Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Profiles in Vintage: Swellegant

On top of having the longest-running vintage store, with the BEST name in Orange County, Nicole of Swellegant Vintage Clothing & Accessories in Newport Beach, CA is really cool.  Stop by her shop any day of the week, and you will likely find her steaming clothes, listening to killer music or taking a nap on the sofa.  Ask her a few question and you'll find that she has some crazy stories and is a trained pilot.  We were fortunate enough to walk through the doors of Swellegant and ask Nicole a few questions about life in the vintage clothing business.

Through these doors, one can soak in
 the font of Orange County vintage.

WT: You are a trained aviatrix with a mane of the most brilliant vermillion, may we refer to you as the Red Baron?
Swellegant: Please don't.

Nicole, Ben, and Mary involved in a very serious discussion at Swellegant

WT: Okay, okay.  You have the best name in the business.  How did you come up with the name for your store?
Swellegant: I came up with the store name from the musical High Society written by Cole Porter.  Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby did a number about a "swellegant, elegant party" in the song "Well, Did you Evah?"  I dislike watching musicals but I guess this one changed my life?

"Well, Did you Evah?"
High Society (1956)

WT: How long have you been in the vintage clothing business?
Swellegant: I have had the shop for 15 years but I started selling to other shops almost 20 years ago.

wacky tacky loves Swellegant because the prices are great and it is a real
vintage store.  It is not one of those vintage museums where they act like
they are doing a huge favor to society and where the prices are so high
that the inventory, however beautiful, never moves.

WT: What got you started in the business?
Swellegant: I got started in the business by selling vintage to other shops to pay for college.  In high school I had no desire to be part of the norm.  I found the very best way to express this was through clothing.  This led me to second-hand stores, flea markets, etc.  In my quest for non-verbal self expression I noticed the obvious - fashion repeating itself.  I also realized that any repeat is usually a poor imitation of the original.  There had to be a market for the amazing items I found but had no personal desire to wear.  In need of funds for my education and entertainment I turned to something I enjoyed doing on an almost daily basis (it's like crack) into a profitable venture.

My favorite fixture in the shop is this mini, carousel giraffe turned purse rack!

WT: For what items are you on the hunt?
Swellegant: These days it is all over the place.  At the shop I do not specialize in any one era.  The racks represent a broad spectrum of vintage styles.  I have to keep up with what the mass, vintage-shopping population is looking for.  In the past, I used to only shop for items in near-perfect condition but now things are appreciated for their flaws and wear.  Sadly, sometimes that means eras that I personally love have less of a place at Swellegant.

WT: It seems like the range of eras which you stock must have broadened since you have been in business.
Swellegant: It has definitely broadened further than I could have imagined.  90's is now vintage???!!!  I started wearing vintage in the 90's because I didn't want to wear that stuff.  Now I have to buy it.

WT: What is your favorite era?
Swellegant: I jump from the 30's-50's.  It depends on my mood or the occasion.  I would have to say, if I had to pick, it would be the 40's - IT'S THE SHOES!!!

Shoes currently available at Swellegant

WT: What is the best vintage item that you have ever found/bought/sold?
Swellegant: No one item comes to mind with such eminence.  I am constantly on the hunt and am constantly adding/subtracting wardrobe items.  If I love it, I usually don't sell it.  At one point in my sinking, college financial situation, I sold almost 100 of my best Bakelite bracelets.  That was painful to say the least.  I thought that some day I would buy them back but other priorities and items have taken precedence.

WT: What is your ideal vintage item?  Have you found it yet?
Swellegant: There isn't any one item that I would say is ideal.  To me, getting dressed is synergistic - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  I have plenty of single pieces that I wouldn't consider ideal on their own but you don't know if you have found it until you have put it all together.

Modesty hats

WT: You are always dressed perfectly for every occasion, do you have any style icons?
Swellegant: I wouldn't say that I have any real style icons; there are so many great names in fashion.  Idolizing another's style is a substitute for a lack of style.  I may recreate looks I have seen - hopefully with my own flair.  If not, I would hope that the originator would view my interpretation as a form of flattery and think my emulation does their stye justice.  Are there any truly original ideas when it comes to fashion anyway?

WT: Do you have a dollar limit on rare/desirable items?
Swellegant:  Not being of infinite means, of course I have a dollar amount.  I walk away from items all the time due to price.  If I am going to obsess about an item then I would rather pay to have it instead of obsessing. Mental peace is worth more than cash.  I don't really hold money in high regard and I tend to be self-indulgent especially when it comes to clothes.  I would never go into debt for fashion though; I only spend money I have and consider disposable.

WT:  Do you find that running your own business allows you more or less freedom?
Swellegant: In theory, working for yourself allows you more freedom.  In reality, I have less.  It is probably a personal character trait that denies me this freedom.  I find myself working almost all of the time, at the shop or not.  Vintage is a lot of work; when people come into my store I don't want to let them down.

WT: Is managing this business easier, harder or just as difficult as you imagined?
Swellegant:  It is a bit harder than I imagined.  I think I made it so by doing everything.  It is difficult for me to delegate tasks.  I am trying to let go of the "If I don't do it myself, then it is never done right" mentality, but it is an interpersonal struggle.  It's funny because in my social life I am VERY easy going; the less I have to do to amuse myself, the better.

Dressing rooms at Swellegant

WT: Is this your dream job? Why?
Swellegant: For the most part it is my dream job.  I love treasure hunting and people's appreciation for what I bring to them through my store.  It is very rewarding when you see their excitement as they enter the door and even more so when they find a perfect addition to their wardrobe because of you.  Although at times the store feels like "job," I do feel self-actualization overall.

WT: Can you see yourself in this career forever?
Swellegant: I am pretty sure this is it for me.  At times I get restless and long for the mental stimulation that I found prior to working in retail.  I guess that is what travel and articulate friends are for?

Is she calling us articulate?  I'm not sure, but if you know what's good for you, you'll be sure to visit the Swellegant website and like Swellegant on Facebook!  Better yet, stop by Swellegant in Newport Beach and find yourself some great new threads!

Nicole and Mary carefully examine a pair of neon jogging shorts.

Swellegant Vintage Clothing & Accessories
3409 Newport Blvd
Newport Beach, CA



Mr. Tiny


  1. I've never been to the store, but I bought from Nicole at vintage expos, and I highly recommend buying from her - great stuff at fair prices!

    1. Nicole is awesome! The next time you are in the OC, be sure to check out the store. Also, it is right across the street from the beautiful 1938 Lido Theater! It is my favorite spot to see movies.

  2. Nicole always looks amazing, and she is a walking advertisement for her store. I need to make a point to visit her store the next time I am in Southern California.

    1. She does look amazing at all times, doesn't she. Also, congrats on the new job! I visited your store last time I was in SF; you're going to have a lot of fun there!!!

  3. I love Swellegants!!! I love that you featured Nicole's shop. Whenever people ask me about my favorite vintage store this is the first out of my mouth. Great stuff, great prices.

    1. She's pulling all kinds of great stuff out right now in preparation for Viva!!! It's a great time to go!

  4. I think you need to do a vintage fashion show in the store.

    1. Oh Anon, that is a great idea! I actually have video evidence that a little fashion show was performed there several years ago. I should have included it in this post!

    2. I am laughing right now Mr. Tiny! I think everyone would like to see that video! I think it is time for an updated fashion show, that would be awesome!

    3. HAHAHAHA!!!! I think we could make it happen. I know some pretty excellent Rockabilly QVC Hosts. I think yyou should be in the show. I know where you can get some great cowgirl duds - Yeehaw!

  5. I so enjoyed reading this interview! Fantastic photo coverage and really solid, salient points from Nicole of the selling and buying of vintage goods. Bravo!

    1. Thanks Lisa! Nicole is a great interview subject because she is not just smart about vintage clothing, she is smart all around. I'm glad that you like the photos too; I'm trying to get better!

  6. Thank you Wacky Tacky for the great store spotlight,and everyone for your kind words. I truly enjoy your blog and am proud to be a part of it.

    1. Thanks SLR! It's always fun coming into the store but to be allowed to feature it on wacky tacky was a real honor! I hope I did you justice! Obviously, you have MANY fans - keep up the great work!

  7. I love Nicole's store... It's such a pity I'am around only every second year.
    And I am so happy I found your blog! So many great posts I wouldn't know which one to start commenting on :-).