Robert Elias comes from a long line of drapers. His great-great-grandfather worked in textiles in Brooklyn. His great-grandfather founded the Fall River Knitting Mills in 1911. That factory is still a family business, weaving an endless variety of sweaters, just as it’s done for more than a century.
So, it makes some sense that Robert opened Properly Worn, a consignment clothier, with his wife Gloria Kostadinova. Robert was very close with his late grandfather, and the family trade always interested him. But opening the shop wasn’t their original plan, and their mission is decidedly their own.
“I was very fortunate to have a stereotypical, small-town, New England childhood,” quips Robert. An East Greenwich native, Robert studied English literature, worked in hospitality, and spent time at a Boston startup.
Gloria was born in Bulgaria, yet she has lived most of her life in the US. Gloria also studied English literature, then environmental science and management at URI. The couple met in the restaurant industry – in East Greenwich, actually – and their relationship has been a patchwork of moves, degrees, and job transitions.
The idea for a consignment shop was partly informed by Gloria’s passion for sustainability. Critical of wasteful “fast fashion,” Gloria and Robert imagined a shop geared toward men – the only such consignment shop in the area – where durable, second-hand vestments could find new life. The couple is close with the owner of Velvet Beret, a women’s consignment shop next door; when their current space became available, Robert and Gloria seized their chance.
“We both like getting quality things at prices we could afford,” says Gloria. “We found that a lot of people are throwing away nice clothes. We wanted a place that was inviting for men to come into.”
The shop has racks of blazers and button-down shirts, and it’s decorated with modish tchotchkes, like a tide clock and vinyl record player. Many outfits are donated, and unsold items are donated to local charities.
“Fashion in the work environment has changed considerably,” notes Robert. Traditional suits have evolved, in many offices, into “high-end business casual.” Meanwhile, as more white-collar workers now telecommute, many have started to dump their name-brand wardrobes. Fashion-forward men have a greater opportunity than ever to dress well, but also creatively, for a reasonable price point.
“There’s room to play with colors and patterns,” says Gloria.
But here is the 21st-century twist: Just because Properly Worn sells “men’s clothing,” that doesn’t mean all customers have Y chromosomes. Recently, a female customer came in and purchased a men’s peacoat.
Says Gloria: “It’s all how you wear it.”