the witch & the sprite, part ii: polka dots & trilliums

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The second batch from my recent shoot with Holly.

I like having friends who are dark where I am light. I am more a fairy, swathed in silks and gleeful scandal, than a witch. I need more trenchant forces to balance me.

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all pink all the time forever

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I have two modes: the pixie and the siren. From April to October, the world is Pixie’s oyster. Burgeoning summer means scathing brights, lolita frills, and flowers in my cleavage. November through March is different. Stricter, quieter, more seductive. I’m the slutty librarian who shushes you all day but pounces and snarls at night. She keeps her hair a more respectable red.

With last night’s repinkening, the pixie has officially returned.

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polka dots, purple, & pattern-clashing

clashIclashVII’m a creative nihilist. I capture light and pin words to paper because doing so satisfies some atavistic itch, not because I’ve convinced myself it means anything. It’s strange, watching friends and classmates hunt for meaning in my work. My writing process is a “what if?” exercise writ large. It’s pure exploration. The curtains aren’t blue because I woke up on the wrong side of the bed; they’re blue because I appreciate beauty, and who doesn’t like a nice cobalt in the kitchen?

clashIVI don’t think every work needs a deeper purpose. I think beauty is enough. I’m the sort of person who forgives plot holes for a lovely enough turn of phrase. And twisty turny sock-you-in-the-gut stories are the loveliest to me. Give me stumbling dream sequences and nonlinear plots and shambling, experimental prose. Give me an eldritch abomination in ink and paper.

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Give me inverted mythologies and the fabric of our world rent casually twain, for funsies. If all this is my oyster, I want every last slurp. Does eating oysters need meaning? Do you write theses on the significance of each sea-soaked pearl?

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No. You do it because you can.

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teal polka dots, black button hat, & pink everything else

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I am so very fond of finding the kind of dresses that ModLoaf marks up for dozens of dollars at thrift stores for cheap. (And in better, sturdier fabrics, I might add.) This dress, plucked from the Classy Closet for $14, is almost a parody of the ModCloth aesthetic.

Sometimes it seems like ModCloth and co. are caricaturing the “retro” look. Actual vintage dresses, to that crowd, might not be recognizable as vintage, because they don’t hit all the tropes in one. Most dresses do not have polka dots and Peter Pan collars and froofy skirts (though how wonderful it would be if they did!).

And then I find dresses like this and go “I guess the stereotype had to come from somewhere.”

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hell bunny vixen dress & dollar-store pearls

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Let me first acknowledge that my absence this month has not been by choice. I had the flu for a solid week, followed by a laptop that blue-screened and a camera cord lost. I’m trying to upload photos in batches to my work computer, but it might be slow going for a while. That said, I’ve got a pretty significant backlog, so look forward to several posts over the next few days.

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You might recall that I resolved this year to wear 100% vintage. Yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna happen. And not just because I bought this Hell Bunny dress in a fit of premenstrual pique. I’m just getting frustrated with my vintage collection lately. Three of my staple dresses are quite literally coming apart at the seams. I don’t treat them violently; the fabric is just plain wearing out. It bums me out that as we get further and further from the ’50s, I’ll have to start wearing more and more reproduction. That or attempt to fall in love with a later era.

It just bothers me that history is so transient. I don’t like displaying my collectibles; I like to live them. I wish I could actually read my 1890s Bible rather than shelving it, but paper splits and fabric thins.

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I do want to find better reproductions that goddamn Hell Bunny, though. Much as I like this dress, I prefer ethical fashion. Annika at Pineneedle Collective maintains an excellent ethical fashion directory, but not all of it is to my taste. Any other suggestions for high-quality, sustainably produced retro clothes? None of this flimsy ModCloth rigmarole.

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why i don’t write about body image (yellow novelty print & red leopard)

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I’ve always found the mainstream media fairly easy to ignore. I never internalized images of women smoother and slimmer than I. They weren’t personal, you know? I understood implicitly that they were just doing their thing, or trying to sell me something. That they weren’t targeting me from on high. What did needle at me was their counterpoint. “Love your body” rhetoric was much more pointed. “Hey you. You with the body. Did you know everyone hates it? Did you know that our entire society wants you to fail?”

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Until then, it had never occurred to me to construe slender women in advertisements as an attack on my self-image. Without such well-meaning but accidentally damning reminders, I might never have learned insecurity. Without Upworthy, without Dove, without “love yourself” plastered on mirrors and across sidewalks, I might not have figured out that women were supposed to hate ourselves.

I know they mean well. I really, really do. I know there are many young women need help ascending from self-hatred. But I’m not sure maintaining their bodies as public property is the best way to do that. To a shy girl convinced everyone is gawking at her, there’s not much of a line between “everyone thinks you’re ugly” and “everyone thinks you’re beautiful”. The subtext remains: “everyone has an opinion about your body and feels entitled to share it with you.” How about “it doesn’t matter what everyone thinks, because it’s your body, not theirs”?

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Fixation on beauty is no different, really, from fixation on ugliness. It still turns you inward. It still narrows your world to the scope of your own body. It bothers me, deeply, that such cloying affirmations pass for “women’s news” (seriously, go to any woman-centric news source), while men’s news wins the dignity of being just news. A man’s world is endless, but a woman’s must be narrowed to the breadth of her form. A woman must know how beautiful she is, how choice and rare, before she can hope to function in the world. A woman is nothing unless she is beautiful. I realize I’m building quite a tinfoil hat here, but I can’t be the only one to notice that so much mainstream feminist rhetoric replicates the exact structures it’s trying to tear down.

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It’s not that I don’t believe in beauty. If you’re reading this blog, that should be self-evident. I want to paint my face, lace my corsets, and light the fuck up. I WANT to be beautiful. Not everybody does. For every woman who needs the boost of Upworthy or “All About That Bass”, there’s another who prefers to conceal. Who would rather escape public scrutiny. A gaze is a gaze, no matter how complimentary. Running body commentary sticks with you, no matter its angle. When I was ten, I didn’t make the distinction. I internalized, instead, that everyone was staring at me whether I wanted it or not. I grew up to be someone who does want it, but that’s beside the point.

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I don’t like hearing “everyone is beautiful” because beauty isn’t mandatory. Because whether or not I feel beautiful is no one’s business but mine and those from whom I choose to seek affirmation. Neither beauty nor ugliness is a public commodity. I don’t want to move through the world, through the culture, through the blogosphere constantly reminded that my body is under scrutiny.

We don’t say “everyone can run a 4-minute mile” or “everyone has a rich, harmonious singing voice.” We acknowledge that virtues are distributed differently, that it’s not a value judgment on those who lack them, and move on. Beauty is no different. It’s one asset of many, not something inherent to womanhood. It’s part of you, but it isn’t you, and I think those who equate body image with self image would do well to remember that.

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let down your hair (vintage florals & competing shades)

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Let down your hair to me,

I asked,

and watched the sly uncurling.

Silk-bound secrets shook their shackles

and I learned what morning meant.

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Let down your hair,

I asked, a tease –

golden secrets winking back.

I climbed her form and kissed her face.

I paused and watched

her bloom stretch on forever.

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Let down your hair

“I can’t tonight: the babe is wailing

something fierce, the floor’s unswept,

and don’t forget the winter’s on its way.”

Her face was drawn – not a challenge

but a law.

I shut my mouth and watched

the morning turn to noon.

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Let down your hair – “it’s too late for that now,

don’t you see these wrinkles,

these sags,

this much-too-softness,

these hollows where once I was firm.

Don’t you know evening

when it strokes your ragged face?”

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Let down your hair,

I whispered,

as though she could hear,

as though her hollows and softness and sags

hadn’t deafened her lovely ears.

As though midnight weren’t on our trail.

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My darling, my darling, let down your hair

That I might climb that (silver) stair.

 

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Let me put it on the record that I’m not proud of wearing non-thrifted non-vintage. Sometimes it just happens. Sometimes you buy a Hell Bunny dress because Old Gold is having a 50%-off sale and you’ve just gotten new ink and you realize you don’t own any blue, like at all. And then sometimes you need to be screamingly blasphemous. So you hock a loogie on the vintage gods and pull out your best petticoat. (And somewhere in there you change your hair color. Pink just wasn’t right for the season. Fall is for feeling like a bombshell, not a pixie.)

I’m not apologizing for wearing a fast-fashion dress. That’s silly – who would I grovel to? Besides, I’ve come to think of fast fashion, unsustainable and shoddily made as it is, as junk food. One donut won’t clog your arteries; one dress won’t kill the planet. The perfect is the age-old enemy of the good, and I think my almost-entirely-thrifted wardrobe is just that: good enough.

And, I mean, I feel really freaking cute.

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repeat after me: modcloth is not vintage

EDIT: I’ve gotten a few comments to the tune of “ModCloth does sell vintage clothing!” This is true; the site has a small section devoted to vintage items. However, the company is best known for its reproduction styles – Esther Williams, Bea & Dot, etc. – which, though decidedly not vintage, are often considered such.

~

Talky post ahead!

Over the past few days, I’ve been hitting Etsy hard and fast, trying to find a vintage swimsuit before warm weather ratchets up the prices. The more ink I get, the less I want covering it. Ideally, I’d love something like this or this – but under $50, plz? (Self Service Announcement: If you spot any in sizes 10-14, send the links my way!) Sadly, however, this is not a post about coquettish vintage swimwear or setting surfers’ hearts aflutter. I’d like to speak to the pervasive misunderstandings I’ve been witnessing re: what vintage actually is. I see many, MANY items on Etsy (and Swapdom, and eBay) labeled “vintage” when a cursory analysis would roundly declare otherwise. And I’m frustrated, both as someone who collects actual vintage and as a more general know-it-all. Misinformation gives me cancer, so I thought I would put together a little guide, both to set y’all straight and to make myself feel better.

Here is what vintage is:

  • Any garment or accessory that is 20 years old or older. This surprises many people. “Vintage” carries such a connotation of exotic climes and times; it can be disappointing to learn that the label covers many things made during your own lifetime. (Not to mention that while 1994 is the current vintage cutoff year, most of us still think the 90s were ten years ago.)

Here is what vintage is NOT: 

  • Anything not 20 years old or older (including, until May, yours truly)
  • ModCloth
  • Reproduction garments, like ’80s-does-’40s or ’90s-does-’50s
  • Anything “retro” or “vintage-inspired” (these are often dogwhistles for scams, which I’ll get to in a bit)
  • Hell Bunny
  • Sold in multiple colors and sizes (unless it’s new old stock, but that is fairly rare). Vintage pieces are usually hit or miss.
  • ModCloth
  • OH DID I MENTION MODCLOTH

“Retro” (def. “imitative of a style, fashion, or design from the recent past”) is often used interchangeably with “vintage”. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this in daily life. Colloquialisms gonna colloquial – though I’ll probably side-eye you a little if you’re a fellow fashion blogger. What’s inexcusable, though, is vendors confusing the two. Let’s ask Google about vintage swimsuits and see what we come up with.

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Do you see why I’m annoyed here? Not one of the top five results for “vintage swimsuit” turns up any actual vintage. Retro, yes. To (filthy, filthy) casuals, the distinction may be unnecessarily pedantic. “Yeah, but the styles are the same. Who cares if it’s actually from the ’50s?” In many cases, they’re right. Some people like the look of old-timey clothes but don’t necessarily care if they’re authentic. That’s fine – whatever floats ya. But many people, myself included, appreciate vintage not just for the aesthetics but for the history inherent in each piece. When I shop for vintage, I’m shopping for collectors’ items as much as for pretty dresses. And I know how cheated I would feel to be sold some flimsy fast fashion reproduction piece under the guise of an actual historical garment.

Over my collector years, I’ve learned enough about fashion to successfully date clothes, which has spared me more than a few scams. Not everyone has my knowledge, though. I’ve seen many a blogger fooled by a well-designed reproduction piece. Again, I have no problem with choosing reproduction garments over period ones. But I want everyone’s choices to be well-informed. So bookmark, Facebook, and spam this far and wide, ’cause here is My Kingdom for a Hat’s official guide to sorting the champs from the casuals. The sirens from the wenches. The…okay, you get it.

It might not be vintage if…

  • It was made in China. The cutoff year for vintage is currently 1994. Americans were importing from China before then, but not by much. There’s a chance your “Made in China” garment is vintage, but only if the rest of your evidence comes out strongly in favor.
  • It has a plastic zipper. Plastic zippers came into widespread use in 1968, so plenty of vintage items will have them. However, if the garment in question appears pre-1968 but has a plastic zipper, there’s an excellent chance you’re looking at a reproduction. I’ve been warned away from more than one ’40s-style dress by examining the zipper.
  • It comes in multiple colors and sizes. I’m sure some smart-ass commenter will show off their Etsy full of new old stock and make me eat my words. It’s possible to find a whole rack of a particular item at a thrift store or boutique. Overstock happens. That said, if you run into something like this online, hiss and run away. No way will an actual vintage dealer be able to find the exact size and color for every customer. I refuse to shop at Unique Vintage on principle.
  • It’s a size 12 and fits like a modern 12. Body-image enthusiasts like to harp about how Marilyn Monroe was a size 12. Well, she was … but a size 12 in 1950 fit more or less like a 2 today. I’m all for body image, but come on – get your facts in order. A size 4 today was approximately 14 then; a 6 was a 16; etc. The rules aren’t nailed down (sizes have always been pretty subjective), but the general gist is that you’ll probably have to size up significantly in genuine vintage. If you’re a size 12 in 2014 and that size-12 New Look dress fits like a glove, you’ve probably fallen victim to a repro – and a vanity-sized one at that. This particular era is tricky, though, because the ’80s saw a resurgence of ’50s-inspired styles. An ’80s-does-’50s dress is technically vintage, but it’s not the kind of vintage many vendors will claim.
  • It’s polyester. Polyester’s been around since the ’40s, so it can definitely be present in vintage garments. Be wary of garments advertised as pre-4os, though. If your genuine (or so you thought) flapper dress is suspiciously shiny and unwrinkled, you should do some sleuthing.
  • Its label is very detailed. Garment care labels weren’t mandatory until 1971.
  • It’s ModCloth. Okay, I like ModCloth. But for the love of blasphemy, you are not fooling anyone. Stop posting Bea & Dot dresses on Etsy like no one will notice. I ought to report your ass.

Finally, and most fundamentally, it’s not vintage just because it looks vintage. We tend to associate certain styles with certain eras, forgetting that fashion subcultures existed then just as now. Not all poufy New Look dresses come from the ’50s. In fact, if a piece goes way over the top in employing staples of a certain style, that can itself be a hint that it’s fake. For instance, here are three outfits that might be easily labeled “vintage”, even though they’re emphatically not:

not vintage

And here are three outfits that are, despite not necessarily looking it: vintage

I’d like to keep updating this list as I think of more criteria. Comment with anything you’d like me to add!

 

pin me up

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Saturday’s shoot with Brent satisfied a few of the aesthetics I’ve been wanting to realize for a while. In the span of a couple hours, we cycled through several distinct iterations of my artistic vision. From pinup to madonna to wizened thaumaturge, I got to be all my favorite versions of myself. So I’ll be posting the photos in parts, each corresponding to a different theme. In these shots, I’m paying tribute to my girls Bettie, Dita, and Joan. For extra-retro seduction, I’m wearing a blouse hand-sewn by my great-grandmother.

Fairly NSFW.

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