Whatever it is that you want to be, whatever zeitgeist you'd like to recall, Claudia Baumgarten, owner of Miss Claudia's Vintage Clothing & Costumes (4204 Magazine St., 897-6310), can help you dress the part, with a dash of nostalgic New Orleans provenance thrown in for fun. Baumgarten's collective experience as an actress (she's worked in local theater, cabaret and film) and dealer of vintage clothing have made her something of a costuming expert. And her stock -- which includes labels from now-defunct department stores like Godchaux's, Maison Blanche, Gus Mayer and Kreeger's -- have made her a curator of New Orleans' unique past and its particular brand of chic.
"I get a lot of clothes from people in places like New Orleans and Hattiesburg, Miss.," says Baumgarten. "Big boxes of hats, gloves, day dresses, sleeveless cotton cocktail dresses. It's a different kind of style than you find up North. It's very Southern."
Baumgarten's career as a retailer of vintage goods began 12 years ago, when a Tulane professor brought her a high-quality cache of well-preserved garments and accessories purchased all over the world. At the time, she was selling pottery and other local crafts, but the vintage pieces sold so quickly and married so well with her interest in the performing arts that she knew she'd found her niche. Since then, a variety of customers -- among them students participating in school theater productions, artists, musicians and costume party-goers -- have found Miss Claudia's.
"I try to sell only things that are in perfect condition or that can be washed or cleaned," Baumgarten says of her vintage inventory for men and women, which includes dresses, coats, slips, jackets, blouses, tuxedos, ties, sunglasses, jewelry, handbags, gloves and more. She also carries new items like wigs, costumes, go-go boots, hats (check out the collection of men's Panama hats for the warm-weather months) and crinolines, to name a few. But the store's premium merchandise is what Baumgarten calls "new old stock," never worn or used vintage pieces, some still bearing sales tags or contained in their original packaging. "The more modern we get, the more we have a fascination with things that are old," she says. "If someone's been in the store, they know I'm going to have things that defy description."
Open Monday through Saturday or by appointment, Miss Claudia's buys and trades vintage goods.
- Claudia Baumgarten stocks the clothes of New Orleans' past at Miss Claudia's.