. So stuff from the ’90s, nobody wants right now. But in 10 years, it’s going to be hecka hot.”
No matter which term is used to describe the second-hand duds, people in Reno wear used clothes, though some wear them more than others.
John Killie of Coral Rose Vintage says he thinks most people buy vintage pieces for specific occasions. But Reno 20-somethings have a different idea about when to wear vintage. Fitting into this group is Jessica Novelli, a barista at Bibo Coffee Company.
“Vintage clothes are the best clothes,” she says. While taking art classes, Novelli finds a few hours here and there to shop for just the right vintage piece.
“They’re not the same as anything else,” she says while shopping at Rad Betty’s. “I don’t really shop a lot, actually. But when I do, it’s here or other thrift stores. I like original, bright clothes.” As she’s saying this, Novelli’s trying on a knee-length green polyester suit with matching jacket. Her short hair complements the outfit perfectly. “I’ll pretty much wear anything if I like it. It doesn’t matter.”
Solace sees a wide range of vintage shoppers. “We have a lot of customers who are probably 30 to 50, and we have a lot of young girls, which I like very much because they’re coming to pick up something that will be different.”
Marcum notices a similar trend: “A girl will come in, and then she’ll come back with her mom, or her grandma, or her little sister, or some friends or whatever.”
Jayma Stembridge, 34, says she’s been thrifting since she was a teenager. Her short reddish hair and baggy jeans seem to take a decade off her age. “Right now, I’m shopping for jeans,” she says at Rad Betty’s. “But I used to shop for Jackie O. suits.” Stembridge, transplanted from the South, says the thrifting is much better there because it’s not as popular. “Out here, the pickin’s are slim ’cause everybody does it.