With the pandemic in full effect along with the accompanying isolation and cancellation of all activities, I was thinking of ways to use my time away from dancing and singing and stay connected. Thinking about how we are all essentially broadcasting communications via the Internet from our homes – our personal and intimate spaces – and how these are our reference and existence points for the time being, I thought about sharing more of my personal space with all of you. I am often asked by visitors to my home to see my closet, so it seemed that was the natural place to go for a first episode and for the title of this web series.
I have other ideas for episodes, but I want to see how this first episode is received, so we shall see. I am also open to suggestions for episode topics and garments/shoes you might like to discuss, feel free to post them in the video comments on YouTube.
Also, please click SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube channel for episode updates and to help with monetization of my YouTube account – please and thank you!
One of the reasons I enjoy All Balboa Weekend so much is the vintage shopping and vendors at the event. This event is like no other because Remix Vintage Shoes comes here (and doesn’t travel to other swing events), there are multiple fantastic vintage stores and some of them set up as vendors at the hotel, and there are new international vendors every year that may only come for one year, but you get that critical chance to try things on, figure out what size you wear, and file that away for future online ordering (Heyday!, Retrospec’d, Bettie Page Clothing, FromChloehong, etc.). It offers the unique opportunity to have all of these things in one place, which would otherwise only be available on the internet.
When I travel I always come up on Wednesday night so I can have Thursday day to go shopping at the vintage stores in Cleveland. My travel companion this go around was Skyler Hinkel, a 20 year old dancer from Raleigh who has become a staple of our scene in the past couple of years and has recently begun traveling a lot more to dance events. I asked him if he wanted to go shopping with me and he asked me how much money he would need to budget to get an outfit and a new pair of dance shoes (good question to ask!). He told me he wanted to spend some money on clothing for dance events and, at the time, he only owned two pairs of dress pants and one dress shirt.
Our mission was clear and there was no time to waste – building 1 or 2 outfits of vintage/thrifted clothing is something usually done over time, not in one day. We started out at Sweet Lorain, my favorite Cleveland vintage shop, and were there when they opened at noon, along with a number of European Balboa dancers who also collect vintage clothing. I headed to the racks in the back with the 30’s and 40’s clothing and directed Skyler to the men’s section, figuring he would either sink or swim. I made my rounds with the other ladies, tried everything on, narrowed my choices, and headed over to the men’s section to see how Skyler was doing.
It can be overwhelming being in a store like Sweet Lorain, even for me, with wall to wall clothing, furniture, and knick-knacks – Skyler was definitely feeling overwhelmed. I started digging with him, with some occasional input by Andreas Olsson and Rich Werden, but ultimately everything he tried on was too large. I was astounded because I thought for sure we’d find some great 34/36 jackets that no one else could fit into, but most everything was firmly in the 40/42 size range. The myth that vintage clothing is only for tiny people has been disproved once again! We left the store with a tie and a tie clip for Skyler, nowhere close to an outfit, but at least able to accessorize the outfit he already owned.
Our next stop was Chelsea’s Vintage Clothing and Costumes, which was a bust for me last year, but has an astounding three tiered warehouse full of clothing, almost half of it menswear. Since menswear has changed very little since the 1930’s, almost anything we could find here would be great – anything that fit, at this point, would work and if we could find natural fibers that would be a bonus. Rich joined us again for this search and, between the three of us, we touched every single suit jacket and sportcoat in that place. NO SMALL FEAT. It definitely helped that Chelsea’s had tags on each of the sleeves, noting the size and price, whereas none of the clothing was labeled by size in Sweet Lorain. Neither store had things grouped by size, so there was no choice but to dig.
I’ll back up and say that the first thing I saw in the men’s section was a light tan/ivory belt back jacket, so when Rich walked in I asked if he had seen it. Upon retrieval, we discovered that it was his size – how serendipitous! But what are the chances we could find one for Skyler? Luck was on our side and we found a similar jacket, a 70’s does 30’s belt back jacket for Skyler, as well!
In the entire place there were only 3 jackets that came close to fitting Skyler, one slate blue double breasted kids jacket, a white cotton dinner jacket, and the belt back jacket. We set these aside and kept digging. Next up were pants, which yielded only two pairs that fit – a pair of tuxedo pants and a pair of gray and blue wool plaid trousers. Given our jacket discoveries, either could work, so we set those aside and continued, though by this point the digging had lost some steam.
I took a mental break to check in on Rich and his fiance, Alisa Szatrowski, who had made her way through the limited selection of swing era garments. Half of vintage shopping with others is waiting for the discard pile, and I found a great cream 40’s dress with red soutache detail that hadn’t worked for her, but worked for me. Energized by the find, I returned to the Skyler search and we went through the vest rack together. We culled a wool sweater vest from this search and now had the beginnings of a wardrobe.
While it would be nice to be able to buy everything that fits us at vintage stores, practically speaking few of us make that kind of money. We decided that the belt back jacket would be more versatile, even though it was going to be a warmer jacket than the cotton dinner jacket. Thus, the tuxedo pants, were out and we headed to the checkout with (subtle) plaid wool pants, the belt back jacket, and the sweater vest. Not a bad day at the dig.
On our way to the checkout we quickly sifted through the ties and found a perfect match for the vest. Total damage for these four items (jacket, pants, vest, and tie): $40.00.
We headed back to the hotel, feeling good about the day’s purchases, and started planning the outfits; however, the critical component of white dress shirts for both outfits was missing, so we pulled over to a strip mall and found two white dress shirts in Target. Now, the only thing missing was a pair of pants to go with the sweater vest, and, if found, Skyler would have two complete outfits.
I was hopeful that Skyler would find something at one of the vendor’s booths. The vendors opened at 5:00 p.m. and we were there just minutes before. While there were some great trousers there, none of them were the right size. We talked to the ladies at the Flower Child booth and they said they would look in their inventory overnight. Later that evening, Chloe Hong’s booth opened up and, while they didn’t have any pants to sell off the rack, they did have sample sizes and I encouraged Skyler to try a pair on to see if they had his size and if he liked the trousers. He definitely liked Chloe’s pants the best out of all the trousers he tried on that day, so there was the option to increase his wardrobe by another pair of pants, even if he had to wait for them. We must always be forward thinking about our shopping!
Last, but not least, Skyler had budgeted for a pair of Remix Vintage Shoes leather-soled shoes. Their men’s cap toe is a beautiful shoe and, due to the constraint in inventory they can bring to ABW, they only had one pair in his size – thankfully, they were brown and white, which would look great with the navy-hued items, like the vest and the ties.
We are waiting to find out if there is another pair of pants in store for Skyler…stay tuned!
I’ve written a guest post for Raleigh Vintage on what a brand new, never-been-to-a-swing-dance-before, dancer might want to know before heading to their first swing dance. I know there are tons of these, written for every swing dance society/group ever created, but I figured these things can’t be said enough – the more resources, the better.
As we travel to events in different cities and dance the night away, sometimes our wardrobe fails us. Sometimes we don’t have backup clothing when our wardrobe fails us because we’ve sweated through all of our clean clothing or something else more catastrophic happens. If you’ve got the right things in your suitcase or dance bag, you may be able to make a quick repair or have a quick solution to keep yourself together and out on the dance floor for a few more dances. Here’s what I like to have in my bag:
They are so essential I carry them around on my keychain. They can do just about anything – mend a seam, hem pants, keep a neckline in place, pin a stray bra strap, or even hold a tie in place. Start keeping the ones they give you to pin your number on in competitions, just put them on your keychain or in your dance bag until you need them. 😉
DOUBLE SIDED BODY TAPE
Also known as “fashion tape,” this stuff is great for many of the things safety pins can do, only with more finesse. If you don’t sweat too much when you dance, you can use it to secure fabrics to your skin to prevent them from moving, and it is also great for fabric on fabric dilemmas at dance events. I’ve used it to secure larger collars or other loose clothing appendages, hem pants, make bows perkier, and to secure gaps when I wear button-down shirts.
Yes, I know, this is obvious – but it does come in handy.
I am a messy eater and I will inevitably spill something on myself during a meal. If you are like me, you dress up to go out to dinner with friends before the big Saturday night dance at an event and, in your finery, something saucy falls in your lap and you run to the bathroom to try to blot it out before it sets in. In times like this, it’s a good idea to have something on hand to eliminate the stain, like Tide To Go, so that you can go on to the dance without having to change clothes or wear something with your dinner on it.
If you happen to be attending a longer dance event and/or have very little luggage space, you may want to consider doing laundry while you are gone and wearing some things twice. I’m thinking about those of you who make multiple shirt changes each night – who wants to sacrifice luggage space to pack all the tee shirts you actually need for a week-long dance event? If your housing situation does not have laundry facilities, you can always wash your clothing in the sink – Tide also makes travel sink packets with detergent for washing your clothes in the sink.
Inevitably, at some point in your dance lifetime, you will be in the middle of an event and the suede on your shoes will start to come off, or maybe even the entire sole. If Dancestore.com isn’t there vending and you didn’t bring backup, you could be in trouble. Have some sort of adhesive handy in your luggage – people have differing opinions about what works best, but barge cement and contact cement seem to be the most popular.
One of the things I notice when I talk about clothing with other people is that people are quick to point out their “faults” – and by “faults” I mean differences in their body that tend to not conform to the modern clothing standards we encounter when we go to the mall to buy clothing. If we are all different, then how is that being translated into “fault?”
I could turn this into a rant about the media, fashion designers, body perception, the modern standard for beauty, etc. but I’m not going to waste my breath. I’m one of those crazy people who doesn’t watch TV anymore and, as I have slowly withdrawn myself from the clutches of the mall (not entirely, but significantly) and increasingly embraced vintage and custom clothing, I am less and less bothered by all of my personal clothing fit “faults” because they don’t exist anymore in my mind. I have almost eliminated the problem (underwear, you’re next) and I have, at the same time, changed my perception of my own body and learned to spend my resources on clothing that fits and is flattering, rather than trying to “make do” with something off the rack.
I’d like to share some thoughts on this topic, which is how I came to an understanding with my body about how, where, and why we buy clothing that makes us feel the best about ourselves:
ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL
That clothing is, sometimes, labeled “one size fits all” is absurd – to think that we are all just clones of each other running around wearing all the same size everything is the product of people pandering to the masses, to the people they think will buy the clothing, which is to say not the “average” size, but rather their ideal of the average size. This bothers me particularly with hats, something that should be indisputably a certain circumference so that it stays on your head.
Even where there are sizes, with modern sizing, there are no standard sizes – this is why you may wear an 8 in one store’s pants and a 12 in another store. My husband has the same issue, even though men’s sizing is supposedly based on a man’s actual measurements.
Within whatever arbitrary sizing scheme some manufacturer has procured, there is just no way to take into account all the variances in body proportions within the human population. Think about all the ways that you can measure your body – the circumference of your bust, waist, hip, thigh, upper arm, wrist, neck, head, and ribcage; the length of your arm (depending on sleeve length, to elbow, bracelet, wrist), leg (inseam, outseam, from waist over your bum to the floor, waist in front to floor), and foot (length and width at several points); and my personal favorite, the measurement that runs from the center/front of your waist, down and between your legs, running to the center of your back at your waist. And there are more. We are all so subtly and not-so-subtly different that the only way to really find clothing that fits is to have it made for you.
Every visit to the mall to buy clothing is a crapshoot – nothing is made for anyone except the fit models the clothing companies use to make their clothing, so unless you are within that sizing range or are wearing a sack (which is what a lot of modern clothing has defaulted to – loose shapes and copious use of elastic only previously seen in the “senior” clothing sections of department stores) it may not work out or fit you in just the right way. This is not your fault, this is beyond your control, and has nothing to do with any part of you being wrong in any conceivable way.
I find that it’s easier, in some ways, to buy vintage clothing – there aren’t racks of different sizes, there’s one size. If the measurements don’t fall within a few inches of mine, then it wasn’t meant to be and I move on.
ONE SHAPE DOES NOT FIT ALL
In high school, I remember reading articles in Seventeen magazine about dressing for your body shape. To a certain extent it was helpful, but it tended to focus on one body feature (big or small bust, big or small hips, height, etc.) What if I have 3 of the body features and the recommendations contradict each other? Into the trash it went, and then I felt like poop about myself.
It took a lot of trial and error, but I have come to the conclusion that no shape should be ruled out; however, there are certain shapes that are more flattering to your particular shape and you must go find them, you can’t rely on a magazine to do this for you. Suggestions about where to begin are nice, but you have to try on the pieces and, even when it looks like it might be a good fit for your shape on the rack, those size ratios could be working against you – is the waist too big/small, but it fits everywhere else? Is the garment supposed to fit that way? Can you have it tailored? These are all questions I ask myself when trying on clothing. If it’s not right or it doesn’t look like it can be altered, back it goes.
One shape that tends to be my arch nemesis in modern clothing is the pencil skirt. I can fit into 1950’s pencil skirts all day, but I have yet to try on a modern pencil skirt that didn’t look like a wiggle skirt on me, seriously inhibiting movement, even when going up in size. It should look like a pencil on my body, not on the rack…but I digress.
SPANDEX IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR TAILORING
With the advent of stretch fabrics, you think we’d be able to find super comfy, flattering, form-fitting clothing even easier. It can be an illusion, unless the cut of the garment is just right for your body or it’s tailored well (which is rare with stretch fabrics). This does not often occur for me because my measurements ratio rarely conforms with the garment, leaving at least one portion of the garment too…stretched. So I must buy the larger size and have it tailored, even though there is “stretch.” I think of the stretchiness as a consideration for movement, not for fit. Clothing manufacturers use stretch fabric as a crutch and consistently serve up poorly made, ill-fitting garments.
This is where modern clothing really does us a disservice, with its surged seams. Many older garments have more fabric on the inside of the seams, so if you just needed an extra 1/2 inch to make that pencil skirt fit, you could get that from the fabric on the inside of the seam. We must now adhere to the “buy it bigger and tailor it to be smaller” mantra (bridesmaid dresses, anyone?), which is generally fine, but sometimes we might gain a little weight in our late 20’s and a 1/2 inch would be the difference between keeping that dress and a tearful goodbye…
IT’S THEM. Cost cutting, down to the last 1/2 inch of seam.
TAILOR YOUR CLOTHING
Or have it made for you. Or make it yourself. Regardless, there are ways to make a garment fit your body and it involves a needle and thread. If you really love a particular garment, but it’s just not fitting you right…maybe you stand in front of the mirror in the dressing room and pinch it in the back to see how it should ideally fit. You can translate that pinch into a permanent fit adjustment by taking it to a tailor. If I know a dress has to be tailored to fit, I will factor that cost into my cost assessment of whether or not to purchase a garment.
I have revived sad garments from the closet, things that just never quite looked right, by bringing them to a tailor. The best part is that it’s usually a simple fix. Then you have clothing that fits you, flatters you, and you have worked within the confines of the fashion dictators who have decreed the standard sizing – you have defeated the sizing by making it your own!
I’m going to close with an observation I made during the numerous clothing swaps we’ve had amongst the female dancers in the Raleigh-Durham area. After the shopping bags have been dumped out all over the furniture and the floor and we all begin to dig in and try on clothing, I noticed several things:
1) We are all very different – height, weight, measurement ratios, body types, etc.
2) Some garments that came from someone you thought you’d never be able to share clothing with, for whatever reason, actually fit you well
3) Some garments fit everyone (but didn’t look great on everyone)
4) Some garments weren’t flattering on anyone
Noticing these things and talking about them was reassuring, that we had all come to blows with our clothing at some point, all had garments we loved that were just never quite right, and this was our chance to let go, have a glass of wine, and share in an experience of renewal through shedding our old clothing and adopting something new. At the end of the swap we’d all walk out with a least a few items of clothing and the feeling that we were empowered by the experience – I left with free clothing from my sisters-in-dance and a feeling that we were all different in good ways, ways that weren’t dictated by the shape of our clothing.
WordPress is telling me that today is my 3 year anniversary of registering and, with Lindy Shopper being my first WordPress.com blog, this means 3 years of blogging about swing dance clothing, shoes, and other things swing dancers may find useful. When I started this blog, it was at the whim/request of some local dancers here in Durham, NC, who encouraged me to share my knowledge of where to find these things and I’m certainly happy I listened to them!
Thank you to all of my readers and friends, who continue to encourage me, share their ideas and sources, and inspire me to write about what you were wearing and where you got it.
Our dance hobby is relatively light on equipment – all you really need is a good pair of dance shoes. Once you find that pair (or 20) you want to be able to wear them for as long as possible, get the most mileage out of them, but you also want them to look nice for as long as possible. Here are some tips on keeping your shoes in shape:
We get sweaty when we dance and gravity tends to pull things downward, including your sweat. There have been those nights after a dance where my socks are a puddle. Rather than stuffing your shoes away or leaving them in a bag, when you get home from the dance take them out and just let them sit overnight. A good airing out will do wonders for longevity and odor prevention.
For more advanced airing out, you can purchase unvarnished shoe trees to draw the moisture out of your leather shoes, so long as you get the trees into the shoes within an hour or two of removing your shoes. If your shoes are really wet, stuffing them with newspaper will help draw out the moisture. Be sure not to put them on a heater or heat dry them, as this can damage the leather and/or the bonding material.
Wash Your Feet and Your Socks
While I rarely wear out dance shoes, I have had to throw away a pair of shoes for the smell (leather wedges, how I love to wear thee without socks!). To help prevent smelly shoes, in general, it’s a good idea to make sure your feet are clean and that your socks are cleaner – just say no to wearing that same pair of socks all day and night and late night at an event. Bring a change of socks and, if you happen to have smelly-prone feet or a predilection for walking around barefoot between dances, take a moment to wash your feet before inserting them back into your dance shoes.
It’s a good idea to put your dance shoes in a small shoe bag or another type of small bag before slinging them into another bag, your car, your suitcase, or whatever vessel gets you and them to the dance. It protects their exterior from scuffing up against other things (ballpoint pens, food, sharp objects, etc.) that may be lurking in your bag that could damage the exterior of your shoes. Bagging your shoes also conveniently serves the purpose of protecting your other things from the shoes, which may be dusty from the dance floor. I like to put mine either sole to sole or top to top and then wrap the rest of the loose bag around them like a burrito to make sure they are secure, then put them in my bag for the night.
I firmly believe everyone should have a cobbler. I don’t know how I would live without mine – I’ve had heels pop off, soles come loose, and giant patches of color scraped from the toe of a shoe by a wayward leader’s giant foot. A visit to the cobbler means that these things can be repaired by replacement, re-gluing/nailing, and I actually had to have a pair of shoes entirely re-colored because there was no polish of that color – but I did it and it meant spending $20 to have them fixed rather than $160 for a new pair. If your shoes are smelly, have your cobbler replace the insole to see if that helps with the odor. I have rarely encountered a shoe problem that could not be addressed, or at least improved, by a cobbler in some fashion.
Soles getting thin? Cracked? Coming apart? Or maybe you just want a different sole – talk to your cobbler about your options.
Polish, Shine, Brush, and/or Dye
How to spruce up your shoes is going to depend on the type of material.
If you have leather shoes, polishing them is good not only for keeping them shiny and new looking, but also for preserving the leather and keeping it supple – the salt in your sweat can dry out the leather over time. Cobblers, grocery stores, and other retailers have shoe polish kits that you can buy to help you with the materials and instructions you may need. If you can’t find the right color polish locally, you may have to hit the internet (so many colors!) or get creative to cover those scuffs – I discovered that Gold Sharpies are almost the exact same gold as the Re-Mix Balboas in gold, I just color over the scuff and rub the color in with my finger.
For suede shoes, there are specific materials – you can get a suede eraser to touch up scuffs and a suede brush will restore the nap of the leather.
If you love white Keds, you know that by sueding them you can’t just throw them in the wash when they get dirty. You can use a tablespoon of baking soda and just a bit of water to make a paste and rub it onto the more noticeable spots, then wipe clean.
Finally, some shoes are made of dyeable materials, so if they are just beyond hope you could always make them a different color. Beth Grover at V is for Vintage has a great tutorial on how to dye your Aris Allen oxfords.
Buy More Than One Pair
I know I’m going to get resistance from some people on this one, but you should own more than one pair of dance shoes, especially if you are Lindy Hopping multiple nights a week. You want your shoes to last longer and to give them time to breathe between wearings, which is why it’s not a good idea to wear the same pair of shoes every day. You also want your feet to stay limber and not put repeated pressure on the same areas of the foot with a certain pair of shoes, which is another good reason to rotate dance shoes. Different shoes use different muscles and we want to keep our muscles in good condition so we can dance for as long as possible. 🙂
While I have your attention with yesterday’s post, I’ll make a shameless plug for my band, the Mint Julep Jazz Band, and the Kickstarter we are running through December 30 to fund our first CD! We’d love to have you as a backer in exchange for copies of the CD, dance shoe bags, and other fabulous rewards, but the best reason of of all – we make music you can swing out to!
I am sad to report this, but the biggest offense at this year’s Eastern Balboa Championships was body odor. Numerous people made unsolicited comments about the ripe smell of mostly gentlemen, but also some ladies, who were taking classes (with the exception of the Masters class, but by then you have probably mastered many things, including your body odor at dance events).
This can be a very sensitive topic for people, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s important to be aware of your smell at dances because it can make for an unpleasant experience for others around you and, in turn, can make for an unpleasant night of dancing for you when others react or pretend not to react to your smell.
This all has little to do with shopping, but there are some things you can do, things that you can purchase, and things that you can wear that can make a difference in your odor throughout the night. We are all sweating out there on the dance floor, it’s inevitable that the room we dance in will end up smelling like a locker room when we are done; however, it’s when your personal smell overpowers the general musk of the room that there is a need to address the issue.
It is important to take both preventative and continuing measures to ensure that you remain a viable partner throughout the dance or dance event.
Ask yourself, do I smell?
As soon as I smell something I immediately assume it’s me. I’m the closest person to me, shouldn’t I be able to smell myself? Do an armpit check. DO IT. I have, on occasion, forgotten to wear deodorant. It happens. I always keep deodorant in my purse, so I run to the bathroom and apply/reapply liberally. I also sometimes ask a close friend to tell me if I smell. He/she will be honest about your odor because this is an important question.
Yes, showering takes time away from workshops/hanging out/meals/dances/late night, but if you have sweated and are sitting in that sweat for a period of 24 hours at an event, chances are you probably smell a little. It’s natural. This is where you consider that others around you may not want to smell you. If you are at home with your BFF playing video games and eating Cheetos all weekend, you probably don’t have to bathe, but then that friend probably isn’t touching you or getting in your personal space. You are dancing with friends and strangers at an event in very close proximity, especially at Balboa events. Please be considerate, take a moment to check your funk level (sniff or ask a friend), and do try to take a bath at least once per 24 hour period. Even a bird bath can help.
Deodorant is your friend
Please wear deodorant. Reapply if necessary.
If you have worn the same pair of pants all weekend, that may be the source of the smell. Most dancers who have been doing this for a while know that they will need to bring at least one outfit per day, if not more, and most leads know that they will need several changes of shirts throughout the dance. It’s not just about the dampness, it’s also about the smell. You may also want to consider a bird bath for the armpits (and dry them afterwards) with paper towels in the bathroom between shirt changes to wipe away the bacteria, and/or perhaps check at that point to see if you should reapply deodorant.
You are what you eat and you may smell like what you ate for dinner – try to eat more fruits and veggies and try to eat less meats and greasy food. Avoid onions and garlic – they can affect your breath and your odor, a double whammy. Also, stay hydrated!
This goes to the other end of the spectrum – the overpowering smells aren’t always body odor, so please be mindful of how potent your perfume is at dance events. Most of the female complaints I heard at EBC were perfume-related. If you are using bath products that smell nice and are using deodorant, this is probably enough smelly goodness that you won’t need a perfume. If you are trying to mask the odor, perhaps it’s time to reapply the deo or take a bath.
Wear clothing that allows your skin to breathe, i.e. natural fibers (cotton, linen, silk, wool – yes, wool).
While I am certain this is not a comprehensive list, I am hopeful that it is a start – let’s do try to make an effort to keep our personal odor to a minimal level so that we can all enjoy the dance.
I have been solicited to write a follow-up post addressing some more specific questions about how I, personally, thrift shop – the questions come from Rebecca Brightly and Matthew Glassman, so thank you for your interest! I will try to address each question individually, so here we go…
Do you make up a game plan?
There are three reasons I would go to a thrift store – two involve a plan and one does not. One would be if I were looking for something specific – in my last trip it was an ivory blouse. In these cases the game plan is easy, go to the rack at the store where the item may be, scan the rack for colors and textures, and move on if the store doesn’t have what you need.
Another reason that I would head to the thrift stores would be if I am looking for pieces of a costume. The game plan here is more nebulous because often the thrifting can become part of the creative process. You may find something that could be altered to make what you need, or something that is similar to what you need but that could jog your creativity into thinking of a better or different way to make what you need. The plan of attack depends on what you are seeking and you may need to visit multiple sections in the store. Also, never eliminate possibilities based on gender or even age. The kids section has serious prop potential.
Finally, I do go to the thrift store for fun from time to time. I usually go when I have a companion, but sometimes I go because I need some retail therapy and I’m low on cash. Sometimes I hear about a friend’s really great find at a certain store and I have to go check it out for myself. On these occasions there is rarely a game plan, I just go and scan the racks for colors and textures I enjoy. I often wander around aimlessly at the beginning of my visit to the store because I’m looking for something to catch my eye. I’m not a digger, which is why it is often better for me to go thrifting with a companion because I can be a lazy shopper.
How do you cope with feeling overwhelmed?
I do often get overwhelmed in thrift stores because I am a very Type A organized person and seeing racks upon racks of mismatched clothing sends my senses into overload. The sales people usually can’t keep up with the inventory, so asking them for help is an act of futility. My saving grace is when they organize the clothing by color because I immediately head to the green section. If there is no color-code, I seek my comfort zones – housewares and shoes. Both of these sections, by their very nature, do not fit into tight racks where each individual item is rightnexttoeachother. There’s some clarity and some room for the items to breathe in these two sections. If I am hesitant about digging, I know I can go to these sections and see everything without having to touch anything (usually, unless there are boxes to dig through). Once I have made friends with one or both of these sections, I start to feel more comfortable in my surroundings and have usually been in the store long enough to have something else catch my eye, or I’ll think of something I’d like to look for once my brain has calmed from the overload, or I go seek out my companion and see what he/she has found, then go from there. I have gone into thrift stores that are just so full of junk that it’s not worth it to dig. It’s better to leave at that point.
Do you give yourself a time limit?
If I am in a local thrift store I usually do not give myself a time limit. If I am traveling, there is usually a time limit and a certain number of stores on the agenda, so time must be used more wisely.
Do you bail if you’re not finding anything after a certain time?
Yes! I am a lazy and impatient shopper, so if I am not finding things that catch my eye I will leave.
Do you wander?
I am definitely a wanderer. I’d like to say I was more diligent and would start at one rack and work my way through the store, but that seems to require so much effort. I admire these people – my mother is one of these people. I will wander through a thrift store 3 or 4 times sometimes before I will touch anything. I like to take everything in before I commit to an area. I also find that in taking multiple looks at an area of a store you will see things on the 2nd and 3rd go around that you missed on the first.
What specific kinds of items do you look for?
Sometimes the aforementioned costumes or a specific item, but if I am just going for fun I tend to look for vintage, shoes, kitchen items, and work-appropriate clothing. Vintage can be a long shot in thrift stores, but I have found some great vintage coats on the rack. Shoes can be hit or miss, but I’ve found some great 1970’s Nike tennis shoes for my everyday wardrobe, tap shoes when I needed those for a class, and clearly found some awesome turquoise glitter dance heels in my last run. Some stores I know even get unused shoes – a local thrift store here got some great low heeled character shoes in gold and silver that were fantastic (but not in my size). I have lots of yellow 1950’s kitchen paraphernalia in my kitchen, so I am always on the lookout to add to my collection of yellow accoutrements. Work appropriate clothing can be had, occasionally, and I find that these items are better cared-for than a lot of the other clothes in the store. Oh, and vinyl – if there are records, I’m going through the stack.
How much do you compromise on fit, color, and quality?
I always try to find things in the best possible condition, but the cheaper the item is, the more willing I am to try to salvage it. I’m pretty picky on fit and quality – if I can’t fix it myself based on my sewing skills and a bottle of Shout, I will probably leave it. I’m a little more flexible on color. If it’s not a color I usually wear, I may decide that the price is worth the risk and, in this way, I am pushing my own boundaries, which can be a good thing. If it works out, I have done well – if it fails, I didn’t break the bank.
How much you should spend on a second-hand item (and what is too much)?
I assess things similarly to the way I do vintage clothing, only my maximum price is probably $20 instead of $200. Unless it’s Prada or some other quality brand, or an actual vintage item, I try to keep things as inexpensive as possible. A safe average cost per item is $5.00 – some things will be more, some will be less, and this may vary depending on your location or the type of thrift store.
On Saturday I embarked on a thrifting expedition with swing DJ Bill Speidel – anyone who is Facebook friends with Bill will have noticed that over the past few months Bill has been racking up some serious finds at various Virginia thrift stores, including English tweed jackets, designer ties, and a giant box full of Trafalgar braces. I know I’m not the only one salivating over his finds and Bill was generous enough to take me around to his Hampton Roads haunts.
This reminded me of my childhood shopping trips with my mom, many of which involved thrift stores and consignment shops – The Snob in Winston-Salem, the Salvation Army in Greenville, and Second Fling in Goldsboro, NC come to mind. Mom was diligent and found some great things over the years, like two Yohji Yamamoto suits and a pair of signature Ferragamo heels, things she would not have been able to afford off the rack, but could use second-hand (and sometimes never worn, with the tags still on – she is the master of finding things with the tags still on). She definitely taught me some good lessons about how to find good shops, how to assess the items in the shops, and how much you should spend on a second-hand item (and what is too much).
In my opinion, thrifting can be even more fruitful for guys, simply because menswear hasn’t changed a lot over the past century. For example, it is very easy for me to tell which women’s suits were made in the 1980’s (screaming electric color giant button trim shoulder padded mess), but it’s not as easy with menswear at first glance. Much of the dress clothing that ends up in thrift stores is still in great or very wearable condition, as most men do not have to wear a suit every day – these were special occasion or church clothing for most people, so your odds of finding items in good condition are high. Bill found two Brooks Brothers suits on our trip, that were still there from one of his previous trips – $40 would get some lucky gent a mint condition Brooks Brothers suit, they just have to go to Norfolk and get it.
Also, you can get really nice things for minimal investment, so if you happen to rip something dancing or continuously sweat through it, the possibility that it may be ruined hurts a little less at the bank.
Here are a few tips I like to keep in mind about thrifting more effectively:
Like yard sales on Saturday morning, the earliest bird gets all the good worms. It may also be that instead of earlier in the day you should go earlier in the week – find out what day(s) they put out new inventory and be there on that day.
If you are serious about getting some really good pieces you can’t just go once a year and expect your wardrobe to materialize. Often may be variable, depending on the quality of the store and the turnover rate of items in the store, but it could be once a week, once a month, or once a season, depending on your needs or your commitment to thrifty shopping.
I’m not usually one for brand labels when I am purchasing new clothes, but they can come in handy in the thrift store when you are gauging the quality and durability of a garment. It’s also important to check the other tags, such as the material and cleaning instructions. Sometimes the garment will have a country of origin tag, which is especially nice if you come across a nice tweed and find out that it was, in fact, made in England.
CHECK FOR FLAWS
Like vintage clothing, these garments were pre-owned and may have stains, rips, holes, or other flaws. It’s important to give a garment the once-over in the store to determine if they exist, the extent, and if the issues are repairable.
DON’T EXPECT A COMPLETE OUTFIT
This kind of shopping is piecemeal – you may find one wardrobe item you love and nothing to go with it. If you can’t think of anything you have to match it or aren’t compelled to build an outfit around it, then it might be best to resist the impulse buy, even if it only costs $5.00.
LOOK FOR ADDITIONAL DISCOUNTS
Even the thrift stores have sales and there may be certain days of the week or month where everything is marked down even further. Some stores mark items down based on how long an item has been in the store. It’s good to know the store’s policies on their sales and, if it’s a certain day of the week, refer to my comments about getting there early…
DON’T GET OVERWHELMED
Some stores are so big or so crowded with what appears to be a bunch of junk that it can be truly overwhelming, especially for someone who is a lazy shopper like me (I usually go up and ask the store clerks if they have what I am looking for – this is generally not effective in thrift stores). If the store groups by color, that’s half the battle, just go to your favorite colors. If it’s a jumble, scan for colors and texture you love – you don’t have to pull every garment through the rack to see if it works.
(Another article I have shared with Yehoodi – thank you for having me as a guest commentator for the ILHC broadcast!)
Wonder Woman wears a belt that creates a very prominent focal point for her outfit. Now, imagine Wonder Woman in a Lindy Hop competition. Imagine that with each swingout, the belt moves just a little bit to the right as a result of her movement and her lead’s contact, and then more to the right, and you begin paying attention to where the center of the belt is going instead of her dancing. By the time the spotlight is over the belt is almost halfway around her back, so that she no longer looks like the Wonder Woman that hit the floor at the beginning of the comp – she looks like a hot mess, shirt and skirt askew, having been pulled a little bit along with the belt.
I saw this happen in almost every competition at ILHC 2012, especially during the multiple Lindy Hop prelims on Saturday afternoon with multiple dancers. I also saw bra straps come out during spotlight dances, skirts that were too tight so that they either inhibited movement or rode up on the dancer’s body until there was room for movement, and shirt tails that came out of the skirts (or trousers for the gents). But the belts were the most egregious – wide swaths of leather, elastic, and metal making an orbit around the waist of so many dancers it was an epidemic.
Why is this so bad? This is the INTERNATIONAL LINDY HOP CHAMPIONSHIPS, the Olympics of our dance, if you will. When you have reached this level of competition there are certain expectations of presentation because you want people to focus on you and your abilities, not focus on something falling off your outfit or costume. You will be on YouTube for the world to see as one of the best swing dancers in the world. There is a level of professionalism that is expected at this point in the competition and a level of presentation that is higher than just wearing street clothes as you would wear them on the street. The visual distraction of a wardrobe malfunction and the accompanying anxiety of the viewer as the malfunction occurs is not the desired result in any performance – what if an Olympic ice skater had a bra strap fall down in the middle of a routine? I would wager that the television commentary would be less about her performance and more about whether or not she was coming undressed.
This problem is easily addressed, but requires some planning:
MAKE SMART CHOICES
When you are buying clothes for dancing or deciding what to wear in a competition, make good choices. Don’t wear clothing that inhibits your movement – make sure to do a motion test on your clothing, can you move your arms and legs in the way that you need to in order to effectively dance the way that you do? Buy clothing that fits you and is secure on your body – clothing that is too big can get caught on things or fall off, make it harder to find points on your body that need to be found by your partner, and, if large enough, can create drag that can dull your movement, either physically or visually. Don’t have too many straps or appendages hanging off that might get caught in something or accidentally grabbed. You get the idea – you want to be beautiful and interesting, but also efficient.
DO A DRY RUN
As someone who has had a wrap dress come untied in the middle of a spotlight, I can not stress enough the importance of doing a dry run. Before you dance in an outfit in a competition, please take that outfit for a spin on the floor at a dance prior to the competition. I promise that the wow factor of a new dress is completely lost when something goes wrong with the dress. There are things you can’t even anticipate that could happen, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
SECURE YOUR CLOTHING
Safety pins are your best friend. Plus, safety pins are usually in plentiful supply at competitions if you forget your own. Every belt that rotated this past weekend could have been secured to the shirt, dress, or pants of the wearer.
I mentioned this to someone and they were afraid of putting holes in their belt, but the secret is that you don’t put holes in your belt – with the elastic belts (which were most of the infractions this weekend), you simply gather a group of threads from the inside of the belt with the pin, then pin it to your garment. Do this in at least two places. If you are worried about piercing your belt, garment, or whatever, then don’t wear it. Seriously. Find something else to wear or find a something that you can secure. This is more of an issue with larger belts or belts that have prominent buckles or decoration. Skinny monotone belts can probably slide by unnoticed from a distance.
The security doesn’t end with belts. I pin stray bra straps, especially when I am wearing sleeveless garments. I pin necklines to my bra to make sure they don’t move. I pin shirts to my underwear or bloomers when I am wearing skirts or that rare pair of pants. I have even pinned my dress, slip, and bra together because the centrifugal force of the weight of the dress would pull it off my shoulders. At any given time I have 2 to 8 safety pins holding my outfit in place for dances.
Ultimately, you don’t want to have to worry about your clothing when you are competing, you already have enough worries. You also don’t want the audience to worry about your clothing, you want them to see your amazing dancing. This goes for any competition, not just ILHC. Make sure that the focal point remains you, that your clothing enhances your dancing rather than inhibits it, and that you project the polished look of a professional dancer, regardless of your division or level.
I hear a lot of questions about how to isolate the decade, or portion of a decade (or in rare instances, the year), in which a particular garment was made. How do you identify the date of a garment based on the details, fabrics, notions, etc. included the garment? My initial answer is to do your homework, but my learning mostly consisted of shopping for vintage with my mother, asking her to identify the decade, and having her point out different identifying details. I can’t loan out my mother to all of you, so you’ll have to learn the old fashioned way: book learning (or in the 21st century, the Internets).
Kim at Time Machine Vintage directed me to the Vintage Pattern Wiki to get some ideas for dresses, but I was delighted to see that you could search their extensive directory by the type of garment and also by year. I see other compilations of patterns for sale that usually group by decade, but I’m just anal retentive enough to want to add more mid-1930’s dresses to my collection, or to want to make sure that late 20’s/early 30’s dress is actually late 1920’s. Regardless of your OCD level or absence thereof, this website is a useful resource for anyone who would like to learn and understand more about the fashions from each of the swing era decades, down to the year. Another great feature of this site is menswear and children’s clothing included in the patterns, which is not something I run across very often.
Enjoy this resource, I’ve already spent portions of two evenings going through the early 1940’s stuff – this could take a while!
1) Tziporah Salamon is truly inspiring – her carefully selected outfits of vintage pieces from so many decades are, in whole and in part, works of art. I love that the article not only chronicles her outfits today, but also some of the outfits she put together over the years.
2) Her philosophy on putting garments together to create an ensemble is unparalleled and I think everyone, including me, could benefit from adopting some of her ideas.
3) Her philosophy on collecting vintage and antique garments and accessories is spot on, definitely something we share – these items should be worn, reworked, mended, and cared for, but not stored in a museum. We also share a similar start to our collections – inheriting clothing from a benefactor (hoarder, whatever you want to call it).
4) I actually think that the title of this article is highly inaccurate and that this wonderful excerpt sums up what Ms. Salamon is all about: “My friends will say, ‘I feel terrible because next to you, because you’re all dressed.’ I’ll say, ‘That’s not a requirement of mine that you be dressed. It’s a requirement of mine that I be dressed.'” This is pretty much how I feel about what I am doing with Lindy Shopper, I’m just sharing with you things that inspire me. 🙂
After several days of people reading my post about bringing back the trumpet skirt and going to the Dancestore.com Facebook page and clicking “Like” on my post to indicate that YES I WANT DANCESTORE.COM TO MAKE AND SELL THE TRUMPET SKIRT AGAIN, we’ve reached 72 likes and a number of comments. I would consider this to be a pretty significant outpouring of support, but Dancestore.com remains skeptical:
Me: “So, DanceStore.com, what is the magic number? How many Likes do I need to get before you will bring back the trumpet skirt? ;)”
Dancestore.com: “I can’t guarantee anything, but 60 likes isn’t bad. Thanks everyone for your posts. Keep them coming.”
Isn’t bad? ISN’T BAD??? Ladies, we are clearly going to have to get some significant number of likes on this post before Dancestore.com will commit to the skirt. Short of starting a Kickstarter campaign to fund the endeavor for Dancestore.com ourselves, I am hoping we can get enough likes to convince them that we mean business – and by business, I mean business for them! They will not indicate how many “Likes” will make a difference, but I’m guessing if we had enough “Likes” to validate my statement about hundreds of dancers needing and wanting this skirt that it could make a difference. Can we get 100 Likes? 200? Spread the word, I’m determined that petitioning them can make a difference and we will bring back the trumpet skirt from extinction!
Since there has been some confusion about where to post, thanks to Facebook’s horrible new Timeline, here’s the process:
2) Look on the right hand side of the Timeline – you should see a box that says “Recent Posts by Others on DanceStore.com.”
3) You can find my post two ways, first by clicking “See All” at the top right of the “Recent Posts by Others on DanceStore.com” box and scroll down to find Laura Windley’s post linking to A Letter to Dancestore.com/Ode to a Trumpet Skirt
4) Click “Like” on this post. Leave a comment if you wish!
For those of you who have already posted or “Liked” the comment, thanks for all your support! I know many of you feel the same way I do about these skirts – a great skirt that is great for what we do at a great price!