The first time I walked into the stylish collective house on the east side known as Maison d'Etoile, I was greeted by a smiling face bubbling with enthusiasm and excitement. Shari Gerstenberger, the owner of Charm School Vintage, always lights up a room and fittingly charms others as much with her cute and quirky personality as she does with her cute and quirky clothing.
Although the South Carolina native planned to pursue journalism after she graduated college from Colorado in 2007, the now vintage boutique owner ended up in Austin first as a buyer for Buffalo Exchange. Her job working for Buffalo Exchange was Shari's first introduction to vintage and the notion that loving clothes could be a job. With no plans of opening up her own store, the opportunity to join the Maison d'Etoile collective was something that fell into Shari's lap. With doubts of entering a scene seemingly already saturated with vintage, Shari soon realized that Austin was in fact missing moderately priced, well-edited vintage on the east side. Shari says the east side definitely needed the magic, glamour, and possibility for total transformation that Maison d'Etoile provides from combining vintage clothing with wigs, make up, and salon. "Nothing else like this exists, maybe in the whole country. It’s really exciting to be part of a space so magical!"Shari spends most of her time working on Charm School Vintage projects, including styling for the Femme Et Velo blog (a blog combining bicycles and style that Shari asked me to model for). But when she's not working, this vintage vixen can be seen dancing at the Sock Hop, doing yoga, translating playwrights from French to English, treasure hunting, and dressing up every month for Vintage Vivant and Exquisite Corpse.
For the future, Shari imagines she might eventually merge her work in fashion with her background in publications and also dreams of making Charm School Vintage have more of an online presence. But for now, Shari is focusing on making her vintage boutique better, not bigger. However, I predict we will be seeing both better and bigger things from Shari in the future.
Check out the photos from our photo shoot with Shari Gerstenberger:
photography by Patrick Meredith
Q&A with Charm School Vintage owner, Shari Gerstenberger:
How do you describe your personal style?
I don’t really stick to any particular decade or color palette, but I do like to imagine a character as I get dressed, usually some genre of femme fatale. I love sexy clothes, and I like contradiction.
What do you love most about vintage clothing?
I think vintage is the best way to dress stylishly and affordably. It’s incredibly egalitarian. Tactilely, I love the quality of the fabrics and the attention to detail, but I especially love the authenticity. So much mass produced clothing is re-interpreting the old styles, and I would rather own the original, especially when it’s often so much less expensive!
When shopping for your vintage store, is it difficult to not just shop for yourself instead? Is there anything you've ever regretted selling?
There’s no difference between shopping for myself and the store. I’m constantly wearing things home from the store and putting things from my closet on the racks. In fact, many times I’ve sold something just by wearing it out. Trying on something myself helps me know what body type it’s going to look best on, how I should style it, and it’s great advertisement for the shop. Sometimes I have twinges of regret for selling something, but it’s always short lived, because for whatever reason I decided it wasn’t right for me and then it went on make someone else happy.
If you could travel back in time, which decade's style would you enjoy the most?
I actually like living right now the best because I can pick my favorite styles from all different decades and not have to play by the rules, but style-wise, nothing makes me weak in the knees like Art Nouveau. I adore the clothing and jewelry, but I’m really intrigued with the idea of living in a space where every single object, from the facade of the building itself to your fork or doorknob, is so meticulous crafted and elegant.
Do you have any embarrassing style moments?
I went through a phase in early high school when I felt really brand conscious, which I would consider my low point style-wise. Keep in mind, I was living in a small town in Colorado at this time, so Old Navy and Wet Seal counted as cool brands.
Annnnnnnnddddd, I also have a white ink tattoo on my hip that you NEVER see now, but there was a time when I made sure that puppy was visible every day, because that’s what you did in 2002.
What are you most excited to wear this Spring?
I would love to dress like a Ziegfeld Follies girl every day, but it’s not really practical for hauling things into my van and running around my store. I think I’m just going to continue exploring how high the waistband of my shorts and how cropped my shirt can get. Also, I always just throw my hair in a bun when it starts getting hot, but I really want to play around with doing more interesting things like lots of braids and twists in the morning. And clipping in extensions. I have more fake hair in my life now than ever before, but somehow it’s just never enough.
Besides your own store, what are your favorite places to shop in Austin?
I always find exciting fixtures and things for my house at the Austin Antique Mall and Room Service. Stag and Uncommon Objects just for my imagination. I love Le Rouge for hosiery and tasteless accessories like satin motorcycle gloves. And there’s always really incredible vintage at the American Icon Yard Sale at the 29th Street Ballroom on the second Sunday of every month.
What's your favorite thing about fashion in Austin?
I think that most people in Austin are young, creative, and love beautiful things, but are thrifty, and I think the style really reflects that. People value when something is well made and one of a kind, and they want to know the story behind it, and I think that’s a perfect storm for vintage. And individuality is really accepted here; there’s less pressure to have to have the newest or most expensive or “it” thing than in other cities like LA, New York or Dallas. And even though it’s casual overall, there’s definitely a vibrant costuming community that will spend all day gluing a headdress and really makes getting dressed an art.
Your least favorite thing about fashion in Austin?
That it has to cater so much to the heat. But on the other hand, I also appreciate that. I’m a pretty naked person, and I know that I get away with a lot (or rather, not wearing a lot) because it’s so hot outside. I wish I got to wear my fur coats and velvet dresses and gloves and leather pants more, but at least I never have to shovel my sidewalk.
keep austin stylish