The amount of quality vintage clothing in Burlington just went up a notch — or a storefront. Billie Jean Vintage, a boutique and Etsy store run by cousins Diane Jean and Meghan Jean Mello, recently moved from Stowe to Battery Street in Burlington.
Mello grew up in Charlotte. Jean is a Jersey girl. But for the past three years, they've been hawking new and vintage reproduction goods for their discerning customers. Jean also plays in the band Clever Girls.
In Burlington, BJV joins other vintage newbies, such as the Vault Collective on Cherry Street, and staples of the scene such as Old Gold on Main Street. It seems that the Queen City has an appetite for retro, recycled habiliments.
The shop will host its grand opening on Friday, April 13. Seven Days met up with Mello and Jean in advance to talk about their relationship (they finish each other's sentences), where the name Billie Jean came from, and whether there can ever be too much vintage in Burlington.
So, you two are cousins?
Meghan Jean Mello: We're sisters, basically; it feels weird calling each other cousins.
Diane Jean: It minimizes the whole relationship.
Did you develop your interest in vintage concurrently or separately?
DJ: A little bit of both. We lived together for a year in high school and were both interested in vintage kind of stuff, especially the ’80s.
MJM: You were obsessed with the ’80s.
DJ: And then we were apart. She graduated [high school], we both went to college, and kind of developed the same interest separately.
MJM: But we started it together. We went to boarding school together, and there was a dress code. It was this weird thing where we wanted to express ourselves but still had to dress a certain way. I feel like that's where it started, for me, at least. I was like, I need to look professional and funky at the same time. So I would wear this really cool oversized ’80s stuff.
What was the dress code?
MJM: You had to wear a button-up shirt and pants, a dress past your knees, not showing your shoulders.
That's pretty loose!
MJM: You should have seen the people. Very preppy.
DJ: They wanted you to wear navy blue a lot, and khakis. They constructed it to make you fit a certain style, but we never got into trouble.
MJM: They loved us!
How did you come up with the name Billie Jean Vintage?
MJM: Our grandfather Bill passed away right around when we started doing this and coming up with the idea. And he always really liked Michael Jackson —loved Michael Jackson. And both of our middle names are Jean.
Tell me a little bit about your focus in terms of inventory.
DJ: It's tough because there are certain things Meghan and I favor in terms of what we find in vintage, and then there's stuff we know other people will like, too. Meghan's really good at picking out the ’50s stuff, and I've always been super drawn to the ’80s. The music I like is from that decade. Everything else in between just kind of comes to us.
What are people buying the most of right now?
DJ: Probably ’90s. Which is funny because, when we started, we didn't even consider the ’90s to be vintage. But we sell tons of it.
Why carry new stuff in addition to the vintage?
MJM: Before we opened the shop, I was really into vintage reproduction stuff as well as vintage. I love that it fits a wide range of sizes.
D: We're not super petite! We want to wear the stuff, too!
What prompted the move to Burlington?
MJM: We started off in Stowe, and we thought it was going to be really great because it doesn't have anything like that, but, for me, it was that there are more young people [in Burlington] who are willing to take risks with their fashion. Tourist seasons were great in Stowe, but the locals were more into the designer fashion. So we decided to move here!
DJ: It would stay super busy up until November first, then everything grinds to a halt and pops back up in December.
MJM: We also realized that skiers don't shop. We thought we were going to be busier during the winters, but skiers were like, 'We just want to eat and ski.'
How many vintage stores are there now in Burlington? Old Gold, the Vault, Downtown Threads, Battery Street Jeans — you're among quite a few other dedicated vintage spaces.
MJM: I find us to be way different. I tried to make vintage for Burlington less of a thrifting experience. We handwash everything, I mend everything, everything is really clean and fresh. It's more of a boutique feel than the other shops.
Do you think there's ever going to be too much vintage?
MJM: There's never enough vintage.
DJ: I think what's cool about vintage is that there can be so many different spaces for it and you can almost guarantee that no two shops are going to have the same piece. As long as people love vintage, there's plenty of room for vintage shops, because every shop is going to have its own stuff.
MJM: And its own style.