Thursday, April 21, 2011

Guest Blogger Brytton Bjorngaard: 1970s Barbie RV is the Vehicle of Imagination

I'm delighted to bring another guest blogger to ThrippieGalore! I know Brytton Bjorngaard as a graphic design guru and Spokane style maven. She was also my wingwoman when I was shopping for a wedding dress. I knew her eye for design and her sense of my bridal vibe would help me stay within the bounds of good taste (not that I ever veer, dear reader). Enjoy her thrifting montage (and fine photos).

Brytton on Brytton:
I'm an art professor by day, an obsessive compulsive graphic designer by night, and a thrifter all the time. I recently relocated to the Inland Northwest after residing in the Midwest, although my love of travel has found me living in Oregon, Spain and Italy. My lifelong goal is to photograph (and thrift of course!) on all continents. I collect sands from my travels and store them in jars so I can revisit those beaches anytime with a touch of the sand. I of course bought those jars at a thrift store.

Brytton on thrifting:

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of thrifting… some are of the beach, but that is a story for another blog.

I remember digging through bins of toys and trying on clothes for dress up. I hoped each one would take me to fanciful lands. Thrifting and the treasures that it procured, such as a 1970’s Barbie RV or an ethnic patterned wrap skirt, jump-started my creativity as a child. I created exciting places for Barbie to explore in her camper and I cast many a spell as a gypsy with that wrap skirt tied around my shoulders. Over the years, the Barbie RV was cast aside, but not surprisingly I grew taller and the cape actually worked as the skirt it was intended to be. My love of clothes may have started as costumes, but today it is as fashion.

To me there is nothing more rewarding than purchasing a pair of Cole Haan shoes for $5 (original retail value $135) or Ralph Lauren sailor dress slacks with gold buttons for 99¢ cents (original retail value $225).  I am a self-professed clothes… hmmm, trying to stay classy, but when the phrase fits... whore. It is a modern interpretation on the phrase clothes horse, but different in that while I am obsessed with shopping and acquiring items of clothing, I do not spend the money that is associated with the horse version.

To claim to have just one favorite thrift clothing purchase feels like cheating on the hundreds of other pieces that I own. To say that 80% of my wardrobe is built from thrift is not an overstatement. The pieces that stand out however are not the ones on which I saved the most money, not the ones by the best designers, nor the ones I wear ever week, but rather the pieces that are bright, funky, and out of my normal range of black.

A recent favorite purchase was a Vera vintage dress for an upcoming wedding. Not Vera Wang, not Vera Bradley, but Vera Neumann.  Vera and her husband started a silk screening business in the 1940’s that expanded into collections of scarves, clothing, even dinnerware for Mikasa that continued until the early 1990’s. Her designs are known for bright colors, bold graphics, floral patterns and progressive approach to fabric cuts and my dress is no exception.

The flowers showcased on the front (and back) of the dress make me feel like I am wearing a painting. The beauty of this dress will raise my single girl spirits at the wedding it was purchased for. What is equally as thrilling as the dress are the shoes and purse that will accompany it on the wedding adventure, all found thrifting of course. 

The wedding will be fantastic, for many different reasons such as getting to see friends, dancing, and cake, but also because of my dress. When I find clothing I love thrifting, it intrinsically has more meaning, is more individualistic, and is less tied to the trends of shopping in a regular store. I can guarantee I will be the only one wearing my dress at the wedding and it will make me feel beautiful.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spring Things: Part II

In the last installment of Spring Things, I let fly with my grievances about hosiery. The next day, I bought a pair of tan, patterned stockings at Target, digging their Machu Picchu zigzag stairstep design and hoping their tone would turn out OK.
Alas, zigzags in the package looked like stretch marks in practice.
I found these cute retro
earrings at Carousel
last weekend.
I dug out my hot pink tights on Wednesday, which worked well with a black and white checked pencil skirt, a gray turtleneck sweater, and these yellow earrings I found last weekend at Carousel.
Today, I braved the rain in bare legs. It was a little chilly for such foolishness, but my core was warm in a lined pink wool skirt, short-sleeved sweater, and gray wool cardigan.
I’ve really fallen for cardigans. I don’t know exactly when this happened, but it must have around the time I was buying my suit for a campus visit. Ah, professionals need not wear jackets every day, sales associates informed me. Sometimes, they wear cardigans.
I can't resist stripes! Here's a recent
cardigan sweetheart, from Fringe & Fray.
Once a very gifted student wrote an essay for my class about his experience in Catholic school. It was from this man that I first heard the term “shadow swearing.” Students at his school were required to wear a cardigan to chapel, and if you forgot yours, the nuns would direct you to the coat closet where you’d be forced to choose an abandoned, scratchy sweater, quite likely with a used tissue wadded in the pocket. These many semesters later, I still shudder at the memory of his description of that Catholic school coat closet's aura of repulsion and shame.
I recently reread Ander Monson’s essay “Cranbrook Schools: Adventures in Bourgeois Topologies.” Before Monson arrives at this private school as a scholarship student, he obtains cardigans from JCPenney at the Copper Country Mall near his home. “I wanted, ridiculously, unsurprisingly, to fit in, and thought that meant cardigans,” Monson writes (32). “I think they were made of rayon or something," he muses. "No one at this school wore cardigans and certainly not the kind you find at JCPenney” (33). Unlike Monson, I was a public school kiddo, but like Monson I, too, have miscalculated the appropriate attire in the hopes of fitting in or coming off kind of classy. And, like Monson's, my hometown is the kind of place where "Penney's" is considered a good store.
Maybe I dodged cardigans for so long for much the same reason that, until recently, I’d make quiet gagging noises if I thought about dress pants (or, even worse, slacks): I hadn’t yet met the right one. 
Now that I've given up puffy coat for the season, I
have lapels! This tiny flower brooch is also from
the accessories menagerie at Fringe & Fray.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

New Essay Up in Mid-American Review

I'm delighted to have a new essay, "Why Burning Man Won't Fix Your Shattered Self-Esteem" in the new issue of Mid-American Review (Vol XXXI Issue 1). Some great stuff in there!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Extra Credit

Why does it take such a nudge to get me out of my orbit? (Initially I typed “nude” instead of “nudge,” a different kind of provocation altogether!).
There are two great vintage/resale stores, Carousel and Fringe & Fray, within walking distance of my neighborhood, and today I finally visited them for the first time. A friend of mine with her infant son brought two small bags of clothes to resell. I’ve been culling my closet lately, applying the “have I worn it in the last year?” rule with laudable rigor, so I had my own bag of shoes and clothes to take.
Another first for me today: I sold a few items from the Nicole Inventory and racked up a bit of cash and store credit.
I wasn’t really in a trying-on mood, but I snuck a peek at the racks of vintage dresses and separates arranged by decade at Carousel. I bought a pair of chunky yellow triangle earrings, like something my Nana Sheets might have worn back in her schoolteacher days. I could have spent my store credit at Fringe & Fray, but snack time called. Besides, it's nice to have shopping to look forward to.
Two things I learned: it’s not a good idea to buy something if the only purpose is to resell it. The store credit is a perk, a bonus for clothes that I was prepared to give to a friend or thrift store anyway. But it's not a way to make a living, nor can I use it as an excuse to justify buying stuff I don't love (or that doesn't love me back). 
The other thing: I should think a little harder about how I’m dressed before I trot into these cute boutiques. On teaching days, I try to coordinate my clothes, not in a matchy-matchy way but to suggest that I have put on The Teacher Costume. I choose earrings. I shoot for matching socks.
But after catching up on Glee last night, I slept late this morning, then spent an hour or so trying to sweep up, empty the compost, clean the stovetop before my friend arrived.
I know I wasn’t selling but rather re-selling clothes, so I’m sure it didn’t really matter if I looked put together. My pile of gently worn clothes either suited the vibe of the store or not. But showing up in my dusty purple turtleneck and paint-spattered jeans probably didn't inspire confidence that I thought much about clothes (it may also have inadvertently revealed that at times I use the floor as clothing storage space.)
My shopping companion was well turned out in spring weekendwear, with a cute denim skirt, a green scarf with flecks of color, and a baby in a tiny ball cap and yellow coat. Now that's a great look.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Guest Blogger Harmony Button: Puppy Galore

Dear Readers, I present to you ThrippieGalore's first guest blogger, Harmony Button! Harmony is an accomplished poet and essayist (Pushcart Prize nominee, Larry Levis poetry prize winner, published in journals like White Whale Review and ep;phany, though she would probably be too modest to tell you that stuff), a seasoned thrifter, a transplant to Utah from the Northeast, a first-time homeowner (documented on This Old Blarg), and, as you'll read below, guardian of a new puppy.

Puppy at rest.
Here's the thing about thrifting: it's not about the stuff.  Even when it is about the stuff – those pearly buttons, that vintage orange and olive upholstery – the act of thrifting, that undignified rummaging that leaves you desperately in need of a wash, is about the possibility of finding something awesome.  And if you find it while on the thrift, that means that whatever the awesome thing might be, somebody, at some point, decided they didn't want it any more.  The more awesome the thing, the greater the miracle that someone gave it away – and the greater your pleasure in discovering it.

If Awesome (A) is inversely proportional to Rejected (R) as Miracle (M) is proportional to Thrippie Galore! (TG!), then R = TG! when A ≥ R. 
And then you buy it, because, really, how could you not?  The greatest thrift finds are not acquisitions... they are rescues.  You are, by default, a Discount Hero, liberating the Awesome from all the other rejects.  For anyone who believes in true love, thrifting is a life-affirming act. 
Puppy with fork on Grandma Turpin's couch.
When the man of my life left for a month long film shoot (he's a camera guy – he thrifts for beauty with a lens), I was disproportionately sad.  We've been together long enough to know that a month apart would not shake the solidarity of our relationship, but long enough to also feel the distance with the gut: instead of a fluttery mix of anxiety and desire that threatens to burst into panic at any moment, our way of missing each other was like coming home to find that someone had rearranged the rooms inside my house.  Everything's the same, but I can't reach my kitchen because now it's on the roof.  How am I supposed to...?  How can I...?  His absence made his presence echo.  So, I did what any reasonable woman might do: when he left, I cried a little, washed the dishes, got in the car and drove to the Humane Society of Utah. 
How could I not?
He spent the first two weeks sleeping in the crook of my arm: ten pounds, sweet breath, soft fur.  He woke me when he had to pee or when his case of kennel cough convulsed his tiny body so dramatically that he vomited up puddles of mucus.  True love is waking with your hand in vomit and thinking, poor puppy, not, poor me.  The best thrifts sometimes need a little fixing: we're on our third course of antibiotics. 
But oh, the joy of it!  He was the thrift of all time: the thrift to end all thrifts.  The thought that someone was able to leave him behind at the shelter is entirely baffling to me: how could they?  I was simultaneously offended for him and delighted by my own good luck.  This is the dirty little secret about thrifting: it is elicit, like you're getting away with something.  It shouldn't be yours, but through someone else's folly, you strike upon undeserved good luck.
It was the moment of thrift magic: mine now
Harmony and puppy share the frame.

A month later, the man came home to a house that had been literally rearranged: all the shoes now live in the spare bedroom; all the power cables have been taped down.  My house now smells like lavender and sandalwood and Pine Sol from the Daily Mop.  There is a waist-high gate separating the kitchen from the front room, installed in a hard-won battle I waged with a screwdriver and a beer at midnight, after discovering that my new puppy was smarter than my handy skills were handy: unless I screwed the gate into the wall, he could unlatch the top by tugging on the bottom rail.  I was equal parts delighted and annoyed – what a clever, clever beastie.
Harmony and Briscoe take five.
The man came home to find I'd hidden all his power tools, organized his shoes and sorted his mail into Junk, Bills, Uh-Oh and Other.  At first, I was afraid he'd resent the time the puppy took, the cleaning products needed, the unexpected poo.  But what was good for puppy was also good for us: we take more walks, we practice patience and consistency, we don't leave dinner dishes on the floor, even when all three of us spend dinnertime on the couch, watching Battlestar Galactica.
The greatest thrifts reveal to you not only what you want, but who you are: when you are in the store, you think perhaps I am the kind of woman who could pull off those boots; perhaps my house does want a fringed lampshade; perhaps I have the kind of relationship that can sustain distance and dogs.  Even as you rescue the rejected, you discover who you are.
The other day, puppy saw his first duck. 
– Those are Whats? he asked, cocking his head. 
– Ducks, I told him. Those are ducks. 
– DUCKS! he laughed, and I immediately realized I am the kind of girl who always wanted to chase ducks, but thought society would judge me if I did it by myself.  And so, together, we chased.
Briscoe investigates the ducks.
It's not about catching the duck – I would be vaguely horrified if we did.  Even when you have the thing you've been chasing (a man, a dog, a duck... er, okay, maybe not the duck – metaphors, like polyester, can be stretched too thin), the pleasure is still in the chasing. 
The puppy wears three tags and has a microchip between his shoulder blades, but still, sometimes I ask him: will you be my puppy?  My puppy? 
– Yes yes yes, my puppy says, but I'll keep on asking.  

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Spring Things: Part I

Spring is a time of mixed messages. Just yesterday, I ran through bouts of hail (my hoodie pelted with pellets like white bath salts). But then I heard the calliope toots of the carousel downtown and saw the parents and kiddos waiting hand in hand. Spring is "wear a hat." Spring is "open for business." I guess in the PNW, this lion/lamb business isn't finished in March!
I felt like a cardinal (the bird,
not the religious official) in
this sweet shirt from Moscow's
The Storm Cellar. I guess I'd
have to be a male cardinal,
because the females are drab
little brown feathery socks.
Fashion-wise, spring means retiring my lined wool pants, though I have yet to give up tights with skirts. The highs have been in the 50s, which is still a bit chilly for naked legs. I loathe “nude” stockings, which might be the result of so many cheapo pairs of pantyhose I wore to church as a kid. The shade was never quite right: orangey like self-tanner gone wrong or cadaver gray-white. Or the finish was too shiny and spandexy or burlap-rough. I did enjoy opening the L'eggs plastic egg to find a new pair of hose scrunched in there like a wrinkled nylon yolk. But then the fun part was over.
A few years ago, I wore beige fishnets, which I liked quite well. They were neutral enough to suggest polish rather than Halloween, but they didn’t take themselves overly seriously. They were self-aware stockings, winking at passersby: yes, we know we can’t really approximate the tone and texture of flesh, so we’ve taken the playfully artificial route instead.
Last week (with gray tights, I might add) I wore this red, ruffled shirt I picked up for $7 at The Storm Cellar in Moscow, Idaho. My guy and I visited Moscow last month for a concert and to see my friends Brittney and Andy and their two pixie daughters. Of course we also had to check out the gem store, BookPeople, and this new clothing store that caught my eye. The Storm Cellar has a light, inviting space, right on the old-timey Main Street of Moscow, and around the corner from the fabulous food co-op. Like a homegrown Anthropologie, the Cellar offers an impressive selection of men and women’s clothing and shoes in racks with plenty of breathing space, as well as a housewares corner in which owl motifs are well represented. 
The fitting rooms were still under construction, so I tried on a whole pile of loot in a room with lots of dust and no mirror. But this gave me an excuse to catwalk out to the three-way at the end of the hallway. I recently “liked” The Storm Cellar on Facebook, too, so now I can dream about the new merchandise they post. It would be worth the 90 min. drive on little roads to Moscow for those deals (plus, a chance to try the zucchini huckleberry French toast at The Breakfast Club down the street).