Vintage As a Way of Life

Walking into Jess Parvin’s home, your eyes might first be drawn to the steer skull hung on the wall, the candle-filled fireplace or the Victorian near east side house’s hardwood floor. But behind a sliding door lies the home’s real treasure: Jess’s “vintage studio.”

Inside the studio there’s a fur stole or two, several ’50s party dresses, hats covered in fake flowers and old cowboy boots, along with a hundred or two other items. Though the room full of vintage clothing and accessories may conjure images of an extra closet for an overboard vintage enthusiast, Jess’s studio is in fact a combination storage space and home store. Jess is an Etsy seller.

Jess first heard about Etsy six years ago when she was living in Atlanta. “I was doing craft fairs for a few months, and at one craft fair right before I moved to Madison people were talking about Etsy,” she says. “Everybody was using the site, and they swore it was better than Ebay.”

When Jess checked the site out for herself, she was hooked. “I spent three or four hours browsing,” she says. “I was just blown away by all the amazing stuff there was.” Shortly thereafter, she opened her own Etsy shop and named it Wanderlost Clothing.

When Jess first opened her shop, she was a graphic designer who made screen-printed T-shirts and some handmade jewelry. Today, she is a full-time vintage clothing seller with clothing for sale on Etsy and at The Good Style Shop and all of Vintage Madison’s pop-up shops and events.

For Jess, acquiring and selling vintage clothing wasn’t something that happened all at once.  “I’ve always been a thrift store junkie,” she admits. “I mean, that’s how I started selling vintage. I was just thrifting all the time, and if I find stuff that’s amazing I can’t pass it up. So I started hoarding and then I had to start selling.”

Jess’s passion for thrifting has led her to fill her vintage studio with three bursting racks of clothing and take out a storage space for what doesn’t fit. Her passion has also led her to co-found Vintage Madison with fellow Etsy vintage sellers Rebecca Light and Claire Schilhabel. The three have brought vintage pop-up shops and events like Vintage Prom to Madison since the organization’s inaugural Fall Fashion Show in 2010.

Jess was just getting ready to bring her clothing to Thread & Ink, a fashion and art show hosted at the High Noon Saloon when we first chatted. When we returned to photograph her vintage studio, she was preparing for the Vintage Flea & Finds pop-up market at The East Side Club. These events are a great way for Madison residents to buy local, but they’re also a way for local Etsy sellers to sell their wares for people who may not shop on Etsy.

“Etsy is like having a worldwide-accessible virtual storefront,” Jess says. Yet though she has sold her clothing to Etsy shoppers living everywhere from Los Angeles to the United Kingdom to Australia, for Jess the local pop-ups are essential.

“I could spend so much time photographing everything and putting it online but it still wasn’t keeping up with the inventory I was finding,” she says of her pre-Vintage Madison days. “I would sell only a few things online a week, and I really wanted to get my stuff out there.” The pop-ups allow her to showcase multiple items at once without going through the full process of photographing and posting them to Etsy. The extra income from the pop-ups also ensures that Jess can continue to sell vintage fulltime.

Keeping a vintage shop a success, online or otherwise, may be more intensive than it sounds. To find her clothing, Jess travels the country, stopping in as many thrift stores, yard sales and estate sales as possible. “The idea is to just spend tons of time just picking through junk and finding the pieces worth saving,” she says. She also does most of her purchasing out of state to keep things fresh for local buyers. “I always have that fear that somebody will come to my pop up shop and be like, ‘Oh, I gave that to Goodwill!’”

Though Jess will be leaving Madison in August to travel for a year, her home shop will be available to peruse by appointment right up until her clothes are packed away. And while she’s traveling, her clothing will still be available at the Good Style Shop, and of course, on her Etsy shop.

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