Consignment shop chic—it’s trendy and with that certain touch of irony that many Vassar students crave.
The Bearded Lady, selling the sort consignment-shop chic clothing one might expect at Vassar, and touted by its owner as a store for “clothing and crap,” opened up on Raymond Avenue in a gradual move-in process several weeks ago. Its owner, Margot Madalengoitia, said she wanted to create a pre-owned store that specifically caters to college students.
In her shop where she only just finished moving in, Madalengoitia’s day starts with opening shop and setting up to prepare for her customers, which, according to her, includes many Vassar students. Tagging, repairing and cleaning are all a part of her opening routine.
At the moment, the business is still largely amorphous so soon after setting up. Since Madalengoitia is both the owner and the only employee, she has full control over the direction her business takes.
Despite her goal to bring previously-owned clothing that is fashionable and relatively inexpensive to college students, trying to put a name to what she does has been difficult for Madalengoitia.
“People ask me to describe what I am,” said Madalengoitia, explaining her role in both her shop and community. “I am trying to hit the middle ground with price and boutique. I’m not sure if there’s really a name for it.”
Madalengoitia said she intends to fill the gap between mall shopping and other thrift stores, such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army. These two options are on entirely different poles; shopping at the mall sends money directly to corporations while buying previously-owned clothing does not. The Bearded Lady straddles the line of being a business that reduces waste, but is, at the same time, a for-profit organization.
Much of her inventory comes from things she has accumulated doing her own thrift shopping over the years. However, not much of her stock comes from her own personal closet.
Some students, such as Sara Cooley ’15, take issue with the for-profit aspect of The Bearded Lady.
“The difference between Salvation Army and the Bearded Lady is that organizations like the Salvation Army were founded with the intent to give back to the community (despite this org’s notoriously anti-LGBTQ policies). I feel like thrift/consignment shops like Bearded Lady, which are predominantly for-profit, contribute to the glamorization of poverty without attempting to address it,” said Cooley in an emailed statement.
However, other students were more optimistic about Arlington’s newest clothing store.
Jordan Brooker ’15, who said she goes thrift shopping on a fairly regular basis, had hopes The Bearded Lady could do more than just be another overpriced boutique.
“I hope that the Bearded Lady is a cooler version of a normal consignment store and that the clothes are actually affordable,” said Brooker in an emailed statement. “If it turns out to be a pricey boutique or whatever, I will definitely be disappointed. I know it’s a business, I just wouldn’t be interested in spending $50 for a t-shirt.”
Students also emphasized the need for more inexpensive clothing and attempting to be more environmentally conscious in their clothing choices.
“The role thrift shopping is for people to reduce waste by giving their clothes away for someone else to use instead of throwing them away when they outgrow them or decide they don’t like them any more,” said Gabby Scher ’15 in an emailed statement.
Madalengoitia also has her own ideas about buying previously-owned clothing as a method for being environmentally conscious. “I definitely feel like we live in a throw-away culture,” she said. “Styles change so fast that people aren’t wearing things for more than one season. I think this is a good way to recycle clothing. I think it’s an important thing to be able to be a sort of green business.”
In addition to striving to create its own unique identity to set it apart from other businesses of a similar type, one other thing that is different about The Bearded Lady is as simple as its owner. Madalengoitia, at only 20, is the age of many of the college students who comprise her target demographic.
Scher, for example, was impressed with Madalengoitia’s ambition.
“I think that’s awesome that a 20-year-old woman is starting her own business. I had no idea that was the case. It’s really impressive that someone so young is opening up her own business, I’m currently 20 and I don’t think I could handle the responsibility of owning my own business,” wrote Scher.
Cooley, who was critical of some aspects of Madalengoitia’s business, also had positive things to say about independent businesses.
Wrote Cooley, “One thing I like about places like the Bearded Lady is that it is independent, as opposed to being a large national chain like Salvation Army.”
She continued, “However, thrift store or not, the fact that it is a for-profit business means that it is not benefitting the community in ways it could be.”