It’s the early 90s in Miami, Florida, and 8-year-old is dreaming of life as a 70s hippie.
She’d seen the photos and the t.v. footage of an era that pulsed with freedom and rebellion-- a decade before she was even conceived. And yet, she was entirely fascinated.
“I started begging my parents for a pair of bell bottoms. And they looked at each other, thinking, where are we going to get bell bottoms for this child?’” she said. “So they took me to a Salvation Army… And that was it; it was like love at first sight.
"After that, I just didn’t want to shop in regular stores and malls,” she said. “I liked putting together weird looks, which I was relentlessly teased about as a child.”
Jessica went on to study art at a magnet high school, and then attended the University of Miami where she studied fashion design. But still, she found the fashion industry too shallow for her taste.
So eventually, she moved from Miami to a neighborhood in Brooklyn known as Bedford-Stuyvesant, where she has lived for the past eight years.
In August 2011, Jessica finally realized a lifelong dream and opened a vintage clothing store, , located at 1070 Bedford Avenue, between Greene Avenue and Clifton Place.
Since opening, she says, she’s experienced a lot of highs and lows, has met a lot of wonderful people, but has been challenged with getting the word out about her store.
“It’s always difficult when you’re a new business owner, because you always have higher expectations and you want to be doing better than you may be,” she said. “So I’m just trying to get the word out that this is a very exceptional example of a vintage shop.”
Why does she feel her store is exceptional?
“I have a higher standard of cleanliness; the garments are always in near-pristine or mint condition. They are always cleaned, steam out, pressed and affordable,” she answered.
Miss Master's carries everything, from 30s vintage embroidered dresses, to 50s petticoats, to cigarette holders from the 60s. The store carries contemporary pieces as well. And her prices are so reasonable, they appear to be misprints (for example, she’s selling an exquisitely beaded, cream-colored cocktail dress from the 60s in perfect condition for only $55).
“As someone who loves fashion and vintage, what I’m really trying to do is get people to find a unique and individual style and promote the recycling aspect of reusing.”
Each piece is special and labeled with its corresponding decade, and although she was once 70s-obsessed, today she shies away from “playing favorites.”
“Every decade has some special amazing thing going on: The 20s and 30s have great hats; You get into the 30s and 40s and you start finding great shoes. The silhouettes of the 50s are so great-- everyone classically thinks of the cupcake dress and poofy skirt and fitted top; that’s when women were beginning to gain a little independence.
“And it got really exciting in the 60s, with the whole counter-culture and mod movement where they really began pushing the envelope; in the 60s, fashion was just exploding.
“And by the 70s, women had really found independence; we were burning our bras and saying ‘no’ to underwear as an example of rejecting the restrictive lifestyle we’d been forced into for so long.
“And the 80s….“ she laughs, “… there’s just so many bad things in fashion that happened in the 80s that it’s right.”
It’s clear that right here, in a neighborhood in Brooklyn known as Bedford-Stuyvesant, amongst all of her vintage wares, Jessica Master is at home.
“The past year has been a little bit of a struggle, but still wonderful,” she said.
“I’ve been welcomed to the neighborhood with open arms… and I plan on paying that forward to other new businesses that decide to join me here in this journey.”
Miss Master’s Closet is open Thursday through Monday, from 12:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.