I've known Joy Barrett for a while: Coincidentally, she took over a job I once held, tending beads at the defunct Skyloom Fibers. But I didn't really meet her until she opened her own jewelry boutique, Studio Bead, in the Highland Square shopping district. It seemed like there was nothing Joy couldn't transform into something beautiful, with a little bit of ingenuity and DIY pluck, and whenever I stopped by there, she looked adorable, dressed in her own unique retro style.
But Joy grew weary of the daily retail grind at Studio Bead and closed the store a couple of years ago. Since then, she's opened an Etsy store and keeps booths at seasonal gift markets, a little bit older and still adorable. She still makes jewelry and other concoctions, including, lately, sweet boudoir bowls made of old dishes and vintage china birds to hold a lady's bracelets and rings. Joy does still come out of the woodwork once a year to throw the annual Beads Braids & Brows FridaStyle ArtShow, a celebration and emporium of crafts and shrines inspired by the spirit of Frida Kahlo (and a little Dia de los Muertos thrown in for good measure), all made by local artisans. She's now gearing up for the sixth annual event on October 1, taking place this year at the Comfort Cafe pay-what-you-can restaurant, 3945 Tennyson Street, during the First Friday artwalk on Tennyson Street. The cafe will be serving Mexican fare in honor of the event, and, as in past years, a diverse group of partiers will come dressed in Frida costumery, unibrows and all, right down to the little infants and chihuahuas. When I met with Joy recently to talk about all this and to ask her about her unique sense of style, she came dressed as an advertisement for FridaStyle, in a brightly colored, striped-and-polka-dotted fitted vintage fiesta dress accessorized with big, fruity necklaces and some of her own work, as well, including one of her Mighty Milagro necklaces and a Frida pendant. Her introduction to Frida's Mexi-style came to her while working at a family-owned Mexican restaurant in her home state of Minnesota; when she moved to Colorado, it was a perfect fit for the region, and a perfect example of what I admire about the way she dresses. Joy's style is rooted in her past: Her mother, an accomplished seamstress, would invite the kids into her bedroom to help her put together outfits for a night on the town with Dad, and invariably, everything would have to be carefully and elegantly matched. "I love the silhouette of the '40s and '50s - the narrow waist and a skirt wider at the knees," Barrett says. "And I still like the idea of a crisp collar and a tailored sleeve."
She's mainly a thrift and vintage shopper, utterly not label-conscious (except in an eccentric way: She collects the old embroidered and illustrated labels and sometimes buys an article of clothing just to get a particularly lovely one). "Whenever I go on a road trip, I'll seek out the thrift store and church sales and junk shops. A lot of the places I end up shopping are in farming areas, so I see a lot of Western wear. And prom gowns. I love the prom gowns! I can pick the handmade stuff off of the rack," she adds, noting that she often repairs flaws herself with seamstressing tricks, such as adding a lace gusset to a ripped skirt.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
On a regular day, she'll throw on alternating loose and tight layers, something with a splash of color or maybe cowboy boots with jeans. And while she has a lot of favorites in her closet, Joy is especially fond of a black wool coat from the '30s that she bought to fight the Minnesota cold: "It has a pinched waist and a big, full bottom, with a brown fur collar and three-quarter sleeves. It's wool, and it weighs a ton; it's too heavy to wear here, so I keep it on a mannequin." And that's Joy in a nutshell: serendipity and ingenuity, wrapped up in her love for the mystery of the past -- a working girl awash with style.