If you’ve never been to one of Susan Dumas’ vintage clothing shows, then you are missing out. Her clients travel from all over the Southeast just to join in the fun and come away with pieces of fashion history while having a blast doing it. What first started out as a personal love of vintage clothing has turned into a thriving business with clients from all over the country, and her customers come back season after season to peruse her latest finds. And if you’ve seen her around town in one of her fabulous caftans, you know that she’s her own best model. We spoke with Susan just days before a show and found her to be just as fun and vibrant as her clothing.
What inspired your love of vintage clothes?
My obsession with vintage clothing started when I laid eyes on this extra-wide, brown leather hand-tooled belt that had been my mom’s in her 30s. After living in my purple Guess jeans for so long, I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Then my sister gave me a caftan that had been her mother-in-law’s in the 60s, and it was all over. I wore it to a Halloween Widespread show and felt like a queen. I started looking for vintage clothes anywhere I could find them then. I knew that you could never catch me in a normal outfit again because I just really, really like to wear things that make me feel like me. I have a hippie soul that thinks the 60s and 70s should have been my decades. I love the vivid colors and psychedelic prints of the 70s. I love the groovy, double knit polyester of the 60s - never loses its color and doesn’t have to be dry cleaned. Low maintenance.
How did you decide to turn it into a business?
Well, it actually wasn’t my idea to turn it into a business. It was my postman Jeff’s idea. He looked at me one day and said “you know, you have a really interesting style”. I did not know if that was good or bad, but that’s beside the point. And then he said, “You don’t do anything (Thanks, Jeff). Why don’t you sell some of your clothes on eBay?”. So, why not?
When you buy vintage clothes from the internet, the first 2 fit you and the next 6 don’t. So I had been left with all of these gorgeous, vintage clothes that did not fit me. I took Jeff’s advice and started an Etsy shop. I convinced my gorgeous, skinny, and incredibly kind sister who hates to have her picture taken to model for me. We took pictures in my backyard leaning against trees and leaning against bicycles and laughed the entire time. So I posted them, and people actually bought them. I was floored. People from Birmingham were buying them.
Others in town wanted to try on the clothes before buying them so I decided to have a show. I did not know if anyone would come, or if I would write it off as a bust. But people came!! Lots of people! So gradually I stopped doing Etsy and just started doing the home shows.
How would you describe your style and clothing collections? Where do you find your inspiration?
I mainly buy vintage American caftans, Middle Eastern caftans, black tie dresses, Mexican Puebla dresses, blouses, secretary dresses, jumpsuits, Hawaiian designer dresses, skirts, palazzo pants and accessories all from the 1960s and 1970s. I love lots and lots and lots of color but other than that, anything goes. I buy so many different styles of clothing so that everyone can find their own groove in the collection. I would say my biggest inspiration is American style icon, Iris Apfel. My favorite quote of hers is “I say, dress to please yourself. Listen to your inner muse and take a chance. Wear something that says ‘Here I am today’”. I am also inspired by some of the daring fashionistas in Birmingham! We have some seriously stylish people in this town.
What do you look for when you are buying vintage clothes?
I have been doing this for five years so I have begun to find brands to buy that are well-made and unique. Vintage clothes usually run a lot smaller than contemporary clothing so I am always looking for bigger sizes so normal people can wear them. I search for size, brand and then I just go with my gut. If something looks like I could feel sassy in it, I go for it. The beauty of my business is that I get to buy whatever looks cool no matter the size. It will fit someone!
What’s your favorite part of your clothing shows?
That is easy! All of it! I think the nicest, coolest, most interesting, most interested, most authentic people like vintage clothes. As far as the shows go, my theory is that sometimes women get lonely in the grind just making things work for their families, jobs, and general responsibilities. These shows provide a place for women to find something that makes them feel unique and special while surrounded by other people who just want to feel unique and special, too. It is so cool when someone comes out of their room (my children’s bedrooms ha!) to show everyone (mostly people they don’t know) their dress. Everyone gets so excited and ooos and ahs and encourages them to “definitely get that one”. It is just a place of camaraderie and friendship and being “in it” together. People that see my posts on Instagram from out-of-town always ask how they can get clothes. And I tell them that they just have to make a trip to the Magic City because as much as I love the clothes, I love the people in them at the shows the best. That’s why I do it.
Since you work out of your home, do you have a special place for your clothes?
Oh yes! Half of my basement is my full-time store. In fact, we had to move to our current house because my clothes had taken over my old house. It was ridiculous. There were clothing racks in every room of my house. My husband is a SAINT. I thought he was going to ask me for a divorce, but instead he asked me if we should move! He sees how important my clothes are to me. I was never good at any job I ever had (sorry, ex-employers) and now I understand what it means to never have to work a day if you love what you are doing.