In her search for the perfect holiday party dress, Jessica Shrader wanted something that would be different, yet classic.
When she and her boyfriend rode past and a saw a sale sign at Buffalo Gal Vintage she decided to stop for a look.
"It was incredible," Shrader, 23, said. "I had no idea what I was going to find." There it was, the perfect black dress, for $134.
The style of the dress Shrader bought mimics vintage fashion, like something Audrey Hepburn might wear in Breakfast at Tiffany's. "It's just timeless," Shrader said.
The shop's owner, Desiree Sheridan, knows a few things about vintage and retro looks. Her store specializes in refurbishing old garments into the classic, stylish looks that are making a comeback. Sheridan worked in theater for years in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Over time she acquired scores of old costumes and outfits from estate auctions. She restores each garment to its original condition, or matches it with a similar set from the same era.
"I make it mainstream, so you can incorporate it into today's wardrobe," said Sheridan, who has experience working at antiques malls and opened the shop three months ago on Martin Luther King Jr. Street N.
"It was a big risk, going into business in the midst of a recession," Sheridan, 46, said. But she's confident that the growing interest in retro fashions will sustain her venture.
The retro inventory in Sheridan's shop includes clothing dating from the 1880s up through the 1970s. The shop also sells shoes, lingerie, handbags, ties, jackets and other apparel.
Some of the items look as though they could clothe the cast of The Great Gatsby or a country western drama. Some are inexpensive, equivalent to the price of a dress off the rack from JCPenney or Dillard's.
Sheridan does a great deal of research to make sure the restoration of the garments is accurate.
"She's got an encyclopedia mind," said Emily Miller, 24, who has worked as a seamstress for Sheridan. "She knows exactly what period and what the history of a piece of clothing is."
Most dresses have to be hand-sewn because they are so intricately made. Then, there are also large dry cleaning bills before clothes hit the rack.
In addition to the vintage clothing, Sheridan's business also offers pin-up photography, letting customers pose in retro wear. She works with several photographers such as Rachel Baker, 33, who specializes in fashion photography. "It's kind of like fairy tale-ish," said Baker.
Last week, she worked with model Justina Guggino, 24, on a variety of photos in Sheridan-provided clothing. "I just think the whole style is coming back, everything from the 1940s," she said.
While vintage costume styles may be in demand, the number of shops that sell a wide range of this type of retro apparel is limited. Sheridan's closest competitor is across the bay — Jill Wax's La France in Ybor City.
Wax's store has been in business for more than 35 years, over which time she has seen the cyclical trends of fashion: "Your 1920s was reproduced in the 1970s; your 30s was reproduced in the 1980s."
Wax said that the most popular decades young customers come looking for today are from the 1960s and 1940s. "You have that popular '60s show Mad Men now and a lot of kids come in for clothing like that," she said.
Austin Bogues can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8872.