Jade Oliver, who has long, flowing auburn hair, cherries-in the-snow-red lips and dramatic diction, has, at one time or another and even simultaneously, been all of these things.
“I’m a jack of all trades, she says. “I do whatever I can to survive.”
Most recently, that meant sitting down at her sewing machine and making fashion masks when she lost her longtime waitressing/bartending gig during the pandemic lockdown.
“I made 700 of them,” she says, adding that she has shipped to customers as far away as England and Australia. “I sold some and donated some.”
The work kept her afloat, and for that she’s eternally grateful to the Astoria community.
Jade, aka The Vintage Queen of Astoria, is not sewing at the moment.
She’s lounging on a loveseat in her sitting room, which is filled with racks of the clothing she sells as the proprietor of Vintage Queens NYC.
It’s in Astoria’s Flatiron Building, a Victorian behemoth that allows Jade to employ her interior design and carpentry skills.
She repainted and redecorated the vast apartment, restrung her vintage chandeliers and has done numerous repairs to the building that have included her climbing on the roof to patch leaks.
“I love making and building things,” she says. “I’m always in the hardware store downstairs. My dream is to one day own an old Victorian house that I can refurbish myself.”
In the back room of Jade’s apartment, which is where she stores her inventory, there’s a whisper-thin lace tea dress from the Edwardian era hanging on the wall like a piece of art, a couple of fringed piano shawls suspended from the tin ceiling, a shelf of hats of various vintages and row upon row of period ensembles that date from the 1900s through the 1970s.
There’s also an ironing board covered with heaps of recent purchases waiting for Jade to make them gloriously gorgeous again.
A couple of umbrella lights are standing in the corner ready to go into action when Jade books a commercial shoot.
Jade’s partial to 1940s fashion – “the clothes just seem to fit my body, and rayon, which they don’t make any more, feels like heaven” – so she’s wearing a Navy blue Lilli Ann dress coat that has leg-of-mutton sleeves.
Her reproduction World War II-era plaid dress, which features a demure belt with a brass clasp in front, is made from a period pattern.
Her ankle boots, though, are new.
“I don’t wear vintage shoes because we walk so much in New York that they literally fall apart,” she says.
Jade fell in love with the fashions of bygone years when she was growing up in the conservative Gulf Coast city of Beaumont, in Texas’s Cajun Country.
“I used to watch old movies,” she says. “I loved AMC and Turner Classic Movies and Fred and Ginger, and then I got into the clothes. My grandma used to take me to estate sales, and I started buying as a teen.”
Jade’s Siamese cat, Mr. Pickford, who is named after the stylish star Mary Pickford, aka “America’s Sweetheart,” wanders into the room and plants himself prettily on the ornately patterned carpet.
“He’s a rescue,” Jade says. “He showed up in my mom’s backyard in Texas when he was about five weeks old. It was raining, and he was crying.”
Texas. Yes, Jade and her vintage wardrobe didn’t really fit in there.
Longing for a larger stage, she enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan.
As it turned out, she was young – too young – for such an adventure in such a big city.
“I had never been away from home before,” she says. “I fell in love with the city, but after one year at the academy, I went back to Texas.”
But she didn’t stay long. A couple of years later, she returned to the Big Apple, determined this time to take the stage by storm.
She reveled in the synchronicity between acting and vintage clothing – “you can be someone else on the stage, and dressing up is part of it” – and soon was wearing other-era fashions all the time.
A decade ago, she founded Vintage Queens NYC, and it, along with all her other pursuits, which include photography, screenwriting and costuming for films, has kept her going all this time.
“The vintage has taken over my life,” she says. “Acting is more of a hobby, but everything I do is a hobby. I’m just lucky enough to get paid for what I do.”
Jade’s done a lot of different I-just-want-to-pay-the-bills jobs; she’s been everything from a nanny to a personal assistant.
“But I wasn’t happy in my life,” she says. “Life isn’t worth living if you’re miserable doing a job.”
Which is why she has her eye on opening her own vintage-clothing shop.
She had been saving for just such a venture when the pandemic struck but realizes that now online sales may be the way to go.
She’s not going to worry about the future right at this moment – she has a lot of washing, ironing and mending to do.
Jade’s made a career of being flexible, so whatever happens, she’ll figure out a way to keep going on by doing what makes her happy.
Copyright 2020 by Nancy A. Ruhling