Sunday, March 28, 2010

My new favorite vintage store

This weekend I discovered Vintage Attict at The Downtown Market (45 S. French Broad Ave., Asheville, 255-8858). The shop is run like a booth in an antique market: it's a square of space jam-packed with all sorts of clothing, art, accessories and ephemera and the proprietors are on hand to answer questions and strike bargains.

This particular stall spoke to me because I liked both the style of the owners (pictured here) and the whole 70s-electic-country rock point of view.

In order to work, a vintage store (whether it's a boutique in the East Village, a booth in an antiques mall or a few racks set up at a street fair) has to have a clear POV. Some of my favorites have included Cleopatra's in Rochester N.Y. (beaded gowns, 20s apparel, film noir); J.W. Bunker in Pittsford, N.Y. (overdyed military wear) and Vintage Moon in Asheville (shawls, beaded purses, fringed leather, Stevie Nicks).

In a space no larger than a walkin closet, Vintage Attict delivers that same sort of step-back-in-time narative with artfully stacked, heaped, hung and displayed treasure ranging from a tissue-thin Bon Jovi concert tee and feather earrings to strappy leather wedge sandals and prfectly distressed biker jacket (below).

Other finds: An embroidered denim shirt

retro train cases

metallic belts

boots, heels and mules

And hand-tooled leather.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bathing beauties

Even slender girls have body issues. When it comes to trying on bathing suits, I practically need psychotherapy. Going into a dressing room with a handful or bikinis knowing I’m about to come face to face with every stretch mark cellulite ripple: Ick. It’s enough to make a girl just want to turn back to her corduroys and tunics.
(Marilyn swimsuit from

Okay, not really. But I have gazed longingly at the matronly skirted suits in the Land’s End catalog from time to time. And I have thought, “Too bad those high-waisted, boy-legged pinup suits of the 1940s and 50s don’t come back into style.”

Here’s the good news: Those Vargas Girl suits of yore — the ones with the supportive chests and full coverage seats, the ones that are at once prim and sexy — are back in style. At least among some vintage revivalist labels like Pin Up Girl Clothing (natch) and Squidoo. (Baby Girl Boutique even sells the real vintage thing, like this “1950's Hawaiian Tiki Print Bombshell Swimsuit Bathing Suit,” below.)

Hip Replacements (one of my favorite stores) sells some of these super-cute, super-flattering suits. (Below: Fables by Barrie, Yacht Bikini.)

Take a wardrobe lesson from Marilyn Monroe? Gidget? Betty Paige? Don’t mind if I do!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In honor of hats

The sun has returned and (as I reminded myself with the last post) it's time not only crack open the sunscreen but to break out the hat collection. The sun makes us happy and healthy, but it also brings wrinkles. And worse. Enough of the lecture, the preventative is simple: slap on a hat for instant protection and style. Here's some inspiration, culled from my personal pics and Asheville Streetstyle (the street fashion blog I created with the Mountain Xpress).

Can I wear a fedora?

This is my question of the week. Which is not to say I haven’t tried yet.
Goorin Bros. plaid hat from

I love men’s hats—especially fedoras—and have casually experimented for years. Had a pretty good look going on for while, when my hair was long: I’d wear two braids and my vintage plaid fedora with jeans and a t-shirt. Instant cool.

I think I got into men’s hats when I saw the movie The Lover (film still above), based on Marguerite Duras’ memoirs of growing up in China. The actress Jane March (and possibly Duras in real life) wore a fedora (and two braids) with her drop-waist sack dress and worn-down shoes. T-straps, I think. She was just so offhand-cool, so effortless. The hat gave her a free pass when it came to the threadbare dress. The hat, such a simple thing, made being young and poor and foreign into something terribly romantic.

Later it was Alicia Keys, circa Songs in A Minor who inspired me in her videos, wearing a fedora at a rakish angle over a bandana over a nest of braids gathered at the nape of her neck. The hat conveyed urban savvy, a spontaneous spirit and a connection to some deep groove.
Photo from

I know other girls in fedoras have come and gone. Miley Cyrus has probably sported one (if so, please don’t tell me). I need for my fedora girls to be a little less Disney, a little more subversive. Hats aren’t mere accessories, after all. They’re pieces of armor. They protect—from the sun, the rain, the cold; they also protect from unwanted attention or detection. A fedora girl is both incongnito and commanding notice, only she’s in control of what sort of attention she gets. The hat serves as cloaking device and alter ego: Pretty big trick for one small item of clothing.
Fedora collage from

So, back to my initial question: Can I wear a fedora? I no longer have the two long braids and I’m not a teenager in a foreign country. I’m also not a soul singer in carefully choreographed video (though that’s pretty much what my fantasy world looks like). I do know that summer is just around the corner and smart girls wear hats, so why not a fedora? Time to start shopping for the perfect vintage hat to pair with sundresses, sandals and cutoffs.

The leather car coat

Here’s my question: Is this oxblood leather car coat, circa late 1970s, vintage-cool or just costumey?

I found it (the tag reads “Berman’s, the leather experts”; the company has since been absorbed by Wilson Leather) in a resale shop on one of the “special finds” racks, which often means someone who doesn’t necessarily know a Missoni from a Mossimo slaps inflated prices on a bunch suede skirt suits and jewel-toned mermaid dresses. But this coat — in mint condition and featuring stitch work on the cuffs and yoke, a tie belt and the extra button still hermetically sealed in plastic — was a steal at $10.

And yet, as much as I love all things 70s, this is a hard coat to pull off. Not sure if it’s the color, the cut, or my own overly active imagination, but when I’m wearing it I can’t help but feel like an extra on The Mod Squad. (The following picture is from the 1999 movie version staring Claire Danes.)

The found dress

It came from Goodwill in the harried days — hours, if I’m going to be honest — leading up to the Arts Council’s fundraiser ball. The theme of the ball was red (“the red ball” — that got lots of mileage) but I didn’t think I looked good in red (I’ve since changed my mind) and decided to play it safe in a black dress paired with a red feather boa. The dress was chosen hastily from the racks of the thriftshop, where it hung among a slew of floral pattered perfect-for-church dresses in an array of synthetic fabrics.

This dress is a prize. The needle in the haystack. I suspect it’s synthetic (like its Goodwill rack mates), though the tag (and thus the manufacturer) are long gone. It’s likely a poly-blend knit, fabricated like a thin sweater dress and styled like a long sheath given shape only by its body-hugging drape. It’s a bit of an anomaly: When has a sweater dress ever been eveningwear, let alone glamorous?

This might be the rare garment that crosses over, and its ability to do so is thanks to two fairly minor design features: 1) an inconspicuous but oh-so-important silver thread is woven into the knit, lending sparkle subtle as a wink. And 2) it’s held up by four delicate straps that create visual interest by crossing in the back.

I found the dress again last week while trying to throw together (again, last minute) an Oscar party look. I’d decided on a rather garish silver and black Betsey Johnson cocktail dress when, reaching into the recesses of my closet, my hand grazed the knit gown. Same color scheme, totally different effect. It turned out to be the perfect dress for the event.

Not sure that celebs will follow my lead and start wearing sparkly knits on the red carpet, but if it happens, remember you read it here first.

Semi-precious: unexpected adornment

A significant portion of my youth was mispent in found accessories. Some of it was pretty bad: Plastic spider rings, rubber rats (the cat toy type) safety pinned to my jacket, dog chains as necklaces.

But there were some good efforts, as well. The 1980s brought wristsful of black rubber bracelets (“Madonna bracelets”) and cheery friendship pins — the DIY project that involved threading seed beads onto safety pins and then wearing them like metalic tassles from one’s shoelaces.

My personal tastes were a little more obscure: I’d comb thrift stores for intersting bits of castoff jewelry. Earrings without matches, random brooches, anything shiny that could be strung on a chord for a necklace. Recently, while reading the excellent and inspiring blog The Uniform Project, I came across a photo of blogger Sheena wearing an antique beaded purse as a necklace (below). Brilliant. And far smarter than I ever was, with my rhinestone bits and pieces. But still, the idea shares a genesis: Take something lovely if impractical/unusable and repurpose it as decoration.

With that in mind, I plan to go through my jewelry box and look at all the odds and ends with a new eye. Necklaces to be worn as bracelets or hat bands, skeleton keys as amulets, broken lockets strung like charms on a chain.

And who knows, maybe friendship pins will make a comeback this year, too!

Scarves: from Vera ladybugs to McQueen skulls

Once, when I was photographing streetstyle at a thrift shop, a woman told me the blue scarf she was wearing was a Vera Neumann from the 1950s. The savvy shopper (Maria Blakeman) regularly trawled second hand stores for the vintage collectible scarves. Made me think I should pay attention to those wads of silk (and, more often, polyester) in the wire bins reserved for tights, socks, hats and neckware.

Maria in Vera, from

Fuzzylizzie Vintage Clothing has a bio for designer Vera Neumann (better known as simply “Vera”), along with some great photos of the print scarves. Says Fuzzylizzie, “The earlier pieces from the mid 1960s will often have 100% Cotton, or 100% Silk on the label. Also, the earlier pieces have the ladybug logo, and Vera printed on it, usually in the lower left corner.” Good to know.

Vera at Fuzzielizzie

So far, I’ve yet to find a Vera in a thrift shop (not that I’ve been looking that hard). I do like to peruse the assortment of scarves, though, since patterns come and go and some of the decidedly vintage prints are just so unique. Plus, scarves are a great way to add interest to a basic outfit.

Keith Richards, master of the scarf.

“In the 40s and 50s, scarves were an important fashion accessory worn around the neck, over the head and even on a wrist,” says The Vintage Scarf Blog. “With a twist and a knot, you can quickly and effortlessly turn a bad hair day into an eye-catching hairdo or transform an ordinary T-shirt and jeans outfit into a personal fashion statement.”

Victoria Beckham with scarf on bag.

Personally, I haven’t found mastering the art of the scarf to be quick or effortless — the way French women and rock stars wear scarves with casual cool: Nope, I can’t pull it off. But I have found that practice helps and, if all else fails, a great scarf can be tied around the shoulder strap of a handbag for a Boho look.

That, and the Alexander McQueen skull scarf (above) trend of several years back provided plenty of fodder for my own scarf-wearing.

Poncho Villa!

(This post was originally published on WordPress, Oct. 2009)
Are vintage ponchos making a comeback? My fingers are crossed. (Okay, maybe “comeback” is overly optimistic. Unless the Olsen Twins start parading about in fringey ponchos, the part-blanket-part-sweater 70s throwback isn’t exactly a shoe-in for the next trend. But I can dream, right?)

Poncho look from

If you want to jump on the poncho band wagon, here’s a great place to start: The vintage coffers of Rusty Zippper, which offers ’60s, ’70s and ’80s models, raging from woolen wovens to cobweby crochets.

Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes in a 2009 concert; photo by

Vintage Trends includes 52 (count ‘em!) ponchos for purchase and on Monster Vintage a vintage fanatic can find everything from the psychedelic-bright Nordic patterns to a black and grey number with an elk motif.

On deadstock and vintage jeans

I recently read in W magazine about Current/Elliot’s newest line: a collection inspired by deadstock denim. (Photos are from WWD.) What’s awesome about the 10 women’s style and six men’s styles — all based on 50s and 60s era jeans — is that instead of using the original denim, they’re made from soft, thin Japanese denim.

The thing about vintage jeans is that — while they maintain their romantic allure and yes, Virginia, Levi’s are eternal — once the style is passe it rarely ever feels right again. I’m going to stick my neck out here and say it: High-waisted, pegged-ankle pleated 80s jeans. I don’t care if Chloe Sevigny can pull them off, no one else can. AndChloe (the design house, not the actress) needs to come to that realization as well.

But just because, in my experience, most dated styles of jeans no longer suit our contemporary fit aesthetic, that doesn’t mean I don’t still love vintage jeans. I love the way denim ages — the way some indigo dyes fade, like Cat Stevens sang, “faded blue up to the sky.” I love how other dyes patina in gray and brown tones. I love the clean edge of selvage denim and the inky hand of dry denim.

When I was in high school, I’d trawl the Salvation Army for Levi’s red tab jeans. The designer Michael Bastian (who was, back then, just the big brother of my friend Amanda) taught me how to realistically destroy the knees by rubbing them with a piece of pumice.

In my punk period I wore my jeans with the extra fabric below the knees folded tight against my shin and secured with a row of safety pins. In college, I liked my jeans to be several sizes too large and hitched up with an Indian scarf, boho-style. One of the thrift shops I frequented was manned by an older African-American lady who had learned my tastes. ‘You like ‘em with a big rear end,” she’d say.

Back to Current/Elliot. Because of my love of old jeans, I got goosebumps reading the article about their deadstock collection, and not so much because it’s cool that those styles are being remade, but because the very word deadstock is so freaking cool. It makes me think of the old dry goods stores that seemed to linger years, even decades past their heydays in the American landscape. Growing up in rural upstate New York, I used to seek those places out: collecting dust on the back shelves, behind gardening supplies and insulated flannel shirts, were boxes of Converse low tops and stacks of stiff carpenter jeans.

Image of deadstock from

I bought both, making furtive trips back until the stores eventually gave up the ghost. Face it, by 1990 it has been like 30 years since they’d seen serious foot traffic. But despite the obvious coolness of owning such obscure treasures (stuff my classmates in their Gitanos didn’t understand in the least), the jeans were never actually comfortable. Not the way jeans should be. They were too short, the waist band cutting me off across my abdomen and the fly freakishly long.

Wearing Roxy jeans found (for free) at a clothing swap.

I still love old jeans. And the idea of deadstock. If I had the space, I’d collect antique jeans. (According to the Vintage Levi’s Guide, “a collector paid $60,000 USD for a pair of the oldest jeans on eBay, June 15,2005.”) But when it comes to wearing what I want to wear, I like my jeans to second hand (so someone else does the breaking in) but in a current enough model that they fit right. No strangling waist bands, no costume-y bellbottoms. All Goldilocks like: not too big, not too little. Just right.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


While there is, admittedly, something icky about wearing second hand shoes, I'll make exceptions for special cases. Why? Mainly because I love shoes (full disclosure: I love boots and sandals; I like other footwear but we're not exclusive). There is nothing quite like the perfect pair of shoes. I'll wear jeans an t-shirts every day as long as I can pair 'em with killer boots. That song "New Shoes" by robo-babe Paolo Nutini: yes. Hell yes. Because you know he's not talking about just out the box new shoes; he's talking about wearing the right thing at the right time. "Hello new shoes, bye bye blues."

The other thing about second-hand shoes — not blown out, beat down second hand, but gently worn and of-an-era — nothing modern can compare. Frye boots are the best and the company makes some drool-worthy contemporary styles bu the reason Frye is so good is because they know enough to keep cranking out the campus boots. The tall, boxy, boots-were-made-for-walking that recall Ali McGraw in Love Story, Emmy Lou Harris with Gram Parsons. You can't get that in 2009. Nope. You've got to go back to the 70s.

This pair is a 70s-era throwback that I scored on ebay. I bought 'em because they remind me of a pair I owned when I was about 10 and carried a Holly Hobby lunchbox to school. I love the Prairie-style details: the orangey-brown leather and the toe-to-knee laces. I also like the snug fit — hard to find when you have skinny legs (like me). Soon after I got the boots, one of the soles fell off. That's a hazard of vintage wear. Dry rot, age, the passage of time. Time's not all that kind to any of us and certainly not leather goods, but for about $30 a local cobbler fixed me up with happy new soles.

This pair doesn't belong to me. I spotted 'em in a vintage store and had to snap a photo. Platform boots are easy enough to find, but these are special. Good quality leather (no pleather!) and double wooden soles. Though I wouldn't want to walk a mile in these shoes, I'd love to hear the stories they'd tell if they could speak. That, and I have to say they cross that line between footwear and art. These are a testament to the 70s, a piece of history and a work of sculpture. Why not collect such shoes and display them like weird pottery or art glass?

Finally, this pair. Like I said above, boots and sandals are my passion, but this adorable 30s or 40s era pair caught my eye. They're the thinnest chocolate brown suede with gold trim and kitten heels. I tried them on and (surprise!) they pretty much fit. Vintage shoes, especially those from decades ago, tend to be a tight squeeze for modern feet, but the buttery suede had give and the craftsmanship was so impeccable I was sure the shoes had plenty of life left in them. But... where to wear them? Since I don't happen to have nooks and shelves in my tiny house for displaying object d'art, buying these shoes wasn't an option. But I took a photo for posterity.