Lost In TimeJun 23, 2023 01:06PM ● By David Williams
Photo by Bill Sitzmann.
A woman in Spain recently spent 500 days alone in a cave 230 feet underground as part of an experiment designed to study the physical and mental effects of prolonged isolation. Upon returning to the surface, the subject reported that her perception of time had come unraveled. It was as if the entrance to the cave had acted as a mysterious portal, one that had the power to bend time into spirals.
Lauren Ramm of La Dama Vintage Trading Co. has the same experience every time she emerges from her closet.
That’s where the staccato ‘clink-clank-clunk’ of shuffled hangers activate the controls of her very own time machine as she travels through much of the last century, bouncing back and forth from decade to decade.
Her retro clothing has been featured on such shows as ABC’s The Astronaut Wives Club and The Winchesters, the prequel for The CW series Supernatural. Her historic home in the Gibraltar neighborhood in Council Bluffs, Iowa, now hosts visits from costumers across the spectrum of film, television, and theater.
But just as Hollywood has had to cast an increasingly wider net to source the most authentic pieces for their productions, so too does Ramm in her quest to maintain a robust inventory of the best period attire. Working against her is the passage of time. The youngest of the women who first wore the fashions that Ramm seeks, all those Ednas and Ethels and Eleanors, are now at least 80, and their wardrobes are increasingly likely to have gone extinct along with other vestiges of The Greatest Generation.
“I first built my business scouring all the usual suspects in Omaha,” Ramm explained. “But there are only so many thrift stores, estate sales and the like. Now I find myself increasingly traveling all throughout Nebraska and the surrounding states in order to keep up.”
Ramm’s love of vintage fashion can be traced to something found in almost all homes, the family photo album—that black-and-white time capsule of what once was.
“Growing up, I’d leaf through all those pictures of my grandmother…my mom’s mom…born here in Omaha of Mexican parents,” she said. “All throughout the 1940s and beyond, like so many women back then and especially during the war years, she did a lot of her own sewing. She was always dressed to the nines in those pictures. So striking. So elegant. So feminine.”
An early introduction to the world of hand-me-downs further cemented her passion for the styles of an earlier era.
“As a kid,” she continued, “we, by necessity, shopped quite a bit at thrift shops, but I gravitated to the older things, the things that were out of time and out of place. Everyone thought I was a bit weird…and that’s okay. It’s just who I am.”
La Dama Vintage Trading Co. now presents its clothing, shoes, hats, and accessories through a number of sales channels.
“Pop-ups at various events are great,” she noted. “And participating in runway shows at such venues as Slowdown way back when brought the increased visibility I needed, but I much prefer doing private appointments here in my home. That’s where I can take the time to really get to know a client and their style, all against the backdrop of having my entire collection at hand for viewing.”
While Ramm looks to many Golden Age legends as her fashion icons, her vampy, precision-cut, razor-sharp bangs are a nod to her favorite influence: Bettie Page.
“It’s hard to put one’s finger on it, but it is undeniable that there is a certain hint of naughtiness and shades of eroticism” in vintage looks, observed the woman whose shelves are dotted with books featuring the sort of saucy, garter-exposing pin-up art that once graced the nosecones of World War II aircraft—like those made in Omaha at the Martin Bomber Plant where her aforementioned grandmother worked as a seamstress sewing brass buttons onto Air Force uniforms.
Vintage clothing is more than a side business for Ramm, who works in senior care, and she is no mere weekend warrior when it comes to her wardrobe. She endeavors to live her entire life in vintage pieces.
“I own very few things that are not vintage,” she added. “I guess I do have Converse Chucks, but even those have a long lineage (that goes back more than a century).”
On the day of the interview with Omaha Magazine, she sported a dressed-down, Rosie the Riveter vibe consisting of a simple, bandana-print cotton top in red matched with dungarees and puff-ball lounging mules.
The new-looking denims, however, were suspect—a little too crisp for a thrift store score.
“Next best thing,” she countered. “They’re from an English company that uses original patterns from the ’40s and ’50s.”
When out in public, Ramm gets a good number of double-takes, but also a lot of compliments.
“It’s not like I walk around in overtly costume-ish things like poodle skirts and saddle shoes,” she said. “It’s more of a subtle but serious commitment to a different era, a different style.”
People at work have grown accustomed to her distinctive look, but in a previous job in commercial real estate one of her coworkers asked if Ramm could bring in some of her “costumes” to borrow as Halloween approached.
“Leave it to a man, the maintenance man, no less, to jump in to set things straight,” she said.
“They’re not costumes,” he’d said with a wag of a finger. “It’s how she lives. It’s who she is.”
For more on La Dama Vintage Trading Co., visit ladamavintagetrading.com.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.