Ages ago I was asked to do a post about my style evolution. This is a subject I’ve eluded to and touched on briefly here and there, but this month on Instagram brought The Vintage Fashion Challenge – an Instagram challenge with daily prompts about vintage style. One of the prompts was “Style Evolution” and I was forced to pen a short version. Today I bring you the long form version.
First, I am sad to say this post won’t have nearly as many photos of my style evolution as I would like. There are very few photos of me as a teenager, as my teen years were the budding years of digital photography. I honestly took more photos of other people than had my picture taken. I’m not sure if that was due to the bout of self-loathing I had, or I didn’t trust people with my camera, as I used my dad’s 70s Minolta, or what…I don’t know. So, like I said, this is a long form post, which means it’s pretty word heavy. Oh, and the photos you do get, please forgive the poor quality.
Honestly, I cannot remember a time when I didn’t like old stuff. At 16 months old I was obsessed with 60s Batman. Apparently I slept with a book about the show, and was known to wake up my parents at 5 in the morning to watch the movie. I still love 60s Batman to this day. After years of wearing 101 Dalmatian sweaters and Beauty and the Beast t-shirts (hey, I’m of the Disney Renaissance generation) I finally began to look vintage fashion, but on TV. In the later years of elementary school and into middle school my friends liked the daytime stuff on Nickelodeon, while I eagerly awaited the Nick at Nite portion of the channel, with episodes of Happy Days and I Dream of Jeannie, along with the Vault Disney portion of The Disney Channel with episodes of the original Mickey Mouse Club and Zorro. Meanwhile, my parents had been antique dealers, my dad organized car shows, we attended multiple antique shows and flea markets every year, and we literally only listened to the local oldies station, so I was primed to love vintage clothing.
Many of the classic car shows I attended with my dad also had vendors. I bought clothing that had pin-ups, flames and pinstripe designs, because I thought these were the closest I was going to get to the looks I craved. But still I wasn’t content. I remember lamenting to my mother one day about how I wanted to dress like Marilyn Munster from The Munsters, or Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie in her post-wedding outfits, and eventually my mother hauled out some old suitcases and inside were a variety of late 60s and early 70s garments. I remember wearing a plum wool number of hers for an 8th grade choir recital, which I still have.
I then began to buy clothing at thrift stores. Thrifting was already a normal part of our life, just as much as shopping at antique shows and flea markets were. I never once associated it with being in want or need. But I vividly remember the day I wore a pair of bell bottoms featuring sunflowers around the hem that I picked up at Goodwill. I loved them. Remember the 90s when there was that 70s revival? So, yeah, basically my vintage clothing was “in.” On that day in health class a very popular girl said “I like your jeans! Where did you get them?” I told her, and she looked shocked, and replied with “You shop at Goodwill?” I just said “Yeah…” and then class started. The following day the popular girl came up to me during our after-lunch break with a bag of clothes. I asked her why she was giving me them, and she replied with “Because you shop at Goodwill.” I tried to tell her I shopped there because I wanted to, but she kept saying things like “You don’t need to lie to me.” I took the bag of clothes because I didn’t know what else to do. Inside were her castoffs of last season. I distinctly remember a pair of cranberry Abercrombie and Fitch parachute cargo pants. Totally my style…right? Needless to say, this really shook me. This was followed by massive falling out with some of my friends, and in an effort to try to make new friends I entered high school trying to follow trends. Ironically enough it was one of those seasons when hippie chic was once again in, and I had a handful of bell sleeve peasant tops at the ready.
I tried to follow trends, but ultimately I was horrifically unhappy. I was still watching shows like Bewitched and Laverne and Shirley, and I really wanted to have Js on all of my tops like Laverne had Ls, along with the big full skirts. I had made friends with a few other girls who shopped at thrift stores, and I began to feel more comfortable with wearing vintage again. Thanks to my dad, I quickly amassed a collection of vintage letterman jackets, as I thought they were a must-have in the 50s. I still wanted the fuller skirts, and right around this time Hot Topic arrived at the local mall. It was a weird wonderland of punk, goth, and oh…is that flames, polka dots, and cherries I see? It is… All of the things I had seen at car shows (which only happened a couple times a year) were available at the mall? I bought numerous swing dresses, you know the kind, with the tulle hanging out the bottom that has sadly created the notion that your petticoat is suppose to hang below your skirt hem? I know, my eyes hurt from rolling too. Hot Topic also had the elusive corset, something I was enamored with from seeing all of the images of Bettie Page at car shows. Now, of course today I know Hot Topic’s “corsets” were glorified tube tops, with cheap plastic boning that warped after one wearing, but I was in love. I had a brief stint with mild goth looks as I began to wear these faux corsets, before turning to vests for some reason. A new obsession with The Rat Pack turned me onto fedoras, and my style shifted to an odd version of Annie Hall. I still wore the swing dress here and there, but my main jam were blazers, vests and fedoras. I also went through a phase of wearing ribbons around my neck and long strands of faux pearls looped around my wrists. Yeah, I don’t know.
This is when I met one of my idols, Jan Eliot, the woman behind the comic strip Stone Soup. Vests…pearls…sure. It’s a look. All from a thrift store.
The Annie Hall phase lasted into college, but I began to explore the world of vintage clothing a lot more. I got a job at an independent resale boutique (much like Buffalo Exchange) and my college town of Eugene offered multiple vintage clothing stores. And while I was now finally able to purchase all of the clothing I saw in those old TV shows, I rode my bike everywhere, and remained a wearer of low rise jeans, and many a t-shirt or blouse, busting out the vintage only for special occasions. I still often rocked a letterman jacket though.
Above: A day in October of 2008 spent at the pumpkin patch, in a thrifted plaid blouse and new low-rise jeans, followed by my graduation photo in 2010, of a sweater I picked up at Target in high school, and a vintage skirt, paired with one of my first vintage brooches.
After college, we moved to Portland, and I went pretty much total vintage, with the exception of days spent thrifting. I began modeling for a vintage clothing shop for their monthly fashion shows and Etsy shop, and learned the ropes of vintage hair styling and undergarments. I began to wear bullet bras, girdles, and seamed stockings all of the time. I discovered other girls like me, and we hung out, shopped, had events.
The above photos range from 2011 to early 2014.
But soon it began to feel like a rat race. I grew tired of trying to out novelty print or out fur the other girl. I grew tired of trying to do the perfect pin curl, something I still haven’t mastered. I grew tired of analyzing my clothing – things like “Is this hat too new for this suit?” I realized I was still following trends…just…trends from 50+ years ago. I am by no means bashing anyone who wants to wear period perfect looks. To me, it became too stressful.
Being a fan of old western TV shows and old country music, western wear had always been on my radar, and I knew it fit in with the rockabilly style, so beginning in late high school I had started buying western wear shirts. Western wear just somehow felt the best on, even if it was with low rise jeans like in this birthday photo…
The sweater above I purchased my freshman or sophomore year of college, but it rarely gets worn despite it being one of my all-time favorite pieces, due to the fact I think it is extremely rare – a ladies, 50s Panhandle Slim that is a mix of gaberdine and knit wool.
As a branch of western wear, I had grown a love of patio dresses and square dancing dresses, and the dress below was one of the first true square dancing dresses I ever purchased.
I wore it once, and received a lot of stares, and questions if it was a costume. As a result, despite how much I loved it, I deemed it too costume-y and parted with it. I am seriously kicking myself over this, because now half of my dresses are square dancing dresses! And this dress in particular is an absolute dream with its unique bust and sleeve details. So, if you ever find this dress, please, please let me know!
In the time leading up to moving to California I rekindled my love of the 70s. And dipped my toe back in just a few months prior to our move, like this ensemble photographed the May before we moved – I felt more at home in this outfit above than I had in any period perfect outfit I had worn previously. I was just beginning to discover my personal style.
In the meantime there had been some contemporary trends I liked. I saw a photo of Lindsay Lohan at a New York Fashion Week in 2014 and said to myself “Holy crap, I love that look.” A little over a week later I found a skirt that resembled the skirt portion of her dress. But it took me over a year and moving to California to finally wear it.
It’s hard to describe, but this is how I described it on Instagram: moving to California was like hitting the final number on a safe you’re trying to crack. I had been working and building a wardrobe, and buying newer, trendier items here and there, but not being brave enough to wear them. When we moved, I finally felt free. Like I had no inhibitions. Within days of moving I felt like I had finally found my personal style. But also within a short amount of time I fell back into wearing plain ol’ vintage to vintage themed events, because I felt like that was what was expected of me. Slowly I’ve been working toward ridding pieces I don’t wear and adding pieces that are better in line with my desired look, like Gunne Sax dresses, and 70s tees. I no longer wear stockings and girdles on a regular basis (I prefer nothing or nude fishnets most of the time), and I am no longer concerned about getting a period perfect hairdo.
My wardrobe still a work in progress. I still have many looks pinned on Pinterest that feature elements I’m simply dying to add to my closet, and it results in me still shopping a lot. But my shopping habits have changed along the way. When I began wearing vintage on a more regular basis, I was buying pretty much every piece of vintage that fit that was under $20. Today, I can easily pass over those types of items. But I will say that buying all of those items really helped me. They were stepping stones in more than one way. First, I learned what did and did not work on my body. I learned what sort of closures I can and cannot deal with. Like, honestly, side zippers, zippers that go up the back, but not all the way to the neckline, are a no-go for me. I learned that seam stress is a deal breaker. I also was able to use those garments as ways to trade up. I sold a lot of garments at the plethora of vintage clothing stores that Portland had to offer, and upgraded. I got my hands on some killer Hawaiian dresses and a spectacular western set that I never would have paid cash for, but when it’s trade, it’s different, along with many other more unique, and higher end pieces of vintage.
I would have never given this denim mini skirt I wore to Vasquez Rocks a second glance back in 2011, but when I found it at Buffalo Exchange a couple weeks ago, I was all over it. I didn’t think I could rock a bolo tie, but here I am. I am trying on things I never would have tried on before, and I am gaining confidence along the way. I have my trademark looks, many of my friends say they see western wear or square dancing dresses and instantly think of me, but I still love a dramatic 40s rayon dress, a “Lady Adventurer” style outfit, items with that Victorian vibe, and of course anything with a good space-age flair, and the occasional new style – as Vincent Price once said “When you limit your interests, you limit your life.”
If you made it all the way through this post, thank you for reading. This post was difficult to write, and deeply personal. I felt like I had to justify a lot of my thoughts and actions during my style journey, and I honestly feel like I’m going to get harshly judged for everything I wrote, which is what kind of kept me from writing this when it was requested.