Amelia Nash sorts through vintage clothing in the basement of the Chilkat Center. (KHNS/Abbey Collins)

Clothes can share a lot about a person — what they do for work, what type of climate they live in, how they recreate. What people wear and when is particularly interesting to Amelia Nash. Nash has been collecting vintage clothing for decades. 

“Clothes were built to last back then,” Nash said. “And here they are, lasting, and getting back out into the public again.”

In the basement of the Chilkat Center in Haines, Nash and volunteers are sorting through plastic totes of clothing and steaming pieces that will be hung on racks.

“I’ve been collecting basically since I was a teenager,” Nash said. “There are a lot of items I’ve lost, sold or given away over the years. But this represents what I have left. Some of them come from Haines garage sales. Some come from my time in San Francisco and Portland.”

Nash is part-owner of a gallery and gift shop in Haines. And she’s preparing to hold a vintage pop-up shop.  

She says she sold some vintage, working at a collective in Portland years ago.

“It was hard at first to think of clothes as something that I wanted to sell, because I think my instinct is just to collect them and have them because they’re so fascinating,” Nash said. “Old clothes tell you so much about the way people live. What life is like in different eras and things. It’s just the most interesting thing for me, personally.”

Nash points to her favorite shirt, on a rack of ready-to-go clothes.

“This is it, it’s a green and white polyester button down from the 1970s. It is super op-art, eyeball melting psychedelic,” Nash said. “I stole it from a roommate in Oakland. I hope she forgives me. This is just my favorite shirt. I love how impractical and terrible it is. But how beautiful at the same time. It is just, I don’t know, it’s a shirt of shirts.”

There are clothes here from a lot of different time periods. Nash says she doesn’t have a favorite.

“I mean I gravitate toward the 60s and 70s just because of the loud prints, which I’m such a fan of, but you know I couldn’t pick a specific decade,” Nash said. “There are so many interesting shapes and forms that all decades took. Everything from the exaggerated shoulder pads in the 40s and the drop waist in the 30s. It’s all so — yeah, I couldn’t pick one.”

She does have a preferred type of clothing.

“I always gravitate toward fabrics with bright and interesting prints,” Nash said. “That’s one thing I feel is lacking in modern clothes. Even if the cut is a little bit odd, I will totally grab this butterfly on lily print any day.”

Nash’s love of clothing and how it reflects culture has been a part of her life for a long time.

“When we were young we had a dress up trunk full of clothes that my parents encouraged us to just wear whenever,” Nash said. “So we’d go to the Quick Shop dressed in my grandmas vintage finery with like hard hats and firemen’s helmets on. That was just something our family did, and it was just encouraging us to express ourselves in whatever way.”

She remembers as trip to England as a kid, and the museum that stood out the most.

“The thing that I remember the most about the whole trip was the museum of costume history in Bath, which was amazing,” Nash said. “Just seeing the examples of hoop skirts and farthingales, and all the crazy architecture that went into clothing. And then the reasons behind it. Why were they wearing these things.”

Nash says when she’s not wearing vintage, she doesn’t care a whole lot about what she’s wearing. 

“When I’m not wearing vintage I’m wearing dirty jeans and Xtratufs,” Nash said. “But for me, putting on something old and beautiful, helps transform me into whatever I need to be that day. And that’s always been the case.”

Nash says clothes can help explain who you are, and even change the mood of a day.

“For me it’s just a real true form of self expression,” Nash said. “You do attract a ton of attention, people always comment on it, but it can also lead to conversations where they wouldn’t happen before. Or, if I’m feeling the need to brighten the day in a dreary winter afternoon or something, you can put on something bright and fun.”

She says it’s hard to part with her collection, but it also feels right.

“I think now I’m reaching a place in my life where you sort of start to assess your crazies and you face what you got and just see where you’re going with it,” Nash said. “And I think the path is definitely letting it go.”

Because, she says, she will always acquire more in the future.

Nash’s vintage pop-up is Friday through Sunday at Ampersand AK.