Vintage clothing seems to be in Katy Brown’s DNA. As a child, the owner of The Vintage Arah would accompany her aunt to antiques malls. She remembers wandering around, looking at and touching fabulous old things. From her mother, who sewed a lot of Brown’s clothes, she learned to love textiles and clothing construction. By her dad, she was exposed to history. “Put it all together,” she says, “and you get me!”
Last July, after selling her vintage clothing finds online since 2009, Brown opened a boutique in Cedar Hill, Texas. Located in a little house on Main Street, beside a barbecue restaurant (buttered buns!) and in front of a cupcake shop, The Vintage Arah is 500 square feet of pre-loved, handpicked threads (and more!) from decades past.
“I love coats,” Brown says, gesturing to a jean jacket embellished with sequined parrots and then showing us a long black velvet coat with pink satin lining. She also loves high-waisted pants. And leather handbags. And dresses. Editing is something she says she struggles with, because, really, she loves everything. And that’s OK. Sifting through the treasures in a jam-packed vintage shop to find just the right gem for you is the very essence of vintage shopping.
Going from online only and pop-up events like Flea Style to brick and mortar — or sunlit wood siding, as is the case with The Vintage Arah — isn’t easy, Brown says. The challenges lie in being physically present at a store during the time previously spent scouting for new merchandise (who’s going to stock the shop?), spreading the word that your store is open and getting people in the door to buy things, and constantly re-evaluating the business strategy to determine what’s working and adjust what’s not.
But it’s been worth it, Brown says, calling herself “a store person” and explaining that she realized after taking a retail buying job after college that her passion for fashion was in merchandising and interacting with customers. The best joy in doing what she does, she says, is “when somebody comes in and they connect with something. When they find something they love that’s their size — I love seeing that!”
Katy Brown’s Tips for Buying Vintage Clothing
- Ignore the size on the tag. If you are shopping online, pay close attention to measurements. If they aren’t listed, ask. If you are shopping in person, try things on.
- Do a careful inspection. This cannot be done with online shopping, but if you’re in a store, go over an item you are interested in with a fine-tooth comb. Look for tears, missing buttons and moth holes. To check for the latter, hold a garment by the hem and look down into it. If you see light coming through tiny holes, you don’t want that piece.
- Ask about repairs or cleaning. If an item is damaged and you still want it, inquire about how to repair it. If it’s obviously dirty, consider dry cleaning costs before you buy. (A vintage suede coat, for example, can be as much to clean as the cost of the coat itself.)
- Have an idea of what something is worth. A trendy item, like printed pants from the 1980s, for example, shouldn’t cost much, but a classic, like a Persian lamb coat from the 1950s, is worth the cash.
- Examine the soles of shoes. Bend the shoe to make sure the sole isn’t going to crack. Check the edges to make sure it’s still firmly attached to the upper.
- Have fun!
For more with Brown, watch the video below.