Field Trip: The Alley Vintage and Costume, Columbus, Ohio

Readers,

What do you get when a master costumer in the International Costumers’ Guild and her professional makeup artist husband open a store following 30 years in the theater costume business?335The Alley (460x334)

Why, you get The Alley Vintage and Costume, where the motto is “You Are Never Too Old To Play Dress Up.”

With a knowledge of fashion and costume history both broad and deep, Kit and Joseph can guide customers to create outfits fantastical or historically correct (or both).

With a knowledge of fashion and costume history both broad and deep, Kit and Josef can guide customers to create outfits fantastical or historically correct (or both).

I spent a recent morning getting a grand tour of the store from owners Kit and Josef Matulich. They encouraged me to stow my coat and bag and make myself at home.

One moment, it's part of a display...

One moment, this swim cap is part of a display…

I started out with pencil and clipboard determined to capture facts,  but I confess I quickly jettisoned both reportorial gear and demeanor and dove headlong into trying things on.

...and the next moment this swim cap is on my head. Everybody into the pool!

…and the next moment it’s on my head. Everybody into the pool!

How could I not?

The impulse was too strong to resist, especially with Kit egging me on, even drafting store assistant Abbey, of the sewing blog Life in a”Mads” House, to play model for a unique, on the spot trunk show.

Abbey, having a Dorothy Lamour moment.

Abbey, having a Dorothy Lamour moment.

At The Alley, Kit and Josef can never predict what clothing or accessories will come in the door next, which is much of the fun.

Looking for the ultimate alligator purse? Meet Percival.

Looking for the ultimate alligator purse? Meet Percival.

They also can’t predict what customer dreams and expectations will come in the door, which is much of the challenge.

Looking for something green for St. Patrick's Day?

Looking for something to complete that St. Patrick’s Day outfit?

Do you love dressing up for Halloween? The Renaissance Festival? Historical reenactments? There are hundreds of costumes to choose from.

Do you love dressing up for Halloween? The Renaissance Festival? Historical reenactments? There are hundreds of costumes to choose from.

How do they help customers realize those dreams with an ever-changing inventory?

Go ahead--try it on!

Go ahead–try it on!

I like it, and so does Jack. The collar is mouton.

I like it, and so does Jack. The collar is mouton.

A lifetime’s experience in costume design and construction, a grounding in history, and a flair for improvising all come in handy, as does an irrepressible sense of fun.

“I do this out of a sense of history and to make people happy,” Kit says, recounting the story of a teenage customer gleefully twirling in the full-skirted 1950s dress she chose using a gift certificate from her grandmother.

An outfit Kit would like to make--and she's got the skills to do it! My sewing ambitions suddenly seem awfully modest!

An outfit Kit would like to make–and she’s got the skills to do it! My sewing ambitions suddenly seem awfully modest!

This exquisite waistcoat was made for a wedding,

This exquisite waistcoat was made for a wedding…

...in Paris, about 1826.

…in Paris, about 1826.

History can take the shape of the stylish suits of an executive secretary in Buffalo, New York in the 1950s.

These suits were all worn by the same smartly dressed secretary in Buffalo, New York.

These suits were all worn by the same smartly dressed secretary in Buffalo, New York.

This suit dates from a time when the department store or dress shop was local, not a branch of a national chain.

This suit dates from a time when the department store or dress shop was local, not a branch of a national chain.

I would love to design my own label, so I'm always on the lookout for inspiring examples.

I would love to design my own label, so I’m always on the lookout for inspiring examples.

Some suits interest me for a particular detail. I wonder how I might use a pocket design like this.

Some suits interest me for a particular detail. I wonder how I might use a pocket design like this.

Or it can unfold in the heavily beaded visitée jacket made in the atelier of the legendar Charles Frederick Worth.

A heavily beaded jacket: the front...

A heavily beaded jacket: the front…

The back (the mottled appearance of the velvet was produced by the way it lay on the beads)

the back (the mottled appearance of the velvet was produced, alas, by  improper storage of a previous owner),

...and the discreet label, WORTH.

…and the discreet label, “WORTH PARIS.”

Everywhere there’s a story begging to be told–even in the Easter chick-yellow negligee knitted and sewn by the mother of the groom for her new daughter-in-law’s wedding night.

Abbey and Kit can hardly contain themselves as I try on this trousseau item.

Abbey and Kit can hardly contain themselves as I try on this trousseau item.

I feel very...fluffy.

I feel very…fluffy.

"Now I think I know what it's like to be a kitten," I told them.

“Now I think I know what it’s like to be a kitten,” I told them.

Or in a Navy sweetheart hankie and pin.179The Alley (460x351)

And history also takes the form of family pictures on the back wall, with a stylish Aunt Edna from the 1930s gazing down upon us.

A love of clothing and costume has come down the generations in Kit's and Joseph's families.

A love of clothing and costume has come down the generations in Kit’s and Josef’s families.

This riding jacket is incredibly small, even by my standards.

This riding jacket is incredibly small, even by my standards.

The back is every bit as beautiful as the front.

The back is every bit as beautiful as the front.

But everywhere at The Alley there are also new stories waiting to be told, in new combinations of clothes and accessories, worn for new occasions undreamt of in the minds of their designers and former owners.

Were these made to be worn underneath--or on top?

Were these made to be worn underneath–or on top?

The clothes of yesteryear had to have the proper undergarments, like this

The clothes of yesteryear had to have the proper undergarments, like these

...and this,

…and these

and this bullet bra. Don't ask.

and this bullet bra. Don’t ask.

The women who strode triumphantly out of department stores gloating over their new purchases might be amazed at the second lives their hats, dresses, jewelry, and even underpinnings are enjoying.

Resort wear!

Resort wear!

Earrings!

Earrings!

More earrings!

More earrings!

Lovely little evening bags!

Lovely little evening bags!

Gloves galore!

Gloves galore!

Platform shoes from the '40s!

Platform shoes from the ’40s!

How about walking a mile in any of these?

How about walking a mile in any of these?

And likewise, the men who proudly donned their Oddfellows garb, or bowlers, or polyester suits–what might they think about the reincarnation of these items?

Look like no one else on Prom Night.

Look like no one else on Prom Night.

Bowties!

Bow ties!

Bicentennial lining from 1976!

Bicentennial lining from 1976!

Me: "How do you define 'lounge lizard'?" Joseph: "Something '60s, maybe '50s. Something between cool and cheesy."

Me: “How do you define ‘lounge lizard’?”
Josef: “Something ’60s, maybe ’50s. Something between cool and cheesy.”

Hats! (And an astronaut suit!)

Hats! (And an astronaut suit!)

My favorite section of any vintage store is always the hats. And The Alley had lots.

Dozens and dozens of hats.

Dozens and dozens of hats.

I kept Cynthia busy snapping pictures.

1964? '65?

1964? ’65?

A little number to wear to lunch after attending the flower show.

A little something to wear to lunch after attending the flower show.

I'll wear this Mr. John number when I'm in that bandana-Mongol hat mood.

I’ll wear this Mr. John number when I’m in that bandana-Mongol hat mood.

Buy a bunch of violets, Miss?

Buy a bunch of violets, Miss?

A, those were the days, cherie!

Ah, those were the days, cherie!

Whatever role I'm auditioning for, I don't think I want the part after all.

Whatever role I’m auditioning for, I don’t think I want the part after all.

Am I wearing this backwards?

Am I wearing this backwards?

Groovy!

Groovy!

Did the Christian Dior hat designer have  morel mushrooms for lunch?

Did the Christian Dior hat designer have morel mushrooms for lunch? And who is that looking over my shoulder?

The brain coral exhibit at the aquarium was fabulous!

The brain coral exhibit at the aquarium was fabulous!

After two and a half hours at the Alley I had barely scratched the surface of what this store offered. I wanted to look at earrings, study more dressmaker and tailor details in jackets, examine 1970s plaid skirts to harvest for yardage…

And try on more hats!

A return visit is definitely in order.

As I left the shop I bade goodbye to Percival, “See you later, alligator.”

And you know something? I could swear I saw him wink.

Percival says, "See you soon!"

Percival says, “See you soon!”

(Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand for photos!)

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Field Trip: The Alley Vintage and Costume, Columbus, Ohio

  1. What a treasure chest! I am a sucker for hats, as well. At one point I had many vintage hats…I never wore them, and my husband finally lost patience and convinced me to donate them. I do wish I’d kept a few.

    Fun visit, thanks for sharing.

    • I also have some hats I love but never wear–why is that? Why is it particularly difficult to part with them or wear them? This topic deserves a post or two.

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