What Will Become of an Orrington Connoisseur’s Sprawling Formalwear Collection?

Since 2017, the fate of Linda Mitchell-Storer's tens of thousands of items — ranging from Civil-War-era frocks to set jackets owned by Gilda Radner and Cher — has remained in question.

Linda Mitchell-Storer's vintage clothing and costume collection at Vintage Finery, in Orrington, Maine
By Michele Christle
Photos by Tara Rice
From our January 2024 issue

As a teenager in Bangor, Linda Mitchell-Storer took to wearing an 1890s-era green cashmere gown with a high collar and elaborate beadwork. “I just loved that dress and I wore it downtown and everywhere,” she told the Bangor Daily News in 1991. “I didn’t care what people thought.” It was the late 1960s, when her peers were rocking ponchos and bell-bottoms, but Mitchell-Storer was smitten with the “unique quality and workmanship” she saw in antique fashions. 

One dress led to another, and to a fascination with formalwear spanning decades. By 1983, Mitchell-Storer had amassed so many antique and vintage gowns, tuxedos, ties, furs, hats, shoes, and pieces of jewelry she decided to open a rental and retail shop, Vintage Finery, in her Orrington garage. Since then, she and her husband, Tollef Storer, have expanded the space four times to fit her ballooning collection. In 2007, they gave over their home to the rare and valuable articles Mitchell-Storer hoped would one day wind up in a museum, and they moved down the road. Over the years, Mitchell-Storer has served as a wardrobe consultant to theater groups, a period-clothing expert for historical reenactments, and a fairy godmother of sorts to generations of customers celebrating special occasions. 

Today, the 4,000-square-foot garage shop houses tens of thousands of items arrayed in a warren of rooms: billowy clouds of wedding gowns, a rainbow of puffy-sleeved prom dresses, coats ranging from rabbit-fur capes to a 25-pound buffalo-fur jacket, Santa, Easter Bunny, pirate, and fairy costumes, racks of colorful costume jewelry, wigs and netted hats on glassy-eyed mannequins, rows of cowboy boots, and more. In the couple’s former home next door are Civil War–era frocks (including an 1862 silk-taffeta wedding gown), set jackets owned by Gilda Radner and Cher, an extravagantly ruffled, hand-sewn Carmen Miranda costume Mitchell-Storer likes to wear on Halloween, and other garb deemed too precious to rent or sell. 

But since 2017, when Mitchell-Storer was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, the fate of her voluminous collection has remained in question. She’s been selling more highly prized items than she was previously willing to part with, including 100 dresses from the ’40s and ’50s, scooped up by a professor of antique fashion from Georgia’s Reinhardt University, who happened upon Vintage Finery while on vacation. Mitchell-Storer has also found her own fairy-godmother figure in Cara Oleksyk, owner of Bangor’s Red Rabbit Bazaar vintage shop, who has been purchasing some of Mitchell-Storer’s holdings and helping her search for buyers for the rest. 

Oleksyk visits Mitchell-Storer every few months to select new inventory, help organize the shop, and have a cup of tea. Sometimes, Oleksyk says, when she pulls something out, Mitchell-Storer will say, “I think I want to try that on.” The act of “trying on,” Oleksyk understands, is a way to connect with places and people from her past, some of whom Mitchell-Storer still recalls vividly. Tears fill her eyes when she talks about a bride who sought her out after staff at a chain retailer made her feel insecure about her weight. Then there was the Nashville couple who left with a wedding gown and a pair of red cowboy boots to go with it. “I couldn’t believe they came from so far away!” Mitchell-Storer says.

For now, Tollef Storer is running the shop with Mitchell-Storer, who occasionally still acquires new items. Recently, the couple stopped by Red Rabbit Bazaar, where Mitchell-Storer zeroed in on a fitted blazer and told Oleksyk she was interested in buying it. “It’s yours, Linda,” Oleksyk said, smiling. 

Vintage Finery is open by appointment. 16 Settlers Way, Orrington. 207-356-9560.

Down East Magazine, March 2024 cover

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