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21st century Hollywood helps the vintage thrive

Fashion classically runs in 20-year cycles, but "Downton Abbey" and "Boardwalk Empire" are helping give our era a Jazz Age vibe.

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell
by Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell, MainStreet contributor

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — If you’re a Hollywood and fashion trend watcher, you’ve noticed that hit television shows set in the 1920s such as Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire are influencing today’s fashion designers. It’s also making everything that’s old new again for antique and vintage clothing dealers.

Lisa Gerber, owner of the Burning Bird Studio outside of Philadelphia, says that watch parties coinciding with the shows and a movie remake of The Great Gatsby this year is influencing sales in antique and vintage clothing stores.

“We just had a pair of sisters who was throwing a 1920s-inspired birthday party for their father,” Gerber says. “We worked with them for hours.”

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Finding a true 1920s vintage piece isn’t as easy as it may sound, Gerber says. “The items really from the 1920s are almost 100 years old, and they have not held up well to time,” Gerber says. “The items that have are highly collectible and great for museums.”

Some younger people and students are grabbing up tattered pieces, but when people come in looking for vintage 1920s wear she has to find vintage-inspired pieces made in the 1960s and ‘70s, she says.

Another problem with true 1920s vintage: Women were much smaller. “I’ve been able to find some maternity wear from that time that will fit smaller women of today, but women were so much smaller that it is hard to fit modern women with true costumes from that era,” she says

Hats and furs, if they were stored properly, are holding up better, and people interested in finding true vintage have a better chance with these items and Art Deco-influenced jewelry.

Gerber opened her shop four years ago, although she’s been in the vintage fashion industry much longer. Hollywood always influences vintage fashion, but she says the show Mad Men, set in the 1950s and ‘60s, really had a huge impact on the industry. As the show has grown in popularity and shows influencing interest in the 1920s have come on the scene, she says it has helped her business triple since the first year.

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A 1920s influence everywhere

Even if you haven’t been to a watch party or some other 1920s-themed event, such as a birthday or wedding, you can still be inspired to wear the look or have it in your home.

Kody Pangburn, who owns New York City-based Wonderland with Jade Furtado, says the 1920s were already having an influence — even though fashion trends tend to run in 20-year cycles — and pop culture is reinforcing it a bit.

“The designers are working it into today’s designs, but it isn’t as literal. It’s obvious that it’s transfixed into the era, but you don’t see women wearing flapper dresses,” Pangburn says. “It’s more in the kimonos and small clutches, the little things that filter into fashion.”

“Art Deco necklaces, headbands and rhinestones from the 1920s era are currently being used by designers,” Furtado says.

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Even home design is being influenced. Shirley Walsh, owner of Kalembar Dune in Boston, says people in her shop are gravitating toward petite roll-top writing desks, which people can also find in stores that sell reproduction and other home interiors. Other top-selling home decorating antiques include pre-war glassware, especially pitchers, tablecloths, bureau toppers and other linens, as well as vintage oils in gilt frames.

She says her business, which deals in high-end antiques, is up 25% to 30% thanks to the trend toward the retro in pop culture.