Pittsburgh vintage clothing stores preserve pieces from the past

Eons+Fashion+Antique+is+located+in+Shadyside+and+opened+35+years+ago.+

Carolyn Pallof | Senior Staff Photographer

Eons Fashion Antique is located in Shadyside and opened 35 years ago.

By Hayley Lesh, Staff Writer

In-store retail is on the decline, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But as brick-and-mortar retail becomes less popular with the availability of online shopping, Pittsburgh vintage clothing stores continue to sell pieces from days gone by. Despite the challenges of this newfound fashion era, vintage stores remain prominent businesses within the Pittsburgh community.

Richard Parsakian opened his store Eons Fashion Antique in Shadyside 35 years ago. The definition of vintage varies, but it generally refers to clothing from the 1990s and earlier. Parsakian said at a time when retail is dying, vintage stores appeal to customers because they allow them to express their individuality.

“Beyond the uniqueness of what you can find here, there aren’t a thousand of the same pieces,” Parsakian said. “I get a lot of people who come in here for proms and they are so grateful that they can find something that reflects themselves that is not reflected on a thousand other people.”

Three Rivers Vintage in South Side carries vintage fashion from the 1860s to the 1980s. Owner Scott Johnson said he became interested in true vintage — a term within vintage fashion that usually refers to pieces from the 1970s and earlier — after working as an antique dealer at the age of 16. Johnson said he tries to acknowledge the history of vintage clothing, not just sell it.

“I appreciate the history that comes with each piece of clothing and knowing the story about where I got it and who wore it,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of people out there doing this streetwear that looks like you bought it at the mall kind of on-trend thing, but there’s not as many of us doing true authentic vintage and salvaging the history.”

Vintage fashion can also produce some rare finds. Johnson said that he has found some pieces that he considers special while curating his store’s clothing selection.

“One of the coolest things I have in the shop right now is a corset from an 1840s,” Johnson said. “It was in an attic in Squirrel Hill, believe it or not.”

With a wide-spanning offering of vintage fashion, Johnson said, Three Rivers Vintage caters to clients of many ages.

“It’s all across the board,” Johnson said. “There’s no pinpoint. There’s no target market. I have 14-year-olds who shop here on the regular and 50-year-olds who shop here on the regular.”

Hey Betty! co-owners Michael Ferrucci and Sarah Lawton started their own vintage clothing store in 1988 after becoming involved in an antique co-op together. Ferrucci said his Shadyside shop’s clothing selection consists of true vintage and quirky pieces.

“We do go to the ‘80s, some ‘80s and [a] very limited bit of ‘90s,” Ferrucci said. “I do kind of pick things that I think are better quality and I like certain styles and such things have to have a kind of a look to it. Just sort of run-of-the-mill pieces I don’t generally pick up.”

Hey Betty! is not limited to brick-and-mortar retail. Ferrucci said he curates a selection for online customers as well.

“The pieces I put online are, generally speaking, more special higher-end pieces that I think I can get a better price on because I’m appealing to a worldwide audience,” Ferrucci said. 

As vintage fashion inspires current trends, Ferrucci said he tries to follow his own fashion taste, while building his inventory with customers of various ages in mind.

“I mean I have students, you know, college students, high school kids. But then I’ve also got older women maybe that are looking for more like accessories, costume jewelry and handbags,” Ferucci said. “Maybe keeping the college crowd in mind but I don’t really have that as my primary focus when I’m choosing the pieces.”

Many customers shop at vintage stores because they’re concerned about sustainability. Eons Fashion Antique holds over a hundred years of fashion, but Parsakian said that he practices sustainability while curating his selection through individual and estate sales.

“I handpick everything that comes into the store. It is all locally sourced,” Parsakian said. 

“So when we talk about a lower carbon footprint, it means that I don’t order things from California. We don’t have to worry about shipping and gas and that kind of thing.”

Eons Fashion Antique focuses on more than just fashion. Parsakian said that he creates a safe and comfortable space for all customers.

“My store is a very safe space. I am very involved in social justice, so I feel that businesses today have to reflect what is important and to accept everybody for who they are,” Parsakian said. “I’m really proud that people feel safe to come in and be themselves.”

In addition to helping his own clientele, Parsakian assists various costume designers for film and television. Parsakian said costume designers will browse through Eons Fashion Antique when filming takes place in Pittsburgh.

“A costume designer will come into the store and I will just get a sense that they’re doing a film. David Robinson was in town a few years ago. There was a film, ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ and Emma Watson was a character in the movie, and he was looking for a dress for her.” Parsakian said.

When it comes to shopping vintage, Johnson said starting a vintage collection takes time and patience, and recommended that customers invest in quality pieces while showcasing their sense of style.

“Don’t be afraid to spend a little bit of money on a good quality piece that’s going to hang around for a lot longer as opposed to buying lesser, inexpensive pieces, Johnson said. “And just match your personal vibe and your personal style just like you would at the mall. Except you’re doing it with unique one-of-a-kind pieces.”

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