News & Runway

Boutique of the Week: Xtabay Vintage in Portland, OR

Attention shopaholics: tFS is highlighting our favorite boutiques across the country and around the world. Look for window-shopping inspiration in your city, or start planning a trip to your next shopping destination. This time around, our Boutique of the Week is Xtabay Vintage in the capital city of quirk, Portland, Oregon.

Boutique: Xtabay Vintage Clothing

Location: 2515 SE Clinton, Portland, OR

Owner: Elizabeth Gross

Launch date: August 2001

Store concept: A vintage ladies high-end boutique.

Specializing in: Vintage party dresses from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. We carry lots of hats and accessories, but people mainly come here for dresses for special occasions.

Caryle DressBest sellers: 50s and 60s full-skirt party dresses, without a doubt. We’ve had some super spectacular cocktail dresses. I call them “It” dresses when they come in and go instantly. There’s one called the Caryle Dress (right)—it’s probably the #1 most requested vintage dress we’ve ever had. It was made in 1962, a nude-colored lace dress, short cocktail length—and I’ve had two. I post everything online and on Facebook constantly, and people still e-mail me about that dress.

Typical customer: A woman in her 30s and 40s going to a special occasion, who’s fashion-minded, into good quality clothing, and wants something unusual or different. I know that 90s is really popular right now but our niche is older. We’ve had a few celebrity customers, like Kristin Bauer from True Blood and Capricia Marshall, who’s the chief of protocol in the White House. (Gross has a picture of Marshall practically upstaging Michelle Obama on the steps of the White House in a floor-length white dress with an embellished top.)

Store aesthetic: Reminiscent of an old-fashioned ladies powder room. The clothes are arranged by color and the space is decorated with vintage chandeliers and candelabras, vases of peacock feathers, and vanity mirrors.

Most unique items: We’ve got some wild swimsuits, like a Cole leopard and mesh one-piece swimsuit, and a ruffly white pin-up Catalina bikini with the tags still attached. We carry Rago lingerie, which is the shapewear they use on Mad Men. They make it the same way they did back then.

Inspiration for opening the boutique: In high school I used to go to thrift stores all the time—I was obsessed with Value Village and stuff back then. I used to just go thrifting all the time and it was a form of therapy for me. Then I found this record at a garage sale called Xtabay by the signer Yma Sumac, and I had a vision of this tiki room store, and that’s kind of how Xtabay started out. When we first opened, the vibe was like that—we still have the tiki bar. My grandmothers, too, are my main inspiration. They both dressed well, and they both lived in big houses in New England, and the boutique was always really inspired by that kind of New England summer preppy kind of thing. Now I’ve been buying and selling vintage for 20-something years, and we opened up a vintage bridal boutique last December.

Listening to: Brazilian jazz: Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Herb Alpert. That’s always been the theme music here.

The staff is talking about: Usually what item they want for themselves, what items they’re hoping don’t sell. They have to wait seven days and then they get a discount. I had to put the seven day rule there just so we had anything left in the store.

If I didn’t run the boutique, I’d be… painting. I originally went to RISD as a painting major.

In my free time, you’ll find me… playing Scrabble on my iPhone. Sad but true.