I discovered Marion Mercer during the quest for the perfect holiday gift and took note. Unlike a lot of online vintage shops, it’s attractive, well-styled and easy to navigate, and after tracking down its founder, Sarah Buxton, it’s easy to see why. She’s young and hip, sure (the day I met her she was wearing a green vintage dress and looking very Annie Hall, only cuter â€” sorry Diane Keaton), but after graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology, interning at Glamour and doing wholesale sales at Mint and marketing at Intermix, she has the fashion and merchandising chops to make cute clothes into a great business. And she had the same complaints about buying vintage online.
â€œOnline vintage shops are overwhelming, not well-culled,â€ says Buxton. â€œIt’s almost like some of them are a second thought to a bricks and mortar store.â€
The name Marion Mercer pays homage to her birthplace, Marion, IL, and her favorite NYC shopping destination, Mercer Street. Like the name, the business is an intimate operation. Although she has a graphic designer, she sources, styles, photographs and ships everything on the site herself. Her parents, who live nearby, help out when she’s traveling, which she does frequently.
â€œI find good deals in big cities,â€ she says of her regular jaunts to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and Europe, â€œthings that other girls [in smaller towns] will want but don’t have access to. But I can’t ever go somewhere with a goal. I won’t buy something I don’t love just because we ‘need’ more large sizes or dresses or whatever.â€
Sizing is another job Buxton takes on. She tries everything on herself and then puts it on her two mannequins – Kate and Nicole (after Kate Moss and Nicole Richie) – so she can assign the item a modern size range, say, a 2/4 or a 4/6. That way, potential buyers aren’t scratching their heads trying to discern measurements.
But even if you over- or underestimate your size, or find that the teal sequined disco dress you bought isn’t quite right for your cousin’s wedding, Buxton accepts returns and just asks for a phone call within three days of receiving the item. Though with six pictures, including close-ups and two shots styled into wearable looks with other, often modern clothing and accessories, there are few surprises.
â€œThe best way (to wear vintage) is to have one main piece and pair it with modern accessories, to have that allure about you like, â€œWhat is she wearing?â€ In a good way!â€
You can spare yourself the legwork by buying on her site, obviously, but if you’re digging through secondhand stores in your hometown, Buxton has some tips: â€œI used to think things could be fixed,â€ she said, â€œbut uh-uh. In June I bought a 1940s navy lace gown where the lace was deteriorating… I’ve been trying to salvage it ever since.â€ Also, steer clear of anything with holes that are anywhere but on a seam, and â€œif something says â€œAs Isâ€ on the tag, even if you don’t see anything wrong, ask the owner,â€ she said. It’s advice born of experience. â€œI have a Geoffery Beene dress that has a hole I didn’t notice [when buying it]. I’m sure we could patch it, but then you have a patch on your Geoffery Beene dress!â€
And random patching and altering of her finds is something she doesn’t do.
â€œI won’t put up anything that’s not in perfect condition,â€ she said. â€œIt’s about making people feel comfortable with what they’re buying.â€
1. Tie Dye Silk Blouse, 1970s $255
2. Michael Kors/Lyle & Scott Cashmere Tunic, 1980’s $395
3. Hallucination Necklace $145
4. Beaumelle Tulle Dress, 1950’s $585
5. Yves Saint Laurent Blazer Dress, 1980’s $565
Image Layout: Allison Merzel