On the corner of Grand Avenue and 18th Street in Des Moines resides a little, hidden red brick gem, furnished with historical treasures.
Within minutes upon entering the place, the familiar smell of your grandmother’s neglected guest room closet fills your nose, almost taking you to that old familiar place. One could also argue that its appearance looks like the inside of your grandmother’s guest room closet, too.
Once acclimated with the mothball scent, your eyes wander from top to bottom with the space’s wall-to-wall visuals. Pinks, blues, greens, browns, reds and yellows line the walls from top to bottom, looking almost like a decadent candy store. Taffeta hangs from several of the light fixtures, cascading down from a tall ceiling. The space is the creativity decorated with its contents, and yet it looks like an effortless hodgepodge of what some people would consider old junk strewn about like it was merely thrown aside – rejected.
This place is Dorothea’s Closet Vintage, but what many people fail to realize is that this isn’t a vintage clothing store – it’s a lifestyle.
“This is, like, my dream job,” said Mary Ann Steve, an avid vintage hat collector and sales associate at Dorothea’s Closet Vintage. Steve has been working at the shop for a little over four years and is clearly still smitten by it as she gazes around.
“There’s so much here,” Steve said. “There are even tulle skirts on the lights.”
Dorothea’s Closet Vintage wasn’t always the adorable, eclectic shop on Grand Avenue. The shop originated on the web, but nine years later grew into the store that it is today. Owner Angela Petraline started her virtual vintage store on eBay, but even that grew into something more. The eBay shop morphed into a small stand-alone website, which still exists today, housing gorgeous vintage garments and accessories from the 1920s, 30s, 40s and beyond at a reasonable price.
Before Dorothea’s turned into a shop, the owner would scour estate sales for vintage to sell on eBay or her website, but now most of the vintage comes straight to the shop – no hunting and searching required.
Steve said that people who deeply care about well-preserved garments, namely families of the deceased, want people who truly appreciate vintage to have their loved one’s clothing, rather than sending it off to Goodwill or other clothing donation centers for a fraction of the price of what it’s actually worth.
Those who do truly appreciate vintage garments, such as Steve, love places like Dorothea’s because of the quality of the garments.
Almost everything in the shop appears to be well maintained, whereas some vintage clothing stores have garments that need major repairs. However, the pure nature of older clothing attests to well-made garments. Most of these garments were already well crafted to begin with.
“I think the clothing is better made and the styles are better,” Steve said.
Steve said her obsession with old homes and furniture led to her love for vintage, which ultimately led to her job at Dorothea’s.
“People come in here and they want clothes that they can wear to work; clothes that they can just wear,” Steve said. “They like the styles, they like the fit and the quality of vintage.”
Now vintage is everywhere, even in Des Moines, with stores like Atomic Garage and Dorothea’s. Vintage also has a vast presence on the web with sites such as Etsy. There is even a Des Moines based vintage website on Etsy called Hill Vintage.
While vintage has had a recent widespread presence with websites and stores across the Midwest, that doesn’t mean it isn’t any less unique. Avid vintage lovers, like Steve, attest to the fact that vintage is completely unique, which is why they continue to buy vintage.
“Generally, you’re wearing something that no else will be seen wearing,” Steve said.
She also said that many people, including the younger crowd, are enraptured by vintage primarily because of its green initiative. Vintage is the true essence of reusability and provides many options including alterations, re-designing or wearing as is.
“A lot of young people now are much more focused on the environment,” Steve said. “And so they resonate with the idea that they are reusing something and re-purposing something.”
Another unique aspect that many vintage lovers stress is that underneath all of that polyester and wild floral print lies a story – a history before the garment was picked up by Dorothea’s. That is what makes vintage, vintage. It’s a historical piece with a very personal story, making not only your look unique, but also your story as you are adding your own little piece of history.