Thursday, May 31, 2012

Top 5 Reasons to Shop at Thrift Stores

As I've noted before, I'm a bit of a thrift store diva. However, I know that some people are skeptical of going to thrift stores because of this strange stigma that hangs over used clothes. In case you needed more convincing, here's a list of reasons why you should at least try secondhand shopping.

Top 5 Reasons to Shop at Thrift Stores
  1. Cheap. This is really the best reason to shop at thrift stores. You can save a ton of money by getting slightly (or not at all) used clothing. With this economy, we can all use whatever money we can save, and thrift stores are a great way to do it.
  2. Charity. Many thrift stores are not for profit. My local thrift store is also the food shelf, and the proceeds go to helping lower-income households in my community. The Salvation Army runs a ton of thrift stores, but whether or not you support them can often depend on your feelings about their moral compass which lists highly toward the Christian. The point is that you can find charity thrift stores almost everywhere and help someone out while finding your crazy new clothes.
  3. Creativity. I, personally, wouldn't cut up a new dress to completely redesign it, but thrift store shopping encourages you to do just that. You can cut the bodice off a dress to make a skirt or chop the sleeves off a blouse. You can dye whatever you like black, if that suits your fancy. What you're getting aren't just clothes; they're raw materials.
  4. Unique Items. Chances are, whatever you bought at the thrift store will not be on the racks anywhere. It might be twenty or thirty years old, a brand you've never heard of, or something handmade. You'll have the only one of whatever-it-is.
  5.  Tradition. Most subcultures have a long history of thrift store shopping or secondhand buying. If you, like me, are into off-kilter fashion, then there is a historical precedent for shopping at thrift stores. The elder goths have done it, Lolitas have done it, steampunks have definitely done it. If they could found a fashion on thrift store shopping and DIY, you can continue it.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thrift Store Shopping Secrets

I have heard from my friends that I have what they fondly call "thrift fu." I walk into thrift stores and charity shops like I own the place, canvas the racks rapidly, and find the diamonds-in-the-rough that they wouldn't have ever looked at. I can find a brand new trench coat or classic pair of pumps faster than most people can get their bearings. I've often been asked how I manage to find what I find.

Here's the truth of the matter: it's not a superpower. It's just a few tips that happen to be very useful.

And so, my dear readers, if you've not frequented thrift stores before and want to start saving money like a thrifting diva, here are my shopping secrets for buying secondhand.

Don't go in with a distinct plan. I know this is kind of counter-intuitive, but hear me out: if you walk into the store with a distinct target in mind, you will find nothing. Have a thought in mind, certainly. Have a general idea of what will and will not work on you. But don't limit yourself. You'll only end up missing something fantastic.

Know your skills. Know the limitations of your sewing abilities and know what you can do.  If you have the skills, wonderful. You'll have a wider variety of options available to you if you can fit, alter, refashion, or hem the items you find. If you don't sew or know someone willing and able to sew for you, don't rely on wishful thinking. You'll have to take the items you find as-is.

Make a fast first sweep. Orient yourself in terms of where to find your size. Look for colors, shapes, or fabrics that catch your eye. Run your hand along the racks of clothing for tactile responses. Don't get bogged down with the items that don't work; look for the items that will work.

Check the labels before you even try the thing on. You'll want to make sure that everything you buy can be washed.

Check for stains. If you think you can get it out or hide it with a re-hemming or tailoring, go ahead. If not, walk on.

Check the seams. Look at every seam and hem to check for loose threads or threadbare patches. If there is wear-and-tear, consider whether you can fix it. If you can't, leave it. You want this item to last for a good long time.

Check the soles of the shoes, especially the heels. You can always tell how worn a shoe is by how scuffed the sole is, and the heel is even more concentrated. If the tread on the heel is still flawless, you've found a shoe that's barely been warn; congratulations! If the heel is broken down but the rest of the shoe is in good condition, is there a place nearby where you can get it re-heeled?

After you've checked those things, always try it on. I don't care if it's cheap and might work. Try it on. Yeah, sure, it's one dollar now, but those dollars add up. Make sure it works.

Make sure you love it. Don't buy it just because it's cheap. Yes, this will diminish your ability to come out of the store with something, but it'll keep you from having to clean out your wardrobe because you came home with everything.

Feel free to get creative. That little picnic basket or roller skate case you see might make an adorable purse. That skinny scarf might make a fun belt or headband. Just like combining and recombining outfits, the items you find are what you make of them.

Shop early, shop often. Selection is limited and you've got competition. The good items often move fast, and you want to get there first.

Remember the high-volume seasons. The end of the summer is big. People donate or sell almost all of their unsold garage sale items and you never know what rainy day sales may have held some real gems. After Christmas, too, is a great time to shop. That's when people are cleaning out their wardrobes or donating items that they didn't get a gift receipt for. You can find a lot of brand new garments lurking on the shelves as long as you know when to look.

Once you've found an item, wash it right away. As soon as you get your clothes home, throw them in the washer. Just in case.

And, most importantly, don't get discouraged! You might not find anything in the thrift store on a given day. It happens. If you haven't found anything, that just means that nobody has brought in your dream item yet.

Happy thrifting!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Outfit of the Day: Sepia-Toned Sock Hop

You remember how I said I had another bridal shower to go to? Well, I unfortunately ended up having to miss it due to a writing challenge for a job application I sent out. So, instead of wearing it to the bridal shower, I wore it to church this morning and am wearing it out to go see The Avengers in theaters this evening.

This isn't strictly Lolita, more Lolita and vintage inspired otome kei (and, oh, can you ever tell that I tend toward classic Lolita!). The skirt is really full, but I decided not to wear a petticoat because my uber-full cupcake-y one wouldn't have let it hang nicely and I just had to retire my a-line.

Since boyfriendthing and I have long known that we were going to go this weekend to see The Avengers, I had originally thought to do something more like this old outfit of the day, something Loki-inspired and interestingly superhero-y. But then, after having to miss the bridal shower, I turned around and went with the excessively girly outfit with leather-and-stud accents because if I've got to miss a social occasion where I have an excuse to dress up, I'm going to find another way to wear the outfit!

This outfit sees the return of the awesome shoes I got from London Underground:

As well as my favorite necklace of all time which also stands as proof that anything 1928 Jewelry touches turns to solid awesome:

Some secondhand items including a fantastic belt that I got as swag from another purchase that miraculously fits as well as a rather ludicrously tiny purse that I got a while back specifically to match all of the pink floral things I seem to be collecting in my wardrobe:

And a couple of recent Shop-Ko purchases made specifically to match all of my neutrals and pinks to round out the outfit:

My mother frowned upon my original shirt choice, which was my "Shakespeare hates your emo poems" shirt, but despite that minor setback I'm rather pleased with this outfit.
Outfit Rundown:
Tights: Willow Bay, purchased at Shop-Ko
Headband: Gem Bella, purchased at Shop-Ko
Necklace: 1928, purchased at Shop-Ko
Skirt: DownEast Basics, purchased from Modcloth
Shoes: London Underground
Shirt: Maurice's, purchased secondhand
Belt: secondhand, part of the swag from my purchase from the lovely lady who runs Fuck Yeah Classic Lolita. (one of these days, I'm going to get a picture of the dress I bought from her. It's gorgeous)
Purse: Kimchi Blue, modified, purchased off EGL Comm Sales

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Inspired Outfits: Les Miserables

Les Miserables. Whether you're familiar with it by way of the hit musical or by way of "the brick," as it is affectionately known in some circles, it's a great work. The characters are fascinating and evocative. And, as such, they can be a fruitful inspiration for clothing.
Les Miserables - Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean. I wanted this to be fairly nondescript and classic based on the way the character lived after breaking parole. A white undershirt bears his infamous brand which would, on a daily basis, be concealed by the white button-up. Silver for the gift of the bishop, a candlestick for the physical and crosses for the spiritual. Chains across the tights and the shoes for his time as a captive of his past. Flats because they make running easier.
Les Miserables - Javert
Inspector Javert An outfit inspired by the inspector himself. Yes, it's a women's outfit, but I wanted to capture the same rigidity that the character has. I hope I succeeded.
Les Miserables - Cosette
Cossette I've never really been a fan of Cosette as a character. She's really the Christian idea of purity condensed into human form, which never seemed to me to be a recipe for a particularly compelling character. But here I have attempted to throw together an outfit inspired by Cosette and her purity. White and silver and light. "She gave anyone who saw her a sensation of April and of dawn. There was dew in her eyes. Cosette was a condensation of auroral light in womanly form."
Les Miserables - Eponine
Eponine, mostly inspired by the musical. The bird necklace, though, is for my favorite quote from the book: "Among animals, the creature born to be a dove is never changed into an osprey, that is only possible with men."
Les Miserables - Thenardier
Thernardier. Not exactly the character you'd look for to find fashion inspiration, but... he's just so delightfully disgusting in the musical. This necklace chosen because, well, "add it to the pile, add it to the stock..."
Les Miserables - The Students
The Students. This is probably the most conventionally fashionable, but it works for me.
Les Miserables - Lovely Ladies
Lovely Ladies. Okay. I've got a soft spot for the irreverent hookers in the musical. I really do. I've also got a soft spot for ragamuffin looks and corsets. It all works out.

Just another string of outfits inspired by the media I love. "Here's to them and here's to you..."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Product Review:

So, I finally bit the bullet. I bought from Modcloth.

I've been ogling their stuff for several years, but, as they only introduced plus sized items around 2009 and their selection in that area has taken a little while to build up, I haven't ordered from them yet. But I love their vintage-y style, and I finally ordered a skirt a little while ago. What I brought was their From Me Tutu You skirt, which came in today. I can honestly say that I plan to buy it in another color if it comes back into stock in my size.

Here's what I saw on the site:

It's lacy, it's frothy, it's fluffy (but not so fluffy that I'd look like a cupcake without a petticoat). It's a peachy pink with an elastic waist and sheer over-layers. It's pretty much exactly what I've been looking for in a skirt. Plus, it would double as an underskirt for my favorite black and peachy pink Lolita skirt (Bodyline L353). It's another one of the items in my closet that summons a response of "everything matches!" from my well-trained cousins.

So, this is what I got:

Seriously, look at that tag. Isn't it precious?

So, for the basic rundown...
Brand: DownEast Basics, purchased from Modcloth.
Type: High Waist Skirt with Elastic Waistband
Print: Solid Color
Shipping: 8/ 10
Fit: 9/10
Length: 10/10
Quality: 6/10
Overall Score: 8.25/10
My skirt arrived a day later than expected. Not bad (and not Modcloth's fault, of course), but not perfect.

As for fit, they're right to say that you should go a size down on the skirt. It does run a bit large.The elastic makes for a great, slightly-snug-but-not-over-tight fit. I'm normally an XL (size 14), and the large (size 12) fits me perfectly.

Length? Well, if you're like me, this will be perfect. I like my skirts to hit either just above or below my knees, which means they need to be around 25" long at the longest. This is lovely. It's long enough that it will show as an accent underskirt beneath my Lolita skirts that hit just above the knee, but it's not so long that it doesn't fall at mid-calf.

And quality? Well, I like it. Lace skirts can be a bit dodgy, but this one is pretty good. The edges, unhemmed, are a bit fringe-y in places due to the openwork nature of the lower lace layer. The top layer doesn't have the same problem. The elastic is stretchy enough. The fabric is... a bit see-through and flimsy. Wear a slip if you get this.

Altogether, it's a nice skirt. The price is a bit higher than I usually pay for such things, but it's cheap by Modcloth standards. I'm definitely tempted to buy the green version at some point in the future.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

On The Subject of Princes (Or Princesses, If That More Strikes Your Fancy)

Okay, ladies and gents, let's just admit to this: well-dressed people are attractive.

You know it and I know it. It's the sort of truth that I will not even attempt to avoid because it crosses boundaries of subculture, race, and class. Especially if they are dressed in line with an aesthetic we favor, people who dress well and in a flattering way are attractive and bound to catch our eyes. This is just as true in off-kilter fashion as it is in the realms of more conventional style. To some people, a ruffled hem or line of well-applied eyeliner will entice. To others, it's tattoos and piercings. Personally, for me it's men in well-tailored suits of the old-fashioned variety. We love looking at well-dressed people, and we frequently fantasize about being in a romantic relationship with them.

And that's fine.

But here's the thing, dear readers: it can go too far. I see far too many people who want someone to fill a particular slot in terms of a romantic relationship and use the garment choices of a possible romantic partner as the absolute deciding factor.

But it's not necessary that the person you date fit that image.

I wouldn't like it if the person I was with had a defined image of everything they wanted in a relationship and simply pasted me into the position of girlfriend. Why in the world would I construct an elaborate plan for the appearance of my significant other and then expect to shove someone into that mold? I am more than what I wear, and so is any person I date.

I am in favor of imagining people complexly.  How a person dresses is just one facet of who they are. I have met people who dressed in a way that I found beautiful but who were so far from all of my other interests that I passed by them in a moment in favor of people who weren't much to look at but were a blast to talk to and hang out with. I wouldn't dream of changing who they are on the outside simply to fulfill some fantasy of mine.

Remember also, dears, you do not need to be dating someone to enjoy spending time with them and dressing up with them. Yes, I understand that this flies in the face of the Prince Charming fantasy we've all been encouraged to have since we were littles sitting before the altar of the almighty Disney. I understand that going to events, especially dances, with someone who is "just a friend" can disappoint our carefully planned fantasies. I understand that many romantics out there will not particularly embrace this idea.


But your friends are your friends because of common interests. If you are single, you have no problem getting dressed to the nines and running about with them, right? Why should your romantic relationship have to fill that space, too? If your significant other doesn't want to frolic with you, you still have your friends.

Don't they look fantastic?
The best example I can think of is Jillian Venters of Gothic Charm School. She has stated that her RealHusband, Pete, is NotaGoth and that some of her social engagements simply aren't his thing. As such, she often goes to such events with a friend she usually refers to online as StuntHusband:
the StuntHusband is one of my oldest friends, and is my favorite companion for fancy events and concerts that the RealHusband doesn’t want to attend.*
They look fantastic together in every photo I've seen, and they clearly have fun.

And why shouldn't they? Really, what is there stopping you from going out dancing with friends or walking through the park with them? What is there stopping you?

Absolutely nothing, that's what.

I want to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Doctor Who:
You know when sometimes you meet someone so beautiful and then you actually talk to them and five minutes later they're as dull as a brick? Then there's other people, when you meet them you think, "Not bad. They're okay." And then you get to know them and... and their face just sort of becomes them. Like their personality's written all over it. And they just turn into something so beautiful.

Give the people around you a chance to become beautiful. Don't limit them by what they are on the outside. They'll surprise you.

I promise.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Outfit of the Day: Bridal Shower

Okay, so I have a problem with bridal showers this summer.

I've got a few to go to, and... well, today's was for my best friend from high school who I have spoken to about once a year since we graduated, and I've got another in a few weeks for my cousin's fiancee who I do not know well but would like very much to know better as she seems like a perfectly sweet person. If it were a closer friend or a cousin or something I'd worry less about the social niceties of the situation, but given the relationships to the young ladies for whom the showers are being held I have a trickier spot when it comes to proper etiquette.

And I struggle greatly with what to wear.

My usual clothing is... a bit loud. Witchy black looks, Victorian clothing, petticoats, corsets, top hats, strange barrettes, the works. And it's not really appropriate to wear that sort of theatrical look to a small gathering like this (unless all or at least some others involved will be wearing similarly loud clothing or the group are all familiar with my eccentricity of dress), especially when it's not my day. But I'm not about to wear slacks and a blouse because that simply doesn't feel comfortable to me. I've got a fine line to walk between what feels appropriate for me and what's appropriate for the occasion.

So what do I wear?

Well, today's the first bridal shower of the summer, and this is what I landed on:

Forgive the slightly off face I'm wearing. It took a lot of autotimer shots to get this one right and I was ready to go back inside.

Outfit Rundown

Jewelry: Handmade
Barrette: Belle
Skirt: vintage handmade
Tights, top: Kohl's
Shoes: London Underground
The blouse is much more sheer than this photo shows. Here are some closeups of the jewelry I wore (the necklace and bracelet are handmade): 

Usually, with this skirt, I like to wear some of my more strange nature-inspired barrettes, but today I opted for a simple metallic one for the sake of keeping things subtle. Wearing a baby deer on my head, unfortunately, is not subtle.

And, last but certainly not least, the shoes:

I'm not sure quite which genre of clothing it falls under. It's a little bit Dolly Kei, but not so much that I'd be comfortable labeling it as such. It's definitely vintage-y. It might even fall into granny chic. But, you know what, I like it.

I was hoping to find a comfortable medium between my usual style and what's "normal" or appropriate to this sort of situation, and I think I found it. I spent a fair bit of the party receiving compliments on my clothing, my shoes (aren't they fabulous?) and my jewelry. I felt a bit guilty about upstaging the bride clothing-wise, but this is toned down for me and the outfit resulted in the bride telling me that we needed to go shopping together so she could get some pointers, so I don't feel too bad.

Honestly, I'll probably be dressed a bit louder for the next shower. That one's mostly family, and they're used to my... strange... aesthetic. I won't be fully petticoated, of course, but it'll be a bit more along the lines of my usual strangeness.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Littles and Why I Love Their Reactions

I'm not usually a particularly flamboyant person. I do wear some odd things, but they're usually toned down enough that I can delude myself into thinking I'm being subtle.

Not today.

The reaction I got from adults was... inimitably Minnesotan. They are never anything but polite, but through gritted teeth they tell me "That's and... interesting... outfit..." and it isn't hard to translate that sentiment. I could see the flickers of "Is she in a play?" and "Is she in a cult?" in their eyes, even if they didn't speak those thoughts aloud. So, just like Gothic Charm School taught me, I answered their questions politely, smiled blithely, and generally behaved myself as I explained that, no, I am not scary or in costume; I am merely wearing clothing that I enjoy.

I'm still not sure that they believed me, but that matters little to me, really.

Gracie of Haus of Girls shows us how it's done.
Small children, however, do not react like that. The one thing I love about littles is that they have no understanding of social norms when it comes to clothing. Have you ever seen a child wearing the classic random-boots-and-a-tutu combo? Or a princess dress just because? Or a superhero cape made of a bedsheet? You probably have. And did they feel any shame about wearing whatever the heck they felt like wearing? Of course not. To a child, what is pretty is pretty and nobody is able to tell them otherwise. Children haven't been socialized in terms of societal expectations of physical appearance (here read: ruined) just yet, and that is fantastic.

And that is what I love about their reactions to my crazy clothing. To the little girls who tugged on their mothers' and grandmothers' jackets, the ruffles, the satin corset, and the lacy Victorian-esque blouse apparently made me look like a real life, if black-clad, Disney princess.

And if one little kid thinks my dress is pretty, it's worth it. If one little kid has been given an argument that adults don't have to wear "grown up clothes" if they don't want to, it's worth it.

The world might turn into a more interesting place.