Everything old is new again at Wildcat Vintage Clothing, the charming, retro retail store owned, managed and meticulously curated by the inimitable Thea Witsil.
Even the shop’s location is new. After 14 years on First Street in downtown Napa and 13 months searching for just the right, affordable location (a move necessitated by the 2014 earthquake), Witsil’s Lincoln Avenue digs are bright, cozy and welcoming.
When you visit, be prepared to spend some quality time perusing the inventory: artfully arranged racks, glass shelves and display counters filled to the brim with vintage clothing, accessories (furs, shoes), household goods, belts, hats, gloves, nylon stockings (with seams in the back), jewelry and vintage couture flaunting stylish labels like Prada, Chanel, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana.
“My fave era is the 1940s and ‘50s,” Witsil remarked, “and I love the old fabrics, the gabardines, the Lilli Ann suits, padded shoulders, fitted waist flared at the hip, pencil skirts — so sophisticated. And the other thing I am madly in love with is the fabric such as combed polished cotton. There’s no match to today’s fabrics, the quality just isn’t there.”
Witsil’s passion for and knowledge of all things vintage began in high school in Huntington Beach. A store in nearby Laguna Beach had, she recalled, “really awesome clothing.” Store personnel took Witsil under their wings. “From then on,” she sighed, “I’ve always just been madly in love with vintage.”
After studying photography at Lone Mountain College as well as art history and painting at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she met husband Bruce, Witsil ended up as a chef for two decades. Over time, the long hours took their toll: “I burned out, I needed to shift gears.”
That shift came to Witsil in an epiphany and set the wheels in motion for Wildcat.
“I woke up and literally, I felt like I was hit over the head with a frying pan,” Witsil remembered. “From the very beginning, I was completely confident it would be a ‘go.’ I knew that I wanted to be close to home, which happened to be downtown. I opened on Oct. 15, in time for Halloween, and it was gangbusters from the minute I opened. This town was ready and ripe, and it did more than survive!”
Wildcat’s eclectic merchandise is 75 percent vintage, gleaned from “pickers” who work for Witsil from all over the country. She does some “thrifting” herself at estate sales and accepts items on consignment. The other 25 percent comes from small houses in Southern California with new retro lines.
“That’s really cool,” Witsil said, “because classic vintage is small sizes. That can be a great frustration for plus-size gals and guys. The new products come in plus-sizes — up to 4 x — so there’s the option of finding something really sassy. I also do alterations — everything from buttons to hems to more complicated projects for both men and women.”
Witsil’s favorite way of receiving items for the shop is when people call her.
“I do private buys, spend the afternoon with people, a death in the family or moving into a nursing home. I get to rifle through drawers, and it’s a genuine heartfelt experience,” Witsil revealed. “They are grateful to have somebody come in and appreciate the value and sentimentality behind the item. They want to feel secure that their loved one’s items are going to a good home. Vintage never gets old, and I’m in the recycling business. I don’t want to see a beautiful cashmere beaded sweater end up in a landfill.”
Busiest days for Wildcat coincide with Halloween, Burning Man, Christmas and Valentine’s Day. (In a cross-promotion celebration of this year’s Feb. 14 holiday, Wildcat and the new Whirlwind Blow Dry Lounge are offering special discounts. For information, call 707-224-3162.)
“My favorite thing about doing what I do is when somebody comes in, they take something off the rack and they completely transform it with their personality,” Witsil exclaimed. “It’s like the pizzazz factor! They feel transformed. A lot of times, they’re not quite sure what their approach is, but you can mix and match and I can help create that stylish outfit for a great look.”
Longtime customer Lynda Barris sums up her Wildcat experience: “This place always makes me happy!”
For store hours and directions, visit WildcatVintageClothing.com.