Archives For January 2012

For the love of Betsey

January 28, 2012 — 28 Comments

Anything I can buy at the mall, I can get at a thrift store. But that’s old news. Thrifting is the best because I find things I can’t buy at the mall, things I can’t find online, things I couldn’t otherwise afford, and things I’d never even think to look for. That’s the funnest part about the hunt. And this week, I bagged on of my best (and maybe favourite?) thrifty finds EVER. Two words:


Yup. I thrifted a Betsey this week! Now before I go ahead and reveal my steal, I’m going to tell you a bit about my girl Betsey – Chick is crazy.

For real – you will be hard-pressed to find another living designer as zany as our Bestey. She’s tacky, she’s trashy, she’s punk rock – and, almost unexpectedly, she makes beautiful clothing that transcends all the gimmicks and the glitter. If you want to get a good taste of Betsey’s aesthetic, look no further than her most recent Spring 2012 show:


Sparkles. Taffeta. Rhinestones. Lace-up platforms. Lightning bolt earrings for goodness sake! Not exactly my style (unless I finally live my dream and go as Jem for Halloween). But before you dismiss the wacky and wonderful ways of Betsey, I want you to look closer at the construction of her work – the cut of the dresses, the incredible florals, the soft chiffons and feminine silhouettes – they’re there, they’re just hiding. Have a look at some of Betsey’s other creations:


Betsey first found her voice within the “youth quake” scene of the 1960s and 70s, rubbing shoulders with Andy Warhol and the The Velvet Underground. She developed a bold, brash, and beautiful style, and at 69 she is still sending it down the runway every season. Betsey creates original and lovely things that any woman, from Katy Perry to Kate Winslet could wear. The week, I thrifted an amazing Betsey Johnson black floral slip dress at the Salvation Army, and if it weren’t sleeting outside, I’d be wearing it right now.



I found this dress while on the hunt for vacation wear for my trip in March (that’s become a bit of a problem – all I’m buying lately are pieces strictly meant for the beach, not practical for a Canadian in the great white North). I pulled this dress from the rack and tried it on before even looking at the label. I was honestly amazed at how well it fit my body. The lines were perfect. The fabric was so soft, and the simple, effortless construction made me realize this wasn’t a Walmart brand. The label, “Betsey Johnson New York” means it’s a newish find from the mid 2000s. It also means it likely cost upwards of $250 when it was new. If you look on the current Betsey Johnson website, similar pieces are going for $300 or more. And I paid $6.99. Amazing!

I’m purposefully not giving you a full view of this dress, because it looks so much better on than it does on the hanger. So, you’ll have to wait until I’m frolicking in white sands and salty waters in March to see that. I won’t be wearing this with lucite heals or leather glovelettes à la Bestsey. I’ll be wearing it with flip flops and maybe a jean jacket. But either way, March can’t come soon enough. It only seems appropriate to end of this post with Betsey’s signature show-closing cartwheel:


A true original. Let’s hope we’re all still cartwheeling at 70.

Meet Emma James

January 24, 2012 — 29 Comments

A big whack of my design time is taken up as an inhouse designer for a small liberal arts university. In fact, this university happens to be the place that was crazy enough to give me a B.A. Many assume working at a university and going to a university feel just the same, when the truth is, they couldn’t feel more different. For one, a 24 season-2 marathon is no longer deemed a legitimate reason not to show up, and my lunch almost never includes chicken fingers.

Most of the time, I almost forget I was ever a student there  – it’s a completely different place as an employee. But every so often, on my walk towards the water fountain to fill up my mug,  I’ll pass a class in session, and out of the corner of my eye I’ll catch a glimpse of one of my favourite profs, schooling the next batch of idealist artsy/writer types with kernels of wisdom on how art will save the world and John Keats kicks all sorts of ass, or something like that. At that moment, I have to fight the urge to smoosh against the door glass, and yell “let me in! I want to learn more about Jane Austen! I promise I’ll actually read the book this time!”

Last week, I put together an outfit that only heightened my desire to revert to a full-time student of the arts and literature variety.

It began with this Maggy London dress – thrifted, I think, by my Mom and passed around amoungst the sisters every few months. This dress is awesome. It has pockets ideally suited for tiny editions of the classics, or a pocket watch, or a mole skin notebook to write down my brilliant observations on Jane Eyre  and “I heart  Rochester” doodles. I wore it with my newly thrifted $3 “Emma James by Liz Claiborne” cardigan, which I henceforth declare the name of my British grad student alter-ego. I topped it off with my last-ever Mall purchase from Decemeber: my sweet knock-off Oxfords (which Wikipedia has recently told me I incorrectly laced).

This outfit, combined with a recent binge of the BBC Sherlock, ensured my internal monologue spoke in a bad British accent for most of the day. I also may have wondered towards the fountain a few more times than usual, in the vain hope my favourite tweed-loving professor would stop me in the hall, and we’d talk about C.S. Lewis some more. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. But the pockets did provide a swell place to stash the candies I swiped everytime I walked by the Finance Department. Oops, forgive me – I mean my pockets were a swell place for “sweets”.

{If you fancy yourself a stylin’ academic, go see What Would a Nerd Wear and Elegantly Academic – both of these ladies are legit PHD students, and they dress like arty English majors EVERYDAY.}

Let me borrow that top.

January 19, 2012 — 7 Comments

I’d like to press pause and declare a “Sister Break” over at We So Thrifty. I’ve decided, in the event I’m too lazy to set up my tripod and wash my hair, my sisters will serve as official subs for this blog, since they live down the street and thrift nearly as much as I do. I haven’t told them this yet. I hope they like surprises! Over the weekend, I was with them before they headed out for martinis, and my little sister Laura looked so very chic, I harassed her until she agreed to let me take her photo (I was one step away from offering her financial incentives before she relented – sucker!).

Laura thrifted this fabulous gold top with lace detail – I’d never seen anything quite like it. When I asked her where it was orginally from, she replied, almost in disbelief “Lindor!” For those of you who haven’t heard of Lindor, it’s what I like to call a “Wealthy Mom Brand” (not to be confused with the delicious chocolates of a similar name). I define Wealthy Mom Brands (WMBs) as brands that are targeted to well-to-do women over 40. While Laura was suprised to find something so “hip”, I wasn’t. I’ve learned through my years of wandering the thrift wildnerness that WMBs are your best friend.

In my closet, I’ve thrifted many items that fit under this category. Some of my favourite Mom Brands are Chico’s, Talbots, Lindor and Jones New York. I love these items because they are good quality garments – and you pay for that when you buy them new. Most people can’t afford to pay $60 for a blouse until they’re well-established career women, or they married rich and can therefore afford a life of leisure and spend all day wearing cardigans and drinking tea. Well, to all my debt-ridden 20-somethings: that $60 blouse can be yours for $5.99, and you can have as much tea as you like if you reuse the bag!

I’ve learned to familiarize myself with these brands, so when I thrift, I pass right over the Old Navy and Joe Fresh, and pick up the Anne Klein next to it. And, take notes from Laura: If you’re worried these brands are too mature for your style, pair them with some funky earrings, a tight black skirt, and a statement belt, then everyone will be jealous. If not everyone, at least your older sister will be. And she’s so nice, you should probably let her borrow that top.

Last week Thursday, my sisters and I descended upon The Salvation Army for the 5/$15 sale. This rare occurance means that all my finds are not $5.99 as usual, but $3! We approached the racks with a careful determination –  piling up pieces and strategically laying out our changerooms. I quickly found 5 new items, and was quite pleased with my varying selection – 1 dress, 1 cardigan, 1 skirt, and 2 new shirts.

I went home with 5 more items than my closet currently has hangers, so it was time for a mini-binge to make room for my new steals. I did a quick scan of the territory, and pulled out the items I never wear, don’t like, and quite simply forgot about.

I removed some frump-tastic items from the back corners of my closet – a khaki skirt that looked like garbage after one wash, a gray cardigan that was the Eeyore of my sweater collection, some pinstriped pants from my bland “young professional” phase, etc. This pile was a testament to the unremarkable. As I bundled up these leftovers, I noticed one common thread between these sorry pieces of polyester and cotton – they all came from The Mall. All of these cast-offs came into my possession in exactly the same way: they were purchased in a panicked haste – last-minute impulse buys to make me feel better about wasting three hours of my Saturday doing my best Zombie walk from store to store.

Giddy from the success of my 5/$15, and motivated by the lumpy pile at my feet, I’ve decided to make something official. It’s something I’ve been toying with for some time now, and I think Mondays are the perfect days to share sweeping declarations. So, here is my sweeping declaration for this here 16th day of January, 2012:

That’s right peeps. This relationship has officially gone sour. For 2012, I will only buy clothes that are thrifted, or come from an independent retailer I intentionally desire to support. This means no Winners, no Walmart, no H and no M, no Zara, no Cleo, no Ricki’s, and no Guess. Mall – we’re breaking up. And no, it’s not me – it’s you.

*However, I do require some small exceptions to my Year Without a Mall. I will only revisit my former flame for two reasons, as follows:

1) To buy undergarments and various hosiery. I don’t think this requires any explanation.

2) To buy pants – my “38 inseam unfortunately limits my ability to thrift pants. I’ve tried. I look silly. However, just the other day my Mom gave me some jeans that were too low-rise for her tastes, so perhaps I just need to find a way to trick my mom into buying more low-rise pants.

So there you have it! A resolution for 2012, only two weeks too late. I should feel daunted by my new pledge, but I’m actually feeling confident and excited. It means I’ll stay motivated to keep thrifting and adding new-old pieces to my closet. On Friday night, I put together two of my 5/$15 finds – this lovely, delicate lace top, and a basic-black skirt. $3 dollas each! And, in order to ensure there is a sufficient amount of dorkiness in this post, here I am, taking “the vow”.

And now, I’d like to extend the call to my thrift fashionistas all across the interwebs – any of you care to take the pledge and break up with the Mall? I’ll make you a button! And teach you the secret handshake. And invite you to my clubhouse. No boys allowed! Okay, okay. Some boys allowed. But only nice ones.

(I think I’m actually serious about the button. Stay tuned for that!)

Anyways, that’s it for today. Let’s all raise our cups, and give three cheers for new years, old clothes, and sweeping declarations. Happy Monday everyone!
Update: Join the movement! Grab a button. Allz you gotta do is grab a button using the code below, add it as a widget on your blog, and watch your closet grow! Magic!

We so…shifty?

January 10, 2012 — 13 Comments

I’d like to pay tribute to a little friend of mine. You see, my closest is a mismash of styles. Some days I want to dress like a 1980’s lady lawyer, and some days (usually when I don’t shower) I want to look like a dirty hippy. It all depends on the mood. But every so often, a trend will emerge from my crazy closest. I’ll like a style or a cut so much, I’ll buy it 5 times. And recently, that cut is the classic shift dress.


A shift dress is a basic, above-the-knee dress, cut straight down from the shoulders. It’s almost always high-necked, with fitted darts at the bust, and grazes right past tummy. It’s straight, simple, and can be worn any which way.

The shift gained popularity in the 1960s. According to the Google machine, it’s called a shift dress because a) women could dance and move easily in it or b) It’s synomymous with the culture shift of the 1960s, embodying the free, revolutionary spirit of the times. Either answer is awesome, if you ask me.

The shift dress shape is a blank slate – it can take on a unique look all depending on the pattern, the fabric, and even the way you style it. It’s a little bit Jackie O, and a little bit Zooey D. It’s formal and funky, androgynous and flirty. And right now, it’s one of my favourite shapes.

I was tickled to come across this geometric shift at Salvation Army over the weekend ($4.99). The pattern is mod, the colours and fun, and the shape makes me feel free and confident. The origins of this dress remain mysterious – I have a sneaking suspicion it may very well be hand-made. There isn’t a label to be found, and there are little unfinished touches on the inside. But the construction is phenomenal – right down to the peculiar purple piping on the collar and sleeves.

When I have this on, all I want to do is pile on the pastel pink lipstick, kiss a Ringo poster, and make like Twiggy. Actually, that’s a lie – I did that in my jammies yesterday.

(PS: 10 points to the first person to catch the obscure 80s cartoon reference in this post.)

(This post is linked in with other thrifters via Flea Market Finds and Thrift Share Monday)

In my own little corner

January 6, 2012 — 26 Comments

Warning: I’m about to show you something gross. Okay, not really gross, but sort of pathetic, and a little embarrassing. Are you ready?

 Gah! My eyes! The combination of the automatic flash + my racoon cat makes this look like a crime scene photo, when in fact it’s the sad, sorry little corner where I sat to get ready for the day. Objects in the photo include, but are not limited to: books, a box of golf balls, dirty laundry, clean laundry, printer paper, lady products, and canadian flag in the window. Every morning, in the midst of this hodge-podge, I would plop down on the floor, blindly shove my contacts into my eyes, plug in my blowdryer and slap on some makeup. Usually in that order.

While the rest of my house has, fortunately, moved away from “university student” decor over the past few years, a few leftover clues remain (our bedside table is a rubbermaid container with a scarf over it). This corner still looked like it was inhabited by a 20-something college kid who was either jacked up on coffee or hungover from a night of smoke machines and dollar beers.

Over the holidays, I was newly inspired by my mom’s thrifty solutions to decor problems, so I decided to attack this corner with the same strategy. The result:

Much better! Wouldn’t you say?

The room renovation began with a hunt for a vanity. My first stop was the trusted Salvation Army. I didn’t come home with a vanity. I did, however, come home with the cute lamp and big mirror you see above. Both $4.99. A few days later, I paid a visit to the Bibles For Missions Thrift Store. They usually have a larger selection of furniture, and lo, they had this charming dressing table! The vanity cost me more than I wanted ($35 plus a delivery charge of nearly as much). However, when you’re shopping at a place that exists only to further missionary projects run by the Bible League, you can also consider your purchase a donation – and that should make anyone loosen their purse strings.

I also picked up a small stool for $10, and a whack of stripey yellow fabric for $2.50 (I originally picked out a totally awesome hippy-dippy paisley pattern, but when I asked my husband how much he hated he, he said “I hate it so much”. If he had responded with “I hate it only a little” I would have taken it).

So, once home, I recovered the seat with the stripey fabric. Note: I don’t sew, I don’t craft, I don’t even staple – I used thumb tacks. Don’t judge. It worked! I also had enough fabric to make a neat little jewelry board out of a frame I picked up from a church garage sale. You might recognize it from this post. Now I won’t have to spend ten minutes unknotting my jewelry after pulling it out of a drawer. Small victories!

I grabbed a few other items from the house (a flower pot for my hairspray products, and a wicker box to house my makeup) and suddenly the forgotten corner didn’t look so scary.

Most of the miscellaneous items I listed before found new homes in the vanity drawers. I’m also hoping that since this corner no longer looks like a dump, I’ll be less inclined to treat it as one. The dirty laundry will go directly into the hamper, and the clean laundry will go to the floor of my closest (hey, I’m a realist). All in all, I’m quite pleased with my new space! I won’t be bursting out “I feel pretty” every morning, but I can at least give myself morning pep talks with some dignity. And I love my morning pep talks.

Any forgotten corners in your home you’d like to tackle?

I got it from my Mama

January 3, 2012 — 14 Comments

So often, I’m greeted with looks of shock and awe when I tell people just how many items in my house and closet are thrifted goods. They commend me, and say “I could never do that – I have no idea where to begin!” as if I’m practicing some advanced level of witchcraft of which they are ignorant. People, I appreciate the flattery, but it’s quite honestly undeserved! Thrifting is easy, if you do it right. And you know who taught me to do it right? My mom. The lady is a thrift machine! Her trick? Go early, go often.

Thrifting, whether it be for clothing or housewares, is best done in an open and relaxed state of mine. Don’t go in a hurry, frantically looking for a particular item. Rather, go when you have at least an hour, with an open mind. This is the way I shop for clothing – collecting items that make an outfit over  time, and the same goes for interior decorating – buy little bits and pieces all the time, until, voila! A vingette comes together.

I spent time at my parents’ over the holidays, and while I was there I snapped a few pics of this theory in practice – little pieces, thrifted from many different stores, coming together in a lovely, stylish way.

Those lamps and mugs? Salvation Army. The paintings and mirrors? The Humane Society Thrift Store. The hutch they sit on? Waste Wise. And you get the idea. Mom has amassed such a collection of thrifted artwork and mirrors, every month she can shift them around, put them on a new wall, pair them with a new item, and create a brand-new space. It’s just like remixing accessories & clothing to make a new outfit.

Look at the little touches in her kitchen: those chairs came from Salvation Army, and Mom waited for the right fabric to recover them. How awesome is the retro bread box? It sits next to a framed coffee ad from a 60s Life magazine. It’s about the little things!

In the kitchen, there was this awkward space between the pantry and the heating radiator for months after my parents moved in. When the above little sofa came up at one of her usual spots, she stuck in it in the car and took it home. Fits perfectly. Observe the wall of frames – she didn’t buy those all at once from Ikea. She collected them over time, and they all spent time in different parts of the house, only now they make one elegant statement.

Another sweet find by Mom is the vintage wallpaper above the bed in my parents’ room. While my husband would have a heart attack if I put something this bold in our room (or anywhere – he’s allergic to wallpaper), my Dad is pretty chill about the whole thing. And the end result is pretty darn stylin’.

So, there you have it: Mom’s rules to get your house looking beautiful on a budget: Thrift everywhere, thrift often, with eyes always open to the little things.

I recently attempted my own mini-room makeover, compiling items from Bibles for Missions, Salvation Army, and the church garage sale. Look for it on the blog later this week. In the mean time, try to find it in your heart to forgive me for using a terrible Will.I.Am song in my title. I’d promise it won’t happen again, but I’d be lying. Titles are hard.