The two rules of thrift-store shopping: Buy the ugly crap, but don't buy the ugly crap that looks bad on you
I have bad taste in all facets of my life. I'm attracted to pink and turquoise bathroom fixtures, knock-off Chanel purses and PT Cruisers outfitted with the many personalities of Taz. My favorite flavors are black licorice and Alka-Seltzer, and if I could, I would serve every meal with Kalamata olives, pickled okra, key-lime frozen fruit bars and club soda. Even my taste in potential suitors draws me to those often deemed unattractive -- men with exaggerated, knobby Thomas Hart Benton-esque facial features, birth-control glasses and obsolescent coifs are very much my style.
And my taste in clothes? Just plain ugly. I'm drawn to ill-fitting polyester A-Line dresses, Laugh-In/Cactus Flower-era Goldie Hawn one-piece pantsuits with Mandarin collars, drapey ponchos and house coats, all of which look terrible on my body type. (Not to mention I'm attracted to slinky, synthetic pajama-suits in peaches, pale pinks and beige -- all colors that make me look naked in public.) But an eye for the terrible can be a blessing: In staying true to my aesthetic desires, I score the best stuff at vintage stores that nobody else wants.
Over Memorial Day weekend, when I was not busy undoing the work of my diligent hairdresser in the motel pool, I was wandering through the thick air of Kansas City in search of new clothes. There's something exciting about shopping in another city -- it's like an unofficial guarantee that you'll happen upon a dreamy silk Grand Ole Opry-inspired cropped jacket with fringe or a "dog track call girl" peplum dress (see left) that no one else back home has. Plus, even in Missouri, it feels fancy to shop like you've got nothing better to do. And because you're on vacation, you don't.
Perusing the overstuffed racks of Re-Runs, I found my polyester soulmate, a black, one-piece, wide-leg sailor romper with gold detailing that made me feel like I was channeling Chaka Khan when she was with Rufus. This thing fit like a scratchy glove, effectively turning me into Chaka Khan in my mind (because I can only assume being her is like being the feminist superhero of bad-assery.) And when I discovered Donna's Dress Shop, it was like I had walked into the secret stash of some tap-dancing sex kitten's best stage apparel. Except it was prêt-à-porter, without a single unnecessary sequin and priced just right.
But really, the key to this successful clothing hunt wasn't the new territory of stores. It was about being honest in my taste and being realistic about what looks good on my body. These two tricks sound so obvious, but since I began searching out unique thrift in the '90s at Flossy McGrew's and the ARC on Broadway, I've learned some valuable lessons, like the fact that drop-waists and shift dresses make me look like a bottom-heavy sack of potatoes with a giant, novelty-size Tootsie Roll shoved inside. Buying something because it is in fashion at that very moment doesn't mean it will ever, ever, ever look good on your body, like this "I didn't know I was pregnant"/drag queen on her day off-style house dress (see right) that I'm always attracted to, but know that will be a horrific mess on my body.
Taste in clothing, like art, is subjective. But acknowledging your own inner likings will make shopping so much easier. Basically, don't be that asshole in a maxi dress just because they're back in this summer -- especially when maxi dresses don't fit your body type and you hate them, anyway.
Get the Arts and Theater Newsletter
Weekly information keeping you in the know when it comes to the art and theater scene. Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events.