Vintage is trendy, there’s no way around it. And who hasn’t listened with envy to the stories of the to-die-for dress that was only $5 hanging unnoticed on a rack in the back of a charity store?
Some shoppers really have a knack for finding that diamond in the rough – they delight in going through piles of sweaters and stacks of pants, just to find that one great buy. Others simply don’t have the patience or the time for that, but still would like to save a buck or two, and that’s where vintage clothing boutiques come in.
“I hand-pick everything and I think I’m pretty good at it,” said Jenny Stabile, owner of the vintage boutique Carousel on South Cedar. “I started collecting about five years ago when I found a couple of really great dresses.”
Two years ago Stabile began selling out of her inventory because it was filling up her one-bedroom apartment.
“When I opened the store I brought 700 pieces of my own clothing,” she said, laughing. Add to that about 400 pieces that she purchased from Finders Keepers – which was formerly in this location – and you have more than 1,000 jackets, dresses, skirts, shoes and tops to pick from.
There’s general agreement that vintage clothing must be more than 30 years old. Stabile picks up clothes from the ’80s and earlier.
“You got to watch the ’80s – they can be really fabulous or really bad,” she said.
It’s a misconception that vintage boutiques only carry small sizes.
“I try to have something in every size. I just sold a dress in a size 18 today,” Stabile said. She added that it’s important to try something on, no matter what it looks like on the hanger.
“Vintage clothing has incredible detail, and it’s made to make you look good,” she said. “Sometimes a dress looks totally different once you put it on.”
Her favorite clothing item is a 1950s cocktail dress.
“All that tulle and lace, I just love it,” Stabile said.
When it comes to price, Stabile said that most vintage boutiques are much cheaper than department stores, especially when it comes to evening wear, cocktail and prom dresses.
“The only exception is if it’s a famous designer dress, but by far most of my dresses are under $100,” she said.
Just on the other side of Cedar at 1325 W. First Ave., is Fringe and Fray, another secondhand clothing store.
Owned by Grace and Ryan Johnson, Fringe and Fray is technically not a vintage boutique because most of the clothes are less than 30 years old.
“We both like finding old things and making them work for today, so I do the digging for you, and I love it,” said Grace Johnson. “Everything we have is found and repurposed.” Fringe and Fray also carries some home décor.
Big sellers at Fringe and Fray are shirts and tops which Johnson said move out of the store very quickly.
“Guys really like the shirts with the snaps, and we have some cowboy boots,” said Johnson. “And we are seeing a lot of ’80s stuff come back, you know, with big shoulders and those bright colors.” A gorgeous leather jacket sells for $35 – a fraction of its original cost.
Other secondhand stores corner a certain market, like children’s clothing or formal wear.
Plato’s Closet is a second-hand store that’s mostly for teens and young adults. It’s a franchise with two stores: one at 5625 N. Division St., and another at 15735 E. Broadway Ave. in Spokane Valley.
At Plato’s the pace is a little faster: shoppers bring in clean, folded and ready-to-wear clothes, which they sell to the store on the spot for about 30 or 40 percent of what Plato’s will re-sell it for.
“We take stuff in every single day,” said Kalie Mitchell, manager at the Spokane Valley location. “We have a computer system that does the pricing for us, with all the brand names and styles in it. Everybody gets the same deal.”
Designer jeans are one of the hottest items right now, said Mitchell, and Plato’s carries everything from Target to Old Navy to Nordstrom brands.
“Our demographic is 14 to 25 years, and it’s casual teen clothing,” said Mitchell. “We do have some office wear, too.”
The store carries sizes from double zero to 15-16, and from extra small to extra large.
What is the hottest item at Plato’s?
“Handbags. We get all the brands, like Coach, and they fly out the store as soon as we have them,” said Mitchell.
And there are many bargains to be found on the racks and shelves at Plato’s: nice jeans for $12, a pair of brand name flats for $5 and a designer handbag for $12 – just to mention a few examples.
Second-hand shopping does take a little luck and time but watch out, it can be habit forming.
“If you haven’t done any vintage or second-hand shopping before, I’d say just give it a shot,” said Stabile. “Try something on. Even if it’s a little different from what you usually wear – it could work out great. And you kind of get hooked.”