Monday, December 22, 2014

I need your help for Conservation Northwest

I need your help right now. I am going away on vacation—the first in many years—and my work for Conservation Northwest is unfinished.

I have a couple of days before I promised to deliver $500 to this great cause that protects the ecosystems of the Northwest. This area is the home of grizzlies, wolves, mountain lions and woodland caribou, old growth forests, pristine wilderness...and steady encroachment from human occupation and interests. We in the Northwest are the keepers of much of what is considered wild and wonderful in the U.S. Help me help Conservation NW to preserve this national and world treasure for all time.

I may go on vacation, but I won’t go happily without finishing this. Please either find something you love at (Etsy shop and web store) where 25% of your purchase price will go to CNW, or consider a direct donation at my page.

Some of the most beloved creatures on earth are counting on us.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Bear with me now...

We are on our way to reaching the goal of donating $500 to Conservation Northwest at the end of December. Now here’s the wrinkle: During the last seven days of the month I will be on a small vacation (yay!) and so instead of having 18 days left to wrap this up, there are actually 11. Anything earned in the last seven days will also be donated, but I won’t be able to cheerlead the effort.

Here’s what you can do: If you find a vintage item you love in my Etsy shop or web store, purchase it this month and I will donate 25% to CNW. You may also donate directly on my page. YouCaring takes absolutely nothing from your donation, and neither do I.

Please consider chipping in, for the grizzlies, wolves, spotted owls, woodland caribou, and all the other iconic species of the Northwest.

Monday, December 8, 2014

My December vintage resolution

At the beginning of the year I made 12 vintage resolutions, one per month. I told myself maybe by the end of the year the best will have stuck. Some things have REALLY stuck, and I’ve learned some things I never guessed I’d learn.

...and finally it’s December:

Find at least one vintage item to give for Christmas. I don’t take this lightly because I know that I can impose my taste on someone else if I don’t watch out. But deep down I know there is something vintage that would please and suit every man, woman and child. I just have to figure out what that is!

We probably all know someone for whom vintage is an easy choice, but then there are the people who think it’s “just someone else’s old stuff.” I’m pleased to say that well into my holiday shopping I’ve found only vintage items for everyone on my list except in several cases where I’m giving food or drink and several cases of items by crafts people and artists. Even my gift wrap will be vintage!

I better not give away my current stash of vintage gift items, but I’m terribly excited about them and their suitability for the people receiving them.

Some ideas about giving vintage items to people not used to such things:
  • Make sure the item is in excellent condition, or has a great reason for not being in excellent condition (that vintage book marked up by the author would probably be a treasure)
  • Look for something very specific and personal to the giftee: Consider birth year or another significant year; initials or name; hometown or other meaningful place; favorite activity, color, material, artist or era
  • Don’t let your own style dictate your choice, rather think of the recipient’s style (no shabby chic for a mid-century mod fancier!)
  • Stick to a budget as you would for any other gift and allow yourself plenty of time to look around
  • Try combining something vintage and something new, like your famous holiday bread wrapped in a vintage tea towel
What vintage is going under your tree this year?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Once more with feeling for Conservation Northwest

At the end of the 1980s I started being a supporter of Northwest Ecosystem Alliance because the fledgling organization gave me hope for the continuing health of the natural environment of my area in the face of a drastically expanding human population.

That organization is now called Conservation Northwest, and it gives me more hope than ever.

I live in Washington State (first Seattle, and now Spokane) and I am extremely fortunate to have diverse and unusual ecosystems in my backyard. There are diverse wildflowers and old-growth forests, tiny pikas and grizzly bears. There are about 44 endangered species, including iconic mammals such as the gray wolf, cougar and orca whale. One of the most critically endangered species in the U.S. is found in northeastern Washington: the woodland caribou. I have seen one of these magnificent reindeer relatives while on a hike. There was snow on the ground in the mountains on the 4th of July, and we saw nearly round hoof prints.

And then we came upon this solid and compact caribou with its snowshoe-like round hooves. It was a very rare siting of a woodland caribou for someone in the Northwestern U.S.

I am indeed fortunate.

The world is filled with deserving causes, but more and more I see the point of helping out in my own backyard. Conservation Northwest looks out for the wild Northwest and the balance between ecosystems, communities and wildlife. None of our natural treasures are a given for the future, and Conservation Northwest is watching out for the wild, present and future. Of course these are the country’s and the world’s wild treasures too...rare, wonderful, and to be preserved by and for all.

This month, for the sixth year, I am devoting a portion of my sales to CNW. Twenty-five percent of the purchase price on any of my vintage items in the denisebrain web store and the denisebrain Etsy shop will go to this great organization. If you don’t see any vintage that inspires you but would like to contribute, please go to my page. YouCaring takes no money from the cause, so your donation goes entirely to CNW.

My goal is challenging: $500. We’ve done it before, you and I...let’s do it again!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sunday, November 30, 2014

My great grandmother’s locket

It’s the last day of November, and the last day of my resolution to wear something meaningful every day. I loved doing this...don’t think I will stop!

Today I feel honored to wear my great grandmother Lena’s locket. Here she is wearing it c.1882-85. She was born in 1868. 

I’ve worn this locket—passed down from Lena to my grandmother to my mother to me—many times. It feels like I’m holding hands with each of these generations of wonderful women.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Today is Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and I am so thankful for the people I’ve met in the world of vintage fashion. I’ve had some challenges this year, but vintage clothing, my customers and colleagues remain a constant joy to me.

Since 1999 I have sold to several Parisian designers; an Aztec princess and school teacher; a woman working in the Pentagon (on 9/11/01) who apologized for paying me late for a suit after part of her workplace was destroyed; a mayor’s wife; a mayor; an actress or two; several museum curators, journalists and writers; a policewoman; an opera singer; an indie music artist; a biologist; my neighbor; a woman in her 80s who wanted to relive an event from her youth; a girl of 13 who wanted to experience what her great grandmother had experienced; a skiing star; my best friend. I have had loyal customers purchase full wardrobes from me; I’ve outfitted weddings and high school plays. You have a lot of fascinating stories to tell.

Even if all I know of you is your postal code and that you purchased a blue polka dot blouse...thank you.

Some may know I often try to raise funds for causes that mean a great deal to me, and not only have you tolerated my ongoing mentions of manatees and grizzly bears, you have supported my causes with me. There is no way I could be making a real impact for these causes without your support.

I have numerous deepening friendships with vintage clothing dealers, experts and collectors...people without whom I would not be where I am. Not only do I learn something new every day about fashion history, fabric construction, and the business of selling online, but I feel I have a real support network.

I had a decent opinion of human nature prior to starting the business, and 14 years of positive dealings with thousands of people pretty well proves to me that we’re a decent lot. My most sincere thanks.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A little more holiday red

You’re doing an excellent job of finding my vintage red items, thank you very much! Here’s an updated group of items presently for sale:

1. Red taffeta and tulle formal 2. Red glengarry 3. Emma Domb red, gold and gown 4. Red and white striped gown by Emma Domb 5. Red dotted swiss dress with dramatic ruffle 6. Pendleton red plaid cape 7. Red plaid umbrella 8. Red taffeta party dress with a slip meant to show 9. Candy apple red patent stilettos

Don’t forget: Need a different size? a different price? a different item? I have picked out a bevy of vintage holiday reds (coats, shoes, hats, jewelry, dresses, skirts...) from other sellers on Etsy in a collection called holiday reds. Let me know if you have a specific vintage wish that you can’t find and I’ll help you find it from me or some other seller. (Sound like Macy’s sending people to Gimbel’s a la Miracle on 34th Street? All in the holiday spirit!)

My Perry Ellis jacket

All this month I’m pulling out and wearing vintage items with special meaning to me. This jacket fits that category. I made it from a Perry Ellis Vogue pattern in 1985.

When I first saw them in a Vogue Pattern magazine, I fell absolutely in love with the somewhat austere, somewhat 1920s-vibe of Perry Ellis's fashions. Here are some pages from Vogue Patterns Spring 1985, photos by Eric Boman, modeled by Paulina Porizkova.

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I made my jacket using silk blend fabric and Christian Dior lining (there was no “PE”-print lining fabric, so I settled for “CD”). The buttons are leather, which unfortunately attracted my pup to chew one once. That makes me love the jacket more, frankly.

Here was the jacket in 1987 (with me proudly holding my then-new Lawson French horn)

...and here it is today

I have always loved that low slung back belt!

Perry Ellis did not even begin to fulfill his legacy in his brief life but I remain convinced that if he were still living, his work would still be cream floating on the surface of fashion. He was such a creative force, imagining so well what women would love to wear in the manner of the best American sportswear designers.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dreaming of some red for Christmas?

Some of the cheerful vintage reds in my shops:

1. Red dotted swiss dress with dramatic ruffle 2. Red cashmere turtleneck by Dalton sorry, just sold 3. Red taffeta party dress with a slip meant to show 4. Red checked cotton tweed swing coat 5. Red taffeta and tulle formal 6. Red and white striped gown by Emma Domb 7. Emma Domb red, gold and gown 8. Candy apple red patent stilettos 9. Red cashmere clutch coat

Need a different size? a different price? a different item? I have picked out a bevy of vintage holiday reds (coats, shoes, hats, jewelry, dresses, skirts...) from other sellers on Etsy in a collection called holiday reds. Let me know if you have a specific vintage wish that you can’t find and I’ll help you find it from me or some other seller. (Sound like Macy’s sending people to Gimbel’s a la Miracle on 34th Street? All in the holiday spirit!)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mama’s ring

I’ve mentioned my mother’s blue glass ring before, but it is probably my very favorite and most meaningful vintage item, so out it comes again today.

My mother, as I’ve mentioned before in my blog, grew up in Iowa during The Great Depression. Her father was a banker who worked with farmers to keep their farms from being foreclosed upon. My grandfather also worked with prisoners at a local penitentiary to find skills for them to take back into the real world. He worked with an expert forger to create the Sheaffer Signature Pen.

One man learned to craft jewelry. As a thank you to my grandfather, this man made a ring “to match his daughter’s eyes.” It is sapphire blue glass in a gold setting, very simple and elegant. Mama’s eyes were exactly this color. My eyes are green, but I still love wearing this beautiful ring.

Mama showing off her new ring and me—70 years later—striking a similar pose with the ring

Friday, November 14, 2014

My Harold Balazs bracelet

I’m wearing something meaningful to me each day this month, and today I come to a bracelet I bought at an estate sale about a dozen years ago. I was just starting out with my vintage business and watching every cent coming in and out of the coffers. This bracelet absolutely caught my eye, and I purchased it to sell.

Really enamored with the bracelet, I then saw the signature on the back and could not consider selling it. Harold Balazs is an artist whose work has constantly inspired and uplifted me. His work is all over Washington State, and Spokane especially. At that time I hadn’t realized he made jewelry. My bracelet probably dates from the early 1960s.

Here I am in 1985, across the Spokane River from the Spokane Opera House (now called the INB Performing Arts Center). I had just won the position of Principal Horn in the Spokane Symphony and I felt like I owned the place! The grandly-scaled lantern behind me is by Harold Balazs, and several other sculptures by him are in close proximity.

I consider the abstract totemic images on the bracelet to be my good luck symbols!

Harold Balazs is still creating (see Washington State Magazine’s recent article Finding the artist: An absurd and incredible journey.) He seems unstoppable, or at least I hope he is.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Papa’s tie

The meaningful item I pulled out to wear today is a tie I gave to my father when I was little. My father wore a suit and tie every day and was always sartorially splendid. His suits were custom made by a Savile Row tailor, his shirts were made of Sea Island cotton. His ties were by Dior, Cardin—wonderfully stylish and high quality. So when I gave my father a tie which I had chosen and he loved it and wore it often, that made me so happy! The tie is pink and green, my favorite colors, not my father’s, but he said they reminded him of me.

My father died in 1974, not so long after I gave him this present. I still have the tie and it is really dear to me, like the memory of my father.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Some thoughts on Advanced Style, the movie

Advanced Style, the blog, has been on the radar for some time now, and it grew wings and became a book and now a documentary film. The creator, Ari Seth Cohen, is a young man who was influenced by his grandmother to respect and appreciate stylish and creative older people. He lives and photographs his subjects in New York City, which is of course the ongoing fashion runway of the United States.

The women whom we get to know in the movie are refreshingly different. I feared that there would be just too much in common—perhaps eccentricity?—but I found myself intrigued in different ways with each of these women. I felt more connection with some than others. I felt respect for all of them. 

Yes, these women are all over sixty, but one is just 62 and rides her bike everywhere, another is 94 and states that she can promise she can be there for a television filming from the waist up, but from the waist down, “don’t ask, don’t tell.” One is legally blind (and still applies eyeliner deftly!). I thought that I might see nothing but leopard prints and huge bracelets, but there was everything from handmade and very avant-garde style to simple elegance.

To me—almost old enough to be photographed by Ari Cohen—age is both very unimportant and very important. On the one hand, I look at these women as confident and interesting people, and they clearly would be at any age. Their style + age doesn’t equal better than just their style to me. On the other hand, look what these women bring to their understanding of life, creativity and the world by the sheer amount of time they have observed and evolved, each in her own way.

Age is also very important to me as I try to find a way to make a transition from what most of the world considers beautiful, to what the caring and thoughtful know to be beautiful. I collect images and words on the subject and felt a great boost in my own confidence and sense of self after seeing this movie. I felt encouraged.

My two favorite moments? When a woman from Alaska visits the vintage clothing shop of one of the women and she tells the 80-year old shopkeeper that she felt that Ari’s blog and portrayal of these stylish older people had given her permission to be creative herself. Anyone who needs a little push to begin to express herself at any age should see this movie because it may start her on a path that makes her happy.

I did notice the vulnerable moment when one of the women, in her late 60s, and with a young looking 74-year old boyfriend are talking and he says that when they first went out together he thought she looked like a clown. She walks away and explains to us that she thought for several days what a man might think of her costuming. But it only took a few days to just be herself again, and they have been together since.

I asked a couple of men who attended the movie what they thought of the women. One “was there for the popcorn, but enjoyed the ladies.” The other was delighted, knowing and respecting older women in his own family. He could relate very comfortably to Ari Cohen, who seems to truly love his subjects.

It’s amazing how provocative age can be. We want it (a happy, healthy older age) but we are ambivalent about how the world sees us. These women all seem to be seeking, and finding, their styles with joy; and if not as vigorous as they once were, they at least have tremendous fullness in their lives. Bravi to all these remarkable 60+ year olds, and bravo to Ari for bringing them to us.

My fruit umbrella

It rained cats and dogs this weekend and so it was not hard to think which meaningful item to pull out. This is my fruit umbrella, given to me in 1992 by my future husband. We had just gotten together again (after having been friends years before) and this was his first gift to me.

You know how it is easier to forgive some things more than other things in a partner? I could live with a multitude of sins, but not lack of humor or lack of style. This beautiful umbrella just makes me—and everyone else who sees it—smile. It melted even further my already melting heart.

I hope you have something that protects you from the storm and keeps your heart and soul warm!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Meaningful Finnish modern necklace

I’m wearing something meaningful to me every day this month, and it isn’t hard for me to come up with things, although sometimes they are more meaningful than remarkable.

This is actually a rather distinguished necklace by the Finnish modernist artist Seppo Tamminen. It was given to my mother by her Icelandic friends in the 1960s. I have worn this for photos here and there to enhance a modern 1960s or 70s item, and have never had so many inquiries about purchasing something that I had used just as a prop in the picture. It’s such a large and distinctive piece that I no longer show it in my photos, temptation to others that it is!

I loved hearing about my mother’s friends Skúli and Kippi (not sure how to spell their names) who gave her this necklace. My favorite story was about when Skúli started school at the University of Washington. He was asked to give his religion so that they could put him in touch with a club or church. He didn’t wish to say, so he gave them the answer Druid. They didn’t know what to do with that so they had Buddhists get in touch with him!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Meaningful make-up

My meaningful item to wear today is a sparkle eye powder that I have actually worn here and there since I bought it in 1979. It is essentially pink-shaded mica, and it was such an extravagance for me at the time. I used to use it not only on my eyes but as a highlighter, and it caught the bright night lights of its era perfectly. I have looked up the ingredients and none of them are banned. I don’t have any negative reaction to the use of this, and I certainly can’t use it up in my lifetime, it’s that intense. 

Once when I had a coaching with a former model, an expert on make-up application, she offered to help me out by tossing this ancient eye powder. I practically screamed NOoooo! It is a meaningful piece of history to me.

I don’t even know who made this anymore because that name has worn off the side of the container. 

I was so glad to see the great Lisa Eldridge has a video about her collection of vintage cosmetics (Vintage Make-Up...I Love It!). It makes me feel a little less strange hanging onto a cosmetic item even though it’s much more about the memory than the use of it. As a matter of fact Lisa strongly warns that you should not use vintage cosmetics, and that preserving them, their beautiful containers and their era-evoking colors, is precisely the point. So I’m not obeying her wisdom and caveats for today—I just had to remember my own life in 1979.  

Oh, and if you have a love of vintage makeup looks and a few minutes, you really must see Lisa Eldridge recapturing a Biba face with Barbara Hulanicki’s most original colors: 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Autumn warmers

Things are starting to cool down now here in Spokane, how about where you are? This makes me very happy in one way: I LOVE coats! Especially VINTAGE coats! My theme for November is a small tribute:

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Just some of the vintage coats currently available in my Etsy shop and web store, with more arriving all the time—

Stay warm and stylish! ♡

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Wear something meaningful

Care to join me in my November vintage resolution?

November: Wear something meaningful every day. I have plenty of interesting family items, souvenirs from long-ago vacations, gifts from my favorite people and other items with great karma. I resolve to wear at least one of these each day in November. 

I know many of us have on a wedding ring, locket or some other meaningful item every day, but I’m thinking of the sorts of things that are not usually used every day. I want to seek those items out, think about their history and appreciate them.

I have always been a hoarder of the tiny things that don’t slow down a move—from jewelry to hair clips, socks to scarves—so many smaller items are with me from quite awhile ago.

Today I’ve pulled out a barrette from the 1970s that says VOTE.

My mother caucused for her candidates and went door-to-door for causes she believed in. She took my brother and I with her to watch her vote and never EVER missed voting. This barrette reminds me of her...and reminds me to vote!

Monday, October 27, 2014

What’s to love about 1970s retro?

By now I have a flat-out crush on 1970s retro-inspired clothing. I can’t quite see myself tripping down the street in the full kit, so I’ve winnowed the looks for my favorite aspects.

1. Platforms and walkable heels
2. Bright tights, patterned tights and ankle socks

3. Fun plastic jewelry and flowers

4. Art deco-style prints
5. Flowing trousers

6. Colorful vintage-y makeup and romantic hair

7. Cloches, berets, headbands and turbans

8. Flowing flowery fabrics

9. 1920s-, 30s- and 40s-style dresses (especially the 40s!)

What can I’s just a happy, colorful look! 

All images credited to the best of my ability on my Pinterest board 70s retro-inspired fashions

Friday, October 24, 2014

Retro, vintage, antique...what do they mean?

I’ve been waving around the term retro-inspired 1970s vintage clothing but what does retro mean?

I credit Melody of Tangerine Boutique (the author of The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping) for my own knowledge of the word: “I always call clothing that borrows its style from the past, Retro.”

Merriam-Webster’s definition is
relating to, reviving, or being the styles and especially the fashions of the past : fashionably nostalgic or old-fashioned [retro look]
Origin of RETRO
French rétro, short for rétrospectif retrospective
First known use: 1974
That makes retro also vintage in some cases. Retro is a little tricky, but I can definitely say that early 1970s nostalgic look is absolutely retro.

Vintage, in the clothing world, is considered to be 20 years old or older.

Antique is considered to be at least 100 years old.

Is this how you use these terms? I know I have some pet peeves about the misuse of the you?

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Last day to benefit Living Beyond Breast Cancer

Today is the last day for 25% of the sale price on any of your purchases from my Etsy shop and web store to benefit LBBC.

Web store
Etsy shop

Every color for breast cancer awareness

I very much appreciate your help in supporting this cause which affects so many of us.