Five years ago, Shari Gerstenberger made her way to Austin and found herself at home. After deciding the Texas capital was the “perfect blend” of the South and West, Shari opened shop. Now as owner of the stylish Charm School Vintage, she spends her days dressing the hip Austin crowd in secondhand garbs. Her eye for vintage fashion is well documented in the beautiful photo shoots she puts together. We caught up with Shari to check out some of her styling and find out how Charm School Vintage is keeps her more than busy.
Hi Shari! Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you end up in Austin?
Hi. I grew up in South Carolina and then moved to Colorado when I was 14. I came to Austin five years ago right after I graduated from college, not having been before and only planning on staying for the summer. But it’s such a perfect blend of the South and the West that I just fell in love and have been here ever since.
When did you open your shop? How did you end up schooling Austin in vintage?
It was a really slow process to opening my store. To be honest, I didn’t really feel like that was my path, I just got a “temporary summer job” at Buffalo Exchange right when I moved to town that lasted for two years and just became more and more enamored with vintage clothing. The treasure hunt becomes really addictive, and then you run out of closet space and you have to start selling it off. I was really happy buying for other people’s stores and didn’t think I wanted the responsibility of my own business, but Charlotte Belle and Johanna Esper of Salon d’Etoile and Allyson Garro of Coco Coquette found this beautiful old house together on the east side in 2010 and when they asked me to be a part of the collective, the timing just felt right.
What is the most awesome thing in or about your shop?
There is so much positive, creative, feminine energy in our space. Between the girls cutting hair in the salon and Allyson making wigs and me finding clothes and styling and shooting all the time, plus curating art in the gallery and hosting concerts and movie nights and events, we have a lot going on. And we attract a lot of strong, dynamic women to the space. I’ve met most of my favorite people through the shop.
Tell us about Charm School Vintage shoppers. What are they looking for?
I don’t think my shoppers come in looking for something just to be work appropriate or blend in, they’re looking to express themselves through dress and take chances and they’re drawn to items that evoke a memory. When I’m shopping, I can’t know that this blouse is going to remind this girl of a vacation she took as a child, but I choose items that I imagine will make memories for the person that buys it in the future.
Are you a hoarder or a minimalist when it comes to stocking your store?
That’s a hard balance to strike. Sometimes you just come across lots of great stuff all at once and you have to buy it all. But my store is small and I want each piece in it to be special, so I try to keep my selection very edited. I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to merchandising my store, though. I love old brass animals and taxidermy and metal suitcases and pinned butterflies and old books, and I like to mix those in with the clothes. People are always trying to buy my fixtures.
Tell us about your most cherished secondhand or vintage item of clothing. What’s the story behind it?
My mother is really sentimental about jewelry and I think she passed that down to me. Jewelry doesn’t ever really wear out or lose its value. So I have no remorse buying beautiful pieces, especially when I’m traveling. and then I think of what I was doing at that time and place every time I wear it. And around the time I moved to Austin, I started buying myself a piece of jewelry every birthday. It started with turquoise rings but this year I was in Colorado with my mom and got a mother of pearl squash blossom necklace that’s probably my favorite piece ever.
What are you working on these days?
I’ve always got a few photo and video shoots in the pipeline. Lately I’ve been putting together a fall film series with incredible vintage fashion, a collaboration with the artist Bradley Oliver Wilkinson. He screen prints his designs onto t-shirts and I cut, stud, dye, and customize them. I’m also working on an all day show at the shop during the East Austin Studio Tours in November with a bunch of my favorite local bands… I like to stay busy!