Welcome to Dress Code, a brand-new column here on The Social that goes beyond the party and into the closets of some truly fabulous hosts. Because modern entertaining is more than a single occasion, it’s a way of life. Join us as we explore the sartorial stories and enviable closets of some of our favorite (and seriously stylish) party people.
First up is Birmingham-based vintage connoisseur, Susan Dumas. Susan's passion for "all things old and beautiful" began when she was just a teenager and has blossomed into a true love affair, both personally and professionally. Read on to learn about how it all started and why a good caftan reigns supreme.
Q: Where did your love for vintage clothing come from?
The vintage madness all started when I was 14 and laid eyes on a 4-inch wide, hand-tooled leather belt that my mom had worn in the 60s and 70s. I looked down at my purple Guess jeans and knew I was missing something. And then there was my summer camp’s drama costume closet. Spectacular. This place was old school and they spent decades collecting the coolest clothes and accessories I had ever seen. I started my life of crime by heading home with this fabulous red, heavily embroidered and mirrored Indian bag. Sorry, not sorry. I still use it.
Q: When did you start wearing and collecting vintage?
I have always had a few pieces of vintage clothing in my wardrobe from random places but I did not truly start wearing vintage clothes until I met the caftan in my early twenties.
My sister’s mother-in-law was getting rid of some old clothes and knowing that I love all things vintage, my sister gave me this pile of goodness that included my first caftan. I put it on and fell in love with the feeling. I was going to a Widespread Panic Halloween show and didn’t care what I was dressed up as, but it was going to be in that caftan. I told everyone I was Mrs. Roper but I FELT like Giselle — sexy, interesting, and totally comfortable in my skin. I was floating. And I was hooked.
Then, I started ordering vintage clothes from the internet. One piece would fit and four would not. I ended up with an entire wardrobe of fabulous vintage clothes that did not fit me. That’s when my love of vintage clothes turned into my business. I still follow the “try it on first” practice. If it fits me, it goes in the closet. If it doesn’t, it goes in the shop.
Q: What do you love about vintage clothes?
I get so sad when someone says that they don’t feel comfortable in vintage because they don’t have the right body type, can’t fit in it or pull it off. I am 5’2”, eat lots of carbs and only feel comfortable when I am wearing vintage clothes. There are a million different types: secretary dresses, caftans, Hawaiian muumuus, funky button downs, Mexican Puebla dresses, elegant black tie gowns, house dresses, appliqué wrap skirts etc. There is something for everyone. I love the vivid colors and psychedelic prints of the 60s and 70s.
The double knit polyester that never fades and is so flattering. The feeling of being special because no one else is wearing what you are. And I love the way people respond to vintage clothes. I get stopped by all kinds of people from middle-aged men to 14-year-old girls to ask where I got my dress or just to say they like it. It is such a unifier.
Q: Set your "getting ready" scene for us. What does that process look like?
I love thinking about parties, throwing parties, attending parties and planning parties. Now I have clothes that reflect my love of having fun! That makes getting ready such a blast! The process of showering, blow drying and flat-ironing becomes an extension of the party. Glass of wine with two waters (you have to stay hydrated!). Music blasting anything from 50 Cent to Waylon Jennings. Lots of bad dance moves in the mirror. No candles — I am a klutz so I would burn my house down.
Before I went vintage-only, getting dressed was so stressful. I had to choose from all pants. I hate pants. They fit one day and don’t the next. No more. Now I have a closet full of dresses that make me feel so happy, like my vintage silk kimono wrapped with an obi belt — my go-to when the dress code is black-tie.
Q: How important are accessories to you when putting together your party look?
I started buying accessories when I realized that other people don’t have them. The vintage clothes are the main attraction but without the exclamation marks, it falls flat. I think every human being should have a vintage eel skin clutch, a neutral wedge, two armfuls of bracelets and lipstick that makes you want to reapply.
Q: What piece from your personal wardrobe is the most sentimental to you and why?
Awww, there is one. In the early 2000s, my husband was in his medical residency and I worked at the food bank. Needless to say, we were poor. There was this caftan on Etsy that I would look at every night. It was $120 and I knew that was too much for me to spend on a dress. I texted the seller and told her how much I loved it and that I was saving up to buy it. She reduced the price and let me send her two payments for it just because I loved it so much. I remember her kindness every time I wear that caftan. In fact, I wear it to most big events going on in our lives… first day of school, interviews, piano recitals, birthday dinners, etc. I just feel her kindness every time I wear it.
Q: How would your best friend describe your style?
If I walked into my best friend’s house in blue jeans, she would be worried about me. My friends have accepted that I have my own style. They would probably say that it is explosively colorful bohemian mom chic. It has to have a pattern or color combination that makes it stand out but it also has to be comfortable and low maintenance so I can clean up dog accidents and empty CapriSuns. I mean, at the end of the day, I am just mama in a colorful outfit.
Q: What's your dream costume party theme and what would you wear to it?
A Slim Aarons: Women costume party. I would naturally have to be one of his “attractive people who were doing attractive things in attractive places”. You can’t make this stuff up! Stark white flowing caftan with oversized white beads, white floppy hat, colorful batik print wrap and barefoot on my yacht in Capri. I am already planning the party.
Q: Who is your style icon?
My style icon is definitely 99-year-old American fashion queen, Iris Apfel. She is so inspiring to me. She is gorgeous but she is gorgeous because she refuses to be anyone but herself.
And she has the best quotes. “When you don’t dress like everyone else, you don’t have to think like everyone else.” “I say, dress to please yourself. Listen to your inner muse and take a chance. Wear something that says ‘Here I am today’.”. Amen, Iris! More is more.
To shop Susan's vintage collection, head to Birmingham for one (or all!) of her four yearly shows. Follow @ssdumas to know when they'll be and, also, to simply swoon at her incredible finds.