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DIY Vintage Chic: Thrifting Wisdom and Lessons from The Great Depression

Photography by John Hart

Sometimes you've just got to try new things, so while we're at it, let’s turn up the nostalgia.

I'm often intrigued by fashion, and even though a large percentage of the time I'll cruise around in jeans, and hoodie - when I do get the chance, I love to go all out.

I remember my grandma’s closet. Although she lived through the Great Depression, endured poverty, despised wasting anything and was incredibly strict about her ways, she always managed to look pulled together. I didn’t recognize it then, but she was classic vintage.

When my brother and sister were both in elementary school and mom and dad were at work, she watched me, the youngest of three. I remember walking to the grocery store together. She always wore a scarf over her head to protect her snow white hair. I also recall she wore a lot of color. High-waist floral skirts, a maroon belt, and moccasins that swept across the linoleum kitchen floor. I liked her moccasins - so much so that she taught me how to make a pair out of deerskin. She taught me to sew and had a collection of buttons like you wouldn't believe (she never wasted anything away).

When my grandma passed, my aunt later caught wind that I had always admired her wardrobe. While most of her clothes were given away, a few pieces actually made their way to me, which I cherish deeply. I have her wedding dress, though she had such a tiny waist there's no way I'd ever get into it. I've considered maybe altering it into something else at some point.

Regardless, in part I owe my appreciation for the vintage-esque to her. I've been collecting pieces over the years and working towards a style that feels authentic.

All this reminds me of a particular point of my music career. I was broke. Like seriously broke. Top that off with having a kiddo and trying to still “make it,” I had to get real crafty, often. In that season of life where I couldn’t afford a decent pair of shoes, I remember feeling sick inside as cold slushy snow would seep through the soles of my cheap pleather pumps. All I could do was be pissed, cry a little, and keep moving forward. I was often reminded of what people went through during the Great Depression. They worked hard, made things out of very little, and persevered.

Those incredibly hard moments inspired my track “Whitney.” I knew I either needed to go all in or get out. It was the beginning of my PIECES album, the beginning of my kickstarter story. The beginning of making something out of nothing.

“My heart just wants to fly, feel the wind beneath my wings, elevated, breath it in Looking down on all that's been, holding me there for so long, tied like laces through the holes in my shoes come away, and carry me to a better place.” I learned to lean heavily on thrifting for survival, and every so often I’d stumble on unique classic pieces that were built to last. There was a difference in quality when I started to look closer - before just impulsively buying anything. I’d ask myself questions like, “How will I use this investment?” The biggest mistake I made was allowing my self-worth to be contingent upon whether I was wearing something "new" or something "secondhand,” and comparing myself to others. I tried to follow certain trends, but none of it lasted. All the while, I never felt like I measured up. That was my ego. I’ve since learned to shut it up, and we’ve made amends since. I discovered that it was the timeless pieces that made statements. Those that were built with intent were the ones that lasted. It’s taken me years to get here... to this day… feeling more “put together” again. And not just externally. All the internal work I’ve had to do is paying off too (an ongoing, forever process). Call it growth, call it fate, call it whatever, but what I’ve learned is to never take for granted the “hand-me-downs” from those you love, or to bat an eye at secondhand shop status. I wore my grandma’s leather jacket in this recent photo shoot. It didn’t really speak to me until recently. She had it made out of deerskin - likely a deer my grandpa shot, because that’s how people lived back then. I presume her choice to have it professionally fashioned was not an impulse decision. She likely had the skin for years before being able to afford having it made. I actually only saw her wear it once, but it was a statement jacket, and it paired perfectly with my red beret. A small statement piece I felt proud to buy for myself. When I got home after our shoot, I happened to slip my hand into the pocket of my grandmas leather jacket, and out came a spare button. I knew she was with me.

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