Good vintage clothing has a particular smell — rich and leathery without a trace of mothballs. Cavortress, in Mt. Pleasant, exudes this smell thanks to the racks upon racks of vintage treasures. A men's Missoni sweater that looks like it could have been worn on The Cosby Show is hung next to a row of women's dresses, some sparkly, others with trippy '70s prints. And the link that ties them all together? That'd be Julie Wheat, owner and curator of Cavortress.
Wheat has been collecting clothes for more than a decade. She scours the country in search of unique pieces, some for her store and some for her work as a stylist. (She's worked on movies, including a horror film shot locally, and TV shows, but she also styles for individuals, too.) And she gets a bit of help in the menswear and jewelry buying department from her brother as well as her husband, Nathan. Wheat also helps individuals who are ready to part with their pretties, but want to make sure the goods go to the right person. She's a vintage clothes matchmaker.
"When buying items for clients or customers, some pieces, prints, or fabrics will resonate with the essence of a certain celebrity, which makes it easy to communicate that style to clients. Everyone can understand how something looks so Gina from Scarface, Audrey Hepburn, or Jackie-O," Wheat says.
But, she doesn't always use celebs as inspiration normally. "At Cavortress, we believe that just because a celebrity is wearing something, it does not automatically become a good choice for everyone," she says. "We do, however, focus on buying conspicuous classics for the Cavortress inventory and helping clients refine their style while staying current and on trend, but not trendy."
And however tempting it may be to use the store as her personal closet, she doesn't. "There is a distinct difference between the items I buy for myself and for the store or clients. You will very rarely, if ever, find a piece in my shop that I have worn before," she explains. "All of the pieces that I have designed and are for sale in the store, I also have one of my own. Otherwise, why bother designing it if I wouldn't wear it myself?"
Oh — we forgot to mention that not only does Wheat hunt down vintage finds, she also designs items — vintage-inspired and originals. She's shown at Charleston Fashion Week and made a name for herself with her swimwear line. "My desire to design swimwear resulted due to the difficulty of finding vintage swimwear that is intact or current enough to wear," she says. "Vintage swimwear styles are popular, but actual vintage swimwear is not practical today. The materials are most likely deteriorated, people are shaped and built different, and so are foundation garments. I also wanted to design the prints for the swimwear."
More recently, the lithe designer has transferred her designing skills into a side job, working as a consultant to manufacturers for national brands. "I have also done custom swimwear design for Universal Studios and various production companies in Los Angeles, and my work has been worn by Zöe Saldana," she adds.
From buying to styling to designing, Wheat is something of a jack of all fashion trades. "None of these fantastic parts of my job can be done in isolation, even if I had to pick just one," she says. "I love all of them as long as they are being done with the right people, at the right time, in the right place, for the right reasons. However, treasure finding does have a cozy corner in my heart."
It's this love that brings it all back to Mt. Pleasant. The newly opened store houses everything from shirts to necklaces with fish pendants to sunglasses to lithographs. "We have vintage fine art — currently a piece by the well-known local art critic Nicholas Drake — French, German, and Russian lithographs from the late 1800s, and vintage fine jewelry. We always have men's vintage tuxedos and cufflinks in stock as well."
And just because an item doesn't have a price tag doesn't mean you can't buy it. "Everything in the store is for sale, even what people think are the decorations, except one thing — the deer skull that was found in the woods behind my childhood home. He has all of his teeth and his antlers are exactly symmetrical."
Wheat offers some final words of wisdom about buying vintage — or anything, really. "Make good decisions. Without good taste, you don't stand a chance at having style," she says. So true.
Cavortress carries new and vintage goods — vintage meaning that it's at least 20 years old. And it isn't a consignment shop. Cavortress buys its items outright. The store is located at 644 Longpoint Road, Mt. Pleasant, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sundays through Dec. 24 from 12-4 p.m.