On a recent Saturday, Laura Petrini walks through the door of Hey Betty!, a vintage clothing boutique situated among the art galleries, boutiques and restaurants that define Shadyside’s Ellsworth Avenue.
She is not idle foot traffic, drawn out by the summer sun.
“I’m looking for a dress to wear to a wedding,” Petrini says to shop owner Michael Ferrucci, while Ferrucci’s Chihuahua, Filbert, “just like the nut” greets customers.
Petrini, who moved from Pittsburgh to Seattle in September but was back in town for a wedding, says she often shops at vintage boutiques because the styles just seem “more realistic.” She had been out looking for a dress to wear to her niece’s wedding previously and the latest styles, besides costing $300 and up, just seem “so short.” And vintage is just better quality, she says.
After a quick run through the racks, she grabs a 60s-style, knee-length, black and white sleeveless dress with three white decorative buttons down the front and heads upstairs to a fitting room.
She tries it on along with a brocade orange and hot pink swirly dress but decides, after one more run through the store, to keep searching.
Hey Betty! offers vintage clothes dating from the Victorian period up through the 1970s. When Ferrucci and co-owner Sandra Lawton started out two decades earlier, they frequented estate sales and auctions in search of clothing, but now, for the most part, people bring clothes to them.
Behind the counter hangs a recent acquirement and Ferrucci’s new favorite , a 1950s Satin ivory coat with Marabou trim.
Hey Betty also carries mens fashions, most situated on the second floor, including a Wrangler, blue, denim jacket for $35. In this boutique the items for sale also serve as the décor including a glass and knickknack collection that includes a fire-engine-red Kenwood lobster casserole dish for $18 and a collection of Murano glass out of Venice, Italy.
Hey Betty also claims a Hollywood following, or at least among those actors with Pittsburgh connections. Jamie Lee Curtis frequents Hey Betty! when in town and, during the filming of “Wonder Boys”, Frances McDormand and Robert Downey Jr. dropped by to shop. Catherine Keener and Helen Mirren also shopped at the store during recent productions.
“Now that they are not doing as many films here, we don’t get as many people in. It’s a shame,” Ferrucci said.
Whether actress or student, the common complaint is that decades-old waistlines seem more apt for a Barbie doll than a human body.
Ferrucci has come up with a solution. One rack in his store contains several skirts, new creations using vintage patterns and fabrics. In addition to a more modern look, it allows for wider waistlines.
It's Been Eons
A few blocks down Ellsworth at Eons Fashion Antique, another vintage haven, every item for sale is listed by waist size and the era from which it hails. And while almost every piece is vintage, there is the occasional present-day find like the beige, linen Dolce & Gabanna dress for $200 or the Badgley Mischka black, beaded dress for $2,915.
Most everything at Eons hails from another era, however, including a gold metallic brocade dress, from the 1940s, waist size 28 inches, for $150.
A recent Sunday brings browsers in the form of Lauren Jacobson, 20, who lives nearby, and her younger sister Jana, from Hampton. The sisters say they are drawn to vintage because it is fun to find unique styles that none of their classmates will have in their closets.
“It’s nice to have a variety in your wardrobe,” Jana says.
Lauren also sews and says that she’ll buy vintage pieces and then alter them to fit her slender frame.
“I just got one here that was 10 sizes too big,” says Lauren, adding that the aforementioned bright-blue 50s, hectagon-print dress now fits perfectly.
Crimes of Fashion on Forbes Avenue, at the epicenter of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh campuses, also draws a college crowd.
And many who shop there seek out the 70s style-disco although in its 17-year-history the boutique has offered styles dating back to the 1920s, according to co-owner Chuck Lipinski.
He guesses that the disco-craze among the college crowd is driven by two forces: bigger sizes and better prints.
“Nothing from this era is all gray or khaki. You go to Target, Gap, everything looks the same,” he said.
As if to prove his pint, he pulls out a velvet, silver, swirly belted mod dress (think Marcia Brady at a disco party), circa late 1960s, that currently retails for $38. This, he says, cannot be found in today’s retail shops.
For a quarter century, Nancy Wuerthele has sold vintage clothes, hats, accessories, shoes and luggage out of her store, Yesterday’s News on East Carson Street in the South Side. And in that time, Wuerthele has observed two types of vintage shoppers.
“There’s people that buy classic vintage, the ‘20s through the ‘50s or ‘60s,” she says. These items, she explains, are things you wear but also collect. Then there are those that are into “trendy” yet wearable clothes, circa 1960s and ‘70s.
Regardless of the reason, she says vintage is worth the investment because timeless classics endure. Clothing that is in fashion will remain in fashion, no matter what era it hails from.
Wuerthele got her start in vintage when her parents were cleaning out her grandmother’s house.
“My grandmother was an art dealer. They were taking these 1930s vintage dresses to the Goodwill. They were just so beautiful and that was it,” she says.
Heidi Price last wrote about Chatelier Bakery in Millvale. To read it click here.
Captions:1950’s prom gown at Yesterday's News
Michael Ferrucci (and Filbert) at Hey Betty!Colorful crinolines at Hey Betty!Selection of the vintage hats available at EonsRhinestone Tiara and necklace and derby hat from Eons1970’s ]knit dress at Yesterday’s NewsAll photographs copyright © Renee Rosensteel