In a town where affluence is a synonym, Swellegant Vintage Store on Newport Boulevard in Newport Beach might look rather misplaced–yet completely appropriate.
Nicole Bernstein developed a liking for vintage clothes while in high school and even paid her college tuition reselling pieces to other stores. The 36-year-old opened the shop 14 years ago as a hobby. She saw the lack of vintage stores in Orange County as a gap that needed to be filled. “People are a little bit more fashion-conscious and whatnot in this area. . . . Obviously, Newport needed me,” said Bernstein with a toying laugh.
Bernstein hand-picks each piece in her repertoire, and good condition is a must. “I've been called 'the secret store' by many of my customers,” she said.
The shop is one of the most diverse in Orange County in that you'll find items dating back to the 1940s and up to the 1980s–even some early-'90s grunge flannel shirts. Among the overstacked, era-organized racks, you'll find dresses, pants, shirts, jackets, shorts, bags and shoes–yes, shoes.
Some of the clientele's favorites: '80s puffy prom dresses, ugly Christmas sweaters and anything resembling what would appear on AMC's hit series Mad Men. “I kind of try to keep up with what people are wearing, what designers are making and what they've taken from vintage or how they were inspired by [it],” said Bernstein.
Vintage garments for men are difficult to find in retail, given that men usually wear their clothes until they're practically nonexistent. But worry not, for Swellegant has that covered. According to Bernstein, she has one of the largest selections of vintage for men–band T-shirts included. As opposed to stores such as Buffalo Exchange, Swellegant doesn't carry new clothes. However, it does stock up on reproduction items, such as '50s-inspired cat-eyed sunglasses or jewelry.
Adding to Swellegant's chic-ness, Bernstein's friend and renowned fashion designer Phillip Lim was a partner in the store once upon a time. “We would go thrift-store shopping and vintage-store shopping together all through high school and college,” she said. Speaking of brand names, small selections of higher-end pieces (safely stored in the back of the store) are available upon request for the couture aficionados. Original Pucci from the '60s, anyone?
Given the popularity of such items, Bernstein plans on opening a small section of the store for said pieces in the coming summer. “I'm not gonna go crazy with it. . . . That's not why I love vintage,” she said. “To me, the whole point and fun of vintage is when it's affordable and just fun to wear.”
Swellegant Vintage Clothing and Accessories, 3409 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 673-3604; www.swellegantvintage.com. Open (according to the website) Mon-Sat., noon-ish-7 p.m.; Sun., noon-ish-6 p.m.