Last Updated on March 13, 2023 by Dominique de Merteuil
Those of you who read my last post entitled “Joan Crawford inspired look” are probably already familiar with Xtabay Vintage shop where I found the most perfect 1940s cocktail dress that I believe Crawford herself would have approved of!
If however, this is the first time you are hearing about this shop extraordinaire, may I present you now with the perfect opportunity to familiarise yourself with a place where you can find museum-worthy pieces, jaw-draping vintage gowns or a wedding dress fit for a movie star!
Without further ado, I present to you the Xtabay vintage shop of the week!
It’s Beyond My Control: How did you start your adventure in selling vintage clothes?
Xtabay Vintage: My adventure with vintage clothing started in High School. I was a bit of an outcast in high school. I was super shy with really bad acne. My passion at the time was art- drawing and painting, it was the one thing I was really good at.
I suffered from a pretty acute degree of depression my Sophomore year and my only real escape was art. I poured myself into art books and found relief in painting and drawing. This is where I found “my people”. I found friends in my art classes and they were the ones that turned me on to thrifting. I remember the first time I went to a Value Village.
My mind was blown. This was in 1990, there was an abundance of incredible vintage back then. I remember filling shopping carts with mountains of dresses- all priced at 1.99-2.99. Even then I could see that these items were valuable. I was hooked. I started wearing vintage from that day forward.
When I graduated from High School, I moved across the country to attend the Rhode Island School Of Design. I struggled there. I was homesick most of the time and suffered from horrible bouts of depression and anxiety. I drank a lot to self-medicate. I ended up dropping out midway through my junior year and moving back to Portland.
I picked up my vintage habit full force when I returned. I held a few glamorous positions, I worked at a gas station and was fired for being immature. I worked at Taco Bell for a stint and was fired for being….again, immature. Ha!
It wasn’t until I started working at a vintage shop in downtown Portland in 1994 that I realized I could sell it. The shop was called The Big Bang. It was legendary at the time. I met a lot of fabulous people and lived with these wonderful, creative drag queens.
We would go out every night decked out in the most outrageous ensembles. We wore vintage from head to toe. We partied HARD in vintage. My boss at the time would buy pieces I would find at thrift stores. When the shop closed in 1996, the owners gave me bags and bags of leftover vintage items.
That was the last time I held a job working for another person! I started selling to local vintage shops and eventually became a part of a shop called Lady Luck Vintage. At Lady Luck, I learned I could really make a living doing this.
I remember a writer from Vogue (Sally Singer) came in and bought a bunch of my stuff- she mentioned us in the magazine! It was thrilling. My partner and I had a huge falling out over a dumb boy and I ventured out to open my own place. In 2001 Xtabay was born with a $7000 bank loan and a ton of vintage.
It’s Beyond My Control: What can we find in your vintage shop? For example, do you specialise in a particular era or type of garment, accessory, etc?
Xtabay has always had an emphasis on glamour and beauty. I love the ultra-feminine and the beautifully designed. I love quality and craftsmanship. Fashion is a form of art. I don’t specialize in any particular era per se, but I do tend to be drawn to 1950s and 1960s dresses. If I could find a lot of ’20s, ’30s and 40’s I would fill my shop with those as well.
I love floral prints and silks. I love color. I love fabric. I buy what I love and what resonates with me. It really is like a painting. My boutique is an ever-evolving sculpture. I am moved and motivated by color. I think it drives my employees crazy- I am constantly tearing things down- changing the dress forms. Rearranging.
Creating vignettes and then destroying them the minute a piece sells. I have been known to change the shop window 3 times a day. I am obsessed with beauty and quality. I think my obsession is directly reflected in my shop. I come from a long line of women with good taste. Both sets of grandparents lived in New England and had homes filled with antiques and objects of beauty.
My grandmother in Rhode Island lived in a sprawling colonial house with gilt-framed mirrors and silk-upholstered furniture. I think I have been trying to recreate the feeling of being with there ever since.
It’s Beyond My Control: Is there a process you go through when selecting garments for your shop? Perhaps you have a list of criteria, that you use when deciding which garments will be perfect for your shop and your clients?
Xtabay vintage; My selection process is entirely intuitive. I rely a lot on how I feel about it. If it looks salable but depresses me I put it back. Ha…I am super creeped out by certain fabrics. Double-knit polyester makes me nauseous sometimes.
Certain things make my heart race, silk florals for example. Lush, bucolic prints that remind me of my grandmother’s drapery. I have always been a stickler for condition and pass on a lot of things that are just too damaged. I am blessed with the most amazing seamstress that can fix and restore almost anything. She is a genius!
It’s Beyond My Control: Where do you find all those beautiful vintage clothes and accessories for your shop? (if it’s not a secret!)
Xtabay vintage: I shop constantly. It really is an addiction. A lot of my best pieces come directly to my shop from people downsizing. I used to do the estate sale thing. It is too anxiety-provoking for me now.
The competition is frantic, and fierce and brings out the worst in me. I am certain I have ruffled a few feathers in my day and I regret it. I struggle a lot with this. I struggle with a lot of fear and envy. There are at least 20 popular online sellers in my neighbourhood alone. We all shop at the same places, we all want the same stuff, we are all women and we all know each other to vary degrees. It can be awkward at times.
It’s Beyond My Control: What is your favourite period of time and why?
Xtabay vintage: I don’t really have a particular favourite time period. There is so much beauty and expression that comes through every decade. I have inherited family pieces from the 1800s that are museum-worthy.
I have fallen madly in love with silly novelty print items from the 70s like the Paganne Erte print dress below. A few vintage “purists” scoffed at this piece but I thought it was fabulous. Below is a Hattie Carnegie gown from the 1930s that I sold a year or so ago.
It’s Beyond My Control: What message/advice do you have for women who have never bought vintage clothes before? For example: what are the key pieces to start building a vintage look? What to keep in mind when making a purchase?
Xtabay vintage: I suggest dipping your toes in with an accessory. Perhaps an evening clutch, or a silk scarf. Next, I would say a coat. My Mom never wore vintage until she tried on a gorgeous 50s swing coat. It was charcoal grey with a black velvet collar.
The quality is beyond anything you can buy today. I tell women you would have to spend thousands of dollars to get the same level of quality in a new garment. It’s true. My Mom has since worn a beaded 1940s rayon cocktail dress to my brother’s wedding and wears vintage dresses for special occasions.
It’s Beyond My Control: What are the 3 favourite items that you have ever sold and why have you chosen to name those particular ones?
Xtabay vintage: It’s so hard to name just three. I’ve been selling for well over 20 years. So many incredible pieces have come my way. A couple of couture late 50s dresses by Arnold Scaasi always come to mind. A 1920s wedding gown that was out of this world, complete with the most incredible handmade lace headpiece and veil.
It’s Beyond My Control: What are your favourite vintage brands and are they very difficult to find?
Xtabay vintage: My favourite vintage labels and designers are all over the board. I of course love the big wigs: Dior, Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Balmain, Schiaparelli, Balenciaga, Charles James, these are the designers I drool over in books and dream of finding.
Designers I love that I actually find involve a lot more women. Hattie Carnegie, Nettie Rosenstein, Ceil Chapman, Ann Fogerty, Claire McCardell, Tina Leser, Dorothy O’Hara, Irene Lentz, Adele Simpson, the Fontana sisters, Bonnie Cashin.
I have had hundreds of incredible pieces by all of these designers over the years. There was an Irene evening gown that I sold for a song in 2004 that still haunts me. I bought an estate a couple of years ago that included over 100 new old stock pieces by Bonnie Cashin. An epic collection, all with the original tags still attached. I still dream about that estate.
My first designer/label obsession was Peggy Hunt. I remember finding a silk chiffon cocktail dress in an emerald green floral print with nude illusion fabric and huge silk chiffon wings and thinking it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen… I remember being baffled to read the name Peggy Hunt on the interior label.
What a frumpy name for such a glamorous dress! I wish I still had it! Ugh…the things I have sold. You can find her dresses for sale online still. I used to find Ceil Chapman dresses out thrifting in the early 2000s – not anymore. Everything has gotten scarce. Now even finding a Leslie Fay feels like an accomplishment.
It’s Beyond My Control: What’s in your wardrobe? Do you personally wear vintage clothes on a daily basis?
Xtabay vintage: Hahaha, I laugh because I recently told someone I am the Steve Jobs of vintage. I literally wear a black turtleneck and black jeans every day during the winter. I am a little ashamed and embarrassed by this. I have this fantastic grey wool 1960s Bonnie Cashin coat that I have been wearing EVERY SINGLE DAY since November. In the winter I can’t be bothered, it’s terrible I know.
In the summer I wear dresses every day. I wear these sack-shaped Mexican dresses because they show off my legs and hide my thick waist. If I have a special occasion I will always wear a vintage dress, usually one of my favourites by Peggy Hunt or Dorothy O’Hara. I have an apple green Lilli Ann coat that I wear every Christmas. People would be shocked and sad if they saw my closet. It’s pretty empty. I love dressing other people but really hate dressing. If I could wear a uniform every day I would. As I said, I am the Steve Jobs of vintage.
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LucyMarch 29, 2018
Beautiful dresses, especially the floral one!
Dominique de MerteuilApril 4, 2018
There are some truly extraordinary pieces in the shop!