It takes guts to rock a vintage look and even more grit to commit to that style every day. Strangers gawk at you and ask you stupid questions like, “Are you going to a costume party?” or “What time machine did you step out of?” Luckily for Alejandra Avila, a.k.a. Miss. Al E. Cat, graciousness is the hallmark of her chosen era—the 1950s—and it’s just not in her ladylike character to smack you upside the head for your insolence.
Inspired by her beautiful grandmother’s closet full of treasures, Avila started experimenting with vintage while in college. She was drawn to the uniqueness, the hunt for timeless treasure, and the idea that putting your best foot forward starts with giving a darn about how you look.
“I would look at old family photos and was always blown away by how put together my grandmother was,” Avila said. “My family immigrated from Cuba in 1960 and the Cuban community here is pretty close knit—when she had an event to go to, it was a BIG deal. You got dressed up—you wore your heels, put on your makeup, you put on your jewelry. You didn’t leave the house without looking put together.”
As the former Miss Houston Vintage, the founder of the non-profit Benefit Betties, and the current the master of ceremonies for the Houston Burlesque Review, Avila is a sort of ambassador for all things old-fashioned. After years of combing through shop after shop, she’s become an expert on how to find what you’re searching for.
Looking to add some vintage va va voom to your closet? Here are Avila’s top tips for finding something one of a kind.
- Know Your Shape: some decades are made for curves; some can present a challenge for those with a little wiggle in their hips. Have your bust, waist, and hip measurements, and a handy tape measure, in hand when you’re ready to shop—then compare them to the garment you’re about to try on (So you don’t get stuck. Not that that’s happened to me.).
- Experiment With Different Decades: maybe the flapper-style drop waist number from the 1920s is not super flattering on you, but a wiggle dress a la Joan from Mad Men might be perfect. Know that each decade has a key look and some might be more “you” than others.
- Cut It Up: if you find something you can’t live without and it just doesn’t fit, take it to a tailor and have it taken in. Too small? You can have it recreated into something you love even more!
- Take Your Time: don’t think you’re going to score a fantastic find in five minutes. Plan an afternoon to meander through the racks.
- Become a Regular: visit local shops and get to know the folks working there. They know exactly where to point you—just ask nicely! Avila’s favorites are Replay and Retropolis, both on 19th street in the Heights.