When it came to vintage shopping in the USA, I had a theory. With the number of head of population, and the comparative length of their "civilized" history, vintage fashion was sure to be plentiful. My experience, while fruitful, was not the frivolous and decadent vintage affair that I had envisaged. The vintage shopping experience is somewhere between a visit to an overstocked costume shop and a rather smelly flea market. Polyester Elvis costumes hang beside flowered 70's flares, and if you're game enough to rummage through the dross and the miscellaneous stains, you may just happen upon a 1940's silk day dress scrunched up against the wall. Indeed the chances of happening upon true vintage were much higher, but the presentation left a lot to be desired. As a vintage hunter, you expect to find things in various states of disrepair, stained, mildew and perhaps even inhabited by small creatures. This is not the case in vintage stores in Melbourne, where items have at least been cleaned, if not (as in the case of Circa Vintage) lovingly restored. So while this makes for a more Indian Jones style to vintage shopping, it did yield some wonderful gems. The greatest of which was a store and its delightful owners, who had not only a wonderful selection, nicely kept and presented, but an overall respect for vintage clothing and its place in history.
The effervescent Laura
Enter Sam and Laura from Wear It Again Sam. As I walked in the door right upon opening time, Sam took one look at me and guided me straight to the racks of dresses from the 1930's - 1950's. I didn't even have to explain my agenda. After my previous experience with a store so overcrowded with crap and of such questionable hygine I was scratching for hours, this was heaven on earth. A sign in the front window announced, " We have over 1000 purses!" and not only did they have more than that, they were all in excellent condition and beautifully displayed. After sifting through the selection for size, condition, fabric and design; I had amassed a collection that then took me about 45 minutes to try on. In fact, the rack I had tackled encompassed only about 1/30th of the size of the store, so I chose to take a lunch break and then come back for more. Have you ever spent almost an entire day in one shop? If you're shopping vintage I'd highly recommend this intense method, and also spend the time to get to know the proprietors. There is always a secret stash of goodies "out the back" too.
In talking to Sam and Laura, it became clear that vintage is their passion, not simply a way to supplement their seasonal costume sales. Much like a museum curator, Sam showed me the treasured details of her favorite pieces. A bias cut silk here, an asymmetrical sleeve there. Laura with her magnetic attraction to quality and rare accessories, walked me through the collection of Lucite handbags and intricately worked compacts. It was to my great sadness that I couldn't bring any of these Lucite beauties home with me (one was a beehive with tiny little bees on it!), as the danger of breakage - even as a carry on - was just too great.
There is a great pleasure in discussing your passion with those equally enthusiastic. It is somehow like taking a great big drink from the well of inspiration, and even if you spend the entire time saying, "Oh I know!" it is entirely refreshing. As I was talking to Laura about the vintage scene in Melbourne and the level of respect it commands; I looked up to the roof where hanging there, were the most beautiful, frothy 1950's prom dress confections. Then she says to me, " We often hear people come in here and say - You know if I ripped those beads off and chopped that hem off, I guess it could be decent." I thought I was going to have a stroke! Imagine! And so, for the rest of my time vintage shopping in Houston, I felt not only like a true treasure hunter, but also something somewhat more noble; A Liberator of the truly fabulous.
Wear it Again Sam can be found here on Etsy, here on Ebay and here on myspace.