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History Inspires Fashionista


Edition of Dec. 12, 2014

Ian Austin/HOMETOWN ONEONTA Elizabeth Raphelson prepares for the Thursday, Dec. 11, opening of The Underground Attic. (Ian Austin/HOMETOWN ONEONTA)
Elizabeth Raphelson prepares for the Thursday, Dec. 11, opening of The Underground Attic. (Ian Austin/HOMETOWN ONEONTA)

For Elizabeth Raphelson, what’s old is always new again. “I wore a 1950s ball gown to my prom,” she said. “I had the matching handbag, earrings, heels – I’ve always loved old clothing.”

It’s a love she’s sharing with Oneonta. On Thursday, Dec. 11, she planned to open The Underground Attic, a new vintage boutique specializing in clothing from the 1800s to the 1980s. “Fashion changed so quickly, so you can have a whole array of any style from any era you wanted,” she said.

Though it’s been a lifelong love, she started thinking seriously about it when she was at SUNY Oneonta. “I was studying fashion design and keeping a blog about vintage clothing,” she said. “I began to think, ‘How can I turn this into a job?'”

She began collecting pieces on a larger scale and selling them in an online shop. “I love traveling to estate sales and auctions,” she said. “I got this 1910 lingerie gown in Colorado – it’s all hand-done lace and all these tiny buttons. This is what you’d wear under your long gown.”

And her fashion background and knowledge into many pieces and all things fashion, everything from the modern fake Gucci wallets to the fashion periods of past times came in handy when she came across a Cinderella-style ball gown in Ithaca. “A lot of these didn’t survive because it was wartime and they were used for other occasions,” she said. “But I found this piece, and when I looked in my textbook, there was almost the exact same dress!”

It also helped her learn lessons about how clothes were made. “For a short time in the 1920s, they thought washing silk with salt water would strengthen the fibers,” she explained. “It was actually the opposite, and when it’s exposed to sunlight – poof!”

Alas, her favorite piece, an orange flapper dress with thousands of tiny glass beads, is for show only.

She steam cleans, mends and dates the pieces, sometimes writing a little story on the tag. The pink swingin’ ’60s dress, for instance, might look familiar to shoppers: It was the same one Elizabeth is sporting in the JoAnn’s Dress Shop mural at the Greater Oneonta Historical Society.

The store will be open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Dece. 11, 13, 18, 20, 22 and 23 in the shop above Roots Brewing Company, with live music, hot cider and cookies, then she’ll close for a few weeks before re-opening full time in January.

“I’m a huge believer in taking things that had a life and giving them a new one,” she said. “Shopping vintage is eco-friendly, and it’s fun!”


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