WhoWHATWhereWhy: Vintage costume jewelry

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Why pay more for a copy when you could have the original for less?

As yesteryear's vintage costume jewelry springs to the forefront of this season's fashion trends, original designs at local vintage shops have been washed under by the rising tide of chain store collections.

J. Crew's spring jewelry line, for example, marries lattice rhinestones with a '60s-inspired color palette of mint green, lavender and electric pink for a retro-chic feel. J.Crew retails its faux-vintage necklaces for $135-$228 while competitors Banana Republic and Anthropologie sell similar pieces for $98.


• Avalon Exchange, 5858 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412-421-2911 or www.avalonexchange.com

• Eons, 5850 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside; 412-361-3368

• Hey Betty! 5890 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside; 412-363-0999 or http://heybettyvintageclothing.com

• Highway Robbery, 1411 E. Carson St., South Side; 412-251-0818

• Yesterday's News, 1405 E. Carson St., South Side; 412-431-1712

Consider that local buyers can find the real thing tucked away in the less-frequented corners of Pittsburgh, for a fifth of the cost. Vintage boutiques such as Eons and Hey Betty! in Shadyside, Highway Robbery and Yesterday's News on the South Side and Avalon Exchange in Squirrel Hill offer cheaper and more distinctive vintage costume jewelry, with crystal collar necklaces and burnished brass bracelets, priced at $15-$40.

Richard Parsakian, owner of Eons, said that one of the greatest differences between authentic and faux-vintage costume jewelry is in design.

"The pieces aren't mass-produced like jewelry in stores today," he said. "Vintage jewelry was mass-produced at one time, but just like a painting or a piece of furniture, what survives into our era makes it special and interesting to have."

Mr. Parsakian also said that shoppers will see higher quality when it comes to vintage jewelry.

"At a vintage store, you won't find jewelry that is cheaply made. If you see something made with rhinestones, it will most likely be set with prongs as opposed to something that's glued in. I also always look at the closures, how something closes. Intricate closures are not something you're going to find anymore," he said.

Nancy Wuerthele, owner of Yesterday's News, agreed: "In terms of quality, there's usually a lot more detail, and, obviously if they've lasted this long, it means that they were made well."

The boost in popularity of 1960s-vintage jewelry may be tied to such shows as "Mad Men," the AMC series that has brought back multi-strand pearls and big rhinestone statement necklaces.

"Rhinestones -- always a classic," Mr. Parsakian said. "Classic pieces are something you can have in your wardrobe that will never go out of style. That's why Banana Republic and J. Crew are copying these kinds of long-lasting costume jewelry."

The term costume jewelry was first coined in the 1920s to refer to pieces that used a combination of non-precious metals and stones. Although such jewelry has been popular since the turn of the century, each period has brought its own twist to a classic look: The '20s featured teardrop pendants and geometric jewelry, the '50s introduced gold chains with colored stones and the '70s made thin bangles and medallion necklaces popular.

It's important to choose designs from an era that matches well with your personal style. Distinctive pieces should have a wearable color scheme that suits your wardrobe.


Noel Um: num@post-gazette.com.


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