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?
Why, you get The Alley Vintage and Costume, where the motto is “You Are Never Too Old To Play Dress Up.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
They also can’t predict what customer dreams and expectations will come in the door, which is much of the challenge.
How do they help customers realize those dreams with an ever-changing inventory?
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.
History can take the shape of the stylish suits of an executive secretary in Buffalo, New York in the 1950s.
Or it can unfold in the heavily beaded visitée jacket made in the atelier of the legendar Charles Frederick Worth.
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.
Or in a Navy sweetheart hankie and pin.
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.
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.
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.
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?
My favorite section of any vintage store is always the hats. And The Alley had lots.
I kept Cynthia busy snapping pictures.
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.
(Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand for photos!)