From monuments to restaurants, Richmonders crave the new, yet remain mesmerized by the old. The dichotomy between old and new comes into focus in the fashion community here, including how we shop and what we buy.
For starters, like much of America, we’re heading to the mall much less often. For the first time in history, American shoppers will spend more online than in-store during the 2017 holiday season, according to research firm Deloitte. Much of the spending will be at fast fashion stores like Forever 21 and Shopbop, driven by social media, a top factor for the clothing decisions of more than 35 percent of millennial women, according to research by Mintel.
As trends circulate in and out of style faster than ever, old trends become new. Shoppers aren’t just looking for the newest boots, they’re looking to recreate trends from decades and even centuries ago. Only now, instead of heading to the thrift store to hunt for vintage items, shoppers are searching for them online. Richmond-based businesses Our Wander Life, Addison Handmade & Vintage, and Nighthawks Vintage are just a few bringing vintage to online shoppers. Their owners use a variety of new and changing channels to reach customers online and have learned lessons along the way.
Our Wander Life owner Victoria McGovern has always been a collector, especially of clothing, trinkets, and household items from the Victorian Era. The floors of her home in Church Hill are lined with estate sale rugs with ripped edges and elaborate patterns. She serves lavender and rose water in vintage crystal from an aged silver tray to guests. Her outfits, which include vintage dresses with high necklines and doily collars, are sometimes mistaken for costumes.
She sells everything from vintage curio music boxes to velvet blazers and pleated skirts, but also works as a photographer, and carries other jobs with Richmond Region Tourism and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. She moved to Richmond after a visit to the well-preserved Victorian Era mansion at Maymont, bringing her personal collection along from South Florida. As she settled in, her collection began to grow, and she started her online business to manage it. While she takes in-house appointments, she’s able to bring her vintage finds to more people via her website and social media. As she’s made this transition to selling her collection online, she’s grown to love the relationships she develops with customers.
“They’re kindred spirits,” she said. “They’re drawn to these items for different reasons, and they always want to know more about the clothes and stories behind them.” She works hard to provide customer service that engenders trust. This is important, she says, because vintage is often a very personal purchase. Items are one-of-a-kind, require special care, and come with their own histories.
Addison Handmade & Vintage co-owner Lauren O’Connor waited four years to take her storefront business to the web, looking to connect with new customers all over the country.
The business may be online, but O’Connor says she still works directly with customers. “They still want that personal attention and touch,” she said, noting that customers frequently call her personal cell phone number, which is listed on the website. Other questions come in over social media channels, focusing on fit, feel, and true color.
The website has broadened their national customer base, but O’Connor notes that it has also helped them reach local customers, who might not have schedules that allow free time to browse. However, the transition, completed this past summer, had some challenges. “With vintage, all items are one-of-a-kind,” she said. “While we are taking photos of an item and uploading them with descriptions to the web, that item could have sold in the shop and become unavailable.”
She and her team would have to take the item down from the website and relinquish the effort they made. For a small business, that takes up valuable time and money. O’Connor was also concerned about maintaining her brick-and-mortar shop’s aesthetic online.
“A lot of people really like the physical space of the store, which is a priority to us,” O’Connor said. “It’s how we started. I love curating the store and I think a lot of the draw is in the store.”
She recreates the same nostalgic 60s and 70s aesthetic of the shop–warm tones, rich fabrics, and high-waisted everything–when creating images for the website and social media. “We want the website to let people know that we have your back if you can’t make it in,” she said.
Learning to maintain websites and online shops is another challenging and demanding part of the business. Jessica Lemmer of Nighthawks Vintage has been selling vintage clothing online since 2010. She’s always been a thrifter, drawn to Art Nouveau’s vibrant patterns and rich fabrics as well as the nylon, denim, and vinyl textures from the 60s and 70s. She not only sells vintage items, but repurposes old fabrics and clothing to more modern silhouettes, including crop tops.
“I fall in love with each piece when I immediately visualize its potential, whether I keep it intact, alter it, or repurpose it completely,” she said. “And I want that experience to translate to the new owner.”
For Lemmer, Etsy was an effective way to meet and connect with new customers. For years, the platform only allowed vintage and handmade items. It provided its own marketing mechanisms and brought the customers to her. Now, she says, it’s become oversaturated.
“It’s basically like eBay now, which is also how a lot of online vintage sellers made it big,” she said. “It’s a dying platform. It’s hard to get found, and maintain a relationship with customers.”
While she still has an Etsy shop, Lemmer has turned to Instagram to share her curated collection. Here, she has more control over her visuals and how she interacts with future customers. Like O’Connor, she works hard to maintain a specific aesthetic.
“I do everything because I want it all to be a very certain way,” she said. “It takes so much time to create item descriptions, take photos of the models, choose and edit the photos to create the feel I want.”
While the challenges of online retail will continue to change and adjust, Lemmer’s eyes still light up when she talks about vintage clothing and textiles. “Luxurious materials are my favorite things to find,” she said, citing old curtains with Art Nouveau patterns as an example. “They’re coming back in a really timeless way.”
While vintage items may be timeless, the market still has trends and rhythms with the rest of fashion. The minimalist movement featuring stripped down neutral colors and oversized shirts and dresses is going to slowly fade away, Lemmer said. Details like embroidery, buttons, patterns and more will draw customers in the coming year. “High waisted anything isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, either,” she added. “People try to tell me crop tops are going out of style, too, and I say, ‘No way.’”
O’Connor also agreed that high-waisted items, especially denim, are going to continue to be her best sellers. She carries a large selection in the store and online. Vintage coats are also popular and a good investment, she said. “Delicate things are making their way back into mainstream,” she said. “Romantic pieces, soft textures and dreamy kind of stuff are going to be popular this year.”
As O’Connor adds more silky blouses and lace-trim items to her shop, McGovern emphasizes heavy fabrics, including velvet. The texture has enjoyed a comeback this fall. She hadn’t meant to collect a “trendy” item, but she’s glad people are investing in velvet and other rich fabrics. They’re ideal for fall layering and holiday party wear, she said.
“Doesn’t make sense to buy things because they’re in style,” McGovern advised. “It will always go out of style, so you should buy what speaks to your soul.”
She’s right. We should buy what we love, which always has a tendency to change. As the ebb and flow of trends push vintage to the forefront of fashion, we’ll be glad shop owners like her are doing all the heavy lifting to bring older styles to our fingertips so we can click “Add to Cart” when we discover the perfect crushed velvet blazer just in time for New Years.
Top Photo Credit: Addison Handmade & Vintage