Distressed denim and graphic tees are just part of the extensive collection of nostalgic clothing found at Ragtime Vintage Clothing in downtown Asheville.
“I try to get things that I can imagine people wearing and enjoying every week. I kind of focus on more casual stuff and I kind of avoid the flashier stuff or costumes, but you know there are pieces like that too,” said Matthew L’Esperance, owner of Ragtime.
Ragtime sells an eclectic mix of handpicked vintage clothing for men and women. Merchandise changes seasonally with new items added weekly. Located at 20 East Walnut St., the store is open seven days a week with varying hours, L’Esperance said.
“Ragtime offers a very large selection of vintage clothing at reasonable prices. They are also very good at keeping good quality clothes in stock,” said Leah Atkinson, a sophomore at UNC Asheville.
Before opening Asheville’s Ragtime in 2004, L’Esperance worked and eventually took over a boutique of the same name in Rhode Island.
“There were a few changes in ownership, but back then it was more of a vintage women’s shop with older clothing from the Victorian era through to the 1940s, so Ragtime was really suited to the era of these clothes,” L’Esperance said.
After L’Esperance, 37, took over ownership, he changed the inventory to a more modern, laid-back style, but kept the name. Today, he continues to sell newer vintage items at his downtown shop. Most of his merchandise ranges from the 50s to the 90s, he said.
“90s stuff is selling the best right now among young people. I like to find clothes that I saw in high school or wore myself. I’ve been doing it for so long, things that were all new when I started thrift shopping and buying vintage, are now,” L’Esperance said.
L’Esperance and its employees carefully clean and inspect items in the store before they are placed on the shelves. He said it’s important to him to only have what he considers good enough in the store.
“You might have jeans with lots of holes, but I wouldn’t buy suit pants in the same condition. It’s just a lot to have to nitpick. Not having certain things is as important as having the right things,” L’Esperance said.
L’Esperance said some of Ragtime’s items served utilitarian purposes, such as jeans or work jackets. But other more expensive items appeal to people who appreciate a certain period of time and the people and movements within them.
“Certain T-shirts that come from political movements or events, or even sports T-shirts from a World Series or something, things like that affect people,” he said.
The practicality of the items remains one of the main factors used by L’Esperance to decide whether an item will be sold in the store.
“I like the style of casual clothes because practicality is important to me. You have to wear clothes every day, it’s just the society we live in, so it’s important to find clothes that you going to actually feel up to the challenge of everyday wear. Overall, I want people to wear clothes that are comfortable for them,” L’Esperance said.
In order to find enough merchandise to fill the store seasonally, he continually shops at various flea markets, garage sales, thrift stores, and estate sales.
“It sounds glamorous, but often on my Friday nights I come home from a trip with bags and boxes of stuff, sort them, stay up until midnight, and do laundry all weekend,” said L’Esperance.
In recent years, many wholesalers that L’Espérance frequented have stopped selling clothes or closed, he said.
“It’s really hard to be in a buying rhythm and to be able to get a consistent product from people and all of a sudden they’re like, ‘Oh, we’re moving’ or ‘ We’re closing the deal,'” L’Espérance said.
That doesn’t stop L’Espérance from doing what he loves, though. He said he finds joy in selling vintage clothing that encourages recycling and a practical solution for finding new clothes, he also enjoys helping people find items to represent them and make them happy.
“It’s fun because I really like all the clothes I can buy and obviously you have to wear clothes, like it’s a necessity, but I’m flattered that people buy the things I find and appreciate,” he said.
Ragtime employee Erin Hurley said she hopes the store will stay the same in the future in terms of price and aesthetic appeal.
“I like the way it is and how it hasn’t really catered to the touristy side of Asheville. It is still loyal to its locals and regulars,” Hurley, 30, said.
According to L’Espérance, this is exactly what will happen in the future.
“We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing, improve the selections if we can, or just keep the level of stock and style that we have. It’s a challenge and I like challenges,” said L’Esperance.