Vintage Fashionistas is a series of interviews with fascinating and inspiring dames that impress me with their fabulous style, killer smarts and fun projects. The series kicks off with an interview with Julie, the brains - and beauty - behind Fab Gabs. If you frequent on Etsy, there's no way you've missed Fab Gabs, which is one of the most fabulous vintage shops on the block. Julie truly has some of the most beautiful pieces on sale, all of which are wonderfully presented in her Etsy shop. A larger lady like myself also appreciates the fact that Fab Gabs caters to all shapes and sizes.
Grab a drink, sit back and read up on how Julie started her shop, learn what the most prized item in her personal collection is and check out her killer tips for buying vintage!
Tell us a little about yourself: where are you based, what do you do?
I'm based in Portland, Oregon - although I'm looking to move to a more glamorous city - San Francisco. But right now, it is rainy Portland. I sell vintage clothes, shoes, hats & accessories for women - and men, too - on Etsy. I'm really immersed in the vintage scenes where I live and the places I travel. I go to rockabilly shows, I swing dance a little, I attend Art Deco preservation events. I heart me a good tiki bar! I love to be surrounded by vintage culture.
What initially sparked your passion for vintage fashion?
My mother. She was a really classic lady, and she wore vintage hats and gloves - on Sundays, at the very least. Her style wasn't exclusively vintage, but she wore what looked good on her, no matter what era it came from. Both my mother and dad collected old kitchenwares and knick knacks for the house, so I grew up going to small dusty antique shops and thrift shops for weekend excursions. My dad recently gave me the set of Decoware for the kitchen he and my mother collected together - that really meant something to me. And it looks terrific in my kitchen!
When and how did you get into selling vintage?
Like many collectors and sellers, I dabbled in selling for a few years before I settled into it full time. When you're out hunting thrift shops for yourself, it is hard not to pick up other terrific deals you come across. A good friend of mine, Lisa (Eagle Eye Vintage) used to be my partner in crime, and through 2005 and 2006 we had a little business on ebay called "Those Vintage Girls." Then, I did more dabbling on my own. Fab Gabs wasn't "born" until sometime in early 2008, and it wasn't recognizable as the business it is today until November of 2009.
Where is it that you do most of the shopping for your shop?
While I do a lot of thrifting, and regularly attend estate sales in the vintage area, many of my best finds are found on the road between Portland and San Francisco, and then hunting little shops in the Bay Area proper. Maybe it is just the "grass is always greener" syndrome, but really I love coming home with a car stuffed with vintage! I'm also great at networking, and my shiny silver basket purse has gotten me a number of private buying appointments.
Please share a couple of tips for us regarding finding and buying vintage.
When you're out hunting - whether it is in a dusty thrift shop or a high end boutique, try to get a look at your items in the sunlight before making your purchase. It isn't always possible, but dimlights, as any vintage seller will tell you, can hide a multitude of flaws. Know about what you buy - knowledge is power. I have many of experience in brick and mortar stores where my knowledge of dating items and my mental library of designer names has saved or made me money.
It must be a huge challenge to let go of many of the beautiful vintage items. How do you decide what to keep for yourself and what to sell?
Well, if it fits me, I really love it, and I got a good deal on it, I keep it. If I paid more for it with the specific purpose of reselling and then find out it is my size - something equally fabulous has to come out of my closet in order for me to keep it. I keep plenty, believe me!
What has been the most exciting item you've ever found for your shop?
Oh, gosh. That's hard, because I fall in love with items several times a week. I think I was most excited by the knitted carousel unicorns dress I found (image below). I was really just head-over-heels for this dress. It was hard to see it sell so fast (ONE day!) I also just about fell over myself for the Egyptian revival sweater that I sold earlier this year.
How do you find selling on Etsy?
I do well on Etsy. That took a while. I first tried it at the end of 2008, and it didn't work for me then. I didn't understand the community. Then I tested the waters again through the summer of 2009. A little better. But after I got my photographer, it all fell into place. I find the buyers to be knowledgeable and friendly, and the community overall to be helpful and supportive. It is the best of all possible venues for vintage! (That is, if we could just get some decade categories.)
Can you describe your daily routine?
Sure! I wake up stupidly early, just because that's natural for me. On a mid-week day with no photoshoot or estate sales, I spent a good 2-3 hours "waking up" during which time I do research on the computer, check in with my Twitter pals, post new pics on Facebook. I stain treat a few clothes. I mend a couple things. Then I pop out the door to go hunting! I come back, hang that stuff up, and sort it by what needs to happen next (fix, clean, photograph.) I list some items in the late afternoon/early evening - sometimes later. And since thrift shops around here don't close until 9pm, I often go out again after dinnertime. I work for about twelve hours of a given day. Sometimes more.
Can you tell me about your personal style? Do you wear vintage on a daily basis?
Everything I own is vintage or a very authentic reproduction. I wear vintage every day, and recently I have been literally living my suspender pants from Kim at Jitterbuggin. They're super functional, comfortable and cute. My style is split between the sporty girl-next-door look and the cultured sophisticate. So for a casual day I'll match a 30's silk chiffon blouse, suspender pants and chunky heels with armloads of bakelite. When I want to be dressy, I reach for printed, draped rayon, backseam stockings, a tilt hat and coordinated gloves - with more bakelite. I love plaids, novelty prints and contrast color panels.
What is your favorite vintage era and why?
I'm really in love with WWII era and 1940's style. I love the dramatic tilt hats, bold primarily colors with black, little sweaters and vests and perfectly gored skirts. Wide leg trousers. I also connect more with that time historically. The personal histories of life during WWII and in the years following fascinate me. People had a different mind-set during those years. We romanticize it a bit too much, but I still love it.
Who are your personal style muses that inspire you?
I adore everything that Myrna Loy wore as Mrs. Nick Charles. Ava Gardener circa her marriage to Mickey Rooney. Even as a bombshell pinup she's more sophisticated. Katherine Hepburn, although I don't have her distaste of dresses!
What is your favorite vintage piece you own?
How can you ask me this?? Oh, such a hard question to answer. I'll give you two. I have a late 40's printed silk crepe glamour gown that I paid much more for than anything I've ever put in the shop (and probably ever will.) It has black leaves on "white" (it is kind of grey now) that are overbeaded, and there's a massive red beaded flower at the side (image below). Then I have my Pendleton 49'er in rich autumn shades of plummy purple, navy, green and gold. I'll wear it until it is threadbare!
What are the top five vintage fashion items everyone should own?
1) A basic black day dress - rayon if your style is 30's or 40s, cotton if you're more a 50's/60's gal
2) A brown a-line or pencil skirt. Goes with so much, without being black!
3) A trusty, comfortable nylon slip with adjustable runners. You need at least two - white & black.
4) A cashmere short-sleeved sweater or cardigan.
5) A bold and unique belt. Maybe striped with a bakelite buckle, or stenciled fur with leopard print. Something that changes your whole ensemble with one simple statement!
What will you be wearing this summer?
I will be in my 40's shortsleeved rayon blouses with my cotton Ankeny pants from Jitterbuggin, and when I'm feeling rockabilly, my favorite strapless rhinestone top with Mexican circle skirts. I have a thing for them, even though I don't wear 50's as much anymore. And I bought the first one of the cutest bumblebee novelty print Nicolai blouses made by Jitterbuggin - I'm wearing that with navy blue Hepburn slacks.
What is your all time favorite movie and why?
This is an evil question. I love so many movies for so many reason! I'm going to cheat and tell you that the entire Thin Man SERIES is my favorite. I love the witty banter between Nick and Nora, their uniquely balanced relationship, and occasional appallingly funny jokes about spousal abuse. Oh yes! And the fashion of course. And Asta. O Brother Where Art Thou runs a very close second place.