ST. LOUIS — Madelyn Lumpe owns a vintage clothing store. She is 32 years old.
Almost everything she sells is older than her.
Black Rabbit Vintage, at 2800 McNair Avenue in Benton Park West, primarily sells clothing from the 1950s to the 1980s, although some items are older.
The store’s inventory reflects the taste of its owner and sole employee. Lumpe liked to play dress up as a girl (“My mom has a lot of really interesting pictures lying around,” she says), and when she was a teenager she often wore the clothes her own mother wore in high school in the 1970s.
She notes with some pride that her mother wore a Gunne Sax Renaissance dress to her prom and her father wore a powder blue polyester suit to his.
“I grew up romanticizing this period,” she said.
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Lumpe still wears vintage clothing almost exclusively today, and his hobby of collecting them eventually led to the opening of Black Rabbit Vintage. But first, there were more than the usual number of obstacles to overcome with the help of a dash or two of good fortune.
After college—she was an art student—Lumpe worked in what she now considers “desk work.” She also held a series of jobs in the service industry, while adding to her thriving assortment of vintage clothing.
About six years ago, she began selling some of her clothes at pop-up events and other temporary venues, while buying more. At the time, she viewed her interest as nothing more than a hobby.
Then, in 2019, Adrianne (Ace) Mammet offered to sell him the entire inventory of her store, Ace of Hearts Vintage Clothing, which had been a mainstay on Cherokee Street since the 1980s when he called for the first time Ruth’s Basement.
“She (Mammet) cut me a lot and changed my life. I’m very grateful to her,” Lumpe said.
This is when Black Rabbit Vintage was born, at least officially. Lumpe found a suitable location and began working on the necessary permits.
Rezoning the building was a challenge that required three hearings in a courtroom. Although she considers her business a well-organized vintage clothing and jewelry store, the city considers it a thrift store, which means “you’re under the same code as a pawnshop,” a- she declared.
She also took the unusual step of financing the business without a single loan. The money and the original inventory belonged to him.
Everything was in place and it was ready to open in April 2020. But the country entered a coronavirus-related lockdown the month before. The store could not open.
Lumpe continued to work at the Nippon Tei restaurant (her boyfriend, Reed Joern, is a sushi chef at its sister restaurant, Indo). During this time, her landlady kept the store space open and available to her.
The store finally opened its doors in October 2021; it celebrates its first birthday on October 7. Meanwhile, Lumpe continued to work at the restaurant, which hosted his hours, for the first nine months. The store is doing well enough now that she can do her only job.
“I’ve wanted to own a vintage shop since high school, and here I am,” she said.
Sophia Scott recently bought sage-colored 1970s Farah pants there. It was her second time at the store.
“It has the most authentic vintage clothes from the 60s and 70s,” she said, adding that other vintage clothing stores in the area usually carry newer products.
“I really like the style. I like the idea that you can buy something that has its own story and then you can buy it and give it new life,” Scott said.
Lumpe feels much the same. She sees the clothes of the past as having their own character and history. She feels a connection with them; she knows exactly when and where she acquired each piece.
At the store, she organizes the inventory according to her own logic.
The clothes, whether originally intended for men or women, are all hung on the same rack. Shirts are sold with shirts. The pants are sold with pants. They are not sorted by size but by style and color.
A Walt Disney Animation beige suede jacket from the 80s that has never been worn hangs next to a few brown leather jackets from the 70s. Yellow macrame ponchos hang together in the front of the coat rack.
The Organizing Policy is part of Lumpe’s commitment to inclusivity.
“I don’t give any sex to my clothes. I want (the store) to be a very safe space for people of any gender, race, shape or size,” she said.
“If it fits you and you like it, wear it. It doesn’t matter if it was made for you or not,” she said.
The store doesn’t have enough room for all of its inventory, including the oldest item it has for sale, an 1860s riding jacket. Also out of sight is a collection of wedding dresses. dating from the 1920s, which she exhibits by appointment only.
When customers aren’t in the store, she can often be found at a sewing machine doing the minor alterations and repairs that are often needed on decades-old garments. She inherited her love of sewing from her mother and grandmother, she said.
Her sense of style, however, is her own. Some would say that in fashion, everything old becomes new again. But for Lumpe, the styles of the past still suit the present.
Or rather, they are almost always appropriate.
“Styles always come back, whether you like them or not. Low rise jeans keep threatening to come back,” she said.