KATE MURPHY NEW YORK When Erin Ogg, 45, of New Orleans and her girlfriends sip cocktails at the Sazerac Bar in the city's historic Roosevelt Hotel, they dress as if itβs the 1940s or '50s; wearing dresses with cinched waists, or pencil skirts and blouses, accessorized with hats and gloves. "We get a lot of compliments," said Ogg, a waitress and personal trainer. "It's a feminine look with a lot more grace and style than a hoodie sweatshirt and Ugg boots."
Some of what Ogg and her friends wear is vintage clothing. But more often these days, their outfits are reproductions of vintage fashions, created by a growing number of designers specializing in the retro look.
"I sell to women who say they go to the mall and can't find anything that isn't either flimsy and trendy or dowdy and frumpy," said Theresa Campbell McKee, 55, owner of Blue Velvet Vintage, an online store that sells reproductions. "They want something classic and distinctive that makes them feel pretty."
Unlike many contemporary fashions that are layered, slouched and unisex, styles of the mid-20th century were typically tailored to flatter, even accentuate, the female form. Reproductions of vintage dresses have the same simple, clean lines as the originals, with full circle or straight-to-the-knee skirts. Pants are swishy or pegged; tops might feature Mandarin or flared collars, or double-breasted fronts (but not the yellowed armpits that sometimes bedevil old clothes).
"I love vintage clothes, but they donβt hold up well and theyβre hard to fit into if you are a curvier gal," said Michelle Larae Koons, 31, a secretary at a utility company and a part-time model in Las Vegas. Her favorite reproduction vintage outfit is a double-breasted dress with a pencil skirt and three-quarter sleeves by Bettie Page Clothing, accessorized with Steve Madden peep-toe high heels. (Bettie Page Clothing bought the license to use the 1950s pinup girl's identity for its brand in 2006.)
Retailers and manufacturers of vintage-inspired clothes, including Blue Velvet Vintage, Bettie Page Clothing, Trashy Diva, ReVamp, ModCloth, Stop Staring! and Queen of Heartz report that their sales have increased 25 percent to 30 percent annually over the last four years, while many purveyors of current fashions have seen sales decline.
Along with the now-dozens of new retro brands, an increasing number of individuals sell hand-sewn vintage reproductions on websites like Etsy.com. Like true vintage, prices of reproductions vary depending on the quality of the fabrics and tailoring, but the majority are moderately priced with dresses in the $150 to $300 range.
"People used to laugh at me when I tried to sell these kinds of clothes when I started 13 years ago," said Alicia Estrada, 39, founder and chief executive of Stop Staring! in Paramount, Calif., widely considered the pioneer in reproduction vintage clothing. "Now my clothes are sold in 40 countries and more than 1,000 boutiques."
Some purists sniff, if not sneer, at the trend. Madeline Meyerowitz, owner of the vintage clothing website enokiworld.com, which sells labels like Courreges and Claire McCardell, likened designers of reproduction clothing to singers at a karaoke bar. "I don't want to hear you sing it, I want to hear the original artist sing it," she said.
But sales of reproduction clothing are brisk in the United States as well as England, France, Italy and Sweden.
Anna Olsen, 29, a homemaker in Stockholm, said she wears only retro fashions, and while she loves vintage clothing, she's not keen on the musty odor, stains, bad fit and fragility that can accompany it.
"With the reproduction clothing, I donβt have to worry about any of that," she wrote in an e-mail. "I know that there will be no problems with the clothing, and if there is, I can just return it." Her favorite outfit is a black 1940s-inspired dress with cap sleeves and an empire waist from Trashy Diva that she wears with platform shoes by the Finnish designer Minna Parikka.
Reproduction vintage clothing was first embraced by the tattooed, fishnet-clad rockabilly set, which celebrates 1950s music and cars as well as fashion. But the style has entered the mainstream, appealing to everyone from teenagers who want glamorous prom dresses, to professional women seeking conservative yet sexy business attire, to senior citizens nostalgic for the clothes of their youth.
Since "Mad Men", it's been crazy busy," said Letty Tennant, 30, owner and chief designer of Queen of Heartz in Anaheim, Calif. "And you can't say it's just a fad because these clothes are timeless classics, not in one year and you wouldn't be caught dead in it next year.
Many devotees of reproduction vintage clothing said "Mad Men," the AMC television show set in the 1960s, as well as movie classics like "Casablanca" and "Rear Window," had kindled their interest in fashions of the past. "I adore the Marilyn Monroe style of a halter-top dress," said Becky Biesiada, 34, a day care provider and student in Muskegon, Mich., who said she wears reproduction vintage fashions most of the time and occasionally even wears her hair in a 1940s-style victory roll. "To be a woman in today's world and stand out, I feel it requires some of the charm from the past."
While Biesiada learned how to achieve her hairstyle by watching a video on YouTube, ReVamp, a retro clothier in Los Angeles, offers classes that teach women how to do their hair and makeup true to the period of their vintage-inspired attire.
"We've been seeing a huge increase in demand for the hair and makeup classes lately," said Annamarie von Firley, 40, the owner and chief designer at ReVamp, which makes limited-edition vintage reproductions. "People want to complete the look."
Von Firley's hair is cut in a 1920s style Dutch bob, and she is rarely seen in an outfit that isn't vintage or reproduction vintage. "Men treat me differently when I wear vintage or something that looks vintage," she said. "I've noticed that they open doors and even apologize when they swear, which is so not the case when I'm wearing regular clothes like pants and a sweater."
Others who wear reproduction fashions said they had similarly enjoyed increased chivalry. "It's a very movie-star, glamorous look that turns heads," said Rebecca Watson, 42, a retired vice president at AutoTrader who lives in Leesburg, Ala. "And you won't see five other people in the room wearing it." Her favorite everyday outfit is 1940s-style free-flowing pants and a silk blouse by ReVamp, with Kate Spade leopard print flats or Stuart Weitzman wedge sandals.
Jasmin Rodriguez, 24, a personal shopper and fashion consultant living in New York who describes herself as a "curvy size 2X" wears vintage clothing and reproductions of vintage clothing, and said the reproductions have distinct advantages: "You look beautiful even if you aren't a size 0, the clothes cost less, and you can get them in synthetic stretchy fabrics that are easier to care for. And unlike with true vintage clothing, she said, you don't have to put reproductions in the freezer to kill the bedbugs.