I first started thrifting when I was 15 years old. I was a punk kid who loved Vogue and hated the automatons in my high school, all of which shopped at the same 4 stores in the tiny complex we called a “mall” in Northern British Columbia. I no longer remember why I even set foot in our local Value Village (might have been Riot Grrrl or might have been my fledgling anti-consumerism) but I started going regularly. And I thrifted everything: vintage boy’s vests, “old man” checkered pants, plastic earrings, colorful wrap skirts and jackets in carpet patterns with sparkly (and itchy) stitching. I found Hello Kitty pillow cases and plastic children’s lunchboxes with old 80’s super-heroes decals, half peeled off and faded. Nothing remains of those early days but a vintage navy wool vest with a chain link pattern and an unbinding love for the hunt.
But even though it’s been almost 20 years since I first started haunting the racks at the Value Village in Prince George, I still stop by when I’m home because the store always has something for me, even if I now leave the cheap plastic earrings and Hello kitty paraphernalia to the teenage thrifters. Last Christmas, it was a stunning fuchsia and turquoise vintage rose blouse. I accidentally tried it on backwards and when I later realized it, I decided it looked better the “wrong” way. So in all the photos in this post, I’m actually wearing the blouse with the buttons on the back, even though it should be worn the other way.
It’s missing its tags so I can’t date it properly but big gold buttons and a bold pattern usually suggest something circa 1980’s. A top like this would go beautifully with a navy skirt or a sharp black pant, but I decided to go all out and experiment with a little pattern mixing. I found this beautiful pleated vintage Andrea Gayles Petites skirt at my local church auxiliary and I knew it was the perfect partner for this gorgeous top.
So vintage or not, the rules still apply. Keep the colors consistent and the patterns should blend easily. In this case, the pleats of the skirt also create vertical lines which work to balance out the circular forms of the flowers and the slight billow in the sleeves. The botanical pattern on the skirt is unnoticeable from a distance but matches the subtle black stripes in the top nicely. Note that I’m not wearing much jewelry and my bag is a solid color. Color and pattern are the stars here so I’m trying to do as much as I can not to interfere. The embellishment on the bag also works as a small “jewelry” detail and it picks up the gold in my belt without overdoing it.
Styling a look like this always feels like an exercise in balance and harmony. When I focus on these, styling begins to feel more like painting or sculpture than just “picking out clothes.” And when a look like this is created from entirely thrifted pieces (5 different stores over a span of 1 year), I feel more like a curator of a gallery. I didn’t pick this off the mannequin or even from a quick spin around a well-stocked store. I choose each piece carefully because I saw their potential for a modern look. And when I saw the way they resonated on the shoot day, I styled the whole thing in less than ten minutes.
It’s yet more proof that if you have the right pieces in your closet (thrifted or not), getting dressed is easy. I work very hard to keep the pieces in my closet carefully balanced. It seems a little eccentric or even borderline mystical, but I often feel that there are infinite variations in my closet if I simply let the closet breathe and treat it with respect. Style, above all, is an orientation toward form, pattern and color.
Aside from this wonderful top, my favorite piece here is the bag. It’s a little worn on the straps but the delicate fringe detail on the clasp was too beautiful to pass up. A quick search of the embossed name revealed this bag to be vintage Lou Taylor, Italian-made. Lou Taylor bags are famous for the circular gold mirror attached to the inside lining that can be discreetly used to check your lipstick. It’s a hilarious (and wildly sexist) piece of bag design, a relic, no doubt, of those decades when women lives were dictated by the visual perfection they could offer to the eye of a male beholder. To hide it in the purse is a clever little acknowledgement of the power dynamics which forced (and continue to force) women to present a front of effortless perfection. Whenever I use this bag, I think of the other women’s faces that might have passed through this mirror and I wonder too about the secret rebellions they might have caught in their own eyes.
Either way, it’s perfectly appropriate for the 70’s trend of the last year and just as fresh for an all black city look. Vintage day purses are easy to find but I usually only buy them if they blend easily into a contemporary wardrobe. To that effect, I look for bags in leather with minimal decoration but with an unusual detail. Happy thrifting!
Top: Vintage rose print blouse (Value Village Canada)
Skirt: Vintage Andrea Gayle Petites (Steeple People Thriftstore, Minneapolis)
Belt: Vintage gold snake belt (Savers, Minneapolis)
Bag: vintage Lou Taylor (Arc’s Value Village, Richfield MN)
Shoes: Emerson Fry
Photos: Vanessa Cambier
Scene of the Crime: Seward, Minneapolis.