Secondhand Sartorialism: Holly-Kai

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The Democratic National Convention is finally here and the city, as so succinctly stated by my friend Holly-Kai, is “a-buzzin” with energy. I met up with Holly on Sunday after attending the After 5 Jazz and Blues Fest in Five Points, where African-American and African vendors from as far spread as Albuquerque and New York had come to set up shop, hawk their wares, and celebrate the historical significance of Barack Obama’s presidential run. At the festival, which will continue throughout the duration of the convention, Obama T-shirts abounded in every size and color, as the smell of dozens of varieties of scented oils filled the air and the sounds of a gospel choir thundered through the Points. After spending some time mingling with my fellow celebrants and soaking in the general atmosphere of optimism, I spoke with Holly about why, time and again, she chooses to wear vintage clothes, and often mixes them with beautifully creative pieces of her own design.
In the spirit of the construction that is going on next door to my house, she picked up my broom while we chatted and I snapped a few pics.

Name: Holly-Kai
Age: 33
Occupation: If we must do titles can we just say Artist?
Hometown: Denver
(Where’d you get your) Shirt: I made it.
Skirt: The thrift store.
Shoes: I don’t remember.
Glasses: Optical shop.
Bracelets: Gift.

Do you wear a lot of vintage? Yep.

How long have you been into vintage? I think I always was. Growing up looking at picture of my mother, grandmothers, everyone, I would always study the fashion. In terms of being more proactive about incorporating it into my own wardrobe? I’d say the last 10-12 years or so?

When getting dressed, are you generally drawn to your vintage items first? Are they the “building blocks” of your wardrobe? Good question, never really thought about it but I’d have to say I’m probably drawn there first. I try to incorporate my vintage pieces as often as I can.

When you go to a secondhand shop or sale what do you check out first?
Dresses, hands down! Then coats, then shoes, then skirts, jeans, then I cover EVERYTHING! Books, furniture, art, you name it.

Do you have a favorite piece that you ever found at a thrift store, yard sale or vintage shop? Indeed! A brown long sleeve button down fitted shirt with the cool snaps and butterfly collar.

Best shopping experience that you ever had at a thrift store, yard sale, etc?
Aw man… Too many to name!

What appeals to you about wearing vintage clothing?
The fact that you can give new life to a garment… an encore, if you will. It’s also pretty darn appealing that you can save money and find items that are often much more unique than what’s currently on the rack. It allows me to safely avoid cookie-cutter fashion. You don’t usually have to worry about someone else rockin’ the exact same piece. …And of course it’s a wonderful way to recycle.

Tell us about that fabulous shirt that you are wearing. You made it yourself, correct?
Yes I did. My shirt is of my wEmusTgRoW line. Its one of my favorite lines that I call “couture for change”. I created wEmusTgRoW clothing during a time of inevitable change. After constant meditation on why certain changes were happening in my life, the response I was continuously given was “…Because we must grow”.
Each tee is designed with a flower that I piece together from different fabrics. The flower is symbolic of our beauty, our individuality, our growth and the process as a whole. Every tee tells a story to signify the unique growth experience of our lives. I always tell women when purchasing from the wEmusTgRoW line that its not just about which shirt you like, but which one speaks to you. I truly believe that when I create them, their owners come and claim them. Just like a flower, no two are exactly the same!
In the last few years I’ve sold them a few different places but right now they are only available on my website: www.wemustgrow.etsy.com. I also did a line for babies: wEEmusTgRoW.

Any general thrifting tips?
Mmmm, I think it’s good to have a clear idea of what you’re looking for when you go in and to go in with a fresh eye and an open mind. Thrifting can take time and you really have to give yourself opportunity to see, observe and connect with the uniqueness of an item. And try not to pay too much. Thrifting is also about being able to find great pieces while saving a penny or two, or three. Try it on. Just because it was cheap and perhaps not as great a loss if it doesn’t work, try it on anyway. Besides, sometimes you underestimate how great an item is going to be until you try it on.

How do you like to wear your vintage pieces? Do you prefer to wear outfits that are overtly vintage or do you prefer to blend your vintage pieces with modern pieces and create uniquely modern ensembles? It definitely varies. But I’d say for the most part I prefer to mix vintage with modern pieces. It’s so important to acknowledge fashion from a historical perspective and I think keeping vintage pieces current by incorporating them with modern pieces allows you to do that and pay homage, if you will, to so many wonderful fashion contributions. I think vintage and modern combined also adds a certain kind of texture to your look. Fashion is another form of storytelling. If you can communicate something through your wardrobe, or tell a story with your wardrobe, it enables you to make some kind of statement without saying a word. I’m all about subtle communication and making people think through powerful aesthetics!

Anything else that you would like to share about vintage clothing and thrift store/ secondhand shopping?
I don’t think so. But I will say this-- some people think it’s a step down to thrift as opposed to shopping at a department store and purchasing brand new items. WRONG! There is a true art to thrifting. It’s so much more than saving money, that’s for sure. Think twice before you discard items that are no longer “in”. Well actually, don’t do that. …Go ahead and discard them and, hopefully, I’ll find them and give them new life!

Between my mother and grand mother, there is a certain fashion legacy they have left. My mom comments all the time how she had no idea that some of her most prized pieces would have “come back”. Over the years she did manage to maintain her coat collection which is to die for not to mention a class in itself on classic fashion.

There is so much wisdom in what Holly has to say about shopping for and wearing vintage clothing—and about quelling our desire to discard the old and reach for the new. Sometimes what we choose to discard, in terms of our fashion choices, can come back even stronger in the years to come, while our new pieces experience only a brief heyday before disappearing forever. That, dear reader, is why clothes are never garbage unless they are stained, tattered and torn. If you don’t want them anymore, donate them and let someone else recycle them into their own wardrobe. But don’t let them become landfill when someone else can still look, and feel, totally hot in them. In my opinion, there is something so much more exciting about knowing that you gave a piece a chance at new life rather than making it old trash.

-- TaRosa Jacobs

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