Over the last decade, vintage shopping in Los Angeles has largely lost its sense of humor.
What was once a discount-centered exercise in fashion excavation has slowly morphed into a sometimes expensive high-fashion endeavor — where a no-name secondhand frock can easily cost three times as much as its H&M facsimile.
Blame it on Hollywood's ongoing love affair with vintage, along with global, online-based competition for designer vintage. Outbidding a Saudi princess on Prada usually verges on the impossible, after all.
But a growing number of local vintage hounds are putting the reason back into resale — by ditching the pricey overhead of bricks-and-mortar stores and rolling out racks of secondhand finery in their living rooms.
The residential "shops" specialize in well-priced garb and eliminate pushy salespeople, parking woes and boutique formality from the shopping equation — replacing them with a chatty girlfriend-to-girlfriend vibe that often leads to prolonged hangout sessions, impromptu styling from strangers and, in some cases, a mimosa buzz.
Promotion of the sales takes place through email and on Facebook and proprietary blogs, where addresses and opening hours are given.
"It's kind of big-sisterish," said Dani Muller, a stylist and photographer who recently launched Ladiess (pronounced "ladies"), a monthly residential vintage sale, with co-founder Sierra Feldner-Shaw — who hosts the sales in her Silver Lake house. "Girls will stay a long time and consult with each other, discussing what kind of shoes you'd wear with this, or what top to wear with that. It's really fun and easy."
Sales at Ladiess, which specializes in reclaimed and reworked vintage clothing for the runway-savvy, are part of a fledgling business that also includes wardrobe consulting and a blog in which the duo chronicle their lighthearted efforts to re-create runway looks using only secondhand clothes. (They usually get close, but freely admit when looks don't pan out.)
Muller added that roughly 80% of the clothes at the sales are priced at under $35, noting, "We want to have a good time, and we wanted to bring good-looking clothes to everybody."
Lifelong clotheshorse Renee Shaab, who works in the luxury hotel sales business, and freelance style writer Erin Weinger, a former Los Angeles Times staff reporter, recently launched a series of vintage sales in Weinger's Los Feliz apartment — getting the word out via email and Twitter.
The idea of hosting regular vintage sales crystallized during a late-night "quarter-life crisis" conversation between the two co-founders, when Shaab realized that her passion is vintage clothes shopping. "That's my talent in life," she said.
The pair shop for wearable vintage and secondhand clothes and accessories ("nothing too outrageous") in Palm Springs and "at lots of secret places we don't want to reveal," said Shaab, who chalked up the allure of at-home shops to "a level of comfort. We encourage people to play adult dress-up. We serve mimosas and have had some breakfast-y snacks. It feels comfortable."
The shop's prices are equally friendly. There's a $1 bin full of brooches, tees, bracelets and the like. Dresses hover around $15, with the highest price tags hanging from true designer pieces from brands including Calvin Klein and St. John.
Unearthing vintage and secondhand fashion that seamlessly integrates into modern wardrobes is Kitty Jensen's forte. The part-time nanny and full-time vintage fanatic has undoubtedly influenced the new crop of at-home vintage sellers in L.A. with Secret Shop, her 3-year-old living room boutique that counts celebrities such as Miranda July and Frankie Rayder among its regular drop-ins.
Jensen's shop, which is open by appointment only (she prefers to open up for small groups of friends), feels more like an old-school beauty shop than a retail space, with women curled up with cups of coffee on her sofa, flipping through magazines and discussing fashion.
"I didn't ever think it would be really a business that I would run," said Jensen, who buys much of her stock in her native Pacific Northwest, and deals in wearable, understated vintage — with very little polyester in the mix.
"But I did it because I love, love vintage and I love finding stuff. I always have. Within six months of opening, I was getting people to call about it. I made business cards."
Prices range from $24 for a rare tee to just north of $100 for a cool leather jacket.
Jensen, who says she makes roughly three-fourths of her income with Secret Shop, is contemplating a move to a bigger house to accommodate the growing business and has even toyed with opening a proper store elsewhere.
But she thinks that the residential surroundings are a key reason her shop's been so successful.
"I think that it's stressful to shop, and being in a home is more comfortable," she said. "I'm there drinking coffee, talking to my friends. There's no pressure."
Ladiess: Email email@example.com for sale details and check out the blog at http://www.ladiess.virb.com.; Renee Shaab and Erin Weinger: Email Renee Shaab at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the sale notification list.; Secret Shop: Email Kitty Jensen at email@example.com to make an appointment and check out secretshopvintage.com for news and occasional public hours.