Heaven is a Closet in Highland Park
A barrage of unruly curls — springy and full of life — sits atop Adrienne Baskin’s head, projecting a sense of rebellion that matches her energy. At 72 years old, she looks likely to run riot in her hand-sewn Kiss sweatshirt, thick black eyeliner and punchy red lipstick.
With her off-hand charm, pension for vintage tees and an eye for beautiful things, Baskin is a force in the Chicago vintage fashion scene and the owner of the boutique shopNOV.
ShopNOV is a collection of saved treasures, ranging from original 1920s tulle shift dresses to brown suede 1960 hot pants that exemplify the boutique’s tagline: “Vintage never looked so now.”
Baskin began collecting vintage T-shirts in the mid-’90s as a favor for her sons, whose friends thought it was trendy.
“I started collecting vintage T-shirts during a trip to Florida with my mom because my twin sons thought they were cool,” Baskin said. “At Salvation Armies I would find T-shirts, rock-n-roll T-shirts of The Rolling Stones and The Beatles — those were the days when you could still find everything digging through the bins.”
The everyday errand turned into a small business, culminating with the company shopNOV, which began operating in 2005.
“I set up shop in my basement and I would have my kids and their friends come over and they kept buying them. Word got out and I ended up with hundreds and thousands of vintage T-shirts,” Baskin said. “I got racks and a tent, and I would start selling them in my front yard where teenagers would just flock to buy them up.”
At one of the infamous yard sales, Karyn Dethrow, owner of Dethrose Vintage, made her way to the suburb of Highland Park, where Baskin is a resident, to try her luck.
“I heard through a group of friends about this amazing woman who was selling a load of vintage tees in her front yard, and that was when I first met Baskin years ago,” Dethrow said.
The popularity of the sales was driven by Baskin’s unique selection and ability to spot silhouettes that have a timeless appeal — she knew she had to expand her store from just T-shirts.
“Originally I don’t think I had a name. People started calling me the T-shirt lady, but I didn’t want to be called that in business,” Baskin said. “So we sat around, my family and I, and we started playing with words and names. We came up with a contraction called NOV for now-plus-vintage — vintage never looked so now.”
While shopNOV has an online Etsy shop, the heart of the business and the main outlet for sales is at the markets in and around Chicago.
ShopNOV has a permanent booth at the yearround Randolph Street Market, located on the street of the same name. The upscale market offers a corrective to dusty flea malls uncritically flooded with trinkets and dusty contraptions, both of which Baskin has dealt with in her travels.
Baskin spends countless days – from dawn to dusk – scouring markets in search of vintage finds.
“If you want to see insanity, go to a vintage warehouse. I am sweating, I am digging, I am knee deep in bins until you are this high in T-shirts and dresses,” Baskin said as she illustrated the estimated height to stand just below the level of her nose, approximately five feet. “But that is where all of the designers and product development people go for inspiration.”
“Really, wherever I travel I always look up local markets or spots,” Baskin said. “I’m always on the hunt for the perfect item.”
For Baskin, the “perfect item” must be of premier quality, one of the advantages of shopping vintage. Vintage clothing are physical pieces of the past that show the decline of quality in the patterns and construction of clothing today.
In the past, “there were a lot of real fabrics. In the ‘70s polyester was introduced, but still I believe things were just made better,” Baskin said. “Of course, if you walk in to any luxury store today you will find some decent quality, but fast fashion has found a space in the market even if the item may fall apart in the wash.”
Wearing and choosing vintage clothing also keeps these items from filling landfills and contributing to polluting the environment during the textile manufacturing process.
One experience that stood out to her was the time she flew to El Paso for a factory warehouse auction. The warehouse was located next to the border of Mexico and the United States and was filled with old, thrown-away items. Spanish music played in the background as hundreds of people sorted the countless items coming off conveyor belts from inside of the old, beaten-up factory.
“You paid $450 for a 100-pound drum of things, and after sorting each one you’d yell for another. It was like an addiction,” Baskin said.
But by buying up these thrown-away goods, Baskin effectively saved them from being tossed in a landfill, turning would-be garbage into a collectable piece of fashion. Vintage contemporary second-hand clothing is the antithesis of throw-away fashion in the sense that these pieces are rare, covetable and tradeable. ShopNOV is a sustainable business because it doesn’t contribute to fast-fashion or unethical factory standards.
ShopNOV acts as a physical and wearable archive of the past fashion trends. The fashion editors and designers that flank the runways during fashion week aren’t creating the new trends out of thin air. The trends of today are recycled versions of history, and shopNOV offers an edited collection of the original classic silhouettes.
“You don’t have to play the game of ‘Remember when we went shopping and it was so and so in the fall of such and such,’ instead you try to buy classic things,” Baskin said. “These are the clothes you can buy and you don’t have an event right now, but you could wait three years and when you put it on — it’s dynamite.”