"Vibrational Vintage Vestiges", part 2

2024 empathic psychometry interconnectedness jeudi cornejo brealey jeudi the vintage-voiced chanteuse remember where you came from shine your light touchstone to the past vibrational vintage vestiges vintage lifestyle vintage style Jun 09, 2024

As I grew, people took notice of my love of dress up and thus began my first collection of true vintage clothing. One person who contributed greatly to my love of vintage was Dad’s childhood friend, Punky, who was the most eccentric person I’d met. He would alternately dress extravagantly or shabbily. He was always kidding and almost always in motion. It was hard for him to sit still and likewise, he would bounce from topic-to-topic, from idea-to-idea. Looking back, I’d now say he was probably neurodivergent and he most definitely had ADHD. Back then, my mom would say that she “couldn’t stand that Punky” because he was “too hypo” and she’d say to my Dad ”I don’t know how you can carry on a conversation with that guy”. My Dad would joke and he’d say “Practice”. Dad found Punky amusing. He also excused Punky’s behavior because he said Punky had had a really hard life as a child. My Dad and his older brother, Memo had hard lives, too, leaving elementary school to start working and support the family. It was as children on the streets of San José, Costa Rica that my dad met Punky. As they became young men, Dad, his brother and their friends eventually moved from the capital to Puntarenas, where they all became fishermen, which eventually led to green cards and US citizenship. But that’s another story for another time.

"Punky" wasn’t his real name, of course, but I’ve long forgotten his given name. I want to say that it was something uncharacteristically formal. In those days, everyone had nicknames. When eavesdropping on the adults’ conversations, as I often did, it could be a challenge to keep track of who-was-who because it seemed everyone had multiple nicknames and because the conversation fluidly flowed between Spanish and English, and since our parents only spoke to us in English, my Spanish comprehension was mostly via osmosis. When talk turned to Punky, my dad and Tío Memo would often laugh and shake their heads in amusement, saying ¡Qué barbaridad!  Which roughly means "What nonsense!" But you knew they had a fond spot for him. I think he was sort of Peter Pan-like, reminding them of their childhood adventures.

Punky had a hard time keeping a job, but he had a lot of ingenuity and like my dad and Tío and many of their friends who immigrated to the US from Costa Rica, he too had an entrepreneurial spirit, but he seemed to always be pivoting between different schemes. He also frequently moved between residences, cars and wives. This was another reason my mom didn’t like him. He struck her as unstable, which he was. He’d drive up in a different used luxury car each time he came over to the house. At this juncture of the story, I remember he was a “junk man”. He would shop estate sales and then make the rounds of his friends’ house’s offering them second-hand finery and resale luxuries that they couldn’t otherwise afford. On this particular day, he showed up in a beat-up truck, packed to the brim. My Mom said it looked like “Sanford and Son”.

And what a haul we got from him. My Dad bought our player piano from Punky. It came with hundreds of piano rolls of songs, mostly from the 1920s and 1930s and gave me years of enjoyment and exercise, till it's parts finally wore out and it became unable to hold it's tune. We also got a taxidermy bear-skin rug; a library of philosophy and poetry books all inscribed “To Sue and David”; a charming set of Steiff stuffed animals; and loads of adult sized vintage clothing. The toys and vintage clothing were for me because Punky knew I liked to dress up and he also knew that my Dad would give me the world. In the clothing pile there were loads of military dress clothes, plus a tuxedo with tails and flapper dresses and fur coats, and loads of accessories. Since Punky’s delivery was just before Halloween, we put them right to use, doing a masquerade fashion show for the grown ups. I dressed as Groucho Marx, wearing my brother Carl’s black beanie hat to hide my long dirty blonde hair. My brother Mark gave me a pair of gold rimmed glasses to wear and at the local Newberry's, we picked up a fake cigar. My cousins and I would often play dress-up in the clothes, which were initially enormous on our small frames, but we soon grew into them.

As a teenager, when I wore the silver flapper dress, I felt emboldened and empowered, as I imagined who may have first worn it and what they may have done. Wearing it made me feel womanly and worldly and confident. The drop waist was perfect for my developing teenage figure. I also appreciated how the cut of the dress de-emphasized the bust line. It made me feel like I could be beautiful and sexy, but on my own terms, without feeling like I was objectifying myself. I imagined that the original owner was successful, smart, strong and savvy, a trendsetter, writing her own rules, traveling the world and having marvelous adventures along the way. I imagined she had steamer trunks filled with an array of beautiful outfits, each in service to her beauty, personality and lifestyle. I imagined her in Jazz Age Paris, mingling with the lost generation. The dress had a certain gravitas and pedigree. Back then wearing such a dress was putting on a costume that allowed me to play a certain role. The role of someone who had agency over her life. Something that I, as the youngest and only daughter of over-protective parents in a tightly-knit, working-class, Latin family, lacked. Over the years, as I grew, these flapper dresses were used in a variety of play productions, including a high school production of Cabaret. They were worn till they wore out, eventually becoming so stained and weak at the seams that they were unwearable, but not before giving flight to countless dreams and imaginings; not before creating a yearning for independence and imparting a lasting love-affair with vintage fashion and the power of clothing to affect your attitude and deportment.

Now my wardrobe is filled with vintage pieces, reproductions and retro style. I dress for myself and I don’t worry about mixing and matching pieces from different eras, and I frequently mix the old with the new.  Some may consider my fashion choices bold. Sometimes, people will ask to take my photo and I often hear “I wish people still dressed like that”. I’ll laugh and say “People still do”. Really, by comparison to some people in the vintage and retro community, I'm pretty tame. Still, I hope that by seeing someone dressing up, wearing what they love, that they will be encouraged to wear something that's special to them. Occasionally curious people will ask me: “Where do you find your costumes?” Before this sort of question would have made me bristle, but now,  I’ll say “It’s not a costume, it’s my style.” And when I do, I gratefully remember how my hand-me-downs, play-clothes and dress-up clothes each imparted something to me from their past owners.


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