The inside of Century Girl Vintage on Magazine Street does not feel like a typical vintage shop.
There are no crammed racks to shovel through, no piles of rings in bowls or racks of fraying purses. You don’t have to “hunt” for the gems.
It’s all gems.
That’s thanks to the careful eye of owner Leah Blake, a gregarious fanatic for female fashion, from the late 1800s to the 1980s. She opened Century Girl (named for the fact that she loves styles from every decade) back in 2016 and since then, it’s become a haven for throwback couture—in a city simply obsessed with it.
“People here will just wear a 1940s hat down the street,” she laughs. “New Orleanians love to dress up, and they really do not need an excuse. As a kid in Alabama, I would go to estate sales with my grandmother and my mother. However, before moving here, I didn’t really think I could have a shop devoted to this. This town embraces vintage.”
You step inside her pastel pink doors, to a carefully cultivated salon, where you find round tables of glittering brooches, a velvet tufted sofa, gilded mirrors and curio cabinets filled with necklaces and rings. Sunlight streams through the front windows, igniting sequins, lace, tulle and gold thread. Flapper dresses cascade over mannequin forms, beside crystal tiaras, rhinestone capelets and silk slippers.
To shop at Century Girl is to indulge your inner Christina Hendricks from Mad Men or to have your best Mrs. Maisel moment. There are ball gowns, thick, embroidered kimonos and feathers on negligees. Oh, and there is also a gold, mesh chainmail shirt. This writer has definitely been coveting it for the last six months.
Perhaps the best part is Blake’s pricing. You can certainly lay down a worthy $500 for a fancy cocktail dress (she sells both vintage and reproduction vintage styles), but you can also find a lovely $40 bracelet or pair of dazzling scarab earrings for $60.
While the prices vary, her dedication to exquisite pieces does not.
“I’m very particular,” Blake admits, concerning what ends up for sale in the store.
“I shop at auctions or clothing textile shows, and I also buy from other dealers. I’m into glamour and over-the-top, and something needs to excite me for me to stock it.”
To shop at Century Girl is to indulge your inner Christina Hendricks from Mad Men or to have your best Mrs. Maisel moment.
One of the rarest items she ever found was a World War II-era, escape-map dress. Fighter pilots kept maps on strips of fabric, in case they were shot down. They could be folded and easily hidden without fear of tearing paper. Someone had sewn a dress from a collection of these fabric maps.
“I sold that to a museum in Los Angeles,” she says. “I do think that’s the perfect home for it, but I often think of it. It’s not something you come across every day. I did recently come across a pristine wedding dress from 1892, though. The silk looked like it was made yesterday.”
Her customers often phone her up, explaining that they’ve discovered a gem, like that wedding gown, in a grandmother’s attic or send her a vintage piece they’d like to consign. Blake also has her own sources for great finds, and she stocks emerging jewelry designers, as well.
“You come here to buy something that makes you feel special,” she says. “You can get your wedding dress here, but you can also just pick up a piece that makes you feel extraordinary…something to add some sparkle to a normal night out.”
I’ll hopefully be somewhere before too long, martini in hand, glittering chainmail top catching the light. Even if it’s just on my sofa, watching a Saints game.
Hell, maybe I’ll go buy it tomorrow. We all need that extra sparkle for the fight that is 2020, and Century Girl is where you pick it up, ladies.
If you can’t get there, follow Leah Blake’s shop on Instagram. She sells items through direct message on social media, but fair warning: You have to be on-point, because items go fast.
2023 Magazine Street
New Orleans, Louisiana