Frocks, from Funky to Fela!

Frocks, from Funky to Fela!Frocks, from Funky to Fela!Frocks, from Funky to Fela!Frocks, from Funky to Fela!

T odd Lyon and Nancy Shea, the retro-trendsetting founders of Fashionista Vintage and Variety, want their customers to understand the difference between “used clothing” and “vintage.”

Fashionista doesn’t carry clothes which you can easily find variations of in new-clothes stores. Fashionista’s into stuff you can’t find anywhere else, perhaps a retro outfit you’d given up hope of ever seeing again.

The shop does a brisk business in costumes; many of their items are rental-only, including vintage gowns for prom season and specially designated “Hideous Christmas Sweaters” for hip wintertime parties. But most of Fashionista’s clientele comes there because their personal style demands it. “Our clients,” Todd Lyon says, “are people who are really good at mixing it up and dressing themselves.”

Fashionista doesn’t just outfit parties

Fashionista Vintage and Variety
93 Whitney Ave., New Haven, CT (map)
(203) 777-4434 |
Tues-Sat 11am-7pm, Sun 12-5pm 

like those ugly-sweater gatherings. It throws them, including a recent series of “dress-up Karaoke” events.

Fashionista, in fact, has always been a community- based phenomenon. Years before it was a shop, the business began as a series of hit- and- run tag sales in deserted storefronts along State Street. The purpose was simply for Todd and Nancy to earn back some closet space by selling off clothes which didn’t fit them anymore. They alerted friends and fans through email. The list of clients grew, and other fashion plates—notably blues vocalist Christine Ohlman—asked if they could sell off their own wardrobe items via Fashionista.

Within a few years, renting a permanent

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shop space made sense. Before it found its current easy-to-spot location at the corner of Whitney and Trumbull streets, next to Caseus, Fashionista had a second-floor area in an old building on Church Street in the Ninth Square.

They’ve been on Whitney Avenue for over a year, and every comfy corner of Fashionista is a fashion provocation. In one room, a hoop skirt hangs down from the ceiling in such a way that it forms a sort of umbrella in the corner; Todd and Nancy call that their “conference room.” Throughout the store you can find bright, newish-looking African-styled items which came to Fashionista from the Broadway production of the musical Fela!

The business has grown, but its proprietors insist that “we’re just as weird as we ever were.” They never want to stop adding the distinctive touches that pump Fashionista’s offerings full of personality and pizzazz. When you look at the price tags on a lot of items, you’ll find a little story about where the clothing came from, or some historical context, or a funny comment. Todd and Nancy wrap all purchases in a neckerchief, like a hobo’s bindle, complete with a stick to carry them home. Then there’s the popular Free Box outside the shop, full of surprises and “not just crap,” as Nancy puts it.

“When it’s Parent’s Weekend at Yale, it’s like we’re a stop on the tour,” Todd marvels. “Every town needs a vintage shop, and we’re it. Nobody’s more surprised at our success than we are. That was always one of our mottos: ‘We don’t need no stinkin’ business plan.’”

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Christopher Arnott has written about arts and culture in Connecticut for over 25 years. His journalism has won local, regional and national awards, and he has been honored with an Arts Award from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. He posts daily at his own sites and New Haven Theater Jerk (

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