Besides choosing from an array of high-quality vintage clothing pieces, a trip to Stephen’s Vintage Clothing promises a unique and informative custom shopping experience. Inside the mall storefront on 141 Washington St., owner Stephen McGruder sits in front of a rack of colorful heels, eager to share stories and wisdom from his experience in the fashion world.
The store is small but perfectly sized for McGruder’s carefully curated collection. A rack on the back wall is filled with an ombré display of leather jackets. On the left, there are shelves of color-coordinated purses and there is a rack of T-shirts against the window. A section of brightly colored dresses stands out above a bin of scarves and bandanas, lined with piles of jeans on the floor. Pearl necklaces and silver bracelets are displayed above a variety of fashion books.
McGruder started his fashion journey in Ithaca, selling curated vintage clothing, working as a fashion journalist for the Ithaca Journal and doing projects for fashion houses. In 2000, he opened Stephen’s Vintage Clothing in Binghamton when he returned to the area to finish graduate work at Binghamton University.
“I have a really nice cross-section of people who are in pursuit of fashion,” McGruder said. “Sometimes you can cultivate relationships with your customer. I can pull something and say ‘Oh, this person would like that.’”
This personalized shopping experience is what makes Stephen’s Vintage Clothing special. McGruder is enthusiastic about discussing clothing pieces with customers or helping them find a specific style, which has led him to develop close relationships with many customers.
The pieces in Stephen’s Vintage Clothing come from all over the world, from international buyers to trade shows.
“I have an archive, but I’ll look anywhere,” McGruder said. “I prefer auctions and private collections, not sellers.”
McGruder looks for “the quality” and “the silhouette” when looking for clothes to sell at his store. He explained that, unfortunately, many people overlook silhouettes when shopping for clothing.
“I was never a denim kind of person, I kind of like classic stuff,” McGruder said. “But there’s a whole generation that has no idea what the shape means.”
McGruder explained this process through a short blue Yves Saint Laurent jacket with shoulder pads on a nearby rack, explaining that “the shape of it feels to me like 1979.”
A black velvet jacket with orange flowers over an orange high-neck blouse was displayed on the wall above McGruder. He explained that the ensemble is truly one of a kind, from a London shop called “Granny Takes a Trip” that attracted countless rockstars in the 1960s and ’70s like the members of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones, to name a few. According to McGruder, The Beatles even got their “Sgt. Pepper” clothes from that shop. This is McGruder’s most rare and valuable clothing piece.
“I usually get someone who comes through and asks for it, because you can’t find it,” McGruder said.
McGruder considers himself to be not only a fashion collector but a fashion psychic.
“You have to be a good forecaster,” McGruder said. “You have to get things five years down the line, and hopefully what you collect will be part of that trend you see, which will help you sell it all out.”
McGruder is also in the business of predicting fashion trends for each season. Last fall, he predicted the pearl and leather trend. As for the next trend, he predicted something he likes to call “comme de fille.”
“I call it ‘comme de fille,’ like the girl, as opposed to ‘comme de garcon,’” McGruder said. “I think you are going to be seeing a lot of menswear looks where the shapes are going to have more feminine touches. You may see, for example, floral shirt and pants, and a men’s purse, pearls and you might have a baseball cap or a do-rag.”
Of equal appeal are McGruder’s beautiful clothes and fascinating conversation. After 21 years, he has become a renowned Binghamton figure. Unfortunately, Stephen’s Vintage Clothing is moving locations soon, but he will still remain in the area. If you find yourself in Downtown Binghamton, do yourself a favor and spend some time in Stephen’s world.