Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” ~Mark Twain
I have a love-hate relationship with fashion — or, should I say, fashion trends? I’m suspicious of magazines that try to dictate what’s in and what’s out. And I resent the fashion editors and “style experts” who make me feel old or uncool or unattractive if I’m not following their advice or wearing what they advertise. (Who the heck are these people, anyway?)
Yet I’ve always adored beautifully crafted and unusual clothes, new and old.
I’m especially intrigued by vintage clothing, and for years I’ve haunted thrift shops in search of one-of-a-kind treasures to mix with my own wardrobe basics. What I enjoy most about vintage pieces is how they make an outfit totally personal — especially when combined with something classic or relatively new.
Among my favorite pieces: A vintage Christian Dior tux jacket; a way-cool military style coat with unusual detailing; and a double-breasted black polyester blazer with big buttons, circa 1975. I also own vintage scarves, belts, and evening bags — always handy for jazzing up an outfit. While some of my evening dresses from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s are collectibles and not entirely suitable for wearing out, I use and enjoy most of my vintage clothing.
Luckily, I have a large attic for storing my finds. And lately, some of the things I’ve collected have come in handy for my part-time work as a background extra in films. Typically, background actors are given costume guidelines and asked to bring their own clothes to a shoot. The wardrobe department must approve our choices, or provide another option. The more clothing options we have, the more likely we are to make the production people happy — and ultimately snare more bookings. So it helps to keep a variety of clothing at the ready for this type of work.
Earlier this summer, though, Doug and I were cast in a scene calling for western wear, which sent us on a quick search for western-style shirts and cowboy hats. This isn’t the sort of attire we’d typically sport in suburban Detroit unless we were invited to a Halloween party. So thank goodness for the local thrift shops, which happened to have all kinds of affordable options.
A week later, we were booked for two scenes set in 1980s Paris. As it happens, I own an Ungaro khaki blazer and a cool trench coat (both thrift-shop finds) from the era. I made a quick trip to the Salvation Army thrift store (during their summer sale) and picked up a couple of 1980s dresses for less than four dollars each. I brought it all to the fitting with my vintage Chanel scarf — and voila! — the wardrobe people were duly impressed.
Whether I’m shopping for a costume or my personal wardrobe, I carefully examine thrift-shop clothing for damage before I make a purchase. I’m not an accomplished seamstress, but I’m handy with minor repairs and stain removal — and always willing to change buttons.
An added bonus: Some of the best thrift shops in my community support local charities, or are run by charitable organizations. It feels good to know that my purchases will benefit others in need. Fashion is fleeting, after all, and I’m glad I don’t have to break the bank for it. — Cindy La Ferle
If you’re new to “thrifting” or want to learn more about vintage clothing, start with a copy of The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping, by Melody Fortier, which provides a good introduction and is one of the newer books on the topic.