On State Street, stuck between Espresso Royale and the new
Noodles & Co. is an unassuming glass door with a poster of a
girl crossing a street. She’s tinted green and decked out in
go-go boots, teased blond hair and a scandalously short
miniskirt.

Janna Hutz
Wear a patterned button-down shirt with a pair of jeans, vintage slacks or a skirt for true vintage flair. (FOREST CASEY/Daily)
Janna Hutz
Deck out your man — and your feet — in snazzy vintage accessories. (FOREST CASEY/Daily)

That image marks the doorway to Primitive Vintage, Ann
Arbor’s newest and coolest vintage clothing store. Underneath
the sidewalk, you’ll find exactly what the girl on the poster
stands for — vintage styles waiting to be sublimated into
era-eclectic avant-fashion, retro looks ready to be recreated in
daily life, a super-cute shirt, stand-out belt or sleek armchair
that complements your existing collection — in short,
mid-century glamour that’s perfect for the ’00s.

Venture past the boom box that’s constantly blaring pure
’60s garage rock, around the corner, down the stairs — pause
briefly to check the bulletin board for upcoming rock shows —
head down the hall, and turn the corner again. You’ll meet
Casey Dawson, owner and operator of what is undoubtedly State
Street’s hippest clothing store. (Take that, Urban
Outfitters!)

Since midsummer, Dawson has provided cute dresses, totally hip
jeans, flashy accessories and sophisticated furniture to downtown
shoppers in the know — all for reasonable prices lower than
you’d find for “trendy” stuff at Briarwood. She’s usually
perched behind the sales counter, wearing one of her many chic and
unique vintage outfits.

While most of her customers are students, Dawson, 24, and her
husband Ryan, 28, didn’t discover their love of vintage style
until rather recently. “It’s been within the past
couple of years that we really got into this kind of thing and
started dressing like it. Collecting for the store only started a
few months before it opened,” she said.

“When we first started collecting for the store, we went
on all these trips out of state, searching out estate sales. My
parents live down South, so we’d go visit them and go
anywhere — anywhere you’d even take the chance to look
and see if they’ve got anything,” Dawson explained.
Since local retrophiles can search southeast Michigan for vintage
finds with relative ease, she looks for hidden fashion treasures
elsewhere: “We don’t really shop around here very
often; we try to travel and do big shopping excursions at least
once a month.”

 

The Dawsons became interested in vintage clothing via vintage
music. “When we got married, we decided to start the band
— we actually played at our own wedding reception,”
Casey Dawson related. “We’d gotten more and more into
this type of music. Ryan must have found some Kinks music online,
and we were really inspired by that (style) and decided to do it
… We’re like 60s rock ‘n’ roll, we try to stick
to the really basic, early Who-ish sound.” They’re core
members of the Riots, a Detroit-area ’60s-style rock outfit. She
plays bass guitar and sings backup while he plays lead and
sings.

“We started the band, the Riots, and got into the music
more and more and got engrossed in the whole time period. I
personally like the ’60s the most. (Ryan), too, is really
interested in jeans, T-shirts, bellbottoms [from that era].”
Casey loves British Invaders turned high-minded pop masters the
Kinks (of “You Really Got Me” fame); the Gories, a
Detroit garage rock outfit; The Who’s early mod work, like
The Who Sell Out; and retro jazz-poppers Stereolab (“for
their amazing song writing”).

Despite her relative immersion in far-out vintage styles, Casey
leads a pretty normal life. “I do corporate finance for a health
care company (as well as running Primitive Vintage) and Ryan does
computers, most recently for U of M as a contractor. He was laid
off from his job, and we said ‘Well, what are we gonna
do?’”

The solution was right under their noses — or, rather,
inside their closets. “We were really into everything from
this time period, and we had a big collection of our own, and just
decided we wanted to share it with the world,” she
explained.

But moving from corporate finance to owning a small business
wasn’t an easy transition for Dawson to make — at
first. “(It was) very, very scary, but at the same time we
knew it wasn’t anything that was gonna make or break us. If
it didn’t work out, that was cool, but we thought it would be
neat to try it.”

“Ann Arbor is known for its eclecticism,” she
continued. “Business is going better than we could have ever
expected, even more so now that the students are back …
It’s mostly students now. They come in huge packs of
people.” Even before the seasonal explosion in Ann
Arbor’s youth population, Primitive Vintage was a hit with
the area’s fashion-oriented crowd. “Before school was
in, it was all local kids just spreading the word around, which I
thought was cool.”

Recent trends in mainstream fashion have brought back an
interest in clothing from the past — or clothing that at
least looks like it’s a few decades old. “Everything
(in fashion) is going back to ’60s right now. You can find A-line
dresses at Target, and they’re cute,” she remarked.
“This is definitely a specialty store, but it’s really
cool when you see “normal” girls — you know what
I mean, non-indie rocker chicks — coming in and buying mod
dresses. It’s so exciting for me. I’m like
‘Sweet, that sorority girl is wearing a mod
dress.’”

Although Dawson will often wear a vintage outfit complete with
shoes and accessories from a bygone era, she loves clothing
combinations that mix different styles. “I think it’s
really cool when people can put together a shirt from the
’80s with a new skirt and an old-school pair of shoes —
it’s great when people can throw random outfits
together,” she said. “I’m a very straightforward
go-go boots type of chick, but that’s one reason people like
this store. They can find clothes in here that they can incorporate
with their other stuff.”

Not sure if vintage is for you? Unsure of how to incorporate
’60s fashions into your own style?

The charming Dawson recommends a few pieces that will help
vintage novices get started: “Western shirts are good for
boys, because even boys who aren’t very stylish can pull off
a Western shirt. (For girls), scarves are a good way to ease into
(vintage). Shirts are a must-have; you can mix them in with other
stuff.”

“I love the old lady polyester pants. I always try to get
girls to try them on, because on the hanger, they’re not cute
at all,” she continued. “But if you put them with a
T-shirt or a blazer, whatever — they can look really, really
good.”

Dawson lists her fashion don’ts: “The skirts that
are so short that girls’ butts are hanging out. Like every
girl, if you look on the street right now, has one of those. Either
a cutoff jean skirt of one with the ruffles going on. I think that
stuff could be really cute, but they’re so short! I love
minis and I wear them, but I feel like that’s
different,” she explained. “They’ve got
everything else hanging out too, and I feel like leaving something
to the imagination is a much bigger statement. Maybe that’s
why I like the ’60s era; everything was like that. The movies
were really sexual, but they weren’t in your face. And rock
songs were all about girls, but it’s innuendo.”

One rack at Primitive Vintage holds dozens of gorgeous dresses
— bright colors, stripes, patterns, long skirts, minidresses
— an enticing collection for any admirer of vintage fashion.
“Some of the dresses, the really far-out space-age styles,
are really cool, like the kind of thing you see in movies … Star
Trekish, polyester dresses,” Dawson emphasized.

But what’s a dress when you need the right footwear to
complete your look? “I really like the original go-go boots
(as well),” she said, “But those are rare, hard to
find. Everybody wants them. On eBay, they get to be like $50, but
when we resell stuff we want it to be affordable.”

Besides the increasing rarity of quality vintage garments
— interesting styles that are in good condition and
stain-free — a problem that arises for retrophiles is simple
wearability: Since clothing sizes have increased over the decades,
shoppers may realize that it’s difficult to find clothing
that fits average-sized people. “(I like) A-line
miniskirts,” Dawson explained, “But the sizes were so
small then (the ’60s). ’50s stuff is even worse (for
larger sizes).”

Primitive Vintage doesn’t just sell clothing. Along with a
considerable collection of shoes, ties, handbags and jewelry,
Dawson’s shop features furniture, as well as music-oriented items
like record players and radios. “If I could do my house in
all old furniture, I would — and we’re kind of getting
to that point, it’s cool,” she said. One doesn’t
have to imagine what her vision might be, because in the back of
Primitive Vintage, she has designed a mid-’60s style living
room, complete with art, armchairs and appliances like an old TV
set. Topped with a decidedly mid-century antenna, it shows static
while customers shop.

“I really like the record players that we’ve
found,” she added. When she can find them, Dawson sells
musical accessories like record players and radios. She recently
got her hands on quite a find: “We actually got two Califone
suitcase-style record players, but they’re both sold now,
which is good. I’m glad people were actually interested in
them too. The hard thing about (specializing) is that we might
think it’s cool, but it’s gonna take a special person
to think it’s cool too.”

Click
“http://www.michigandaily.com/pages/pdf/2004-09-16wcenter.pdf”>here
to view this article as it appears in print (requires Acrobat
Reader).

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *