Vibrational Vintage Vestiges - Part 1

2024 comfort empathic psychometry interconnectedness jeudi cornejo brealey jeudi the vintage-voiced chanteuse remember where you came from the vintage voice blog touchstone to the past vibrational vintage vestiges vintage lifestyle vintage style Jun 03, 2024

I like to joke that I’m a time-traveler, and by that I'm often referring to the music that I choose to sing and the fashion that I prefer to wear. But really there is a different dimension to this as well, and it is the connection that I feel to things past. Not a longing for living in the past, but rather a deep rootedness that centers me and gives me stability. It’s an acknowledgement that I come from a long-line of ancestors - - some known, some forgotten to time - - who were of different backgrounds, races and cultures; whose lives and work ethic and choices and talents and challenges and struggles and triumphs allow me to live this life that I live today.

From this comes a deep gratitude. I don't need to know all of what they went through to appreciate them. I don't even need to know them personally. I don’t even have to like everything they did. But I can appreciate them because I appreciate what it means to be alive, to be human and to have fears and foibles.

My personal belief system and intuition tell me that our souls are infinite, while our bodies are not. I once read a story where the body was likened to a suit of clothing and over the course of life, that suit may become threadbare, well-worn, or even tattered. What was once brand new and beautiful, neatly-pressed and well-made eventually becomes faded and worn. If it’s cared for, maybe its been darned, or dyed, or mended, but eventually the fibers become too weak and give way. Still, as a life-long wearer of vintage clothes, I know that most of these actual garments outlive their owners. By donning the apparel, we can glean some bit of what it physically felt like to live in these clothes in these eras. There is a poignancy in that, but if you’re an empath, like I am, then vintage speaks to you in a whole different way. I believe that objects hold energy and that some people are able to connect to it. This new blog series will explore these themes. Most of these stories are seen through the lens of childhood memories, as such, the facts may be somewhat imprecise, but this series is mostly about impressions and feelings and the emotional connection and imprints of people, places and things long gone or long separated by time, distance and circumstances.

I’ve worn vintage clothing my entire life. Coming from a large Latin working-class family, the idea of wearing used clothes started as a cost- saving measure. These took the form of hand-me-downs from older cousins. When I'd wear these garments, it was as if they were imbued with the energy and personality I associated with these older, stronger, cooler cousins. Their clothes felt almost like a protective mantle. I'd get clothes from both my boy and girl cousins. The boys clothes were designated as “play clothes”. When I'd wear shirts from my boy cousins, I'd feel a certain swagger. I'd feel more carefree and courageous. Sure, part of it was that I didn't have to worry about ruining these clothes, like I did when I wore something store-bought, new and pristine. But part of it also felt like I had a force field around me. As if others would receive a subliminal message that said: "Don't mess with her or you'll have to reckon with us". I felt emboldened and more willing to take risks. Or as my mom would say, looking at me: “You’re a regular tom-boy”.

But when I'd wear my older female cousin’s stylish hand-me-downs, I felt more polished and together. These came to me as ready-made outfits that had already been curated and likely worn by two (or three) other older cousins til they passed down the line to me. Therefore, by the time I got them, these clothes were not as on trend, but they were often clothes that I had admired for some time. No need to covet them, because I knew they’d eventually come to me. And when they did, it was as if they came vetted and with a proven track record. Wearing them, I felt confident and proud and stylish. And they were stamped with the family’s approval. The older cousins had already persuaded their mothers, my tias, to allow them to wear certain hem lengths or styles. If it was good enough for my tias' daughters, then it was good enough for me. They had already fought the battles, and I took the spoils. This made me feel privileged and as if I had an advantage.

Then there were the clothes that were passed on to me from other family friends. These made me dream of greater possibilities. As I remember it, my mother’s best friend, Sally had a granddaughter whose parents were multilingual intellectuals, artists and free-spirits. And so was their daughter, Zara. She was about 7 years older than me and I was always hearing about her varied achievements. To me she was the epitome of sophistication. She spoke something like 5 languages fluently, had traveled extensively and I believe lived in multiple countries. She was an honor student and she had initiative. As a teen, she had even created her own skincare product line. She also easily could whip up a homemade meal, or design clothes and competently sew a complex pattern. Because she was so much older, I only actually met her on a couple of occasions and her clothes were definitely too big for me, since I was a kid. But one time, Mom’s best friend Sally invited us to dinner at the her parents’ house and she said her granddaughter would be cooking dinner. Of course, a dinner invitation meant dressing up. We never left the house without dressing up. You wanted to look nice when you went out in public. Church, school, family parties, even shopping, these were all places and occasions to dress nicely. So, we put on some nice clothes and went over.

Mr. & Mrs. Bates lived in a farmhouse on Home Avenue in East San Diego. Back when they bought it, it was farmland. Now it was a quaint remnant encroached upon by suburban sprawl. The land had mostly been sold, but there was a huge yard of a couple of acres that provided a buffer. There were chickens and a vegetable garden and I think there was even a horse and cow. It was a little oasis nestled in what was becoming a fairly industrial area filled with mechanic and upholstery shops, and gas stations. The farms gave way to some specialty garden shops, but even these were on their way out.

When we arrived, Sally greeted us. I don't know if the size was genuine, or because I was so small, but the Bates’ farm house was enormous. It was red and it matched the barn. It was the biggest and the only two-story home I had ever been in. It had furnishings that looked so different from those at home. It had real wood, colonial style furniture. There were things like doilies and coasters on the tables and on the faded floral wall paper there were framed photos of Mr & Mrs. Bates when they were young. Now the Bates’ were ancient - - probably in their late 80s or 90s -- their movements were slow and labored. In contrast to my lively and animated relatives, they spoke quietly, in hushed tones and their behavior was very reserved. Culturally, they were the whitest people I had ever met and like their furniture, they were of solid midwestern stock,  going back generations to colonial times. Now they were in the closing chapter of their lives, getting ready to sell the farm animals and eventually the farm house.

Sally brought us to the large farmhouse kitchen, where where I re-met Zara. She was probably about 16 and had recently come back from living abroad in France. As a light skinned Latina who never matched my family, I didn’t have many people who looked like me in my orbit. I found a role model in Zara. Like me, she had long blondish hair and was fair. But whereas I felt awkward and gangly, to me she was the epitome of confidence, sophistication and beauty. She had a bohemian air about her. This maturity was hard-earned. Zara’s father, Steve had been a professional race car driver, and he was killed in a race car accident when she was young. A precocious child and the apple of the family’s eye, after her father’s death she took on more responsibilities. Her mother ran a language school that catered to foreign students. Zara took up a lot of the slack, and even as she was being trained in the family business, she helped care for her younger sister. On this night, she was the chef for the dinner, confidently preparing a traditional French meal for 8 adults, plus kid me.

The Bates’ were starting to downsize. Sally told us that while she was cleaning up the attic, she came across some old clothes that had belonged to Zara when she was about my size. We went upstairs, where on the 2nd floor landing, Sally magically pulled a stairway out of the ceiling and we walked up. The magic continued, as I’d never seen any attic before. To me it was enchanting, filled with boxes and trunks and cedar chests, which beckoned to be opened. Sally opened one cedar trunk and  it was filled with the most beautiful outfits, each enveloped with a sweet fragrant wood scent, nothing like the horrible moth balls that my family was so fond of using.

My mom swooned as she held up outfits to size them to me, pointing out the features of these designer label dresses.  “This is a 'Lanz of Salzburg' a very well-known brand. Look at the beautiful fabric. Look at the smocking. I love little girl’s dresses with smocking”. Mom and Sally continued unpacking the chest marveling over the finely made girl’s clothes, lamenting how this used to be the norm, but “you just can’t find clothes like this anymore, unless you buy the designer clothes ”. Mom always said that Sally only bought fine clothes for herself. Evidently, she extended this to her granddaughter’s wardrobe as well. All three of us gasped when we came to the soft aqua blue nightgown with a satiny matching quilted-robe and fur-lined slippers. I begged to try them on and even remember wearing them to the dinner table that night. Everyone thought I looked so smart. I was happy and proud to wear such finery and this was just for sleeping! I imagined the beautiful dreams I would have. Thinking of “The Little Captain” when Shirley Temple wakes up from her lovely dream to find she’s been gifted sumptuous robes. When I would wear Zara’s clothes, I felt rich. I felt worldly, confident and sophisticated. These were practically new clothes, they were finely made by designers and they were only mine. They hadn’t been worn by two or three cousins before me. The dinner was delicious and nothing like I’d ever tasted. Before I left that night, Sally encouraged her granddaughter to give me some of her skin care products. Zara looked hesitant, but then returned with a jar. It was really the only time we spoke one-on-one, she told me about the product and said I could have it, but only if I would genuinely use it. I swore I would and I did. I always took great care of gifts bestowed upon me because I could feel the love in the gift. These clothes in particular made me feel special. I loved them and how they made me feel. I even wore the Lanz of Salzburg smocked dress for my school picture below. But then I hit another growth spurt and it was time for the beautiful clothes to get handed down to my younger girls cousins, whom I'm sure appreciated them, but they never knew the powerful impression that these clothes and their original owner had on me. Maybe my younger cousins  felt my essence in the clothes and felt protected and  inspired by it? I'll have to ask them sometime.



My third grade photo. 

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