San Diego, USA

Writing and photography by Pigalle, originally published for The Fabulous Times.

Vintage boom and bustiers

San Diego’s vintage scene burgeoned throughout the 1990s, attracting LA stylists to comb its haunts for red carpet, flash bulb dresses. However, the bubble burst in the noughties due to the recession, forcing many businesses to close. Since then, San Diego has started to pout its rouged lips again, bat its eyelashes and swing its hips to the sounds of burlesque. Vintage shops have begun emerging and coming together as a community to herald a dazzling rise from ashes past.

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The Girl Can’t Help It: New kids on the block, The Girl Can’t Help It, currently has guys and gals all over San Diego reaching to “Dial G for Glamour”, and high heel clicking their way in droves to the opulently painted red and black shop. Doyennes of vintage, Sparkle Moore and Jasja Boelhouwer originally ran The Girl Can’t Help It in London for over 25 years, becoming a favoured haunt for celebrities such as Kate Moss, Kiera, Knightly and Anne Hathaway, as well as international couturiers such as Missoni, Prada and Dior buying inspiration pieces for their latest collections.

Originally from New York, Sparkle travelled to California and London in the 1960s collecting antique and second-hand clothing, while in Holland Jasja turned his back on 1980s culture and immersed himself in the underground scenes of rock and roll and 1950s clothing.  Sparkle and Jasja had long associated San Diego as a “major destination for vintage lovers”, from their buying trips Stateside for their London shop. They made the move to relocate to San Diego last year, as part of a new wave placing the city firmly back on the vintage map.

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The Girl Can’t Help It brings “Hollywood Glamour from the bizarre to the beautiful, to make you smile or look sensational”, and is bursting at the seams with “excellent to mint condition” stock. A broad spectrum of customers step through their doors, from dedicated vintage collectors “looking for those pieces they can’t find anywhere else”, occasion shoppers and even “your average passer by who just wants something a little different”. They have been leading supporters of the burlesque scene, from starting London’s first neo-burlesque club in London over a decade ago, to sponsoring the city’s leading troupe Hell on Heels, as part of the revival which is now booming in San Diego. The Girl Can’t Help It has rockabillies, pinup models and burlesque queens seeking out items for their wardrobes, “their vintage appeal and dress sense…makes their audience want to dress up as well”.

Sourcing stock from sources far and wide, the “whole vintage lifestyle wardrobe, top-to-bottom and home accessories” is catered for. Clothes and jewellery are focussed on the 1930s-1950s Golden Age of Hollywood era, with a sprinkling of 1960s mod and psychedelia, and a selection of 1970s punk. Prices range from $30 and upwards to $3000, for one of Sparkle’s first ever vintage dresses bought in 1967.

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Ms. Vintage: Michele Gonzalez’s obsession with vintage was inspired by her glamorous grandmother who “entertained regularly, in cocktail and evening wear”, introducing  Michele to the stylish dress boutiques of the 1960’s and 1970’s. As a teenager Michele began “raiding her mothers and grandmothers closets, mixing vintage with current trends…reworking pieces to fit her individual style”. Steven Williamson also started experimenting with dressing in vintage styles as a teenager, sparked from his “interest in the alternative music scene, and as an expression of character”. With over 20 years experience dealing in vintage, Michele progressed from initially selling at markets to concentrating on selling through the internet. Concurrently, Steven had also been dealing in vintage over the past six years. Having outgrown running an online vintage business from their home, they decided to look for a workspace to expand into. A week before signing the lease, they realised the potential for transforming the space into “a full blown vintage boutique” called Ms. Vintage.

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Hiring Dita Von Teese’s set designer to create bespoke rails and fittings, Michele and Steven set about establishing an exquisitely scented and Chinoiserie-themed “dress shop rather than your typical vintage store” complete with Biba-esque wallpaper, that would have Carrie Bradshaw snapping up everything on view. Specialising in stocking women’s wear, home décor and a carefully handpicked selection of beauty and bath gifts to compliment the shop, they quickly found that customers would “come in looking for a dress for a certain event, but having to decide between three or four dresses they cant live without”.

Together they have amassed several thousand pieces, sourced from private referrals, home collections and complete estates worldwide. Focusing mainly on 1950’s – 1980’s, they “edit the collection to reflect current and upcoming trends”, while offering a separate online collection featuring 1920’s – 1980’s. From a 12 year old girl through to a 75 year old woman, their customers range from “vintage lovers and collectors, fashionistas, to the gal that wanders in off the street that we end up converting into a vintage lover!”. Prices for swoon worthy dresses average a very reasonable $48 – $98 and climb upwards to $375 for standout occasion dresses.

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Frock You!: Resident San Diegans, Kristin Tinderholt and Curt Benedetto, have been friends since Junior High School, uniting as youngsters in their search through thrift stores for vintage hats, vests, dresses and jackets. They progressed on to “taking vintage 60’s blazers and cropping them for a more 80’s look” at High School, before finally establishing Frock You.

While creating window displays at Macy’s, Kristin got bitten by the vintage bug after learning how to shop at estate sales. She handed in her notice to run a vintage clothing shop called Cherry Pickers for over four years. After closing the shop, a chance meeting with Curt lead to them joining together and gathering stock, before finding the ideal location to set up Frock You ten years ago.

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A wide selection of both women and menswear are displayed, with used and vintage merchandise mainly from 1940s-1960s, including new old stock “that has never been actually worn”. They have been known to buy entire estates, as well as buying and trading with customers and by the pound from a Texan source, “diversity is what we love at Frock You and encouraging creative fashion and recycling is what we do”. The estate sales have revealed great treasures, such as the entire wardrobe of Mimi Wagner, a 1930s ballroom dancer with an extensive collection of textiles and show costumes from around the world.

Their customer base spans all ages, with their male customers in particular “the happiest shoppers we have. They love finding a great snap up shirt or a sharkskin 60’s suit at a reasonable price”. They stock “fun fashions that are affordable and in really great condition”. For those penny conscious wallets, they also have an extension outside the main shop called Frock You Too, with more budget choices. Prices range from around $20-150 for items inside the shop and from around $8- 30 for items in Frock You Too.

“If I have an hour in a city, I go to vintage stores first because it’s so much cooler to find a piece that is unique. I love the thought of some girl having worn it before and living her life in it” – Helena Christensen 

Hamburg, Germany >