Dressing The Ages: Two Vintage Costume Shops and COVID-19

For Helen Uffner and Shanon Hoey, clothing doesn’t have just one life. Rather, after a piece has been discarded by its original owner, both Uffner and Hoey give it a chance at a new life, on screen. To learn how Uffner started her business, read below. To hear how Hoey and Uffner are dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic, listen below.

Uffner was a fine art major at Queens College when she began collecting vintage pieces. After a writeup about her vintage lingerie collection in a fashion forecasting magazine was published, she began receiving requests to furnish inventory for stores. On the side she began selling some vintage pieces. After Woody Allen bought out her entire rack of 1920’s clothing for his film “Zelig”, she “decided that if I rent it, I would get to get the items returned at the end and I wouldn’t have to start from scratch to find inventory,” said Uffner.

Uffner founded her business 42 years ago and one of her first big productions was “Out of Africa” in 1985. Nowadays when she gets a call from a production, Uffner has a system-, it just depends if they are in New York or not.

If they are, then Uffner points them down one of the many double-racked isles in her 8,000-square-foot warehouse in Long Island City. It just depends on what era they are looking for. If Uffner is shipping the clothing, then, “We ask very specific questions: What period does the project take place in, what season, what socioeconomic class, what color palette… The productions often send us the sizes of any principals. We look for the correct options and then send pictures for their approval, ” said Uffner.

Each piece of clothing is inside a clear garment bag, which is sometimes within an opaque hanging bag. A white sheet covers the top of each rack, to ensure that each item of clothing is protected from light. Uffner does not turn on the lights in the aisles unless someone is looking through them, to ensure that these pieces stay as pristine as possible.

She dresses a lot of Westerns, so a lot of her catalog is more subdued brown hues. “It’s interesting that some items that are great for retail are not good for us,” said Uffner. “Bright colors, for instance, stand out too much in a scene. Often directors have a very tight color palette in mind.”

At the start, to assemble her inventory, she used to go to thrift shops, auctions, and big antique fairs. “I think if I wanted to start this business now, I could never do it, because the prices for vintage are so prohibitive,” said Uffner.

Now, she will get calls from families. Uffner bought an assortment of sweater sets from a woman in Brooklyn who was being put into a nursing home. Her family was selling her collection of antiques and they had to talk her into giving away the clothing. ” Only two weeks later, I worked on a movie called “A Beautiful Mind” and they rented all the sweater sets. I wrote to the family right away and the woman was delighted!,” said Uffner.

Being only 12 minutes by subway to midtown Manhattan. Uffner dresses several skits a season for “Saturday Night Live”. “Often, TV writers finish editing skits at the last minute, so the designer often comes on a Friday for a Saturday show,” said Uffner. “Really, if we didn’t have costume houses in New York City, where would designers go at the nth hour?”

Helen Uffner Vintage Clothing

Mrs. Hunt’s costume for “If Beale Street Could Talk”. Occasionally Uffner will get sent the film poster for movies she has dressed.
One of the many boxes of 1970’s and 1980’s sweaters that have been painstakingly labeled.
The jacket and suspenders that Will Rogers wore in the film “Bridge of Spies”.
The sign for Row 18A, which holds more modern costumes, as well as those specific to a profession.
One of the multiple drawers of vintage earrings.
A small corner of her hat collection. Uffner estimates that she has at least 4,500 hats.
A tag on one of the pieces that was just returned from the newest season of “Perry Mason”.
The tag for the denim outfit that Dominique Swain wears for her role as Lolita Haze in “Lolita”. The outfit is in the image below.
Close-up details of the lace on Angelina Jolie’s nightgown in “Original Sin”.
A dress worn by Phoebe Waller-Bridge in an episode of “Saturday Night Live”.
The suit jacket that Matthew Broderick wore in “The Producers”. Also in the image below.
The shirt that Celine Marget wore as a young Janet Donofrio in “Riding in Cars with Boys”.
The green coat dress that Kristen Wiig wore in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”.
Close-up detail on the dress worn by Renee Zellweger as Ann Devereaux in “My One and Only”.
A look down one of the shops aisles featuring clothing exclusively from the 1960’s.
Sizing tags attached to one of her many rows of vintage men’s suits. Each tag is handwritten and has exact measurements.
A rack full of colorful ties that goes across all eras.
Close-ups of the detailing on two dresses worn by Gwyneth Paltrow as Sylvia Plath in “Sylvia”.
Two dresses worn by Gwyneth Paltrow as Sylvia Plath in “Sylvia”.
The sweater that Tom Hanks wore in “Bridge of Spies” in front of the jacket worn by Michael Keaton in “Birdman”.
Part of Uffner’s collection of men’s Victorian vests.

A sign detailing Uffner’s COVID policy for checking clothing back in.

New York Vintage

The brown feathered headdress has been worn by Cardi B and is displayed among its many headpieces.
A line of embellished 1920’s evening dresses, each with a hand-written tag.
An eye ring worn by Miley Cyrus in one of New York Vintage’s many jewelry cases.
The “poison ring” from “The Greatest Showman”.
Located on W. 25th street, New York Vintage houses a store of vintage pieces ranging from iconic flapper dresses to elaborate headpieces.
New York Vintage’s second floor is filled with racks of clothing and costumes that are divided by type and era.
A close up of a detailed shell necklace that is prominently on display.
One section of the stores shoe collection. Some of the more delicate pieces are held in display cases.
A close-up of a Gianni Versace shell bra. This item is only available for rental.
A vintage swan dress hung in front of a mirror in the shop.
A singular garment tag for a 1930’s dress and jacket combination.
One section of the shops’ sunglass collection which spans across all eras.

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Gabrielle Holliday is a fashion journalist attending Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.

She previously attended the University of St Andrews, writing for The Saint and Haute Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @gabbieholliday

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Gretty Garcia currently attends Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. After graduating from Harvard College, she worked as the features at special projects editor at Editorialist and wrote for the Cut and V. A native New Yorker, Gretty is happy to be back in the city and explore and write about everything in it.

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