A friend recently asked me how I became interested in vintage clothing, crafting, and treasure hunting for my online store, “Clem’s Garage.” The story spans several generations and I thought it would be fun to share some history with you. This may take a while so I’ll break it down into a few segments, starting with a long line of eccentric and stylish family role models…
Let’s talk about Grandma Clements.
Known amongst her children as “Der Maw,” Nelda Clements was a “military brat” of Scottish descent who, as a young woman living on base in Hawaii, survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, met my granddad, and settled down in New Orleans to a life of subversive humor, Dixie beer, anywhere between 5 and 25 cats, and a staunch love of collecting.
Der Maw was the original pack rat and stuffed her house to the gills with treasures she collected from local yard sales and thrift stores. She gave up driving a car shortly after the kids were born and became somewhat of a famous character around town as she would ride the street car to yard sales, always wearing some fantastic get-up that would fit in at any Mardi Gras parade. (Or any normal day in New Orleans.)
(Grandma in one of her favorite outfits. The skirt features an array of owls, which she loved to collect.)
Grandma also loved to create new things out of old junk. She saved hundreds of her Dixie Beer bottle caps to create a stunning wide-brimmed hat dripping with bottle caps for one year’s Mardi Gras costume, which she entitled “Dixie Dawn.” And yes, grandma continued to dress up for and attend Mardi Gras well into her seventies.
Grandma would always pick up treasures for me at yard sales. As I grew older, she showered me with her vintage clothing finds and costume jewelry, much of which I still have today. She was the original spark that instilled my love of items that have been snagged from another time and place and brought back to life with a little t.l.c.
And then there’s my mom…
I am fascinated by my mom. Her parents were renowned anthropologists and my mother grew up traveling the globe, living amongst numerous cultures while my grandparents studied them. Such traveling meant that her education was scattered across the world as well, and due to skipping a grade she ended up a freshman at Harvard at age 16, thrust into the wild, beautiful world of the late 60s.
She was absorbed in music and fashion and spent time studying the latter in Paris, France. As a child, I constantly turned the pages of her college-era photo album, fascinated by the photographs of the Paris beatniks and my mother’s own photos of her forays into the modeling world.
(Gorgeous shot of mom, modeling in Cambridge, MA, 1969)
Thankfully, mom held onto her favorite articles of clothing and kept them in a hallway closet where they still remain. Orange, glittery polyester pants and tops, silky, flowing purple bell bottoms, and a blue and green striped nightgown that could be worn as a mini dress were some of my favorites. As a teen, I would borrow these vintage clothes for school and my first gigs and have always been influenced by her elegant and eclectic style.
I only hope to come close to my lineage’s knack for fashion in my hunting for quirky, outrageous, and beautiful finds. I owe them a debt of gratitude for holding on to special pieces, thinking that there might someday be someone who would appreciate them as much as they did, and for deciding that that “someone” was me.