Holiday Style: From Young Oak, retro glam party frocks grow

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      If you’re looking for a stunning, one-of-a-kind, knock ’em dead party dress for the holiday season, Tammy Joe is your girl. The local designer/collector/seamstress extraordinaire recently launched a line of slightly altered and totally reworked vintage pieces, many of which are tailor-made for puttin’ on the glitz. She’s selling these gorgeous garments under the label Young Oak, a concept that started with Joe’s ever-expanding collection of underutilized vintage treasures.

      “I started noticing that I just never found an occasion to wear them out,” says Joe, who recently sat down with the Straight at a Gastown café. “And I would never, ever want to throw them away or give them away. But every time I tried something on, I felt like I was in a costume heading to a Halloween party.”

      That’s because the silhouettes of many of these pieces were just too dated or unflattering for the average woman to pull off in a nonmasquerade setting. Happily, Joe’s need to breathe new life into these retro gems coincided with her need to find a new line of work. Thus, she began making small “edits” to select items.

      “Changing something as simple as a sleeve, a hemline, and a neckline does wonders to update a garment,” says Joe, who’ll be selling Young Oak—along with unaltered vintage finds—exclusively through her online boutique, which goes live in early November. “It’s just about making minor changes to make it wearable, contemporary, and yet keeping the integrity of the garment, so that it still has some of its original design as well.”

      A great example of Joe’s unique vision is her metallic gold crochet dress with a fringed empire bodice and back slit ($68). You wouldn’t know by looking at it, but this flapper-inspired showstopper started out as an ill-fitting long-sleeved ’80s has-been that just happened to be made from beautiful fabric. With that in mind, every Young Oak tag comes with a handwritten back story detailing Joe’s transformative process.

      At Eco Fashion Week, Young Oak strutted festive.
      Peter Jensen

      For a high-glam event, Joe suggests rocking this dress with a loose, messy-chic updo; dark, dramatic lips; and black tights. The same goes for a black, silk, beaded shift dress that boasts a back box-pleated detail and sheer tank upper bodice ($280). Joe categorizes this one as a “reworked” piece as opposed to an “edited” piece, and understandably so—it started out as a two-piece, plus-sized skirt suit, which she carefully deconstructed and reconfigured into three different dresses. Another attention grabber from Joe’s holiday collection is the metallic gold brocade baby-doll dress with an empire waist, fully pleated skirt, and keyhole detail ($290). This stunner began as a somewhat garish full-length ’70s house gown, so clearly it needed some updating. That said, when Joe is working with fabric this beautiful, she’s in no hurry to bust out her scissors and start cutting into it.

      “If I’m not completely certain where I want to take it, I will sit on it,” Joe says. “It will consume my mornings, evenings, and days.…It’ll just be something I keep thinking about until I get a really strong, good feeling about what exactly I want to do with it, and then I get to work on it.”

      After she’s finished creating these reworked masterpieces comes the really hard moment: parting with them.

      “Yeah, that’s the greatest challenge,” says Joe with a laugh. “But I’ve come to think that sometimes you get more satisfaction out of seeing people appreciate what you do. It creates a fresh turnover, like when it [an item of clothing] leaves you, then something new comes in—that’s how I see it.”