Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Party Dresses!

This afternoon I walked up Clinton on my way to find a Christmas tree and was surprised to see Liz in the store. The weather is so foul--icy, snowy, and windy--that I wasn't sure Xtabay would be open.

Inside, the store was warm and light, and Gabe hopped up from his nap to say hello. Liz, glamorous as ever in a black fur cap fit for Laura in Dr. Zhivago, was just pulling the drycleaning bags off of some new dresses for the store. And what fabulous dresses!

I loved the black velvet Suzy Perette wiggle dress with the bow just under the bust. Some lucky woman is going to put on that dress, walk into a party, and men will drop like flies. There was a lemon meringue, floaty 1950s dress, too, with chiffon wrapped in a deep vee in the front and back. I swear Elizabeth Taylor wore a dress exactly like it in one of her movies. Liz also brought in a nude lace dress (very this season Prada) bejeweled with tiny pearls and crystals. I also loved loved loved a black wiggle dress from Saks Fifth Avenue with an exaggerated, emerald green sash. This is just the tip of the iceberg--I also saw three rayon 194os dresses, a gorgeous black dress with peekaboo holes and sheer black mesh on the shoulders, a ruby red chiffon 1950s dress, and that's just a sampling.

The Xtabay has a lot of great jewelry in now, and more coats than I've seen in a long time. Liz was lucky to buy dozens of pairs of 1950s and 1960s earrings that had already been converted for pierced ears. And I don't have to tell you with weather like this how nice a well-built, stylish coat is.

So, what are you going to wear for holiday cocktails with your friends? How about that work Christmas party? Don't you want to let them know that you're about more than practical separates? And what about for Christmas Eve dinner and, of course, New Year's Eve?

If I know you, your New Year's resolution is to Be Fabulous. Come down to the Xtabay to get an early start on it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Bicycling with Style

Portland has the highest percentage of bicycle commuters in the nation! Isn't that terrific?

Maybe you've been thinking about joining them, but you look around at all the bike shorts and spandex branded with Italian brake manufacturers, and you decide to take the bus instead. You see bicyclists with messenger bags slung over their shoulders as they whizz between cars, and you think, I'll get killed out there. Plus, you might think, they must be freezing.

I've had all those thoughts, but I mounted my rusty old Stumpjumper and started biking to work anyway. I arrive at work probably faster than I would had I taken the bus, I feel awake and happy from the tiny dose of endorphins I just pedaled loose, and I've saved almost four bucks. Here's how I make it work:

First, I embrace the fact that I won't be the fastest cyclist on the road. Instead, I take a more European approach and pedal at a leisurely pace. Why cross the river on a gorgeous morning when the sun sparkles over the water if you can't enjoy it? Why kill yourself on your jillion dollar featherweight bicycle to get to the light before anyone else when you'll still be waiting there when I lumber up behind you?

Second, besides wearing a helmet (very important!) I don't wear special clothes. No hideous rain-shedding pants, no Gore Tex jacket, no scary bike shoes with pedal clips. If I plan to wear high heels that day, I put them in a waterproof pouch that attaches to the rack on the back of my bike, and I wear a practical pair of slip-on Cole Haan ankle boots instead that I picked up at Goodwill.

Since I don't generally wear pants, and my bicycle isn't a step-through, I have a few tricks for cycling in skirts. If my skirt is voluminous (picture a 1950s sundress), I gather it up and clip it in a couple of spots with clothes pins so that the fabric doesn't blow into the greasy bicycle machinery. If I'm wearing a pencil skirt (picture 1940s wool gab), I sit on my bike then pull the skirt up until my legs move freely. Occasionally I wear a skirt that is so narrow that if I pulled it up enough so that I could ride I'd be giving a free show. In those cases, I wear leggings under the skirt.

Leggings are also a great way to keep warm while you're cycling. I have a thin, black pair and a purple expedition-weight pair that I wear under my dress if it's a really chilly morning. I also knitted up a few pairs of short leg warmers to keep my knees warm. I'm working on a pair of arm warmers that I can wear to bridge the gap between my gloves and the bracelet-length sleeves on my vintage coats.

As for the rain--well, it rains here in Portland, there's no getting around it. But I'd get wet waiting for the bus, too. I don't wear Gore Tex on the street, so I certainly won't wear it on a bicycle. Sometimes my wool coats get wet, and I hang them up at the office to dry. Even after the drenching rains of a few days ago, I wasn't uncomfortably wet. I got home, changed into warm, dry socks and a dressing gown, towelled out my hair, and patted myself on the back for another good day's ride.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

What Would Joan Do?

A few weeks ago, Liz came over to help me sort through my closet. I laid my clothes on the bed--heaps of plaid skirts, a few 1950s suits, a pile of cashmere sweaters that didn't seem to go with anything--and Liz helped me decide what to keep and what to toss.

Early on, Liz put her finger on the perfect methodology for deciding how to put together outfits. We were drinking herbal tea and the dog was laying across the bed, his head on a periwinkle Braemar cashmere sweater. I modeled one of my dozen plaid skirts, and I couldn't quite bring myself to top it with a nipped-waist sweater. I was afraid that by wearing a sweater that emphasized my curves I'd just look fat. Liz looked at me and said, "What would Joan do?"

Liz was referring to Joan from the television show "Mad Men". Joan is a curvy, gorgeous woman who would as soon lay under a bus as wear something that didn't show her tiny waist and full hips and bust. She wears saturated colors that shouldn't complement her red hair and fair skin, but they do. A person could do a lot worse than dress like she does.

Now my closet is lighter three pairs of shoes ("too '90s"), half a dozen or so plaid skirts ("too dowdy" or "that shape doesn't do a thing for you"), and a 1940s grey skirt I had put in the give-away pile before Liz came was resurrected and matched with a handful of sweaters. And now I wear sweaters a little shorter and form-fitting with my skirts, and I don't even hide them under a cardigan. After all, Joan wouldn't do it.

Do you have someone whose style you particularly admire, who you sometimes model yourself after?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Back Away from those Sweat Pants...

It's getting cold out now, and for many people cooler weather means, yes, sweat pants. Don't do it. Cut them into rags to use for dusting and polishing those candlestick holders that you've meaning to polish for so long or give them to a kid on the track team or donate them to the Humane Society to use to line dog beds. But except for trips to and from the yoga studio, you'll be better off without sweat pants.

Some of you may be nodding in agreement, but others say, "What? What do you expect me to wear when I sit on the couch eating microwave popcorn and watching reruns of Entourage?" At the Xtabay, we're always at the ready with glamourous options.

Option number one: Dressing gown. There is little more wonderful than feeling a full-skirted 1940s dressing gown swishing around your legs as you jump up to the refrigerator to see if there's any milk for hot chocolate. When it's cold, pull on leggings underneath and wear a knit shrug. When the OSPIRG canvasser knocks on your door, you can bet he or she will put a couple of stars next to your name.

Option two: Lounging pajamas. Preferably leopard or Chinese silk. You know what is really comfortable with lounging pajamas? Men's calfskin slippers. The pajamas are easy to layer with cardigans or wear with thick, cashmere--or, heck, even rag wool--socks.

Option three: Caftan. Oh, I know you're thinking of Elizabeth Taylor in her zaftig years, but a caftan can be really sexy and supremely comfortable, especially if it shows a little cleavage. An African dashiki or a Mexican caftan works well, too, if it suits your style. Just keep it on a hook on the back of your bedroom door, and you can toss it on when you strip off those constraining work clothes.

I know there are plenty of other non-sweat pants options for leisure time, and I'd love to hear them!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Every Stylish Woman is Not a Size Two

While it's true that a lot of vintage clothes are smaller than a lot of women today, not all vintage clothes are tiny. At the Xtabay, Liz makes an effort to make sure the shop's stock of dresses, blouses, coats, and suits always include larger sizes.

These photos of Ashley show just how terrific a woman with a double-digit size looks in vintage clothing. If you--like me--haven't been a size six since grade school, here are some suggestions to make the most of your figure:

--Many women are most narrow just below their busts, and a dress that hugs the body at that point can be really flattering. Vintage clothes are great, because so many dresses were cut to emphasize the natural waist rather than the nook just above our hips we're now used to thinking of as our waist.

--Find the feature that you like the best about your body and play it up. I know it's obvious, but it really does work. Ashley is lucky to have great legs, an hourglass figure, and gorgeous facial bones, so she has a lot to work with. But most larger women have an enviable decolletage. (Give the girls a little moonlight, as a friend would say.) If you have a waist, wear something that shows your shape. If you are more apple-shaped, chances are you have great legs. If that's the case, choose a dress that hits just where your calf slopes in below the knee.

--Stay away from bulky clothing. That counts for coats, too. A boxy coat will just make you look like a chunk of wool. A formless skirt that drops straight from your hips will make you look like one of those doll torsos crocheted on top of a toilet paper roll cover. Not good. The photo below of Ashley shows a great coat for a curvy gal.

I bet you thought double-breasted coats were off limits. But these buttons are placed to make the most of an hourglass shape.

--Larger women can often wear bold prints and dramatic colors well, usually better than their less curvaceous friends. Why not take advantage of this fact and phase out some of the black in your wardrobe? Wear a lipstick-red beaded choker or a four-inch rhinestone brooch.

--Finally, and this applies no matter your size, whatever you do choose to wear, wear it like you own it. Walk with confidence and smile at all those heads that turn to look at you.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Another Satisfied Xtabay Customer

One of our beloved regular customers Kami wrote about us in her fabulous Blog! Check it out at
Thanks Kami and we hope you enjoy your new-ish shoes!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Primer on Pattern

The fashion magazines this month are full of dresses made of fabric that looks like it came straight from the early 1960s. The fabrics are festooned with large gold roses fading into a rose background, or a tone-on-tone brocade, or pastiches of four-inch blooms.

Pattern is wonderful, especially if you've been used to wearing practical solids. But if you're unsure about how to wear pattern, here are a few pointers:
  • Large patterns tend to look best on people with large or dramatic features. Otherwise, a person can end up swallowed by a pattern, or, worse, look like a couch.
  • Patterns with sharply different colors also tend to look better on people with dramatic features or coloring. For instance, vivid Pucci prints tend to suit brunettes and pale blonds--people whose coloring is almost as extreme as the print.
  • It can be chic to mix prints. Last week I dressed one of the dress forms for the window with a pansy-patterned circle skirt, a yellow mohair cardigan, and a wide, robin's egg blue belt. It still needed something. Liz handed me a leopard print scarf to tie around the neck. Perfect.
  • If you're wearing a print, avoid fussy jewelry. Small or elaborate jewelry can get lost next to patterned fabric.

Most of all, if you're looking for a dress or blouse in an early 1960s patterned fabric, come to the Xtabay before you try the mall. You'll end up with style (and money) to spare.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Recent Arrivals...

1950's emerald taffata splendor... 125.00.
How glamorous is this early 60's red velvet cocktail dress....sold.

Behold this fabulous 1950's silk organza party dress by Alexa of Honolulu...sold.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Xtabay Announces Shopping Parties!

We are happy to announce that the Xtabay is now accepting reservations for evening shopping parties!

Gather up a few of your friends and come down to the store after hours to shop for a special occasion, or just to have a glass of wine and have fun while you put together a few outfits for fall. Shopping parties are great for moms who are too busy during the day to shop, or for wedding parties, or really any time you want to catch up with friends and have a good time while doing it.

Best of all, the shopping parties are free. Plus, we'll give parties of six or more people 15% off their purchases!

Call the Xtabay at 503-230-2899 for more info or to make a reservation.

Vintage Fashion Dispatch from Billings, Montana

Deciding what to wear on vacation isn't always easy. For instance, what do you pack to take to Paris or New York City so you don't feel like a rube? (I've traveled to both places with contemporary clothes and vintage, and it was always in vintage that I felt the most stylish, the most like me.)

Urban dressing is one thing, but what about the high prairie of Montana? What about the land of snap Western shirts and Walmart togs? Here again, I packed vintage, and it was perfect.

Every morning in Montana, I got up early, put a cotton, floral 1930s dressing gown over my peach 1940s rayon slip, and sat on the back porch with a cup of coffee while I watched my father feed and water the horses. The dogs ran in the pasture and chased prairie dogs.

I went to the Billings farmers market and to the Muzzleloader for breakfast in 1950s cotton day dresses. I went shooting clay pigeons while wearing a denim skirt and a sleeveless 1960s blouse. A 1960s green and white dress with a ruffled collar and hem was cool and fresh at the Montana Fair.

The big test: Would vintage fly for a night of dancing at Montana Chad's? The friend I traveled with tried to convince me to forgo the black 1950s cotton dress with a tight bodice and velvet trim for a denim skirt and cowboy boots. I wore the vintage dress anyway and had men coming up to me all night admiring my dress and asking to dance. One farmer from South Dakota, in town for the stock car races, gestured toward the dance floor and said, "I've got to dress with a woman in a dress like that!" (Most of the other women wore jeans and tank tops, while most of the men wore western shirts and jeans with tooled leather belts. A few had on cowboy hats.)

The moral of the story is to pack vintage. You won't be sorry. Come in to the Xtabay with your itinerary and we'll set you up.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Xtabay New Flashes

Here's a roundup of the latest Xtabay news:

First, we're pleased to announce that Joanne will be working at the store on Fridays. She's gorgeous and charming and has a great eye for style. Come in and see what she can pull together for you to try.

Next, Xtabay is bringing back its men's department! We have a nice selection of dress shirts, and Liz is on the lookout for more. We encourage men--especially handsome, single men--to come by and see what we have.

O.K., this is big news: the Xtabay has air conditioning! Right now it's in the triple digits outside, but we are fresh and cool indoors.

Last bit of news: Tonight--Saturday the 16th, at 7:30 pm--is Xtabay's 7th birthday party. Come by for cupcakes, live music, and 25% off anything you buy!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Best Kept Secret in Portland

The Willamette Week and Portland Monthly "Best of" issues are out again, and guess what? Neither of them lists the Xtabay. Well, that's all right. Xtabay will just have to be our secret.

Of course, it's also photographer William Wegman's secret. He came to the Xtabay when we wanted to buy Pendleton shirts to dress his weineramers for a photo shoot.

And it's actress Tilda Swinton's secret. She likes the clip-on earrings we sell.

We're Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore's secret, too. (We'd welcome them back any time, even if they are a little messy in the dressing room.)

Clothing Designer and Vogue "It Girl" Erin Featherston has made a few trips to the Xtabay--all the way from New York. I guess we're her secret.

As for the rest of you--chic women in the neighborhood, members of bands named after I-5 off ramps or pastel cocktails, women who make regular pilgrimages from the West Hills, local musicians, artists, "frugalistas", the full gamut of Xtabay shoppers: shhh. When people ask you where you bought that fabulous Lilly Pulitzer sundress or 1940s gabardine suit, just whisper, "I got it at the Xtabay, but don't tell anyone."

Saturday, July 26, 2008

TV and Vintage Clothing

Last night I settled in to watch the first season of the television show, Mad Men. Everyone has been telling me that because of my love of vintage clothing, I need to see it. The show takes place in the early 1960s, and its makers paid a lot of attention to getting the set details right. One of my first thoughts as the first episode unrolled was, Well that's why those late 50s and early 60s cocktail dresses have been flying out of the Xtabay.

Television and the movies definitely influence fashion, and we've seen it firsthand at the store. The rise in sale of 1970s halter dresses and prairie skirts seemed to fall on the heels of the premiere of Swingtown (and continues strong, by the way). The latest version of Hairspray sent high school girls out to look for Jackie-O era dresses. I don't recall a huge run on New Jersey chic after The Sopranos, but give it a couple of years and a series revival and we'll see.

I'm glad to see people willing to try new styles of clothing, no matter what inspires them. The trick is to make the clothes look modern and not like a costume by mixing them with contemporary shoes, hair, coats, or jewelry. Just a few minutes ago, Emmie, who works across the street at Gilly's Salon, came into the store wearing a mint green 1950s party dress with a full crinoline under it. Paired with her pink shag haircut, it was fabulous.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Does a Person Ever Get Too Old to Wear Vintage?

A good friend, who declines to give her age but says it's close to Madonna's, once tried on a dress for me. She has a slim figure, great legs, and can wear just about anything. "What do you think?" she asked me. "Too 'mutton dressed as lamb'?"

On her, the dress was neither lamb nor mutton, but the perfect in between. But it got me to thinking: can you get to an age where vintage looks ridiculous on you? I guess it's no surprise that I concluded a person can wear vintage until she's pushing her oxygen tank in a cart, but she might want to refine her style over time.

Some of you are probably thinking, "People should wear whatever they want! Who cares about age? Heck I'll be wearing go-go skirts when I'm ninety!" and I say, more power to you. But some people do like a little direction, and for them I offer a few guidelines:

1. Play to your strengths. When you're 18 you can get away with something that widens the hind end or casts a dull light on your complexion. By the time you're, say, Madonna's age, you should know that navy blue doesn't suit your particular skin and that skirts need to hit at a certain point to make the most of your legs. You know that you look best with something that defines your bust, or, on the other hand, that you'd rather show your strong shoulders and back.

When you play to your strengths, you don't look like a woman in a gorgeous vintage dress, you look like a gorgeous woman.

2. Quality matters. I've stolen this idea from this month's Vogue. Grace Coddington, once of Vogue's editors who's in her 50s, said that as you get older you look better in well made clothes. Well chosen, well made clothes are something that women--not girls--wear. Fortunately lots of vintage clothes are beautifully made, and the quality shows.

3. Simplify just a little bit. A full-grown woman is confident, and a confident woman is more likely to scrap sartorial clutter. I'd love to see a 50-year old woman in a 1950s, full-skirted dress with a floral pattern paired with sleek Helmut Lang pumps with steel heels. She might wear no jewelry and no makeup except lipstick. Of course, she has an excellent haircut. Or, another 50-year old woman might choose a simple black Jackie O. suit with a black James Perse tee shirt underneath and then stack seven bakelite bracelets in different primary colors up her wrist.

What do you think of age and vintage clothing? Is there any advice you'd give?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Return of the Hostess Gown

You've seen them in magazines, in the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue, and--of course--at the Xtabay. I'm talking about the hostess gown.

Back in the day, a hostess gown was a long dress the lady of the house would wear when she entertained. The dress only left the house to go to the cleaners, otherwise it was paired with silver mules or some other cross between a slipper and a sandal. In summer, the hostess gown might be made of cotton barkcloth with a Polynesian design custom made for Mai Tais on the patio. In the early 1960s, Vogue magazine even suggested having hostess gowns made to match your living room curtains and upholstery.

The hostess gown had many advantages. First, it was usually cut loose so that you wouldn't have to wear a girdle. Many of the gowns had comfortable empire waists. It was fancy and informal at the same time, so it let guests know that this was an occasion, yet they could feel comfortable in your home. Hostess gowns briefly morphed into maxi dresses in the early 1970s, but they quickly fell out of fashion to be replaced first with Carol Brady outfits.

Today, few things look and feel better worn on the street on a warm day than a cotton hostess gown and sandals. If the gown is slightly short, so much the better: its hem will show off your ankles and pedicure as you move. Xtabay has a killer selection of hostess gowns right now. Number one on my list is an orange and white gown with a ruffled collar and hem and--get this--Colonel Sanders' face and KFC worked into the pattern. We also have a gorgeously flowing black gown with a polka dots and a halter neck, and two late 1960s dresses, both with museum-worthy prints and ruffled bottoms.

Keep walking past the windows of Saks right up to the bus mall where you can grab the #4 or #10 to Xtabay. You'll be the chicer for it.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Dressing Green

Last week I came across a magazine devoted to "organic" living. The magazine had a couple of articles about how to reduce stress (people trying to live green must be under a lot of pressure these days). The magazine's tips for living green were limited to little more than compact fluorescent lightbulbs and resuable shopping bags. In fact, they had a page showing some of the bags you could buy, many of them costing over $100. I had the feeling that this magazine was aimed toward people who buy hybrid SUVs, use $125 organic face creams, and have determined that for them the cost of being green will come in dollars and not in changed lifestyle.

In a tiny sidebar, though, the magazine noted that wearing vintage clothing was another form of recycling and it listed some internet vintage clothing sites (the Xtabay can beat any of their prices with a stick, by the way). This got my attention.

Dressing green can bring to mind dull-colored fleece made from recycled soda bottles and ill-fitting organic cotton dresses that look more like medical scrubs than street wear. It doesn't have to be that way! Wearing vintage clothing is the perfect way to reduce your carbon footprint, save money, and show tremendous style.

Come into the Xtabay and we'll show you how to dress green the right way. We'll outfit you in a celadon silk 1960s cocktail dress with an empire waist or a sexy red 1970s halter dress or a playful Hawaiian shift. By the time you leave, believe me, no one will be calling you Nature Girl.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Gigi Takes a Cruise, part two

Scroll down for part one of the story.

The next morning Gigi awoke early. Her poodle, Yves, jumped on the bed from his pink velvet cushion, and Gigi contentedly kissed him on the top of the head. Then she groaned as she remembered the night before. "Yves, you'll never believe it, but I promised the Captain that I'd fill in for the cruise director while she's quarantined!"

Gigi called for an extra large pot of coffee for herself and a dog bone for Yves then put on a red cotton sundress with sailboats on it and a 1970s sailboat pendant. Next she dialed the cruise director's room.

"Hello?" a tired voice answered. "Hello," Gigi said. "My name is Gigi, and I've volunteered to fill in for you the best that I can. How are you feeling, by the way?"

"Itchy," the cruise director said. "They didn't pack near enough calamine lotion on this boat. You'd think I would have been safe from chicken pox, what with so many senior citizens on board. But one of them had to bring her grandson. Anyway, enough complaining. How can I help you?"

"Well, do you have any activities planned for the trip? Maybe some advice?"

"Advice?" the cruise director started to laugh, then the laugh took a bitter edge. "See the ship's doctor for a prescription for Valium. I'll have the pursur drop off the rules for shuffleboard. Good luck!" She hung up abruptly.

Gigi spent the day wandering through the ship trying to mollify passengers. "Would you care for some reading?" she asked a group of elderly ladies. She had a stack of Vogue Italia and Paris Elle magazines in her arm. "What's that?" one of the ladies replied in disgust. "Don't you have any Modern Maturity? How about a knitting magazine or the fanzine for Murder She Wrote?"

Gigi saw a group of passengers clogging a large block of sun chairs by the pool. Some of them were rubbing their bellies and one or two swigged from glasses of Alka Seltzer. "Hello! Is everyone having a good time?" Gigi said.

"I'm so bored, all I do is visit the buffet. If I see one more deep-fried shrimp I'll hurl," a paunchy, balding gentleman said.

Gigi was discouraged. It seemed like no matter what she did she couldn't keep the passengers busy and happy. Just as she was getting ready to barricade herself in her room with a stack of old movies starring Edith Head-adorned women, she saw Maryann, the Texan woman from dinner the night before.

"How are you doing, darlin'? How's it going as the substitute cruise director" Maryann asked. "Not great," Gigi said. "I don't know what to do. I'm afraid they'll mutiny if I don't think of something to entertain them."

Maryann sighed, then said, "Wait a minute! I think I know just the ticket! Could we use the ship-to-shore phone?" Gigi and Maryann hurried to the bridge.

Later that evening, just as passengers were finishing dinner, the whirring clack-clack-clack of a helicopter descended over the ship. Within a few minutes, Glen Campbell strode into the dining room. Maryann rose to meet him and he hugged her. "Maryann," he said, "I was so happy to get your call. You know I'll do anything I can to help out. You must be Gigi," he said as he appreciatively eyed Gigi's full length red 1970s dress with its smart gold belt.

Across the dining room, passengers were dropping their forks and their jaws as they saw Glen Campbell, wearing a white, fringed cowboy vest and ostrich boots, take the stage. "Hello everyone! Is everyone having a good time?" he said as the passengers applauded wildly. He launched into Rhinestone Cowboy.

Gigi smiled at Maryann and the Captain. "Crisis averted," she said. "Maybe I'll be able to get a little vacation after all."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Gigi Takes a Cruise, part one

Welcome to part one of Gigi Takes a Cruise. Make sure you stop by the Xtabay to see the window display matching the story. As always, everything Gigi wears in the story is for sale.

Gigi, with her poodle, Yves, in tow, walked up the ramp onto the Queen Coco cruise ship. It had been a long time since she'd had a vacation, and she was eager to settle on deck with a fat novel while the ship wended its way through the Virgin Islands. Groups of retirees surged onto the ship around her, some of the ladies cooing at Yves. Just ahead Gigi saw the Captain greeting passengers. The Captain was an old family friend and had been in the Navy with Gigi's father.

"Gigi! I'm so glad to see you. I've saved you a spot at the Captain's table for dinner. I hope you'll be able to join me," the Captain said as he reached down to scratch Yves's head. Gigi happily agreed and left him to find her room.

It was late in the afternoon when the ship set sail, so Gigi changed into a full length, blue-flowered Catalina gown cleverly made of swimsuit material. She clipped a silk flower into Yves's fur and found two empty chaise lounges near the pool. She sat in one and pulled out her book while Yves hopped into the other chaise. A waiter brought a glass of fresh mango juice for Gigi and bowl of water for the poodle. The ship glided stealthily over the ocean, and a cool breeze cut the afternoon's heat. "Isn't this nice, Yves? Finally we can relax."

Just then a fight broke out behind her at the shuffleboard court. "I told you! It's not your turn, it's mine!" Gigi heard an elderly lady shout. "You don't know what you're talking about, Mildred," another voice, this one a man's, said. "Just because you know how to play pinochle doesn't mean you know squat about shuffleboard."

One of the ship's staff calmed the couple down, but a minute later a dozen or so senior ladies in bathing suits--many with little skirts attached--milled around at the edge of pool. "Excuse me," one of the ladies said to Gigi, "Do you know when the water aerobics class starts? I thought it was supposed to be going by now." Gigi said she was sorry that she didn't know about the class, and she excused herself to go back to her room for a little peace and quiet.

That night for dinner Gigi was led to the Captain's table. The ship's doctor and a friendly couple from Texas were already seated. "My name is Maryann, and I must tell you that you look absolutely ravishing, darlin'," the Texan lady said. Gigi was wearing a hot pink chiffon dress with even hotter pink flowers in the print. She took off the bolero jacket that matched the dress and set her coral, patent leather clutch on the table next to her. A string of pink crystals glittered around her neck.

"Thank you! My name is Gigi. Where's the Captain? I was afraid I'd be late."

"Oh, he's been putting out fires all day, poor man," Maryann's husband said. "Something has gone wrong on this cruise. This is our 37th cruise and I've never seen such mayhem. Passengers are wandering all over, and no one seems to know what to do."

The Captain, looking flustered, hurried over to the table. "I'm sorry to make everyone wait, but it's been crazy around here. Every time I turn around people are getting into fights. They're bored and irritable and looking for trouble. One passenger even threw another passenger's walker overboard!"

"What's wrong?" Gigi asked.

"The cruise director has chicken pox and is quarantined! Oh, Gigi, can you help us?" the Captain asked. "Please?"

Come back next week to see if Gigi is able to calm the brewing mutiny...

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Gigi Goes to Paris, part two

Scroll down to read part one of Gigi Goes to Paris.

Later that afternoon, Louise took Gigi to the Opera Garnier, where Antonioni Stiletto was holed up in his dressing room. Gigi felt refreshed. She'd taken a hot bath and a short nap and her aunt's cook had made her a watercress salad and a perfectly poached egg with slices of baguette for lunch. Despite her new energy, Gigi wasn't sure how she was going to convince Stiletto to take the stage that evening.

The Bentley deposited Louise and Gigi in front of the Opera. They dodged the rush of shoppers hurrying to Galeries Lafayette and Printemps and climbed the Opera's stairs. Inside, the Opera was quiet. The Chagall murals on the ceiling reflected pastel light. A directrice from the Opera came out to meet them, her heels clicking on the marble floors.

"Madame la Contesse, Mademoiselle," she said. "I'm so glad you're here! We're completely distraught. Stiletto still won't eat, and we had to have the understudy for the dress rehearsal. But if Stiletto doesn't go on, we must close the performance!"

"What can I do to help?" Gigi said.

"Perhaps you could take him a coffee and talk to him? Your aunt says you are very persuasive. You're our last hope," the directrice said as they walked back to the offices to fetch a Limoges saucer and espresso cup.

Gigi took the coffee back stage, then down a narrow hall, passing racks of elaborate costumes and a paster of paris horse in pieces. She knocked on the door marked "Stiletto". No one responded. She knocked again, this time louder.

"Avanti!" a voice inside the room said, and Gigi entered to find Stiletto stretched out on a chaise.

"Permesso," she said. "I brought you a coffee." Stiletto lived up to his name. Rather than filling the stereotype of the overfed, swarthy singer, like Pavarotti, Stiletto was thin with porcelain skin, almost angelic looking. Paradoxically, his voice was as full and true as any tenor who had graced the Opera Garnier's stage.

"I don't drink coffee. I don't drink anything. I don't eat anything, either. Why eat? One eats to live, and I do not wish to live anymore!" Stiletto said and sighed in anguish. Gigi noticed a few rumpled wrappers from the nearby McDonald's under his chaise.

"Signor Stiletto," Gigi said, "It brings me so much pain to see such an artist as you suffer."

"Yes, yes! I'm a suffering artist," Stiletto said. Gigi noticed that Stiletto seemed to be checking her out. She was surprised, since according to Paris Match Stiletto didn't play on her team, so to speak. Still, she did look pretty great. Gigi wore a 1940s black rayon dress with a sequined, netted neckline and a print of horses with curly pink and white plumes on their heads. Her shoes were silk with rose appliques at the toes. Suddenly she had an idea.

"Signor, I have a big favor to ask you. Your skin is so clear and smooth. I just wondered what my jacket would look like next to skin like yours. May I?" Gigi took her jacket, a 1960s faux fur with rhinestone buttons and held it next to his face. Stiletto caressed the fur.

"Perhaps if I put it on you would be able to see it more clearly?" he said. Without waiting for a response, he slid the jacket over his shoulders. Stiletto seemed to have more energy now. He posed in front of the mirror. "You might be curious about the necklaces, as well?" he said and absently grabbed the coffee, swallowing it in one gulp. Gigi smiled.

Later that night, after the show, Gigi made her way through expensively perfumed groups of opera goers dressed in shimmering satin gowns and ropes of diamonds. She heard bits of conversation about the performance--"Stiletto was amazing!" "A virtuoso! I've never heard Stiletto in finer form!"--and she found her aunt and uncle.

"Well done, Gigi," the conte said. "I don't know how you convinced Stiletto to sing, but he was marvelous."

Gigi fingered the edge of her neckline, feeling the area where her black, merry widow corset had been earlier in the day. It had fit Stiletto perfectly. "I guess all he needed was a little inspiration," she said.

Come back next week for a new story, and check out the store display to go with it! Also, all of Gigi's clothes are for sale at the Xtabay.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

GiGi Goes to Paris, part one

Welcome to the Xtabay's first serial story! Every two weeks we'll change the display in the store's window to match a story that we'll post on our blog at the same time. The first installment of the story will be posted when the display changes, and the concluding installment will come a week later.

Read on to find out the story behind Gigi's urgent trip to Paris...

When she heard the thwack of a letter in the mail slot, Gigi was arranging a vase of iris, roses, and peonies she'd just brought in from the garden. She tucked the last rose--a fragrant, mauve Mme. Isaac Perriere--in the vase and pulled a letter on fine blue airmail paper from where it landed just inside the door. She recognized the handwriting of her aunt, Louise de Robeneuve, who lived in Paris.

"Dear Gigi," the letter read, "You must come to Paris at once! There's no time to explain. A ticket is waiting for you at the airport. Kiss the dog for me, darling. Your loving aunt, Louise."

Gigi sighed. So like her aunt not to leave her time to plan. Still, if Aunt Louise needed her right away, chances were that something important was up. Gigi opened a suitcase on her bed. She'd just have time to pack, take her poodle, Yves, to a friend's house, and drive to the airport for the midnight flight to Paris.

What should she pack? Gigi's aunt and her uncle, the Conte de Robeneuve, lived the luxe life and would probably take her to Taillevent or to the opera, where the Conte was a patron. She pulled her 1960s white sequined dress with pink maribou trim and laid it on the bed, along with a robin's egg blue beaded tank and a pair of pink heels. She tossed her 1950s red silk chiffon into the suitcase and on second thought added a leopard print beret, a pink, ruffled neglige, and a black, merry widow corset. Whatever it was Aunt Louise had in mind, Gigi would be prepared.

The flight to Paris was tiring, but thanks to her aunt's thoughtful purchase of a first-class ticket, Gigi was able to let the hum of the airplane lull her for a few hour's sleep. The plane touched down at Charles de Gaulle just as Parisians were downing their morning cafes au lait and hustling for the metro. Gigi's aunt met her outside of customs and led her to a Bentley idling nearby.

"Oh, darling!" Louise said. "How was the flight? Was the coffee terrible? You look fabulous, cherie," she said, eyeing Gigi's crisp, pink raincoat and Schiaparelli scarf. Louise hugged Gigi, temporarily enveloping her in Chanel No. 5.

"I came as soon as I could, Aunt Louise," Gigi said. "Is everything all right? Is it the Conte? I hope nothing terrible has happened."

Louise leaned back into the Bentley's leather seat. "Oh la la!" she said. Louise was born in Nebraska, but she'd taken well to France. "You know that the opera is trËs important to the Conte." Gigi nodded. "Well, tonight is the opening of Don Giovanni, and the lead tenor, Antonioni Stiletto, refuses to go on! We've tried everything, but he sulks and won't eat and says that he's too depressed to take the stage! I thought sopranos were divas, but Stiletto--he takes the cake." Louise turned to Gigi, "Oh, Gigi, you've got to help us. I just know if anyone can talk sense into him, it's you."

Talk a depressed tenor into performing at the Opera Garnier! Could Gigi do it? For art? For her uncle's reputation? For all the evening gowns that were at that moment being pressed by scores of maids across Paris? She clutched her pink, patent leather purse tight and said, "I'll do what I can."

Find out what ails Antonioni Stiletto and whether Gigi saves opening night in next week's installment of Gigi Goes to Paris.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Friday, June 6th: Shopping and Fortune Telling!

On Friday, June 6th, Xtabay will be open until 9 pm for a shopping and fortune telling party.

Come down to the store to stock up on cotton dresses and vacation clothes, and let a palm reader or tarot card reader tell you what the summer has in store for you. She may not be able to promise you true love by autumn (or maybe she will--who knows?), but we can up the odds that you'll fall in love with a sparkling crystal necklace, a Polynesian print shift, or a 1940s cocktail dress.

Tell your friends! We'll see you there.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

It's Almost Memorial Day. Do You Know Where Your White Shoes Are?

Part of me chafes at the old rules of what you can't wear past Labor Day or before Memorial Day. Another part of me likes the ritual of seasonal "musts" and "must-nots".

Every Memorial Day weekend I ditch my winter leather bags and pull out a 1950s wicker bag with a brown Lucite handle and load it up with my wallet, calendar, and a pen. I know I can use the purse any time of the year I want, but there's something I love about marking the beginning of the season with a change of purse--even if it's cold and raining. The day after Labor Day I dump out the bag (now holding a few dozen crumpled receipts, five lipsticks and two half-used chapsticks, some business cards, and a pair of broken sunglasses) and make the switch to a leather bag.

Memorial Day is also supposed to be when you can start to wear white shoes again. Although they suit some people brialliantly, white shoes aren't for me any time of the year, so I don't worry much about this rule. (An aside: The Xtabay now has a pair of mint condition Charles Jourdan over-the-knee white suede go-go boots, size 9, for $85! They're fabulous, and they're the perfect reason to wear white on your feet in the winter. I saw a pair of over-the-knee Fendi suede boots in the June Vogue and they cost over two mortgage payments.)

As for seersucker suits and straw boaters--well, those don't concern me much, either, and probably don't concern you, unless you're a man reading this from the South. (Many Portlanders are more likely to see Memorial Day as the time to wear their Tevas without socks.)

The Xtabay has some good summer purses in stock now, including two raffia bags with jeweled wooden handles and flower appliques--one in white and one in black. They look like something Kate Spade might have dreamed up, but they're a tiny fraction of the price. Maybe this should be the year you take Auntie's advice and take on a summer purse. Memorial Day is just around the corner.

--posted by Angie

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Going to the Prom

Over the past few months, scores of high school girls have passed through the Xtabay, many of them leaving with a dress to wear to the prom. Since my own prom wasn't exactly yesterday, it's been interesting to see what's been popular.

Quite a few girls (I know that they're biologically women, but as long as mom is paying the bill I'll call them girls) go straight for 1980s formals. We've probably sold ten Jessica McClintock prom dresses with lacy overlays that could have easily come from the costume trailer of Pretty In Pink. Most of the dresses were knee length, and many of them have been black.

Some of the more adventurous girls go straight for the fluffy, tulle-skirted 1950s formals. These are the girls that I have a hunch will have the best time. They're going to princess-up for the prom with ropes of rhinestones. I hope each of them gets a gardenia corsage.

Other girls co-opt vintage wedding dresses for the prom. Their boyfriends had better watch out, because they'll be expecting something better than the Olive Garden for dinner, and their boyfriend's cumberbunds had better match their dresses.

Shopping vintage is a great way to get a dress for prom. There's so much variety at the Xtabay, and you know that no one else will have the same dress that you have. Plus, you'll actually have money left over to get a mani-pedi before you go out.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Death--and Rebirth?--of the Long Skirt

You just never see people in long skirts anymore. Sure, at the Oscars or at a wedding--if you're the bride, that is--you might wear a long skirt or dress, but for the most part people don't wear them anymore. When we have a gorgeous long dress at the Xtabay, often it languishes for months until Liz decides to shorten it. Once it's a short dress, it will often sell within a week.

Why is it that people don't wear long skirts anymore? It's not like we want to show our legs that much. After all, most people wear jeans that cover their legs completely, and a long skirt is much more comfortable than jeans. Also, it's not that shoes are difficult with a long skirt. Boots in the winter or sandals in the summer are all a long skirt needs.

And most long skirts aren't too fancy to wear everyday. Many of the long skirts we get at the Xtabay are cotton or polyester with great patterns. Paired with flip flops, a tee shirt, and a great pair of sunglasses you could wear them anytime you'd wear jeans and a tee shirt and you'd look fifty times more chic. A long skirt can be like Anita Pallenberg in the south of France, elegant and bohemian at the same time.

If you decide to take the long skirt plunge--and I hope you will--it helps to keep a few things in mind. First, a long skirt generally looks best on someone of average height or taller. The taller you are the more leeway you have on where the hem can break without chopping up your line. Next, if you're curvy, make sure that the skirt doesn't fall straight from your hips to the ground without following your shape at least a little, or the skirt will make a thick block of fabric that will weigh down your sillouette. If the skirt is form fitting, try a blousy top. On the other hand, if the skirt flows around your body, wear a closer top, like a tee shirt. The drama of a long skirt takes well to scarves and long necklaces, too.

The next time you're in the store, try on a long skirt and see what you think. I bet you'll look great.

--posted by Angie

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Finding Vintage Clothes that Fit Well

Finding vintage clothes that work for your body isn't difficult if you keep a few things in mind:

1. Ignore the size on the label inside the dress. As recent as the 1970s, clothing sizes were labeled larger than they are today. A 1960s size 18 or 16 would be a size 8 today. Some labels even list half sizes (for example "16-1/2"). These sizes were "women's" sizes and had a little more room in the bust and hips.

2. Different years of vintage clothing tend to suit different body types. Clothing from the 1950s tends to fit best on a woman with a small waist and narrow rib cage, but with a definite bust and hips. Clothing from the early and mid-1960s, on the other hand, often best fits a woman whose waist measurement isn't hugely different than her hips. (1960s dresses can look especially good on a woman with a shapely derriere, by the way.) 1940s clothes expect that you'll have a waist, but they're more forgiving than 1950s clothes. If you're not sure what decades suit you best, come in to the store and try on a few things. That's really the best way to know.

3. Vintage shoe sizes are generally true to today's sizes, but many more shoes were narrow than is true today, especially the 1950s and 1960s shoes. Check inside the shoe and you'll often see the handwritten size with "AA" written next to it.

4. Vintage hats are often small, too. Sometimes, though, they're small because they're meant to perch on a head rather than settle completely over the crown.

Don't worry if you're not a size 2 or have large feet or aren't particularly busty. At the Xtabay we have clothes to fit every size of woman. We can show you that a bombshell is a bombshell no matter the size of her waist.

--posted by Angie

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sporty? Classic? Romantic? Who Cares?

When I was in my teens I spent hours pondering fashion quizzes in Seventeen magazine. You know the ones I mean, the quizzes that asked multiple-choice questions to figure out if you were sporty, classic, romantic, or trendy. Xtabay attracts a lot of women who have a firm grasp of their style, but other shoppers, like me, still spend time pondering the style quiz we keep in our minds. We hold up a dress, look at ourselves in the mirror, and say, "It's nice, but is it me?"

After working at the Xtabay a few seasons and spending more time with clothing and talking to women about style, I think I've even drifted further from a cohesive "look". Last week I dragged up from the basement two boxes of summer clothes. I emptied a box of Hawaiian print dresses on the bed and refilled the box with plaid wool Pendleton skirts. How is that for consistent style? The lumberjack hula dancer.

But what I've lost in consistency I've gained in love for a wide variety of styles. I'm just as likely to wear a 1940s sage green linen suit as an early 1960s kelly green shift. Around my neck could be a 1970s Vera scarf or maybe a mid-1950s strand of Austrian crystals. Somehow my friends are still able to pull a coat from a rack in a thrift store and say, "This looks like you." Go figure.

Now when I see a woman turn in front of the mirror trying to decide if a dress is her style, I ask her, "Do you love it?" That's really all that matters.

--posted by Angie

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Paper Treasure Trunk Show April 25th!

The Xtabay is proud to announce it will be hosting a trunk show of Paper Treasure jewelry on Friday, April 25th, at 7:30 pm. You're invited!

Liz first met Jess McCloskey, the artist behind Paper Treasure, at a Crafty Wonderland show. "Her jewelry looked different than all the other stuff at the show," Liz says. Those of you who have seen the Paper Treasure necklaces and earrings that Xtabay carries knows what she means. Jess scours thrift stores and garage sales to find bits of old jewelry, beads, and charms that she puts together in delicate combinations. Many of her pieces have lockets, too--even the earrings.

Each Paper Treasure necklace is named after a shipwreck. "I used to make jewelry while I watched t.v., and OPB had a series of shows on underwater excavation," Jess said. She liked the idea of hidden treasure and found objects, and a Google search of "shipwreck" turned up all the names she'd ever need for naming her work. Right now, for instance, at the store we have the Joliet (named after a steel propeller ship that wrecked on Lake Ontario in 1911); the Aletha B (a fishing tug that sunk in Lake Michigan in 1974); and the E.S. Catlin (a wooden schooner-barge that wrecked in a storm on Lake Erie in 1976).

Paper Treasure will be part of the Mercury's fashion show next week, and Jess will bring the jewelry that she'll have in that show to the trunk show at Xtabay. She said that she's experimenting with making bigger pieces, and she'll bring some of those, too.

For a look at Paper Treasure jewelry, go to or, or--of course--stop by the Xtabay.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

In Praise of the Dressing Gown

Over the decades, certain items of clothing have been dropping away. Hostess gowns, dinner suits, and bed jackets, for instance, are nearly extinct. Some items, like girdles, I can live without. But other types of clothing I miss. Near the top of the list is the dressing gown.

A dressing gown is a lightweight garment, usually floor length, and often with a zipper up the middle. They're usually cotton, silk, or rayon and patterned with anything from flowers to Chinese water bearers to flamingos. Dressing gowns are made to get into and out of easily so that you can step into one to wear once you've put on underwear and a bra (and maybe a slip, if you're going to wear one) but aren't quite ready to get dressed. Wearing a dressing gown you can make coffee and eat breakfast or put on make up without worrying about getting your clothes dirty.

A dressing gown isn't a bathrobe. Bathrobes are made to keep you warm and dry after a shower. Some robes, including wool Pendleton robes, are for layering over nightclothes to keep you warm as you raid the refrigerator in the middle of the night or step into the garage for more firewood. Of course, some people use robes as dressing gowns, but why wear a heavy layer of terrycloth (probably with threads pulling off it and a little damp from last night's bath) when you could be firing up the coffeepot with a full skirt of silk swishing against your legs?

I have three dressings gowns: a rayon gown from the 1940s, a cotton pique gown from the 1930s with soft, puffed sleeves, and a ribbon-fabric gown from the early 1950s (all purchased at the Xtabay, naturally). I love them all. Sometimes I delay getting dressed so I can prolong the glamour, or I'll even wear them when I work from home, layered with long underwear and a cashmere cardigan in the winter.

Liz has stocked the Xtabay well with dressing gowns. We have a 1930s gold silk charmeuse gown, two 1930s flowered cotton gowns (one of them a comfortable, larger size), and a gorgeously-patterned 1940s gown from the old Charles Berg department store. Add a pair of gold slippers--or, better yet, black silk mules with maribou trim--and you're set to start any day like a movie star.

--posted by Angie

Sunday, March 30, 2008

From the Stylist's Mouth

Friday afternoon a stylist came into the Xtabay. She perused the racks, looking for clothing--"no tears, no stains, everything has to be perfect"--for her clients. She immediately gravitated toward a Geoffrey Beene dress and coat that was structured but feminine. "This dress doesn't look any particular era," she said. "When you see it, you say, 'that's a great dress' and not 'that's a vintage dress'."

When she found out that I want to write a book on wearing vintage clothing, she said that one of the subjects not really covered in any books she's seen is how to wear vintage clothing and have it look stylish but contemporary. She said that good vintage clothing, worn right, doesn't look of a particular time, but transcends fashion. "Look at that dress," she said, pointing to a late 1970s Bill Blass disco dress with asymmetrical panels of wispy peach and pale cocoa chiffon. "With modern shoes, you'd never know it was vintage.

Occasionally someone will come into the store who is dressed head to toe in vintage, including a 1940s hairdo and red lipstick. To me, rather than look interesting or chic, she looks like she's in costume and waiting for her cue to walk on stage. Her attention to detail is admirable, but it's o.k. to mix a Target tee shirt with a 1960s necklace and cowboy boots.

"In the old days, people followed the fashion of the queen," the stylist said. "Then it was Hollywood and movie stars--you know Adrian and Edith Head. Now people follow the style of celebutants," she said with disgust. "I mean, what does Nicole Ritchie know about style?

"I was at a convention, and--what's her name?--Dina, Dita Von Teese, the one who was married to Marilyn Manson, was walking around. Everyone said she was so stylish, but she had makeup and clothes straight from the pinup era. I didn't think she had much style at all. You know who has style? People don't like to hear this, but Jessica Simpson has her own style. She doesn't copy anyone else, and it's all quality," the stylist said. (Lest you get the wrong idea, she also mentioned Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett as stylish.)

"You shouldn't look like you're dressed all in one decade. And you should dress for your own body, not to match fashion or look like a particular time. People should look at you and wonder where you got such a great dress, not notice right away that it's vintage."

Her point is well taken. I don't care if my dress looks blatantly vintage, and I'd love to have an eyeful of Dita Von Teese, but I know to make my own look by wearing modern boots with a full-skirted 1950s dress, and if I wear a vintage coat I try to carry a new purse. It's all in the mix, and it's all personal. Straight from the stylist's mouth.

--posted by Angie

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Fit for the Easter Parade

Today is Easter. For a lot of families, it has traditionally meant moms and daughters with new, matching dresses, a post-church parade home for a ham dinner, and, of course, hats.

I'm willing to wear just about anything vintage. I'll put on a flouncy 1950s dress with boots any time, and if you come to my house for dinner, chances are good I'll be in a Polynesian-print hostess gown. I won't flinch at wearing the rhinestone equivalent of 50 carats. But I have a hard time getting up the courage to wear a vintage hat.

For a long time, I thought it was because I didn't look good in hats, that I didn't have the fabled "hat head". Put just about any hat on Liz's head, for instance, and she looks terrific, but I have to try on a lot of hats before I find one that flatters. This week, though, I did find a hat--a 1950s black velvet hat with a long fringe--that did look good on me. If I'd seen someone in an old movie wearing the hat, I would have loved it. I had to face the fact that I am, in fact, like so many other people, afraid to wear a vintage hat. So much for Easter dressing.

It's time for me to bridge the great hat divide. One of Portland's rock royalty came into the Xtabay a month ago and bought a navy blue 1960s dress with a pleated flounce around the bottom and white trim. As she was paying, she reached up and plucked a white fur Hattie Carnegie hat from its stand, put it on, and said, "Add this, too." It would look terrific with her new dress at the party she was going to that evening. If she can do it, so can the rest of us.

--posted by Angie

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Baubles ...bangles...

On Saturday, Liz came into the Xtabay with two boxes of vintage jewelry. She opened one of the boxes and lifted out a handful of crystal and glass bead necklaces. "Look at these!" she said.

I love most everything about vintage clothing, but I have to admit that vintage jewelry tops my list (with coats running a close second). I love how a funky 1950s crystal and mottled glass bead necklace like the one in the picture above can transform a plain black tee shirt from Target into something worth looking at twice, or how a strand of pink rhinestones sets off a tattooed shoulder.

Vintage jewelry can be full of personality, so it often looks best one piece at a time. If you buy both a necklace and its matching earrings, try wearing them separately. Vintage jewelry is also terrific set off against contemporary clothing, just like modern jewelry can look so good with a 1960s Ship 'N Shore blouse. Rhinestones, especially pastel rhinestones, are surprisingly right for a spring day (imagine a green rhinestone brooch shaped like leaves on a butter yellow cashmere cardigan) so don't save them just for night.

Along with the load of vintage jewelry, Liz also bought a ridiculously ornate display case--something that could have been pinched from Versailles--and put it next to the counter. In the back of the store is a new dresser with drawers full of 1960s Pop Art inspired earrings, cotton gloves, and more. Stop by the store sometime soon and show us that Liz Taylor has nothing on you.

posted by Angie

Monday, March 10, 2008

New Arrival

The current star of the Xtabay window is this lovely 1950's party frock. Heavenly sky blue taffeta with mocha lace overlay, this beauty is sure to go to prom. It could be your's for only 125.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Spring Cleaning

On Friday afternoon I met Liz in her driveway. "I'm warning you," she said, "It's really bad in there." She gestured behind her to her garage, which attaches to her basement.

Liz is in the grips of a spring cleaning frenzy, and she asked me to come over to help her sort through the stacks of vintage clothing in her basement. I was more than happy to do it. In fact, I was really looking forward to seeing what sort of fabulous clothing was tucked away in the Aladdin's cave that Liz's basement surely would be.

The basement fulfilled its promise of being a vintage clothes lover's dream come true. In a quick glance I saw a gorgeous 1970s silk caftan and a Lilli Ann suit from the '50s with pleated detail at the sleeves. We lit a stick of sandalwood incense and stuck in in the shoulder of a dressmaker's dummy to burn down as we sorted clothes into piles to dryclean, take to the store, or send to Goodwill. For the sale rack, we filled bins with 1950s dresses, tee shirts, Jantzen sweaters, and other clothes with tiny stains or that need small repairs. Someone with basic mending skills will make out like a bandit when these clothes are put out.

All of this is to say that it's a great time to get down to the Xtabay. Already we have a box of bargain 1940s silk ties and 1980s belts out, and the sale rack is in front of the store with new pieces added every day. You just might see me in one of my Xtabay sale rack scores: a black cotton 1950s dress with a fitted bodice,a full skirt, and velvet trim. Full movie star glamour for $15.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Not Quite Winter, Not Quite Spring

The old saying goes that March "comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb". Here in Portland, the lion and lamb days alternate so that it's no telling what the next day's weather will bring. When it isn't winter anymore, but definitely not yet spring, what do you wear?

March is a good time to put your black wool turtleneck and dark, heavy coat into storage and turn to brighter colors. Get out your grass green mohair cardigan and cotton sundresses. Do you have a light, off-white cashmere coat? Maybe a blue linen coat? If you do, move them to the front of the closet. (If you don't, we can fix you up at the Xtabay.)

Now that you've brightened up the color of your wardrobe, think about how to wear a mix of your winter and summer clothes for March's unpredictable weather. For instance, you can toss a lilac cashmere cardigan over your tulip-print 1950s cotton dress and wear it with boots and a spring coat. Later, when spring hits full on, ditch the boots for sandals.

You can also lighten up your clothes this time of year by playing around with accessories. Try switching nude fishnets for tights or wearing chiffon scarves instead of wool scarves. Dump everything out of the giant leather bag you've carried all winter (face it, it's probably time you cleaned it out anyway) and carry a smaller, brightly-colored bag. Put away the bottle of heavy perfume you might have been wearing and try a spritz of hyacinth-scented Guerlain Chamade.

Before too long it will be April...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

While you were sleeping...

Early, early Friday morning Liz drove her ancient Honda to deep southwest Portland for an estate sale. The sun was just coming up, and orange light filtered beyond Mt. Hood. The air outside smelled moist and earthy, like it does when you unzip your tent flap after a night camping.

Liz lined up in front of a neglected 1950s ranch-style house. The sale wouldn't start for another three hours, but already sale-goers' cars choked the street and would soon start filling the nearby Charthouse restaurant's parking lot. The sale had been billed as a vintage-clothes-lover's dream, and photos posted online showed brightly-colored coats, rows of cocktail dresses, and purses with matching shoes.

When staff from the estate sale company arrived a few hours before the sale opened, the crowd waiting outside started jostling for position. The estate sale company had posted a note on the door saying that they would only honor the line at the door. Meanwhile, the people waiting in their cars, some since five in the morning, were steamed that people who had arrived later but waited at the house might get in before they did. The crowd was ugly. Nasty words were exchanged. Liz was patient, even philosophical. "I always thought someone should do a movie about estate sales," she said.

The sale turned out not to be the bonanza promised, but Liz still managed to walk out with an armload of finds: the gorgeous black and white dress Aley models in the photo above, a chocolate silk Cardin dress, a Diane von Furstenberg skirt and shirt set, a Lanvin dress from I Magnin, a black silk evening coat that looks to be Givenchy, and much more. Exhausted, Liz loaded up her Honda and headed home for lunch and a nap. Some of the estate sale booty is being priced and put in the store as I write.

All I can say is that I'm grateful that Liz is on the patrol. And all while I'm still in bed.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Style versus Fashion

Sitting behind the counter at the Xtabay, I see a lot of people come and go. One of the conclusions I've come to is that fashion and style are not the same.

Plenty of women come in the store wearing pointy shoes, a Marc Jacobs purse, and expensive jeans. They look terrific, but not particularly memorable. They're fashionable but not stylish. On the other hand, lots of Xtabay's customers are really stylish. They've forged their own looks--whether it's 1970s kiana shirts with caramel-colored boots and corduroys or 1950s cotton sundresses with cashmere cardigans.

Some women seem to have been born with style. A few months ago a girl who couldn't have been more than twleve years old came in the store with her father. They girl's hair was partly dyed pink, she wore layers of brightly colored tee shirts, and she had a backpack shaped like a koala bear. When she smiled she showed a mouth full of braces. She oozed style. Her father seemed mystified by his daughter's fashion choices. "She wears the craziest things," he said, "Girl Scout uniforms, you name it." I'd love to see her in ten years when she really comes into her own.

But whatever their age, the stylish women I've seen in Portland are an inspiration. Fashion will go on changing every season, but personal style is timeless.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Best Vintage Clothing in the Country

One Sunday a little over a month ago, I was opening up the store when three people came in: a woman with bleached platinum hair and straight across, long bangs; an olive-complexioned man; and a teenaged girl. The man picked up the Vogue lying on the red velvet bench and said in a French accent, "My baby is in here."

It turned out that the blonde was the designer, Erin Fetherston, and the man was her fiance (Fetherston had the chicklet-sized diamond to prove it). Not only was she in the December issue of Vogue, but she was also the "It Girl" in the January issue and showed up again in February. She was a CFDA finalist and has a high-end collection as well as a line at Target. She lives in New York--just moved from Paris--and was in Portland. "Portland has the best vintage shopping in the country," she said. Xtabay was her first stop and one of her favorite shops.

It wasn't the first time Fetherston had shopped at Xtabay. She said that she bought a 1950s tulle prom dress at Xtabay a few years ago. She cut the dress shorter, then sponged it with fabric dye to give it a Monet-esque, watercolor look. She said the dress was a big hit, and that she lent it to Lindsay Lohan, who loved it. ("This was before Lindsay was drinking so much," she said.)

As you might expect, Fetherston has a terrific eye. She pulled from the racks clothes that were girly but a little wacky--things that other people pass by but that looked great on her. "I'm pretty fearless about what I wear," she said, and she tried on a 1970s flowered hostess gown in a venal green; a pink 1980s cocktail dress; and a peach 1920s beaded flapper dress, among other things. She ended up buying an armload of clothes: a Roehm 1980s dress, Dior lingerie, a Lilli Ann coat, A Diane von Furstenberg nightgown, a 1970s wide-brimmed hat, a penguin pin, and more.

When she left, I straightened out the dressing room and looked around at the store with fresh eyes. You know, we really do have some pretty great stuff.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Glove Love

February is glove weather. It's cold out, and wet, and everything is grey and drab. What could be better than the warmth and shot of color that a pair of 1950s chartreuse cloth gloves adds to your black wool coat? Just ask Prada. They loaded their latest fall collection with long, vividly colored gloves.

Xtabay just received a dozen or so pairs of gloves from the 1940s and 1950s. Some are calfskin and others are cloth. A few are elbow length, but most extend just past the wrist. They are colors that would look especially fabulous on someone with a little red in her hair: sage green, mustard, pale blue, cream, and rust.

To find your glove size, measure around the widest part of your palm. Then, measure from the tip of your middle finger down to the base of your palm. These measurements should be pretty close to each other, but the largest of the measurements is your glove size.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

"What do you expect? It's Portland"

This week I went to hear Ian Bostridge, a tenor of rock star caliber, sing Schubert lieder. It was an icy night, so I wore a black wool dress from the 1950s and a long Lilli Ann coat with velvet trim. I also wore a pearl necklace with a flower in the middle made of shimmering crystals, also from the 1950s (and purchased from The Xtabay, naturally). As I entered the Kaul Auditorium with the crowd, I felt like a tropical fish swimming in a sea of guppies. Everywhere I looked I saw fleece.

The friend who invited me to the concert said, "What do you expect? It's Portland." We Portlanders take pride in our no nonsense, anti-high-falutin' attitude, and I like that about us. But there is a point where bucking society's expectations becomes an excuse for laziness. After all, Ian Bostridge showed up to sing in a beautifully-cut tuxedo. Can't we show him the respect of leaving our Danskos home for the evening?

I love getting dressed up to go out. I don't mean being "fancy", but taking the effort to find an interesting combination of clothes to wear. I'm setting the tone for my night out, and I hope that my choice of a rhinestone brooch or beaded cardigan will set this night apart from the rest of the week's evenings of trips to Trader Joes and dinner in front of the television for other people, too. After all, a concert, or dinner out, or party is only as special as you make it.

And I don't mean that we need to spend a lot of money on how we look. At the concert I saw a man who wore a 1970s patterned knit vest over a patterned cotton shirt, with tailored 1960s trousers. He looked great: smart, interesting, thoughtful. His whole outfit probably cost less than $50, shoes included.

So, Portlanders, get off your butts and out of your fleece and put on a cocktail dress to go to dinner, even if it isn't your company's annual holiday party. The next time you stop by the Press Club to listen to music, try a vintage jacket and cocktail ring. I'll be the woman at the next table with the patent leather evening bag.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Vintage Clothing 101: The Coat

Every once in a while I run into someone fascinated with vintage clothing, but who says, "Oh, I could never get away with wearing vintage." She seems to think that to wear vintage clothing you need Kate Moss's body and Cher's courage. My advice is to start off with a vintage coat.

Coats are one of the great bargains of the vintage world. For less than $100 you can walk away with a 1960s cashmere coat with a silk lining and buttons more spectacular than jewelry. Try that at Nordstrom and you'll be at least $1,000 poorer, and the coat's lining will rip out before the season is over. Coats made more than 40 years ago were made to last, and last they do. I have one coat with seams reinforced with velvet patches. It wears like iron.

Style-wise, a coat is relatively low risk, too. People who are self-conscious about wearing vintage know that they take off their coats once they're inside. (I love my vintage coats enough that I'm tempted to parade around a bit first.) Plus, vintage coats come in fabulous colors and patterns that you can't find today. When you're wearing mostly black, as many people do, nothing beats a vibrant coat. Some vintage coats even have designer provenance--Balenciaga designed for Lilli Ann from time to time, for instance.

Xtabay has a great selection of coats right now. We have a vintage Burberry raincoat, a camel-colored vicuna coat from the 1960s, a gorgeous orange and green tweed swing coat, a pink leather jacket perfect for Fonzi's girlfriend, a pumpkin orange mohair coat with a princess skirt, and a black 1930s evening coat, among many, many more.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Good Energy

I heard once about a woman whose aunt warned her not to wear vintage clothing. She said that they carry "bad energy". If that's true, what kind of energy do you get when you wear department store clothing--"exploited Malaysian seamstress" energy? I'm not buying it.

To me, the energy that comes with vintage clothes comes with the stories that that attach to them. For instance, a few weeks ago Liz bought over a hundred pieces of clothing from the estate of two sisters who lived together in Sellwood and died in their 90s.

The sisters liked to shop, and they bought the good stuff: black silk dresses from I Magnin, rayon 1940s dresses in gorgeous prints, coats in Balenciaga-esque designs, and beautifully finished suits from the old Nicholas Ungar and Charles Best department stores downtown. Most of the clothes are in immaculate condition and show a life full of lunches with the ladies, high-end office work, and swanky parties. Liz even found a bottle of Tigress perfume in the estate.

From looking at the clothing, one sister must have been smaller, from size 2 to 6, and the other was bigger, from size 8 to 12, depending on their ages. I think the smaller sister was a redhead since so many of her clothes were gold, green, or brown. But then again, she wore a lot of blue, too, and she loved polka dots. The larger sister liked blue, pink, and flowing dresses and had more conservative taste. Both sisters had a keen eye for pattern and quality. I wish I knew them.

So many of the clothes at Xtabay have stories like this. The clothes have lived through love affairs, break ups, new babies, family dinners, and road trips before the interstates were built. Just think of all the cocktail parties alone the dresses here have been to! If this is "bad energy", I say, bring it on.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What does "Xtabay" mean, anyway?

One of the most common questions we get at Xtabay (besides "Where do you get all your clothes?" and "How come everyone was so tiny?") is "What does 'Xtabay' mean, anyway?"

Xtabay Vintage Clothing is named after a record album by Yma Sumac called, naturally, "Voice of the Xtabay". The story goes that Yma Sumac lived in Ichocan, Peru, high in the Andes, and she sang for Indian rituals. Capitol Records--who must have had talent scounts everywhere--discovered her stupendous range and ordered up a record contract. Her first record, "Voice of the Xtabay", was released in the very early 1950s and is purportedly the oldest record in uninterrupted release.

The back of the record jacket describes the Xtabay:

The Xtabay is the most elusive of all women. You seek her in your flight of desire and think of her as beautiful as the morning sun touching the highest mountain peak. Her voice calls to you in every whisper of the wind. The lure of her unknown love becomes ever stronger, and a virgin who might have consumed your nights with tender caresses now seems less than the dry leaves of winter. For you follow the call of the Xtabay...though you walk alone through all your days.

So now you know.