I’m really excited about today’s post. Like stupid excited. It’s not every day I get to collaborate with a true kindred spirit, who shares so many of my passions, and get to give a little something to all of my readers. I can’t wait for you guys to meet Nikki, owner and proprietress of Nicole Elaine Vintage.
I stumbled across Nicole Elaine Vintage only last year, and was instantly hooked by her carefully curated collection of one-of-a-kind pieces. Frothy 1950’s party dresses. Quirky novelty prints. Twirl worthy day dresses. One by one, more pieces started to creep their way into my wardrobe. As often happens when you purchase from a particular shop regularly, Nikki and I exchanged a flurry of emails and I learned not only did we share a passion for vintage, but we are both college instructors with a similar drive towards inspiring the next generation.
So you can imagine how excited I was when Nikki contacted me about sponsoring a post here on the blog, offering my readers the chance to win up to $150 gift card to spend in her shop! The two of us put our heads together on ways to use this giveaway to get all of you vintage loving ladies and gents out there talking about ways that their aesthetic brings them confidence. Ways they’ve grown into themselves and the million small ways we can lift up those around us. Ways that we can use the past to inspire the future vintage generation. And in rallying our fellow vintage community members to share their stories, Nikki and I hope to use this partnership to bring some attention to small ways we can each make a difference. This isn’t just about beautiful clothes, it’s about starting a movement. I was so in. With both feet.
During our many chats, in addition to being a vintage goddess and college instructor, I learned that Nikki and her husband also run a school program called Stand Up. Be the ONE (also found on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter), which is aimed at building a community within today’s high schools, promoting inclusion, awareness, and anti-bullying (seriously, can this gal get any more awesome??). This is a two-year program that, through a series of assemblies, leadership training, and an empowering mentorship program, teenagers learn how to not just build their own confidence, but how to lead the charge in developing confidence in those around them.
I’m truly in awe of what you can do with an idea and a whole lot of gumption. When it comes down to it, a lot of people (myself included) spend most of our days engaged in ways to find our own happiness. We work hard at our jobs, spend time with our loved ones, occasionally buy ourselves a dress to twirl in. We carefully construct a life that will bring us and the people in our immediate circle contentment and fulfillment. But there are a remarkable few who spend their days with a mission bring happiness to others. To give the younger generation the tools to build one another up. Stand Up. Be the ONE was born from some of Nikki’s own experiences, where she turned negativity into an empowering message for the next generation. That they can be role models for each other. That they can spread a message of acceptance and be the one to take the hand of the shy kid in the corner who is ostracized for being different. There is nothing more inspiring than someone like Nikki who is actually inciting the change she wants to see in the world, one kid at a time.
I think building the foundations for confidence at a young age is so important. It was definitely something I struggled with for so many years. And even after I left the fledgling stage of adolescence and emerged triumphant into adulthood, insecurities can still rear their ugly head now and again. As many of you know (because I talk about it tirelessly), I feel a fair amount of pressure in my profession to conform to certain style – those around me are often sporting some variation of jeans and a t-shirt, and I stick out like a feminine, 1950’s-clad (albeit fabulous) sore thumb. It took me a long time to finally just be confident in my quirk, embrace my love of vintage and recognize it could coexist with my love of science.
But, I never really saw myself as a role model or inspiration on a personal level. On a professional level – I mentor quite a few young girls with a passion for science and/or shark biology. I volunteer to give talks at all girl’s schools, proudly discuss my research at science events to promote interest in STEM subjects, and lead outreach programs in the various Universities I’ve worked at. But for many years I subconsciously felt that what I did was somehow separate from who I was. Though I’ve realized that those two things are and will forever be inextricably linked.
A few years ago, I was having coffee with a female student, who commented on how, at her old University, she would never think to wear a skirt to the lab. If someone did wear anything other than jeans, it was often met with an endless litany of comments. I remember this well from my own PhD days. Though never explicitly derogatory, hearing comments like “Ohhhh where are you off to…?” should you dare sport a dress; and “I hope you didn’t dress up for me,” if you feel like applying eyeliner that day were commonplace. Subtle messages that you are outside of what’s considered normal. That you don’t belong. And it becomes easier to blend in to avoid unwanted attention. I completely understood her frustrations.
She went on to say how refreshing our University was. How she didn’t feel the same pressure here and felt comfortable wearing whatever she wanted. And as I sat back and took a sip of my coffee, I remembered feeling proud that I was part of an establishment that was apparently creating a more accepting culture. Feeling as though, in this small way, science was making progress. That we one day wouldn’t be “women in science” but rather just scientists. And as I was pondering sexism in the workplace and the gendered expectations that are seemingly all pervasive in academia, she said, “Then I realized it wasn’t this University that made it okay. It was you.”
Now, I have had many profound moments in my career. I have gotten papers in some of the most prestigious journals in my field. I have been coined an ‘expert’, won awards, and flown halfway around the world to talk about my research. And it’s awesome and very professionally fulfilling. But, one thing I am truly, deep-down most proud of was that very moment. That moment that defines the million small ways that we can lift each other up, without even knowing it. Up to that point, I never realized that the simple act of being myself could somehow inspire someone or incite a cultural change. That fighting even the smallest fight (as seemingly insignificant as wearing a dress in the lab), means the next person in line doesn’t have to fight quite so hard. And if the confidence we find in ourselves can help someone else find theirs – whether it’s the confidence to wear a dress, embrace their gender identity, speaking up even if it goes against popular opinion – to me, that is real success. That is the #vintagegeneration movement that Nikki is fighting so hard to instill in today’s youth, that each of us can carry with us and use to make a profound impact.
Given the veritable Wonder Woman I find Nikki to be, I knew you would all appreciate getting to know her a bit better, hear a bit of her story on how she came to love (and sell) vintage and what inspired her to start such a empowering youth program.
Q: Can you tell me a bit about yourself, and your reason for starting as a vintage seller? How long have you be in The Biz?
Nikki: “My Name is Nikki Matias and I am a vintage –a-holic. That’s the way I should start this response anyway. I crave, love, and live vintage, and fairly certain I was born in the wrong era. I’ve loved vintage everything and anything ever since I was a little girl. My room was plastered with posters of Marilyn Monroe and all the Hollywood starlets. I can, literally, remember gazing at all my vintage photos and wondering how to re-create that look. I just started my Etsy shop 2 years ago, but have been an avid fan of vintage for years!
When I’m not hunting, collecting, or restoring vintage items I live in small town USA, with my husband and 2 sons, in the state of Oregon and love every second of it. We literally have every terrain in Oregon, so one day we can hike in the valley, another trip to the beach, and yet another day in the desert.”
Q: Do you ever find it difficult to let go of certain pieces? Do pieces predestined for the shop ever end up in your own wardrobe?
Nikki: “Well I know what I should do as a shop owner and as a vintage lover the struggle is definitely real. I would love to keep almost every piece if I could. Each piece is unique all to itself and timeless with their own story and charm. You get used to lovingly sending beautiful items out into the world to be displayed and loved by another though. I love when my clients send me pictures of themselves in their special item they have bought. It’s so satisfying as a shop owner to know that an item I once restored, now has new life for a different generation… our vintage generation.”
I do have a couple pieces that I have kept photos of on my phone. One in particular was a Lilli Ann dress that was actually signed by Gant Gaither, a Broadway producer. He had a line called Zoophistacates he did in collaboration with Lilli Ann. When I saw the dress I had a love hate relationship with it. It had huge polka dots and a large cat at the border and I just wasn’t sure if I loved it or hated it. A friend convinced me to get it since it was a bargain and I did. Later that day I found the deadstock Lilli Ann price tag clipped on the hem. I put it on a dress form and left it there for a few days and absolutely fell in love with it! If there were ever one I would have kept it probably would have been that one. Weeks later I received the most beautiful photo of the client that bought the dress atop a European hillside. It was absolutely the perfect ending for the dress I thought got away.
W ith all that being said, I do keep an item here and there, but it doesn’t happen too often. I do like to shop from my fellow colleagues when I am in search for my own wardrobe. We all kind of support each other. It’s a very lovely collaboration between shops and great friendships have been made.
Our family is also a little different than most. Our youngest son has some severe disabilities, so working from home with my vintage has been a wonderful career. I’m constantly working as an advocate for my son and holding down a regular job is quite difficult. I used to be a teacher in the elementary setting and then recently a college instructor, but I have slowly shifted my time and work hours towards vintage sourcing and selling since it works well with our family dynamics. Not to mention, I love it!”
Q: What do you consider your fashion aesthetic? What inspires your personal style?
Nikki: “As a little girl my mother and I would watch old movies, a countless number of old movies and I was so taken by the starlets. I remember wanting to watch the shows over and over again so I could just look at their hair, makeup, and clothes. I think what I learned over time is that fashion isn’t about showing as much skin as possible, but complimenting your body. Mid century designers did this so amazingly well. They took the most beautiful lines and made pieces for a woman’s body that complimented every curve without being too revealing. Why is a 1950s, well fitted, wiggle dress so utterly sexy? Not because it shows a lot of skin, but it’s classy yet breathtakingly beautiful on a woman’s body. Some of my most favorite dresses are fit and flairs. Just a classic cut that is feminine, beautiful, and classy at the same time.
My philosophy on fashion is simply this. Dress to compliment your body. Dress to exude class and sophistication. Dress to make heads turn and others scratching their heads wondering “where on earth did she find that dress?”
Q: I love the mission behind your amazing youth program, Stand Up. Be The ONE. Can you tell me a bit about it and what motivated you to start the program? Can anyone get involved?
Nikki: “Stand up. Be the One was born from our own trials and adversity that we experienced after having a son with disabilities. Our son was born with several different issues, including a chromosome disorder, heart disease, and sever autism that left him non verbal. I can still remember a man telling me how to parent one day and that I needed to spank my son. He had mistook his loud grunts and screams as an out of control child instead of a happy boy that made noises because of his lack of communication. We got stared at in the store, judged by other parents and families, and was naturally excluded from events because our son just didn’t fit in. Both my husband and I decided that we couldn’t be mad at people for not understanding what they don’t understand. We started educating those around us about disability and connecting with other families experiencing the same issues.
From my teaching experience and my husband’s leadership experience at work we decided to make a movement within our community. How do you teach the community to accept, value, and respect others despite of difference and disability? The answer became clear and it was through our local youth. We worked tirelessly on the Stand up. Be the One project and in the end we developed full curriculum, assemblies, partnered with guest speakers, and even received corporate help through NIKE to help launch the program.”
The program is pretty simple really; teaching our youth to be leaders in their peer groups, accepting the outsider, understanding first before judging, and taking positive action to make a difference. It’s very much a proactive leadership program than a reactive anti-bullying topic. How do we help people be more empathetic to others despite their difference or disability, because after all… we have all felt like the unwelcome outsider at one point. So our question to our youth was, “How will you stand up and be the one today? How will you spread the word through your community to teach others?”
We always welcome help and right now our program is currently just based in Oregon, but we have dreams of seeing it grow. The program is completely free… yes free. We have worked hard to obtain grants to keep the program going free of charge. What normally would be thousands for a school to pay, we can provide for free given our current budget. So yes, if you have some great ideas, or a compelling story, we want to hear. You might be our next speaker or teacher. Bottom line, people need to know that everyone struggles and the best way to rise up from the ashes is if you have someone come along side you and tell you it will be ok. If you would like to check out the program in further detail you can visit our webpage www.standupbetheone.com.”
Q: What methods do you find to be most effective in reaching and inspiring the younger generation?
Nikki: “This has been something I have researched for a long time. I’ve asked myself several times “how do I reach kids in middle school? How do I reach teenagers? How do I impact young girls and women?” The answer I kept getting back from focus groups I worked with was to be a role model and don’t be a hypocrite. Working with hundreds of students and teens, I myself quickly found I was under a microscope. Here I was teaching this message of acceptance and understanding and people and kids were watching to see if I, indeed, practiced what I preached. Every decision I made had to be intentional and less emotional. It was hard at first and still is a challenge when emotions rage in certain situations, but it has kept me in check. If anything, I have learned we teach by example. The more the younger generation sees genuine examples the more mindful they will be. You would be amazed how quickly kids can spot a fake!”
Q: I’m sure teenagers come out with some gems! What’s the best lessoned you’ve learned from working with high school girls?
Nikki: “Yes, for sure teenagers have a fresh and interesting perspective on life. Girls in particular can really be game changers in their peer cultures. The biggest thing I have learned about young girls, specifically peer groups, is they know how to love someone well or hate someone well. It has been my goal to try and teach girls self confidence and awareness of others, so instead of banning up against someone they actually have the power to come together as a powerhouse to make a difference. This is such a powerful message for girls to understand and adopt because they can be huge game changers in conversations and social groups. It’s taken a lot of time studying the science behind group thinking to be able to clearly explain it to teenagers and young girls, but kids are smart and they get social situations. They know what to be aware of and can sense a negative situation coming from miles away. The difference maker will be how they react and take action. So my biggest lesson has been learning how to teach packs of girls, because when girls move, they move in packs, and we want that pack to be positive not negative.”
Q: Do you have any advice for women (and young girls!) who struggle with building up their confidence?
Nikki: “YES! Oh how I could talk to the younger me. I had little confidence and was very much a person pleaser. I asked my husband the other day how he thought I had changed. We were high school sweethearts so he has seen me through all my growth stages, good and bad. He said, “Well, when I met you, you were kind of a kitten and now you are a bit of a lion.” No doubt the lioness came out with the advocacy of my son.
What I really want to tell young women is they will not be the same person 10 years from now, 20 years from now, or 30 years from now. I want them to know they will grow into their beauty and they have the power to decide if that growth will be positive or negative. I want them to know that age is a process of fine aging like a fine wine. I want them to know that there world is bigger than their social group, school, family, boyfriend, and self image. They need to know they are beautiful just the way they are and hopefully they will someday look at the younger version of themselves and say, boy did I transform and I am enough!”
Q: Since we’re challenging my readers to do this, can you share your favorite vintage outfit and explain why vintage should inspire the next generation of young ladies? What does the #vintagegeneration hashtag mean to you?
Nikki: “It’s so hard to choose a favorite outfit I have. I love them all, but if any were to stand out I would definitely say a 1940s Lilli Ann Princess Jacket I have paired with a black evening dress that has a hot pink sash at the waist. I’m all about the dramatic exit, and I must say this dress has all of that.
#vintagegeneration really means a lot to me. It’s our generation of vintage lovers, men and women alike, that can really inspire our youth to feel good in their own skin; to inspire them to embrace the class of the past and realize that old values can be beautiful. More than anything I want young women to see the beauty of our past and the class that can still be carried off today in our current generation. It’s a kind of class that isn’t seen every day, a timeless class that they can grow into over the years in every season of life. I am, We are, She is… a #vintagegeneration!”
Q: And finally, finish this sentence: When I grow up, I want to be…
Nikki: “I want to be a world changer 1 person at a time! I truly believe there are choices that we make that we may not see the outcome to, whether they are good choices or bad choices. My goal is to make more good choices that will directly impact those around me in a positive way. I once heard someone say,
“Don’t ask yourself …What is my purpose here on earth, rather ask yourself who have you been put here to help? Stop trying to dig, mine, and make your own purpose, but find it in those opportunities to help and give to others.”
I want to make each day a purposeful day because opportunities are around every corner; even in the vintage loving world!
It is always beyond inspiring to me to meet someone who is (a) rocking her entrepreneurial spirit and (b) giving back and doing her part to make the world a little bit better. I also love how Nikki’s love of vintage is interwoven into supporting today’s youth, to inspire them to step outside of the norm and have the courage to see and appreciate the beauty in the differences of others. From my own experiences in high school, there is such a pressure to conform and a whole lot of bullying aimed towards those that do not. And if we can build up confidence in high school students, to not just be who they are but help to support those around them in celebrating their individuality, well, that might just change the world.
Let’s face it, none of us popped out of the womb confident, and sassy and fabulous (well, except for the fabulous part). For most of us (myself included) it took us a long time to get to where we are. Personally, vintage was a huge part of self-acceptance for me. And it’s not just that it feels good to wear beautiful clothes (though it does), but because it feels good to celebrate who I am. So, in keeping with the inspirational, self-celebratory theme, Nikki and I (and her fabulous beau) have cooked up a really fun giveaway. Pay attention, folks, cause this one is a two parter:
- To win a $50 GC to Nicole Elaine Vintage, use the Rafflecopter widget below and tell us in the comments section why you love vintage and how you might inspire our young female generation to feel like confident beautiful young women with it. You can also have additional entries by subscribing to my newsletter and following us on our various social media pages.
- To win a bonus $100 GC to Nicole Elaine Vintage, head over to Instagram and share your story with the masses! Share a photo of yourself in an outfit that makes you feel beautiful and why. How can you inspire the next generation? Be sure to be following Nicole Elaine Vintage (@nicoleelainevintage) and The Dressed Aesthetic (@dressedapp) on Instagram, tag us and use the hashtag #vintagegeneration when you share your story.
You get one entry per day for both giveaways and it’s open to entrants worldwide! The contest will run for 1 week and will end at midnight on Wednesday 27th July 2016 AWST. So, if the stars align and you are the luckiest gal in the world, you could win up to $150 to spend at Nicole Elaine Vintage!
In addition to her Etsy shop, hope you also stop by and visit Nicole Elaine Vintage on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – and give her a follow! Supporting small business owners who are doing so much good in the world is sure to return dividends.
Good luck to everyone in the giveaway!
***POST UPDATE: Giveaway has now CLOSED. Thank you to all entrants – winners have been announced!***
This post was sponsored by Nicole Elaine Vintage. All thoughts and opinions are my own and I do not support any business I honestly don’t believe in and love. It’s vital to create a network of sellers that you know you can trust, support small businesses, and built up our #vintagegeneration, one dress at a time.