“...an expert who...knows the history and style of each era she sells...” Malena’s Vintage Boutique
alking along Gay Street in downtown West Chester, it’s clear that this county seat is a place that holds dear its history. Nods to eras past twinkle via details in the buildings — the slight warp of original Colonial-era glass in a window; the wrought iron railings that lace along widow’s walks around second- and third-floor balconies, like those on the Lincoln Building, where the first biography of Abraham Lincoln was written in 1858, or the cobblestones on the street that could trip up a walker distracted by window shopping. Maybe this appreciation for the past is why so many spots in town offer well-worn remnants of it, from vintage apparel to antique goods for the home. Not everyone has the patience to scour flea markets, estate sales, or even thrift stores to find vintage or vintage-inspired treasures — so it is lucky that West Chester is home to some experts who do the leg work for you. I shopped around town recently looking for bygone gems, and I was not disappointed.
Vintage, but Make it Fashion On the corner of West Gay and Church Streets, Malena’s Boutique is an institution. If you’ve been in West Chester for a while, you likely already know of Malena Martinez: Since 2003, the WC native has housed an impressive collection of vintage clothing from the 1850s to the 1970s in her store. She cut her teeth in the fashion industry in New York City, where she worked a vintage store while in school. When she was starting out, the internet was just beginning to affect and change the landscape of retail and of vintage sales. So she headed back to her hometown of West Chester and opened a storefront. Today, she has customers who are home grown and local, those who make the trip from hours away, designers, high profile collectors, and clients shopping for the theatre and film industry. After 16 years in the business, she is fastidious and particular, an expert who can eyeball sizing to translate vintage sizes to contemporary, who knows the history and style of each era she sells,
and can explain to her customers the particulars of garment construction, materials, fiber, and fit. “I always look for something that is wearable, something that can be integrated into a wardrobe and actually worn,” says Martinez. That means skipping things like hats and gloves — items that are easy to hold onto for years as a collector, but are not a wardrobe staple for today’s women. Inventory on the store floor is constantly refreshed. On a recent trip, I found a few pieces to catch my eye. A saucy red suede skirt from the 1970s in an a-line cut would pair great with boots for fall. A blue and white chunkyknit, Scandinavian-style sweater looked plucked from a fashionable ski lodge. A daintily beaded bag that would be right at home in The Great Gatsby. “We are a trend-oriented collection, so we like to pick things that reflect what is currently in and what people are already shopping for, and not just a random assortment of vintage pieces,” says Martinez.
NOVEMBER 2019 THEWCPRESS.COM
Voice of the Borough