Stepping into Susan Dumas’ Crestline home is a breath of fresh air. The art, knick-knacks and vintage items lining floor to ceiling would put any gallery wall to shame. From bohemian fabric covered piano stools, to colorful paintings with mismatched frames, every nook and cranny is adorned with something unique and exciting, perfectly curated for her family’s home. But it’s not just her home that’s filled with surprises. Her closet full of vintage clothing and accessories is what dreams are made of.
And it all started in her mother’s closet in her hometown of Selma. Susan vividly recalls the day she stumbled upon a wide, hand-tooled and lovingly worn leather belt from her mother’s college days that piqued her interest. With that, she jokes, “The purple Guess jeans just did not cut it anymore.” From there, her clothing collection grew in the years after high school. Digging through her sorority’s skit closet at the University of Alabama became a habit, and she would wear her finds out at night.
Then just as today, seeing joy in imperfection catches her eye and draws her to the unique pieces. “I have always loved objects with history—books, old ladders, reclaimed wood, art, rusted wire baskets,” she says. “Show me something with scars, maybe faded or mended, but definitely imperfect.”
Today her collection is much grander and filled with rare, colorful and purposeful garments, each with a story to tell. For Susan, clothing isn’t just something she throws on to go about her day, rather it offers a sense of release. “When I turned 40, I discovered the caftan,” she says. ““I threw away all my pants, quit exercising and cooking, stopped straightening my crazy, curly hair, started loving my aging body and wearing caftans. Total liberation.”
For her, dressing in vintage clothing is a refreshing and welcome change in a time when “fast-fashion” rules and keeping up with new trends can seem like an impossible task. With the latest and greatest in fashion available at the click of a button, digging through racks of vintage garments may seem exhausting to some. But for Susan, the risk is worth the reward.
“I don’t wear contemporary clothes,” she says. “I only wear vintage. Before I got serious about my vintage collection, I think I had one pair of black pants, some jeans and a dress. I hated shopping.” Vintage shopping, on the other hand, became a treasure hunt. You might not always find what you’re looking for, but she finds the satisfaction from finally stumbling upon the perfect piece. “Now, I cannot wait to put on one of my caftans because I truly feel beautiful. I might look like Mrs. Roper, but I feel like Cindy Crawford. I just don’t care, it’s for me.”
Susan isn’t just shopping for herself either. With a collection of garments spanning multiple decades, styles and sizes, she has seasoned vintage lovers like herself in mind, as well as novices, which she now shares on her Etsy shop, I Wish I Could Keep It All. And at the request of friends wanting to shop her collection, Susan opened her home for a vintage get-together. Following its success came multiple vintage events, as she invited other Mountain Brook women to “come play!” Susan supplies snacks, advice, and little stories about each piece, while mini fashion shows go on in the background.
On a get-together day, her home is filled with sexy halter dresses, muumuus, timeless evening gowns, and delicate, detailed tops. Printed silk scarves, woven leather belts, chunky costume jewelry and embellished bags are carefully on display, ready to be thrown over the vintage garment of a shopper’s choosing. With four rooms filled to the brim with clothing and accessories, there really is something for everyone.
With every piece Susan’s mission is the same: for women to find their personal style, without being boxed in by what’s new and trending this season. “I wanted to express myself through my clothes, and apparently, I like to be one of a kind,” she says. “I have found that most women want to be seen for who they are.”
She doesn’t do it alone either. On a sale day, you’ll find family and friends helping guests hunt through the racks and arranging dressing rooms, all dressed head to toe in their own favorite vintage items. Trying things on is a must, and showing off a perfect fit is encouraged. “Seeing women feel beautiful in something they found that they liked,” is all part of the reward for Susan. “All the other women at the show start getting so excited, telling the other women how beautiful they look. (It’s) magic.”
Still, as with all clothing shopping, a perfect fit is not always guaranteed. It’s important to “see the vision” in a unique piece, as Susan advises. A shopper might love the pattern or color, but the fit is all wrong. But with a couple nips and tucks by a skilled seamstress, it could become a wardrobe favorite. Susan is ready and waiting to offer her guests advice and praise, and enjoys seeing different pieces come together and modeled on adoring guests. When a woman falls in love with an item she worked so hard to procure, she’s elated.
Sometimes that even means parting with some of her favorite pieces, like a 1970s David Brown eggplant accordion pleat caftan with a beautiful Chinese lantern print she wore on the day of her first event. By the end of the day, she had sold the caftan to a woman who loved it as much as she did. There is only ever one of any item in her collection, so she says to hang on to one if it’s special.
Event by event, Susan is garnering an interest and appreciation for vintage items in women of all ages. “My goddaughter Helen loves vintage clothes and it says so much about her,” Susan says, “She is fearless and confident and intelligent and is not afraid to be exactly who she is. She is my spirit animal. I was wearing purple Guess jeans, and I think there are a lot of girls out there doing the same.”
As for her personal collection, Susan is drawn to the color and design of 1960s and 1970s American vintage, as well as 1970s Moroccan, Pakistani and Indian pieces. “I am a total snob about 1980s ‘vintage’. Those are just used clothes to me,” she says. “Clothes were made so well in the ‘70s. You would never know they have been around for decades.”
If you’ve missed Susan’s events, you can look forward to more in the future. Susan has no plans on slowing her vintage collecting, and is excited to invite more women to “come play.” After all, playing dress up is half the fun.
To shop Susan’s vintage collection and learn more, visit iwishicouldkeepitall.com. To learn about upcoming events, follow her on Instagram @ssdumas or watch for her posts on the “What’s Happening in Mountain Brook” Facebook page.