Tom the dandy was standing by himself, looking very much at home inside the Retake Room, a quaint Studio City shop that fills an unlikely niche in the garment industry by selling castoff wardrobes from television and the movies.
The concept of the store raises images of colorful Hollywood costumes: Southern belles in trailing gowns, planetary travelers in silver and gold.
But the reality, observed on a visit to the shop this week, was more that of a thrift store for stars, or at least for those who want the look of a star on the budget of a laborer.
It had the spotty ambiance of the thrift store--a threadbare carpet, rows of clothes racks made of two-by-fours and a creaky wooden stairway leading to a low-ceilinged loft. Coats, pants, shirts and dresses were pressed tightly together.
Still, there was an undertone of elegance. Most of the clothes were made of fine materials and cut in contemporary styles. Many were tired and spotted from use. But others looked untouched. And the people who drifted in were the upbeat sort, befitting the store’s presence in the Ventura Boulevard strip of Studio City where the image-conscious studio crowd hangs out.
Tom was clearly one of that crowd, the picture of an actor. He walked with a slight limp and spoke with a stage voice. He wore beige wool slacks, tan cowboy dress boots, a white shirt with an open button and a brown corduroy windbreaker.
He smiled warmly. When asked if he worked there, he said, “No,” but went right on to show the place, as though he did.
Tom sought no fame. When asked his last name, he would only say “Thumb.” He appeared to be in his 30s.
But he was full of praise for his favorite store.
“This is a unique place,” he said. “There’s no place like it anywhere else. You ought to try one of these jackets.”
From the rack he plucked a well-tailored brown tweed.
“This one has looks like it has never been worn,” he said. He turned the lining out to show the Givenchy signature.
“I bought a beautiful jacket not too long ago for $35. The same jacket at Polo on Rodeo Drive is $275. I’ve got about 5,000 sport jackets. I really need a new closet. But I keep buying them because they’re so cheap.”
The styles change from one week to the next, he said, depending on what movie has been shot or what television series has gone off the air.
“You have to keep coming in, that’s all,” he said. “I’m here two to three times a week.”
On this trip he was indecisive.
He paced the floor two or three times, then struck a pose in front of the mirror, twisting his neck to see behind his back, not quite satisfied with what he saw.
At that moment, a small, gray-haired woman in a black dress came from the back of the store where she had been dealing with another customer. She was Elaine Vollmer, co-owner of the store.
She studied the young man severely as he pulled at a puff of cloth behind his back and asked if it looked right.
“It looks fine, Tom,” she said.
“I don’t need the coat,” he said. “I might put it back and get nothing today.”
He put the windbreaker down. Then he picked up the tweed that only moments earlier he had been pressing on someone else. He tried it on. It was a perfect fit.
“I wouldn’t even have to take up the sleeves,” he said. “Decisions. Decisions.”
“I’m going to stay away from you,” the woman said. “You can make this choice yourself.”
She walked to another part of the store.
During the break in business, Vollmer briefly told the story of the Retake Room. She and her partner, Jan Hallman, were being laid off from studio jobs in which they did inventory control for wardrobe, scene dressing and props.
“We were older,” she said. “There was nowhere else to go. I said, ‘Let’s start a store. Let’s go into business.’ She said, ‘Only if we sell wardrobe.’ Since they were pulling back, we could ask them if we could sell the things.”
Since then one lot of castoffs has been leading to another. The quality, quantity and style change constantly, she said.
“A lot of these things have not been worn,” she said. “Or they have been shot full of holes and bloodstained. Sometimes we have all one thing. Sometimes we’re all another thing. Sometimes we’re lots of tchotchke things, the fake jewelry, the scarfs, the shoes, the slippers.”
She lifted the sleeve of a silk blouse with a Liz Claiborne tag.
“It depends on the movie,” she said. “Sometimes they want them to look like J.C. Penney. It’s cold realism.”
Vollmer wouldn’t tell what movies or television shows her merchandise comes from. The producers don’t like that and might decide to deal with someone else, she said.
Usually out-of-town tourists want to know what famous actor wore their clothes and she tells them, Vollmer said.
“They want to buy something from the movies,” she said. “They want a part of it.”
But regulars don’t seem to care.
“I don’t know,” he said to himself, still wavering. “Now that summer is upon us I don’t know if I need any more wool coats.”
“You do have a few,” Vollmer said. “Did you get the new closet?”
He smiled with self-reproach and said he hadn’t. Still, he didn’t take the coat off.
He struck a pose to show off his outfit. All of it but the shirt came from the store, he said. It cost $85.
That was not counting the shirt. But it was counting the tweed coat. He paid $50 for it.
“I didn’t come in here to get a coat,” he said, protesting all the way to the cash register.
“You never do,” Vollmer said. “You just come in.”
Tom wore his new coat from the store, climbed onto a beige motor scooter parked outside and drove away.