Growing up, I spent a lot of time
in thrift shops. Rummaging through secondhand clothing provided my mother with the same rush as treasure hunting. One woman’s trash was my mother’s $2 Liz Claiborne dress with the original price tags.
But somewhere around the fifth grade, with all of the girls in Mr. Corely’s class going crazy for New Kids On The Block, I started to realize that there was a place called “the mall.”
The mall piped in pop hits like Amy Grant’s “Baby Baby” and smelled like Orange Julius. It was filled with stores full of the same items in multiple sizes. There were ample dressing rooms with locking doors, tables topped with stacks of perfectly folded sweaters, and the girls who worked in the mall were young and pretty and seemed to enjoy their jobs.
The Liz Claiborne dresses at the mall were a lot more than $2. This is how I came to understand that the real reason we shopped secondhand was because we couldn’t afford to buy all of our clothes new. Thrift stores went from fun to purgatorial.
Shopping secondhand didn’t become fun again until I was in the 10th grade. By that time, the euphemism “vintage fashion” had caught on and stores with names like “Retro Rag” were popping up. These stores offered the cream of the thrift shop crop. Yes, they tripled and quadrupled the prices, but the markup was well worth not having to slog through pilled sweaters, shirts with bleach spots, and dresses missing buttons.
With pay from my part-time job at the mall — not as one of the pretty girls folding sweaters, but as a giant Mrs. Fields’ chocolate chip cookie — I was able to fill my closet with dashikis, button-down shirts printed with parrots, bell-bottoms, pencil skirts, and more polyester than anyone should be allowed to own.
Now, vintage clothing stores have, ironically, become passé. With online vintage boutiques like Marion Mercer, a girl can forgo playing solitaire on her iPhone to shop for a 1970’s Gucci halter sundress.
Sarah Buxton, the woman behind Marion Mercer, says, “I’m a big online shopper, and I couldn’t find an online vintage boutique that had a strong, edited selection of quality vintage pieces, was well designed, easy to navigate, and included features such as free shipping, multiple angles and shots to carefully view each piece.” And so, Buxton launched Marion Mercer.
Buxton creatively pairs beaded sweaters with black leggings, big black and gold belts embellished with pearls, black gloves, and chunky gold jewelry. She mixes 1960’s pink metallic shift dresses with 1970’s tan rabbit fur vests. She puts colorful blouses with jeans, cable knit ponchos, and wide Moroccan belts.
She says, “I love layering to create different looks, so I consider plain white tanks, solid T-shirts, leggings, and tights as basics. It’s safe to assume most women already have these pieces in their wardrobe and won’t have to buy them in order to complete a look.”
When I asked Buxton if some looks should remain in the past (I was specifically thinking of M.C. Hammer pants), she said, “I never say never! There are so many trends that people never would have guessed would come back and have such staying power such as skinny jeans! But there are certain looks that are better left in the past. I know strong shoulders are back now, but the bulky shoulder pads of the 80’s with the boxy silhouettes should probably not be repeated. I’m also not seeing petticoats and serious corsets ever fitting into our lifestyles again.”
Marion Mercer specializes in designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, and Valentino, and Buxton only buys items in impeccable condition, so prices are higher than what you’d pay at a typical vintage clothing store.
Mariel Howsepian digs black coffee, fairy tales and a man in coveralls. She lives in Santa Monica and can be reached at Mariel_Rodriguez@antiochla.edu.