Virginia's Vintage-happy Capital
Fashionistas come in all forms, including self-proclaimed '50s sitcom dads with day jobs at universities. Their glasses run thick, their ties blink black, and their pants come in only one variety: business professional. If images of Milanese catwalk-worshipping cadavers are still haunting you, meet the outlier—Southern fashionista Brian McDaniel, founder of the popular street and lifestyle blog, DirtyRichmond.Tumblr.com.
This fast-talking gentleman captures flashes of Richmond, VA's distinctive fashion and social scenes on the digital camera he normally has slung around his shoulder. In a place where “the city is dirty but the people are not” and art and history often collide, Brian's inspiration is as likely to trot on sidewalks as it is to party in Edwardian-era row houses. Following in the footsteps of The Sartorialist and Bill Cunningham, Brian instinctively photographs what compels him in the moment.
Brian's frequent documentation of Richmond's young and dashing has given him insight into the largely vintage scene. During his recent chat with Quail Bell Magazine, Brian pointed to the “older people living in The Fan [Richmond's famous Victorian district]” as one reason for why young Richmonders dress and decorate the way they do.
Richmond, founded in 1737, is one of the oldest cities in the United States. Many families have inhabited the area for generations, in some cases since the Revolutionary War. Select older residents pride themselves on having been born and raised in the capital of the Confederacy. Relics of the Civil War still abound in monuments, street names, and museums. Long-time Richmonders of age and means sell their vintage clothes and heirlooms to boutiques like Anthill Antiques, Bygones and Halcyon, while also donating to thrift shops like Fantastic and Diversity. Given the wealth of secondhand stores in neighborhoods like the Fan and Carytown, a young person living in RVA doesn't have to be rich to afford these gems.
Young Richmonders also don't have to be particularly observant to see vintage fashion in historically-accurate action. To illustrate the way tradition lives on in old-timers' fashion, Brian explained how Sundays in predominantly black neighborhoods like Carver and Jackson Ward mean the elderly deck themselves out in “really fantastic outfits” from their heydays. This usually means the 1960s, when most Richmond women still wore hats to church and gloves still adorned many hands. In the white community, with scores of Civil War re-enactment groups dressing up in and around the city, it's not entirely uncommon to spot fashion from the 1860s—Sunday or otherwise. Brian stated that while he has not yet photographed a Civil War re-enactor, he'd love to do so.
As for what's in with the young and stylish of Richmond right now? Brian praised vintage dresses, men's hats, and '70s facial hair as current big things. He noticed that most young Richmonders, even the bold and artsy, don't fully embrace vintage from head-to-toe, unless they happen to work at one of the aforementioned boutiques. They tend to insert a piece here or there, lest they become walking museum mannequins. A lover of classic TV shows like “Dick Van Dyke,” Brian calls his own look an interpretation of “vintage with a modern take.”
According to Brian, the local history and architecture influence young Richmonders' home style, as well.
“Space [here] is very personal,” he said, applauding Richmond's near lack of cookie-cutter apartment complexes and dorms.
Richmond brims with terraced houses, porches, hardwood floors, and big windows. Many Richmond row houses feature antique furniture and home accessories. While most of these things date back decades, some date back centuries. It's not uncommon for an RVA twenty-something to add touches of Art Deco and Art Nouveau to her collection of Target furniture. Brian believes that antiques just don't mesh with buildings devoid of historic charm.
Overall, Brian thinks that “Richmond is very accepting. People here make style their own. It's nice to be able to put on anything you want and not feel weird because nobody's going to care.”
And this is coming from a man whose daily vocabulary includes antiquated expressions like “Shucks!” and “Fiddlesticks!” It's no wonder he feels at ease in Virginia's vintage-happy capital.