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.