Face Time: Cameron Silver

Vintage boutique owner, fashion historian

Decades, Cameron Silver’s renowned Melrose Avenue vintage clothing store, hawks 1980s Oscar de la Renta ball gowns and 1960s André Courrèges go-go skirts to glitterati like Chloe Sevigny and Nicole Kidman. His new book, “Decades: A Century of Fashion” ($60, Bloomsbury USA), traces the evolution of 20th-century style. He’ll discuss his tome and the vintage fashion landscape Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Tickets $15; Corcoran.org).

In your book you claim Decades sells vintage clothing that looks modern. Can you explain?
When Decades first opened 15 years ago, vintage wasn’t as socially acceptable as it is today. People would come in and hold up a [one-of-a-kind] item and ask if we had it in a size 4. We sell relevant clothing as opposed to costume dress.

Where do you find the majority of your stock
The best things come from estate sales of women of a certain age. As our store gets more famous, more people send their clothes to us. It’s not unusual for individuals to leave their clothes to Decades in their will.

What tips can you give people who want to shop for vintage online?
Create an interactive relationship with the seller. People forget they can email or call the store. The more questions you ask, the more informed your decision will be. And if it sounds too good to be true, it’s too good to be true.

Do you ever get frustrated shopping for clothing you can’t wear?
There’s nothing more fulfilling than helping someone feel beautiful. About 13 years ago, a woman came in with a difficult body to dress. We put her in this French ’70s couture dress that made her look tall and lean. She came back a year later and had lost all this weight. She explained it was cathartic to see herself as beautiful and feminine. That’s what it’s all about for me.

Would you say your taste leans toward one particular decade?
I’m mostly drawn to the ’70s. I like the sexiness of the Studio 54 culture. I was a baby, but I like to think that I was clubbing.

Is there a past trend you’re happy to see go?
Square-toed shoes. Prada did a lot of square-toe Mary Jane heels that I’ve never particularly loved. But they’re going to come back. It’s just inevitable. I can never say there’s a particular trend that I don’t ever want to come back because they all do. Whoever thought that harem pants would have such a long renaissance?

What can we expect at your Corcoran appearance?
I’ll be discussing the modernity of each decade and how it’s relevant today. I also hope to delve into the power of vintage and brand heritage to show how vintage really changed luxury retailing today.

Holley Simmons is the dining editor of The Washington Post Express. When she’s not reporting on local restaurants and tastemakers, you can find her sewing a dress from a 1950s pattern or planting a windowsill herb garden. Contact her at holley.simmons@wpost.com.
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