Kelly McLeod is always on the lookout.

Dressed like June Carter dropped into a John Hughes movie, she eyes a small, silver owl necklace adorning the Espresso Royale cashier handing her a latte. McLeod’s curiosity and enthusiasm are obvious. Complimenting the barista on her find, she invites her back to her store, The Getup, where, she assures, more vintage necklaces like that one can be found. The owl is barely visible, but McLeod picks it out like a long-lost friend in a crowded room. To call her an expert would be an understatement.

It’s this genuine love for pursuing and preserving the past that makes McLeod the ideal vintage clothing store owner. Her store, The Getup, located just north of Liberty on State Street in Ann Arbor, is home to constantly revolving racks of lost and found clothing from as far back as the Great Depression. In its mere six years of existence, the store has quickly become a hotspot for students and locals alike, attracting a following that rivals that of stores five times its age.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the same 50 people I see every day,” McLeod said. “It’s like a Cinderella story, you gotta like it and it’s gotta fit … there are so many individuals in Ann Arbor, and bringing them something that’s really gonna turn them on is a lot of fun.”

Since its start in February 2004, in the cramped attic above its current location, The Getup has evolved into a bustling storefront packed to the walls with Dust Bowl-era prom dresses, rock tees from the ’70s (Styx, Jefferson Starship and Peter Frampton tour shirts line the rafters), a kitschy Elvis painting and shelves (and shelves) of old cowboy boots. It’s like walking into a time machine that got trapped somewhere between a Norman Rockwell painting and a Hunter S. Thompson peyote daydream. Looking around is like a history lesson, and it’s hypnotizing.

“There really is this moment, this energy in the clothes,” she said. “Everything in here has to have personality, beauty or a story.”

With a quick glance around the store it’s hard to disagree. Between the racks of old Western shirts, leather Members Only jackets and Golden Era Hollywood dresses, it’s tough to imagine McLeod’s collection having anything boring to say. But with such storied clothing, she contends, comes a certain sense of obligation.

“When somebody prior to me owning (their clothing) has cared for it for more than fifty years, I feel there’s this responsibility,” she said. “It’s like preserving Americana.”

McLeod’s tireless obsession with maintaining an old, weird America has been with her as long as she can remember. From collecting old aprons at age 12 to delving into troves of vintage clothing to avoid the designer wasteland of the malls in her later teen years, McLeod’s distinctly American collection reflects decades of changes in fashion and pop culture.

“I love history, I love old Hollywood movies, and I love music,” she said. “Everything that I’ve ever been drawn to, style has been a big part of it.”

With all the vinyl on repeat at the back of the store (I’ve heard Nazareth, Hank Williams and The Yes Album), it’s clear how fervently McLeod believes music and fashion work in tandem to re-create a particular aesthetic. You just know that if she puts on that Stardrive record from behind the counter, a space-rock outfit is sure to fall into your lap.

With a small staff of equally youthful and impassioned fashionistas keeping the store at bay, McLeod spends most of her time outside the store searching for new additions to her ever-changing collection, often traveling all over the country. As it turns out, finding most of what’s in the store is a lot harder than one might imagine.

“It’s a lot of footwork. Almost every morning I’m at an estate sale or I’m at someone’s home or I’m at an auction. And (at) out of every 10 houses I go to, I might find three things that I want to bring back to the store,” she said.

“My husband and I could be running late to a wedding, and I’d see a garage sale and have to pull over and check it out, it’s that bad,” she added, laughing.

McLeod and her husband, Paul, also a vintage fanatic, act as a team to ensure a constantly changing lineup of old finds. A graphic designer in Troy, Paul acts more as a behind-the-scenes partner, assisting Kelly on her vintage clothing hunts.

“The majority of my collection comes from personal buys,” McLeod said. When I go to their homes, they’ll pull out photo albums and they’ll show me why their prom dress from 1962 was so special.”

“There was one woman who showed me this beautiful Hawaiian sundress, and her husband proposed to her when she was wearing it. She wanted to make sure it ended up with someone new and not in the garbage.”

Most of McLeod’s collection at The Getup reflects her personal taste, making it easy for her to connect to her customers.

“For me, I love things that came out of the Great Depression. I love handmade dresses that were made from sheets, you know? It speaks volumes about their generation, because by the time I look into their clothes, it’s like that love was put into this threadbare dress and it’s just so cool.”

With an incredibly rich understanding of past styles, McLeod would be the first to admit that she prefers the aesthetics of bygone eras.

“I’m kind of in this la-la land of the past,” she said. “I don’t really pay too much attention to current trends. When I check out Vogue from today — I mean, I read Vogues from 1962, I have this whole collection — you just see so many influences from the past.”

These influences, as McLeod points out, are key to understanding how younger generations interpret future styles, fashions and even lifestyles.

“I think people are striving for another time,” McLeod said. “If you focus on the past, (on) this country in the past, you’re uplifted. There’s kind of a throwback to even morals and values of the ’40s and ’50s where you hold on to what you have and you value what you have … there’s this innocence. I really think this younger generation is craving something that’s been missing for so long.”

Even with her love and understanding of the golden ages of American style, McLeod is keen to realize that it might seem like ancient history to others. Always with an ear to the ground, she doesn’t mind tailoring the store to her customers’ tastes.

“The ’70s used to be my cutoff, but now I sprinkle in the ’80s because there’s this demand for it today, it’s fashionable and avant-garde. But I’m not ready for the ’90s for another five years.”

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