IT’S hard to talk about anything in the summer of 2020 without mentioning the pandemic, which has reshaped how we eat out, how we do business, even how we vacation.
So when Barb and Doc Doctorman agreed to talk trends at The Islander, their longtime style mecca at 920 Boardwalk, the inevitable gravity of the summer drew the conversation toward masks and safety.
The store offers a variety of cloth masks, in bright patterns, in camouflage in almost every color and style. At last, here was someone to answer a pressing fashion question for the year: Should your mask match your outfit?
“Not really,” said Barb. Customers will grab the designs that appeal to them, she said, without worrying about whether it clashes or matches their outfits. “They’ll come in and buy two, three, four or five at a shot. They’re just having fun with it. They’re not trying to match.”
Clothing manufacturers have started including masks with their outfits, Doc adds. For instance, a tie-dyed top and bottom set may come with a tie-dyed mask. Both thought that seemed like a little much.
Six months ago, even the idea of trying to find a fun, comfortable and effective cloth mask would have seemed ridiculous. This summer, though, they’ve become a big seller.
“When we knew we were going to open up, I thought, ‘We ought to have a few masks.’ We were doing curbside and that’s all that was selling. I thought, there’s something here. We’ve been doing pretty well with it,” Barb said. “I’ve had sequined masks. I am waiting for some black lace masks right now for the fall.”
As far as other fashion trends go, leopard prints and camo remain popular, and they will still be in for the fall, Barb said. She said they’ve remained popular for years now. Animal prints on shoes, bags and clothing have remained in fashion for longer than usual, she said.
“And tie-dye,” adds Doc.
At first, it seems like he may not share his given name.
“I don’t have a given name. I was never given a name,” he jokes instead, but Barb gives him up. It’s Wayne. “My mother was the only one who used to call me Wayne. My father was called Doc. At that time, I was called Little Doc.”
Doc grew up in Philadelphia. As a young man, he worked for a publishing company selling textbooks, so his summers were free. A friend had a rooming house and invited him down.
“When I first came here, Ocean City was a lot different, back in ’72,” he said. The town was crowded with college kids and teenagers, packing the multiple boarding houses, filling the offshore bars where there was always live music, and crowding the Chatterbox.
“I had a good year at the publishing house and I bought myself a rooming house. Then I added another,” Doc said. “Eventually I traded one of my rooming houses for a Boardwalk store. I never had any experience with retail.”
He jokes that was why he needed to meet Barb.
Originally from Maplewood, Barb came to Ocean City for vacation with her family as a child.
“I’ve been down here since 1965 when my parents moved down,” she said.
They were both living in Ocean City but met just outside of town.
“We met in the Point Diner at two in the morning; I always say ‘across a crowded room.’ It’s more romantic that way,” Barb said. “He was with a guy who knew the girl I was with. A couple of days later, he reached out.”
At one time, they had three Islander stores, two on the Boardwalk and another on Asbury Avenue.
“This is our location since 1989, but we’ve been on the Boardwalk since ’76,” said Doc. It made sense to consolidate to a single location, he said. It’s large enough to offer a variety of items, but still manageable.
“This allows us to do more for people, not just clothing. I can do the gifts, I can do the books. I can do candles and jewelry. I try to do a lot of things,” Barb said. “If you can’t find something to wear, you can still walk out of here with something.”
“That’s one of the keys to our store. Even though we have young customers coming in, their mothers can come in and buy things, their grandmothers can come in and find something,” added Doc.
The fashions used to skew a little younger, Barb said, but now they are more middle-of-the-road, as she described them. It’s one of a few fashion stores on the Boardwalk, where T-shirt shops and amusements tend to dominate.
“We’re not a typical Boardwalk store,” Doc said. There are a few other boutiques along the route, but not many.
Barb points to The Islander’s longevity. Visitors return year after year, she said.
“This is a food Boardwalk. It’s got 14, 15 pizza places up here from top to bottom,” Doc said.
“We feel that we’re a destination store for a lot of people,” added Barb.
They do not do it alone. Including Barb and Doc, there are 20 employees. More than half are part time. Barb said they’ve had wonderful staff.
“We’ve had employees that have been with us for 20 years,” she said. The first employee they hired, Dawn Otto, worked at the store for six years, left and has come back again.
“She’s one of my best friends. She’s amazing,” Barb said.
There have been a few changes over the years. They used to carry some men’s shirts. They found that 60 to 70 percent of them were being bought by women as presents. Husbands often waited outside instead of coming in the store, they said. After the stock market crash of 2008-09, though, those sales dried up as people were more reluctant to spend.
They decided to concentrate on women’s items.
“They rule the economy anyway,” said Doc.
“Guys still come in here and ask where’s the men’s section,” he adds, even though they have not had one in more than a decade.
They do have an extensive selection of tops, dresses, shoes and accessories, with store staff often modeling the latest pieces on their Facebook page. The Islander also carries jewelry, gifts and things for the home, all with a style that seems both warm and inviting and undeniably cool.
The Islander also carries dresses for weddings and formal occasions, something else that has seen a big shift this year.
“Nobody’s going to things like that. When I do the fall buying, I’m just going to go for comfort,” Barb said.
Women still buy a piece if they really like it, Doc said, but right now, everyone is looking for comfort. Even for a night out, eating at a restaurant outside calls for a more casual look. People still want to look good, but for the Islander customers and others, loungewear is the peak of style, and is expected to remain that way until life gets back to normal.
“We’re not going to get out of this very soon,” Doc said.