There is no lack of history when it comes to the D.C. area. But while many out-of-towners tend toward monuments and statues to get their yesteryear fill, anyone living in the DMV will tell you vintage shops are the place for antiquated nuance. Read on for the inside scoop with four vintage masters DMV vintage shops who keep the fashions of the past alive today.
SHELLEY WHITE — Owner, Amalgamated Clothing
Local vintage favorites: I am able to find the most sought-after items easily because I cast a really wide net. Most of our appointments are for women seeking vintage-specific dresses or men looking for vintage suites.
Hidden gems: The items we have to travel farther afield for are definitely clothing items and accessories from the 1900s to 1940s. I’m fortunate I have cultivated relationships with pickers across the United States who are able to find the pieces we need and rare gems in the most unlikely places.
Casual vs. fanatic: 90% of our patronage consists of costume designers working in the film and theatre business. We are known for dressing male [designers] in film with [attire] from 1920 to 1960. We have a full inventory of women’s and children’s clothing, as well.
Your vintage go-tos: In the sartorial world, vintage is definitely cyclical and it’s hard to predict what will influence trending in fashion. 10 years from now I’m sure the decades with true staying power in fashion will still prevail. The 1950s to 1980s are always popular.
Stars with vintage energy: I think you’d find celebs like Lana Del Ray, Adele, Debbie Harry and Zooey Deschanel [at the shop]. For the guys: Harry Styles, Anderson Paak, Leon Bridges and Pokey LaFarge. All of these artists frequently incorporate vintage pieces into their contemporary wardrobes.
LAUREN GAY — Director of retail for SWATCHROOM + Common Thread
Local vintage favorites: [My collection] is based on the vendors who are invited to sell in the space and accept our contract to sell their collections at the store. I try to search, shop and support brands by era and then by trends so the space has a balance of what customers want and what will inspire them. [It] helps me curate a space like Common Thread because it’s about setting the vibe and flow to give the customer a positive experience.
Hidden gems: The hardest items I’ve requested to be sold in the space are real leathers and furs (sorry PETA). Then it would have to be menswear in general.
Casual vs. fanatic: [When] the space was open, we had a 50/50 balance of customers who were casual shoppers versus vintage fanatics. I wouldn’t say it is “easy” or hard” to convert a casual customer, but most humans coming into the space have an interest in adding vintage clothing into their wardrobe. So it’s all about educating the customer on what defines a piece of vintage clothing and showing them how they can style that piece with their current wardrobe or the value that piece will bring to their personal style.
Your vintage go-tos: Off the top of my head: mom jeans, patchwork jackets, certain style jumpsuits, certain brands of denim style that won’t be in mass production by the designer/ brand. Fashion recycles itself so much that it’s more about the production, fabrication or pattern that I believe [determines] what is vintage.
Stars with vintage energy: Lenny Kravitz, Pharrell Williams, Run DMC, Janet Jackson (personal dream), Cardi B, Erykah Badu, Shoh, Dua Lipa, Megan Thee Stallion, James Brown, Madonna. When we had pop-ups at Common Thread, I would program DJs such as Alex Love (@alexlovelegit) to curate the vibe for the weekend. So the vibe always changed, which customers seemed to love over the mundane playlist loop we retail veterans know oh so well.
SUSAN DRISCOLL — Owner, Evolution Home
Local vintage favorites: Items that come into our store regularly are primarily furniture, art, rugs, lamps and glassware.
Hidden gems: Between items that come in on consignment and our vendor-curated goods, we offer a very eclectic mix of home furnishings and decor.
Casual vs. fanatic: We get a little of both. We are primarily a home furnishings and decor shop. Our customers represent a broad demographic with diverse style interests. We not only offer vintage but quality secondhand, modern, contemporary furnishings and some antiques. This variety rounds out our mix quite well. We like to think we have something for everyone.
Your vintage go-tos: It’s difficult to predict what will be considered desirable or vintage 20 years from now. After all, who would have thought the furnishings from the 1950s and ’60s would have made such a popular comeback and remained in high demand for more than 20 years? I believe mid-century modern furnishings will continue to hold interest.
Stars with vintage energy: Indie bands or bands like Anderson Paak and Bruno Mars. They have both recently released albums with a retro vibe.
HOLLI MINTZER — Owner, Suffragette City
Local vintage favorites: It depends on what you’d consider local, but one thing I really love is so many people in the area are well-traveled and bring treasures home with them. I’ve bought beautiful pieces from people whose family members worked for the State Department and spent years overseas.
Hidden gems: Believe it or not, D.C. souvenirs. Vintage D.C. souvenirs are not something I see often locally — but if you think about it I guess they’re mostly purchased by tourists who take them home, so it makes sense.
Casual vs. fanatic: I would say it’s maybe two-thirds casual shoppers with a strong minority of fashion fanatics — not necessarily people who want to look like time travelers, but want unique pieces they can mix with other eras for a modern look.
Your vintage go-tos: Technically anything 20-100 years old is vintage but it’s going to depend on what survives. Unfortunately, most clothes made in the last 20 years simply weren’t made to last. Modern fast fashion is made from materials that will pill, fade, unravel and rip a lot faster than mid-century pieces that were meant to be worn for decades. But clothes that are ethically made from natural fibers, closer to the conditions you’d find in a unionized midcentury U.S. garment factory, stand the best chance.
Stars with vintage energy: I’m fascinated by the way styles go through multiple iterations over the years, often driven by pop culture. Look at riot grrrl. The early ’90s riot grrrl look started with real 1940s vintage dresses and slips bought at thrift stores and shortened to mini-length. Those got copied and transformed into the satin slip dresses and rayon babydoll dresses that became more broadly popular throughout the ’90s. They’re also seeing another resurgence now with copies-of-copies sold by fast-fashion brands.
Follow Holli Mintzer on Instagram @nonasuch and check out her Etsy shop at nonasuch.etsy.com. To learn more about Suffragette City, visit suffragettecityvtg.com and follow them on Instagram
Enjoy this piece? Consider becoming a member for access to our premium digital content. Support local journalism and start your membership today.