Sharing Her Passion for Vintage Fashion

With the emergence of athleisure, dressing down is downright trendy these days. Business casual has become the norm at work. Although the days of consistently coiffed hair and pressed pants are long gone, vintage fashion maven Bettina Coleman will always remember the classic elegance displayed by her godmother, Grandma Virgie. As a little girl, Bettina – now the owner of online thrift boutique Virlé Cole – always looked forward to visits with Grandma Virgie. Specifically, she loved trips to her fashion role model’s closet.

“Vintage clothing has always held a special place in my heart, and I’ve had a passion for styling for as long as I can remember,” Bettina said. “As a child, I would play dress up with my grandmother’s clothes and my aunt’s accessories. I’d even borrow their clothes for school. I marveled at their wardrobes and senses of style because they always looked glamorous, ladylike, and confident.”

With Virlé Cole, Bettina gives people the opportunity to feel this classic glamor. Perusing the online shop, you’re guaranteed to find something that  would make you stand out in a crowd, and at an affordable price.

“I market to everyone who seeks style with a generous dose of flair,” Bettina said. “The styles appeal to people with outgoing personalities and carefree outlooks on dressing, and Virlé Cole offers products and styling services for both women and men.”

Business beginnings

While crafting looks has been a part of Bettina’s life since childhood, she didn’t make it a business until seven years ago, when she relocated to the Washington D.C.-area from Florida, where she had been an Urban Regional Planner.

“Urban planning was really great work, but I decided on a career shift and took a leap of faith to Alexandria,” she recalled. “I now work at the Department of Homeland Security as a Grant Program Manager.”

The jump to bureaucrat wasn’t the only leap of faith she took, either.

“I moved up here for the job, but then I read about the success of selling vintage clothing online,” Bettina said. “I wanted to turn my passion into a profitable two-part business – selling fashions I’ve collected, and then also to do the actual styling of individuals in my vintage treasures. I waited a long time to launch my website because I wanted to master the eCommerce and shipping platform first. I also wanted a certain polished look and feel, not something that appeared slapped together.”

Bettina started by selling her fashions first on eBay, and then on Instagram. From there, she launched the Virlé Cole website that her customers know today.

“I gained experience and got a taste of what it would be like to run my own business,” she said. “When I finally launched my own website, it was so exciting to offer gorgeous vintage looks and share my passion with the world. I am now the proud owner of Virlé Cole.”

The virtual vintage venture

Establishing her brand was the first step toward molding a business out of her art.

“I wanted a name to represent the significance of these styles,” Bettina said. “Something vintage is something you can preserve and pass down through generations. It’s often more than just ‘thrift;’ it’s about having something to keep, hold close to your body. At the same time, these clothes can be worn in a very high-style, high-fashion way.”

It was only fitting for Bettina to bring her two “fashion godmothers” into her venture. The ‘Virlé’ combines their first names, and ‘Cole’ is, of course, the first syllable of her own last name.

“‘Virlé’ is tribute to their glamorous, timeless style and Cole speaks to my appreciation for contemporary trends,” she said. “Virgie and my Aunt Shirley will always influence my style of vintage fashion and are the inspiration for the name Virlé. They have both had a major impact of my life, and a lot of what I do is because of the memories I have of how they dressed.”

Bettina has always hand selected everything sold through her platform.

“Sourcing is part of the fun for me because everything is one of a kind,” she said. “It starts with me sifting through thrift stores and estate sale stock to make the perfect purchases for resale. It’s a wonderful, personalized experience to hand-pick everything I sell. Friends and associates have also allowed me to shop their closets and take possession of their mothers’ and grandmothers’ special items. I never have two things that are the same, because the pieces I’m looking for come from all decades.”

By the time you see something on virlecole.com, you can guarantee that Bettina has created a vision for it.

“I love repackaging the items I find and then showing other women how to wear them,” she said. “Many times, I’ll alter the clothing, either doing alterations myself or working with a seamstress. From the beginning, I knew that in order for me to persuade people to buy from virlecole.com, I had to  convince them of how the style could look, so I made my strategy to show how you can wear both the old and the new.”

While she said she typically posts “every day” clothing items online right away, she tends to spend more time with dresses and couture pieces before giving them price tags.

“I am very connected to all my pieces,” she said. “I style models wearing the clothes, and then I’ll do photo shoots. I’ve also hosted fashion shows with some of my pieces. In the beginning, I just wanted to sell clothing. But I realized I had more to offer, so I added styling services. That quickly took off. Now I receive opportunities to present fashion shows, provide styling for fashion publications’ photo shoots, and more. To me, dressing models at shows and styling at photo shoots is just as fun and inspiring as selecting the right products to sell.”

Virlé Cole is well on its way to becoming a household name. Bettina has already held, and been a lead stylist for, a variety of fashion shows. She also appeared on one of WJLA’s news programs to lend her expertise on incorporating vintage clothes into everyday wardrobes.

The Virlé Cole vision

It may be on her mind at all times, but, for now, Virlé Cole remains a side venture for Bettina. She hopes to one day run this business fulltime, and to ultimately expand to storefront status.

“One day I would love to do Virlé Cole full time,” she said. “In the future, I plan to have my own studio with a dedicated space for customers to buy and a creative working space for altering and reproducing vintage clothes. I want Virlé Cole to become a recognizable force in the fashion industry. My dream is to be the main supplier of vintage apparel and accessories for everyone, from retroobsessed teens to costume designers on movie sets. I want to inspire people who don’t think they can afford lavish fashions or don’t know how to break into the world of style. An amazing wardrobe is within reach for everyone.”

According to the Association of Retail Professionals, every year, about 16 to 18 percent of Americans purchase second hand clothing. If Bettina has anything to do with it, though, this number will continue to increase.

“The Virlé Cole brand is all about timeless vintage styles, and my mission is to motivate young souls to wear vintage clothes,” she said. “I want to ditch the pre-conceived notion that new clothes are best. Because most people cannot afford new clothes, they don’t have the money to afford luxury brands. So why not buy something better, something that has life, a piece of history that was made with love, passed down through generations. Changing the fashion paradigm of how people feel about wearing vintage clothing is my main goal.”

To shop vintage, or to learn more about Coleman’s professional styling services, visit www.virlecole.com.

Ashley Claire Simpson
Ashley Claire Simpson is a Marketing Communications Specialist for a local military association, but her real passion is freelance writing for a number of publications, including Fairfax/Alexandria Woman. She has been writing features and human interest pieces since her college newspaper days at the University of Virginia, where she graduated in 2008. Ashley has lived in the D.C.-metropolitan area for most of her life and always relishes the opportunity to learn and write about so many inspirational local women who make a difference in the community - and in the world at large.