Mary Spears, 26, credits her education for her interest in fashion. The Atlanta native moved to Brighton to pursue her master’s in English at Boston College before she found that her passion for her studies and period fashion collided. Her Instagram, www.instagram.com/millayvintage, named for poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), gives a peek inside Spears’s life as a vintage shop owner and creative director, a job that sends her scouring the East Coast for delicate, demure finds that she styles and photographs with dreamy lighting and crisp, clean backdrops.
Q. How did you move from academia to working with vintage?
A. In graduate school I was really interested in women and minority rights in 20th-century American literature, and I realized that I just really loved finding vintage things and sewing them. It was something that ended up being very lucrative and while it was only something I was doing in my free time, I was really enjoying it. Then I started to see the intersection of what I was studying in school and what I was doing as a hobby. Women’s rights and women’s fashion really had a relationship and connection that I wanted to explore more on my own and that’s when I decided to leave the program and do the shop full time to see where I could take it.
Q. What kinds of connections were you seeing?
A. I think it’s really interesting to see what was going on with women through each decade and movement and see what fashion was considered constraining or repressive then, or what fashion was used as an expression of empowerment or freedom. I think there was a tension between those two things in every decade of the 20th century, and it’s always interesting to look at a garment and think, “What is this saying?” It’s a mixture of how society wanted a woman to look versus how women wanted society to see them.
Q. How would you describe your own style?
A. I have a very romantic style that’s a bit more practical. I’d like to put on a dress every day, but the reality is that I’m a jeans girl.
Q. I know a lot of vintage buyers don’t like to give away their secrets, but where do you go when you’re shopping for yourself?
A. There’s a mixture of places that I shop for myself, and then places that I’m sourcing inventory for the shop. I think SoWa Market is always so fun to go to on the weekends. The vendors are always turning over stuff really quickly. Every weekend I go and see a bunch of new inventory, so a lot of times I’ll shop there for myself, for my wardrobe, or for the home. But the other great thing I love about Boston is that it’s so easy to drive up and down through New England and make a day or weekend trip out of it. A lot of times I’ll go to Providence or go up the coast for antique malls and different flea markets and thrift stores.
Q. Do you have any advice for other small businesses looking to use Instagram as a tool?
A. I’ve never really looked at it as a tool to manipulate or take advantage of. Everything just happened really organically. Instagram is one of those interesting platforms, where it’s not Facebook, it’s not Twitter in the way that you connect with your friends and the people you know. It’s more about discovering people you might never have known anything about if you hadn’t stumbled across their feed and seen their perspective of the world visually.
More photos from Spears’s Instagram account: