Can You Make a Living Selling Schmatas?

Braving the dangerous world of vintage clothing vendors

Some dealers come from even farther away than California. A guy who insists that he be identified as Angela Nechay's husband arrived from Ukraine 18 years ago with English skills, he says, limited to "yes and no, hi and bye." He sold general antiques at a flea market until his wife's enthusiasm for old clothes took over. "My wife likes to dress up," he says. "She likes beautiful things." A former teacher in Ukraine, he turned his scholarly attentions to costume history: "We bought books and studied. Little by little, we were only selling vintage clothing."

But not everyone comes to the business propelled by an affection for Talitha Getty caftans and Annette Funicello circle skirts. Jerome Wilson tells me that the only reason he segued into clothes from his original passion, table linens, is that the younger generation doesn't seem to care much about sitting down to formal dinners every Sunday or changing the draperies each spring the way his family did when he was growing up in Nutley, New Jersey.

Historic yarns: vintage vendors Heloise Williams (above) and Circa Now's Nicole Tondre (far left) and Lisa Fuller
Photographs by Kate Lacey
Historic yarns: vintage vendors Heloise Williams (above) and Circa Now's Nicole Tondre (far left) and Lisa Fuller

"If Lindsay Lohan was blowing her nose on a linen napkin, or E! had a segment on old damask, maybe that would help," he sighs as a young woman trying on an 80-year-old lace dress flaps around his booth, happy as Zelda Fitzgerald on her way to the Biltmore bar.

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