Pearl blue patent leather pants with a matching lace top and a clear bag with blue flowers. A pair of Nikes finished the outfit.
It was very 1990s and very Spice Girls. And a young Raven Barfield McDonald wanted it more than any outfit she had ever wanted before. Her mother, who always supported Raven’s fashion expressions, had her doubts but bought the outfit anyway.
Now 34, Raven still remembers how much she loved that outfit.
“I have loved fashion since I feel like I was born,” McDonald said.
McDonald combined her love of fashion and vintage clothing when she started selling vintage clothing and accessories through her boutique, The Raq, which is located inside McDonald’s Dothan hair salon Advanced Hair Designs.
“I’ve always worn vintage out of necessity,” she said. “I like fancy clothes; I like crazy clothes. I can’t really afford designer clothes, which is really your only option for new, crazy clothes. I always felt like having something vintage was different. I found my favorite things in my closet were stuff I had bought in other big cities at their vintage stores or that I had found at estate sales or thrift stores or that somebody had given me because it was weird out of their grandmother’s closet.”
McDonald, who lives in Abbeville with her husband and daughter, had always intended to go into fashion design. Her mother had a degree in fashion merchandising and taught Raven everything she knew. She had been reading fashion magazines since she was 10 years old. But life had other plans. McDonald had to leave college when her mother became ill. She enrolled in the cosmetology program at Wallace Community College and started as a hairdresser in 2004. She’s the third owner of Advanced Hair Designs.
“My path took me through hair dressing,” she said. “I like hair dressing, but I love clothes.”
When her mother died three years ago, McDonald inherited all her clothes. She kept what she could wear and sold the rest. Then, a friend bought a house and found some old clothes in the home. Knowing McDonald’s love of vintage pieces, she called her to come take a look.
“There were all these beautiful clothes from the ‘70s,” McDonald said. “Some of them fit me but a lot of them did not. And I was like, ‘We can’t just let these things just die.’”
McDonald set up a clothes rack in her salon to see if her clients would want any of them. They did, and the vintage pieces sold quickly. She found more vintage clothes and sold them from a rack in her salon. Today, McDonald uses the front part of her salon as well as another room for selling vintage clothes and accessories such as purses, scarves and jewelry.
She gets customers of all ages and many of her younger customers remind her of herself at their age – expressing themselves through their clothing choices as others try to understand them.
“As a young person and teenager a lot of times I was called ‘different’ and ‘weird’ and this and that,” McDonald said. “It was oftentimes negative. I’ve continued to have that label all my life but it’s finally evolved into being a positive label. People say, ‘Oh you’re different, you’re unique.’ It’s so funny how that has been both the worst thing people could say to me and the best thing.”
With The Raq, McDonald feels like she is saving vintage items, which range from the 1940s all the way up to the 1990s, while making a little extra money. And, reselling vintage clothes keeps them out of landfills, a huge problem in the textile and fashion industries. Plus, she just loves vintage clothes.
“They have a history,” she said. “ … With vintage you can have something special without spending a fortune.”
McDonald posts her vintage finds on Instagram and Facebook, which is where many of her new customers find her.
At the The Raq, clothes are arranged by color not size. McDonald said too many women get hung on size, and sizes on vintage clothes are very different from the sizing of today’s clothes. While prices on vintage clothes seen online can reach hundreds of dollars, McDonald keeps her prices reasonable. A 1950s dress with a bolero jacket costs $65, while a 1970s Gunne Sax dress costs $60 or a wrap dress with a pleated skirt costs $32.
She finds her vintage items where you might expect – estate sales and thrift stores. She’s driven as far as Orlando and Nashville to look at pieces. She also puts ads on Facebook and gets a lot of calls from people looking to part with items.
For McDonald, parting with some of her finds can be difficult.
“It is one of the hardest things to do because I don’t really believe in selling something I have worn that’s vintage,” she said. “It has to be something that fits perfectly and I love it and I don’t have anything else like it. If it’s not perfect, I feel like I need to put it out into the world because it’s perfect for somebody else.”