The Attic Trunk off Main Street — one of Ventura’s last true vintage clothing shops — is literally bursting with garments. There are delicate hats from the 1940s near rows of fancy ’50s-era peignoir robes, piles of delicate cameo pins, glass buttons and more lining every nook and cranny, with additional racks pushed out into the hallway and a whole other storefront beside it, packed with glamorous gowns.
A fire-engine-red vintage negligee with black feathers hangs above the cash register while bridesmaid dresses and flimsy cocktail aprons line the walls.
Despite the overwhelming amount of merchandise, shopowner Jackie Wortman, 73, (affectionately known as “Mama J”) says she has high standards for each piece she sells. “I’m very particular about what I buy,” she explains. “I’m very fussy about what I put in here. About 80 percent of what I buy is made in America, and from prior to 1970.”
Finding loving homes for all these treasured items has become a life’s mission for Wortman. She’s been in this space as the Attic Trunk for 13 years, and has been selling vintage on Main Street for decades.
Not a fan of the Internet, she says she meticulously researches all her pieces in books, movies or old magazines. Or, as with a recent learning experience, by going to check out a style in real life: She went to a steampunk festival a few months ago because someone asked if she had anything for it and she didn’t know what it was. She deemed it, “very interesting.”
Wortman’s attention to detail has landed her a dedicated clientele — some coming from Orange County, Los Angeles and the surrounding areas — that has grown mostly by word of mouth. You’ll only find two glowing Yelp reviews for her store, yet she has one woman who has returned repeatedly just to find the negligee to complete a peignoir set.
She says her group of return customers runs the gamut from moms to drag queens to office workers to dominatrixes.
“I just want people to enjoy what they’re wearing,” she says. “You have to enjoy life and experiment.”
Born in Winsted, Connecticut, in 1942, Wortman came out west in 1967 after she divorced her first husband (she married her second a few years later in Las Vegas) and worked as an accountant for 40 years; before finding her calling in vintage wares.
After her first career in bookkeeping came to a close, a Simi Valley neighbor mentioned that she and Wortman should have a booth together in one of those antique malls with stalls, so she began selling glassware, then jewelry and eventually clothing. After a few different spots, she got her own shop and she’s been going strong ever since (a boot-strap mentality she attributes to being half-Irish) with the Attic Trunk which is next door to her connected room Decades of Style — that’s the one packed with elegant dresses — and hopefully another room for overflow coming next year.
After so many years in the business, Wortman’s become known for specializing in ladies nightwear, handkerchiefs, buttons and hats.
“I sell all my vintage hats in boxes,” she says, “I figure, if a hat is 50 years old, it deserves your respect.”
Occasionally she’s even able to sell a hat with its original box. Right now she has eight velvet hats from 1963 Broadway productions that come with original boxes.
There are also some hats with far more local origins. She’s got a black one with beige-painted feathers from the upscale Jack Rose Ventura, circa late ’30s, one from Ventura’s Grace Scott Shop from the late’40s and two from the Helen Hat Shop, which was on Oak Street in the 1950s.
“These are important,” she says, “because they’re part of who we are as women and how we evolved in Ventura County.”
Attic Trunk, 433 E. Main St. Suites11-14 (inside the Zander Building), Ventura, 208-6306.