By Mari Sato
Nestled in the vibrant artistic neighborhood of Knox Henderson, you’ll find the one-of-a-kind A.A. Vintage store, and behind the iconic cyan doors lies vintage denim heaven. Caitlin Brax, otherwise known as the Denim-Whisperer, is the brilliant mind behind this beloved institution and after going viral multiple times on TikTok, she has earned recognition nationwide. However, it’s not just the denim that draws people in; it’s the story behind it, the passion, and the touch of magic that Caitlin has infused into every piece. With over 10 years of experience and the addition of her mother’s handmade pieces, her store is a one-stop shop for all things vintage. In this exclusive conversation, I sat down with Caitlin to delve into her world of vintage denim.
MS: What is the story behind the name “Denim Whisperer”?
CB: “Honestly, If I had known it would have caught on like this, I would have gotten a cuter name, but I think I just randomly called myself that one day when I was at my old store, and it just stuck!”
MS: Does this name reflect your approach to vintage denim/shopping?
CB: “Yes, I do because when I look at a person, I don’t think of a number, I don’t think of a size, it’s just some weird magical thing. Denim whisperer to me just means I can look at a pair of jeans, and they can whisper to me and tell me if they’ll look good on you. It’s not about a size or a number; it’s really just the look.”
MS: What inspired you to start your own vintage denim shop?
CB: “I worked in fashion in LA in the early 2000s, and all my clients wanted my clothes. They were all thrifted and I didn’t sell thrifted clothes at the store I was at, so I opened an Etsy in 2010, and people started buying. Eventually, I just went for it and decided to open my own store. I started really small, and it’s been a long journey. I’ve learned every lesson the hard way, and it’s not as easy as you might think but it’s rewarding. I started when no one wore vintage, so it’s interesting to see so many people joining the game.”
MS: What is your secret for fitting people?
CB: “I think I have a little of a photographic memory since I source each garment I lay eyes on it once, then I launder it and lay eyes on it twice, so I know exactly what I have. I know every single pair of jeans in this store right now, so I can look at you and pull the ones that will fit you.”
MS: Do you have any advice for people shopping without your expertise?
CB: “I would say if you’re out in the wild looking for vintage jeans, you need to size up always. And people will grab the smallest pair on the rack expecting a stretch like skinny jeans would, and it won’t. All these old jeans are 100% cotton and have absolutely no give.”
MS: How do you navigate finding sizes for every body type that walks in?
CB: “I approach that the same way I approach any size that, every body to me, is very fitable. I just try to anticipate what my clients want before they have to be like you don’t have my size.”
MS: What do you look for when you’re sourcing your denim?
CB: “Nothing will stretch unless it’s a low rise. I look for everything and anything, I don’t favor a brand. I’ll pull Wrangler, Lee, Rustlers, and Levi’s as long as it has a vibe that I know will look good on a body.”
MS: What have been some of your favorite pieces or trends you’ve seen throughout the years?
CB: “Baggy denim, baggy in the waist, in the leg all over. I think the older, the better, I think the bigger, the better. I love a wallet mark on a pair of 501 Levi’s. I love a tobacco pouch mark on the wranglers. I just love the character of it.”
MS: Could you discuss some of the sustainability aspects of shopping and wearing vintage denim?
CB: “It’s a huge part of it, and it’s important to us, so when we make the shorts, we use the denim scraps to make other things. Sustainability has always been super important to us, and I always tell my clients that vintage denim is appreciated. You can sell them for twice what you paid for them in a couple of years, while the $80 jeans you get at Zara will just go down in value.”
MS: What challenges have you come across running AA Vintage? How have you overcome them?
CB: “We don’t even have enough time for that. When I tell you I learned every lesson the hard way, I mean it. As far as day-to-day difficulties: time. I have no time for anything else but this. This is my baby; it’s everything, and it can be a struggle and very demanding of your schedule but also very worth it.”
MS: How did you and your mother begin collaborating with the store?
CB: “When I was living in LA, I came home, and she started to take my photos for Etsy and has always sewn my whole life. So when I decided to open a store, she started slowly sewing pieces, and they were a hit, people ate them up, so since then, we’ve been a really good team.”
MS: Can you tell us a little bit about her pieces and what makes them so unique?
CB: “She uses vintage fabrics and vintage patterns, and she tries to keep it affordable. A lot of other places with handmade items are more costly than our pieces, but we like for people to buy stuff. We always want our price points to be accessible and we want people of all different income levels to be able to find something here.”
MS: What is the most valuable lesson you have learned from your mom?
CB: “There are so many, she’s just really encouraging and such a big giver. She makes over 500 dresses from vintage fabrics and sends them to Ethiopia for charity, which is pretty rad, so I’ve learned to give back in ways I don’t make public. Especially since our business has grown, a lot of that goes back to the community, and I learned that from her.”
MS: How do you incorporate current trends in your shop?
CB: “Anything old is always on trend; the 70s will always be cool, and the 90s will always be cool. It took me a minute to embrace Y2K because that’s like my era, but I noticed my youngsters were wanting it, and I came around. I know what I like, and that will usually sell, but sometimes I take my queue from my young cool kids.”
MS: What is your vision for the future of AA Vintage?
CB: “I really don’t know, I’ve learned with COVID to not plan ahead, you never know what the world will throw at you, so it helps me to think short term, but I’ve been doing this for 10 years, so I’ll probably do this forever.”
MS: Is there anything else you want customers or prospective customers to know?
CB: “We try to carry denim for all body types, we don’t cater to just one body type. I hate using the word size-inclusive, but yes, we are very size-inclusive, and we genuinely appreciate every single body that walks in the door. We love y’all, and that’s it!”
All photos by Mari Sato