It’s the newest edition of Jews of Philly Fashion, introducing you to the Chosen few who dress our city. They might mix wool and linen, but they’ve got some strong opinions on mixing stripes with florals. In this space, we’ll talk to designers, sellers, buyers, influencers, models and more. This week, we spoke to Joan and Ellen Shepp.
For 50 years, Philadelphia women in search of something beautiful have gone to Joan Shepp as their guide.
Through the unceasing churn of trends, Joan Shepp has remained a constant, whether in Lafayette Hill or Center City, where the store bearing its founder’s name is today. Shepp, who recently celebrated her 80th birthday, runs the store alongside her daughter, Ellen Shepp, and the pair have big plans for their 50th year.
“This is a bigger celebration than we planned because of the last year that we’ve had,” Ellen Shepp said. “So we’re celebrating life. We’re celebrating existence.”
Joan and Ellen Shepp spoke about keeping up with the kids and the changing tastes of their customers.
With the proliferation of direct-to-consumer sales and Instagram clothiers, how do you keep people coming into the store?
JS: The one thing that girls like, women like, is they want to look pretty. They want to look pretty for their significant other. And even now more than ever, the little black dress talks to you much more than it did three years ago. Because you can put so many different things with it. Are they going to be short? Are they going to be long? Are they going to wear jewelry? Are they going to wear sunglasses?
I love accessories: You can change that dress 20 times. People are waiting to see what other people are wearing, unless they come in, and Ellen shows them, or we show them something new, and they feel good about it. They’re not sure. And so they’re going to look at the next person that’s getting undressed and trying things on.
What’s changed most about customer preferences?
ES: Back in the day, people used to buy full-on wardrobes, where everything got mixed and matched. And now, in the last few years — not just the pandemic — it really is more about the item, and then adding pieces to a strong item to build. But it’s more special, it’s more unusual. Like, when we go buying, we use the same sentence over and over: “Is it something that they don’t already have?”
It is more fun to put outfits together now because people are more open-minded. And they are more willing. They see that as the younger people have grown up, they’re mixing things together that it took me a while to even understand, because it was way more off the charts, creative and not matching.
So how do you keep up with those changes?
ES: Well, before this past year, traveling was probably the best education. I mean, we were going to Europe six times a year. We really got to see a few different countries and the streets of New York and the streets of Philly. We’re really fortunate to have young designers come visit us. And my mother’s always been excited about what students are doing and what their vision is.
What’s most exciting to you about this 50th anniversary year?
JS: For a while, people were closed down, psychologically. And they were scared, and they wanted to stay home. And they didn’t want to give anybody the virus. But now they see a way that they can go out. And they can go to a restaurant, or they can do this and that, and their minds are more open.
ES: We’ve all had a long moment to reevaluate what’s important in life. And it’s our people. And it’s love. And it’s the things we’re passionate about. And so, in our little fashion world, for us, we’re getting phone calls and text messages from people that are telling us, “I’m getting my second vaccine on Tuesday, I will see you two weeks after!”
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