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Collegiate fashions follow predictable cycle

by Amy Kingsley

Four decades ago, women attending UNCG weren’t allowed to wear pants. Through longstanding fashion fiat, the school’s administrators had limited their sartorial choices to skirts and dresses.

“I can remember, for instance, in about 1970 in this area girls were first allowed to wear pants,” says Kit Rodenbough, owner of vintage store Design Archives.

Some students found a way around the taboo, of course, substituting miniskirts for clothing of a more seemly length. In the early 1970s, before the public schools instituted monochrome dress codes and rules barring any clothing of the obscenely short variety, Rodenbough was in high school.

“I remember things being very, very short,” she says.

In the years after UNCG amended its dress code, denim surpassed skirts as students’ below the waist covering of choice. In many retail outlets, jeans are still king. But not at Design Archives.

“Every year we hear the number one thing is denim,” Rodenbough says. “For us, this year it’s polyester double-knit.”

You can find denim at Design Archives, though. A pair of faded jeans hangs on a circular rack devoted to the styles of the Flower Children, right next to a muslin tunic and an embroidered leather jacket.

“The hippie bo-ho stuff is popular this year,” she says. “Any kind of Victorian-inspired, ruffly blouse and the longer hippie skirts will sell.”

Rodenbough’s been in the vintage business since 2001. Her fascination with historic clothes and textiles began much earlier when her father – a historian – cleared out an old house in Rockingham County and brought home a barrel stuffed with fabric. Rodenbough, a devout follower of high fashion, used the old fabric to make her own tops. For 28 years, she worked as a fashion designer, until the industry deserted Greensboro and Rodenbough, who was raising three small children.

She decided to try her luck in retail. In 2001, Rodenbough attended the Latham family estate sale. Auctioneers had set out a line of rolling racks across the rambling property.

“I got fabulous designer garments,” she says. “I can’t even tell you how many carloads I took away that night.”

She intended to keep the clothes in storage for use by designers and historians, but when she opened her space – which housed furniture and knick-knacks as well – to the public, the clothes “just took off.”

Rodenbough just moved her store from its original location east of downtown to a storefront on Tate Street that was most recently a restaurant. On her fifth day in business at the new location, the place buzzes with customers. Most of them are students, or at least old enough to be students.

“That’s what we had downtown anyway,” Rodenbough says. “But we didn’t have the foot traffic down there.”

Since the move, Rodenbough has seen a lot of new faces. And she’s been able to set up her store in a way that’s more appealing to consumers.

“The other was so much like a warehouse,” she said. “For anyone to get through all the stuff was just exhausting.”

These days, Rodenbough stores her surplus behind a swinging door, in a room that used to be the kitchen.

“Being vintage, the neat thing about it is that if it doesn’t sell, I can just store it in the back and wait a couple years,” she says.

That’s the thing about vintage: Fashion always comes back around. During her first year in business, mink-collar coats were all the rage, but now she can’t give them away. Trench coats are in this year, particularly those lined with plaid flannel. And anything with an Izod logo sells fast, she says, dangling a brown collared shirt bearing the familiar crocodilian.

And what about dresses? Well, it seems the slacks revolution may have worn itself out.

“This is a huge dress year,” Rodenbough says. “I think they started easing into the dresses by wearing them over pants last year. But this year, that silhouette is really popular.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com.

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