Monday, April 29, 2013

Defying Fashion Why I Thrift

          I have yet to step two feet into the door when I am accosted by a small, blonde woman whose scent has just about thrown me into a full blown asthma attack. “Have you tried the latest scent from Marc Jacobs? It is to die for, like such a perfect blend of floral overtones with just a hint of musk.” I bid the woman a smile, wipe the tears from my perfume ridden eyes and try to make a bee line for the lingerie department. Yet again, I am stopped by another woman who has enough make-up on to cover the faces of the four women I am with. “Come give the MAC “hot cherry” lipstick a try. It is sure to make your summer look totally pop.” Politely, I deny her attempt to make my look “pop” and I continue on my attempt to purchase a few necessities.

I pride myself in my appearance, as most women do, but I often find as a twenty something college student, I don't have it in my budget to keep up with my desire to be “fashionable.” Quite frankly, the aspects of fashion that are marketed to women today run rampant with the gluttony of consumerism; they leave us with a constant appetite for more, coupled with an everlasting sense of inadequacy. The industry is built upon short product lifecycles, rapidly changing trends, and mass production. The consumerism birthed from the constant change of season evokes a fear among many consumers that their looks will be “past-season” and therefore, the vicious cycle continually repeats itself.


As I walk upon the perfectly shiny marble tiles, I take in the eerie neatness of the venue. Each purse hangs at precisely the same height, methodically organized by designer, color and size. Each sweater lies perfectly upon a decorated table, not a wrinkle in sight. The walls are littered with flawlessly airbrushed oversized images of men and women clad with the hottest brands of the season. Like a jigsaw puzzle, the racks of neatly arranged clothes fit together and form a sea of bright colors across the sales floor. My eyes meet the feet of a plastic mannequin, posed awkwardly upon a table. I scan the molded body, pondering how such a tiny waist could even fit the smallest woman’s size. I walk around the table, still staring at the plastic “woman,” and I notice the clothing has been pinned to the rail-thin mannequin, painting a facade of what one will look like upon slipping into the sweaters that have been so perfectly aligned at its feet. I cannot help but shake my head and let out a chuckle; my senses have been awoken to the superficiality of the fashion industry.


It is like clockwork; the day after Christmas storefronts become flooded with the latest spring trends. Cropped pants in vibrant colors, printed plastic galoshes and flirty tank tops fill the store windows when the average outside temperature has barely reached 45 degrees. After St. Patrick’s Day has passed, swim suits begin to invade the shelves of all the department stores, accosting shoppers before the first daffodil even blooms. The sea of swim suits are accompanied by racks upon racks of crop tops, cut off jeans and a slew of summer time accessories because God forbid you wear the same straw sunhat as you did last summer. From there, by the time you have acquired your fresh new straw hat and string bikini, Nordstrom demands that you purchase the latest line of light knit sweaters because it is June and fall is just around the corner. By the time you find yourself equipped for fall, storefronts transform around September with snow boots and obnoxiously puffy jackets; the farmer’s almanac says it is going to be a terrible winter so you must buy a new $200.00 coat in order to survive. And that brings you back, full circle, to the day after Christmas where the newest line of spring clothes emerge and the cycle repeats again.

Many Americans blind themselves to the fact that almost nothing they purchase within the textile industry is actually American-made. ABC news published an intriguing story last year about the diminishing “Made in America” tags within the fashion industry which contained a startling statistic; according to the 2010 census, nearly 100 percent of American textiles are imported, up from 52 percent in 2000. The constant change in seasons has exponentially increased demand for all things new; this combination has led to a toxic environment for those working in the sweatshops that fight to keep their heads above the latest trend in order to fulfill what we, as consumers, are demanding. The implications of our gluttonous consumerism reach much farther than our borders. The global fashion industry is a multibillion dollar operation yet the free2work program, advised by the International Labor Forum, published a report in 2012 that deems only 2 percent of the top 50 companies in the fashion industry provide their workers with a living wage. That means that 98 percent of the “leaders” in fashion industry are condoning unfair, unjust and arguably inhumane wages for their workers. When we continue to buy into the rapidly revolving seasons of fashion in large scale department stores, we are inadvertently supporting human rights abuses amongst many other ethical violations. Fortunately, as consumers, there are ways in which we can do our part in taking a stand against the expectations of the fashion industry and simultaneously be kinder to not only our Earth but also to ourselves.


As I push open the door, a wave of adrenaline rushes through my veins. Immediately, the comfortingly musty, mothball-laced air strikes me. My inner-fashionista is in full-force, ready to scavenger every nook and cranny, and pounce on the latest piece of second-hand prey. I make my first lap around the scuffed up tile floor, keeping a careful eye out for any texture or color that calls to me. As I peruse through the racks of shoes, the most perfect pair of pointed toe, black leather pumps come into my peripheral view. The tag reads Michael Kors, $6.98 and they’re in near mint condition. I almost begin to hyperventilate. I kick off my shoes, slip my feet inside and relish in the perfect fit. Bubbling with excitement, I head back to the clothing racks, scanning through decades of fashions. The textures, colors and styles intrigue me; polyester, silk, cotton, and the occasional unidentifiable tag-less garment all intermingled on one rack. Upon inspecting each piece, I can’t help but think about the story which surrounds each. Where was it worn? Why was it purchased? How did that delicate tear get there? As the hum of a scratchy 80’s radio station dances upon my ears, I take in the sheer volume and variety that is placed in front of me. Suddenly, in the midst of my perusal, I am struck by the most gorgeous shade of royal blue I have ever laid my eyes upon. I pluck this breath-taking dress off the rack and read the tag, Tahari by Arthur Levine, $8.98. I swoon. It's a size two. I sigh. All hope is not lost, it doesn't look that small. I rush to the fitting room; I must try it on. Stripping off my clothes as fast as humanly possible, I jump into the luscious, regal fabric, closing my eyes as I attempt to zip it up. I stand in the middle of the four foot by four foot dressing room; no mirror in sight. No mirror is necessary because I can feel the flawless fit. If there was ever a moment I felt like I was in heaven, this is it.


My passion for thrifting began as a child; Saturday mornings, my Mom and I would scavenger our way around town looking for another man's trash to make into our very own treasure. Through our experiences in bargain hunting, I have developed a keen eye for finding beauty and value in all things. A tiny hole in a blouse can easily be sewn back together, a little mud on the heel of a shoe can effortlessly be clapped off and a small stain on a pair of $100.00 jeans can certainly be removed. These experiences have enlightened me to the unrealistic expectations of the fashion industry and the detriments that they bestow upon the confidence of shoppers. Moreover, in the current state of our economy, few people have the time or money to invest in conforming to what society expects in terms of their dress. Thrifting has become my way of "looking the part" in various facets of my life. From casual to professional, thrifted threads have aided me in developing my own sense of individuality while bidding the fashion industry a polite “f” you.


            Caffeinated and bubbling with anticipation, Mom and I turn down an old red dirt road; the truck bounces up and down as we attempt to dodge the plethora of potholes. We pull into a make-shift parking lot and slowly look toward one another. We both let out a nervous giggle and wonder if we are in the right place. We begin to approach the large white building which we believe to be a church thrift store. No sign on the door, no people bustling around and no vehicles; what the hell is this? Dying to find out what lurks beneath the cracking lead paint; we slowly open the creaky door and find ourselves in what I would call a “one of a kind” thrift shop. There are three older ladies who take a few seconds to greet us because they are obviously so surprised to see that customers have actually found their off-the-beaten-path location. After recovering from their initial shock, the ladies accompany Mom and I as we peruse the racks of true vintage clothing. Each garment we encounter takes us back to a memory. I take a beautiful ivory silk blouse off the rack and hold it up in the sunlight, carefully inspecting it for damage. It is in pristine condition and it evokes something I am so intensely draw to but I cannot seem to put my finger on what it is. My mom turns around and says, “That looks just like Ms. Wynn!” That is precisely it; the same style that our delicate old neighbor wore each time I showed up at her doorstep in my bare feet, hoping for a piece of that sweet, old-people candy. This is what the art of thrifting is all about: pure nostalgia. 


When I walk into a thrift store, I am not accosted by a slew of size zero models, tightly wrapped in constricting fabrics which would never flatter a normal woman’s body the way they flatter a plastic molded manikin. Instead, I am left with racks and bins of clothing that leave me with the freedom and power to style them however I please. I can mix and match any style, pattern, color or texture without being glared at by some perfectly shaped plastic woman, awkwardly posed in the middle of a store. The “anything goes” culture of thrifting is empowering; there are no seasons, no fanciful displays and no overbearing commissioned clerks persuading you to run up your credit card bill. The options are endless in a thrift store because you never know what might make its way to the sales floor. My fellow shoppers certainly never fight me for the last of a particular piece because every single item is truly one-of-a-kind. Thrifting usually takes me to parts of town I would not have otherwise explored, exposing me to a plethora of diversity I would never encounter in a Bloomindales. Moreover, within my thrifting escapades, I am inadvertently fighting all that the fashion industry constantly begs me to submit to. I shop through racks filled with the fashions of the past. Garments which the fashion industry has long deemed “past season” fill my closet and I walk away with a contented mind and happy wallet. When you allow yourself to step outside of the comfort of consumerist department store culture, you are exposed to a world where you have the power to deem what is in fashion to you at that very moment. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Gifts of the Chesapeake

In a deep slumber, I feel a hard, calloused hand grab my foot and vigorously shake it. This is Dad’s traditional signal to communicate to me it is time to go. Neither of us utters a single word; just a simple shake of the foot and I know exactly what to do. Like clockwork,  I leap out of bed, throw on a few layers of clothes and sprint to the 18’ Carolina skiff tied up to our dock. I jump into the boat where my Dad is impatiently waiting for me to untie the bow so we can cast out on our usual Saturday morning adventure. There he sits in his captain’s chair, with his arms folded tightly and perched atop his belly, giving me the “you’re almost late” look. My six-year-old spirit bubbles with excitement as I hear the roar of the outboard motor gear up for another big day.  Racing the rise of the springtime sun, we chart out through the cool and misty open waters.
When the calendar falls on April 20th in Southern Maryland, people drop their boats in to the frigid, brackish waters and set out to stalk the king of the Chesapeake: the striped bass. The morone saxatilis, better known as the Rockfish, striper, and/or striped bass is a highly respected and cared-for population.  In 2007, President George W. Bush declared under executive order 13349 that the coveted striped bass be considered a protected game fish. The striper is Maryland’s most vital commercial and recreational fish. So important, in fact, it was declared the Maryland state fish. The rockfish is notorious for being a fighter and therefore, the sport fishing and charter boat industry in southern Maryland relies heavily on this species to provide a source of income and entertainment. People come from all over the DC metropolitan area to take trips out on the many charter boats who host fishing trips in the Chesapeake. Solomon’s Island, Maryland is one of the most well-known harbor towns for charter fishing; this small two-mile island houses over twenty-five commercial charter boats. The rockfish provides the people of the Chesapeake Bay watershed with not only a bountiful blessing of delicious meals but also a challenge that fosters intimate relationships amongst those who seek to catch them.


We finally reach the prime real estate for our hunt of the coveted striper. Dad rushes around the boat, gathering the rods, fidgeting with the lures, attempting to steer clear of neighboring vessels and keeping a keen eye on the depth finder. At the tender age of ten-years-old, I stand in awe as I watch him perfect the process; his is the master of the multi-task. Flawlessly, he executes the preparation and gracefully drops two lines into the depths of the Chesapeake. With our bellies full of sugary sweets, we sit side-by-side anxiously awaiting a bite from the striper. It is during these idle times that the true pleasure of “fishing” is elicited. I listen to Dad tell me about how things were back in his day; he narrates stories of adventures and triumph in an animated and fabricated manner that keeps me on the edge of my cold, plastic seat. He talks about how he walked five miles to school, uphill both ways and tells innumerable tall tales of his childhood. I reciprocate the story swapping by rambling on about the boy in school that I like and how he never waits for me after lunch and how he always pays more attention to my friend. He listens intently and advises me to move on; my ten-year-old spirit is devastated but there is a sense of safety in his voice that compels me to take his advice. We sit and talk until we see a sharp bend in one of our rods; the secret sharing stops and the action begins. 

Trolling is the most popular strategy used to capture the coveted striper within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. This strategy consists of setting up fishing lines, dropping them over the sides of the boat and slowly cruising through open water as the lures drag behind. The slow glide of the boat gives the tacky, brightly colored lures a lively spin which makes them look quite appealing to the hungry stripers who lurk within the dark waters of the Chesapeake. The infamous striper is known as a “lazy feeder” meaning that when it feeds, it travels with the current and simply eats what it comes across rather than fighting the current and searching for prey; this fact is crucial to ones success in capturing the coveted striper. Within the charter industry, trolling is a very popular strategy because it is a relatively simple and hands-off process. This leaves the attendees on the boat an ample amount of time to kick back, enjoy a few beers and simply revel in the beauty of the Chesapeake. It should be noted that even though this is a relatively simple process, when the striper finally bites the trolling lures, a dramatic bend in the rod warrants grown adults to propel themselves into a mass hysteria of excitement. These fish are true fighters and it can sometimes take upward of half an hour to get one striper reeled in. Other techniques used to capture the striper also include jigging, bottom fishing and surf fishing. One of the most exhausting and exhilarating strategies used to capture the striper is the jig. Jigging is a technique where a boat anchors near a specific structure in the water such as pilings or docks. From there, the striper-seekers take a rod with multiple fish shaped lures on the end and bob it vigorously up and down in the water at a considerable depth. This makes an illusion of a school of fish and stripers, who often hang out near structures like pilings, go crazy for the fast movements and bright colors of the lures. This technique is used less on charter boats more so for the individuals who consider themselves true anglers. Trolling seems to be the charter strategy of choice in the Chesapeake because of the nice dichotomy between action and relaxation that it provides.
I am looking at a photograph framed in my room. Twenty-years old, there I stand on that same dock that I raced down each Saturday morning as I anxiously awaited our fishing trips. My Dad and I stand closely with excited eyes after one of these exhilarating mornings spent fishing the depths of the Chesapeake. I am gripping the mouth of my thirty inch rockfish with both hands, trying to hold back laughter as my Dad cracks a joke about how can barely hold it up. My face indicates that I am struggling to keep it in my hands; looking at the photo, I can feel my arms quivering and my grip slipping from the slimy coating of the fish. I am reminded of how hard I constantly tried to impress him with every detail of my life; if I drop this fish, I will never hear the end of it. I am the strong daughter; the closest thing to a son that Dad has and I can see myself in this photo filling those shoes. Dad stands next to me with his entire forearm stuffed up into the gill of a forty eight inch striper. Effortlessly, he holds up the humongous fish; he is truly the last John Wayne. Never one to crack a smile in a photograph, I can see the faintest look of excitement in my father’s eye and I can see that the times we have spent together on the Chesapeake have yielded us with much more than just a few big fish. Looking at this photograph, I am reminded of the striking dichotomy of both the closeness and distance between us; we stand together with only our elbows gracing one another. Close enough to touch but far enough away that it doesn’t appear too “soft”. Holding the fish that have spawned a deep and lasting love between father and daughter, we stand together and revel in the beauty of what the Chesapeake has gifted to us.

As always, thank you so much for stopping by to read! 

This is piece of creative non-fiction prose written for one of my classes at St. Mary's College during the Spring 2013 semester. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Your Body is a Temple, Not a Visitor's Center

Within recent months, I have noticed a sharp increase in the amount of women who are posting intimate pictures of their bodies on social media networks. This seemingly new and trendy type of posting has not only left me feeling confused and disappointed but most importantly, it has left me deeply concerned for the state of self-respect within some of my generation.

It happens daily; I log onto to my various social media networks (instagram, twitter, facebook, etc.) and there I see another woman posting a picture of either herself or someone else that she so desperately wants to look like. I am not talking about the ladies who post their vacation pictures from a trip to the beach or their "outfit of day" or even the occasional "selfie;" what I am referring to here is the women who are taking pictures of their "progress" (aka their nearly naked bodies) and posting it for the whole world to see: standing in front of a mirror, so obviously in a gym, sucking in every last ounce of air or standing in their bedroom mirrors flexing as hard as humanly possible to get the perfect shot of their newly acquired biceps.

What I don't understand about this trend is why women are supporting a campaign of body imagery that is unrealistic and unhealthy (both physically and emotionally). It seems like everywhere I look on social media, I see the slogan "strong is the new skinny" which I completely endorse and support as a step in the right direction in terms of goal-setting. But when this slogan is plastered on pictures of women's bodies that are clearly too thin and then it is subsequently re-posted and liked by thousands of women- I can't help but feel this is problematic. More importantly, what are we teaching young women about the sacritity of their bodies if we are constantly posting pictures of ourselves (and others for that matter) in a bra and underwear for the world to see? This is not normal and in fact, I think it speaks loudly of the lack of confidence that many women in my generation have.

Why is feeling good about your workout or the two pounds that you lost not good enough for just yourself? Why are women finding it necessary to seek the "like" and "share" from the anonymity of the Internet? Where is your self-worth? Seeing people constantly posing in front of mirrors at the gym or even in the privacy of their own home and finding it necessary to alert the world every time they sweat seems to be a indicator that we are lacking self-respect. No longer is feeling sexy good enough for yourself; now you must get at least 20 likes on your "#fitfam" photo so that you can feel like you have accomplished something. 

Call me old fashioned but I firmly believe that part of considering yourself a lady is conserving your body. As the infamous Marilyn Monroe would say, "your clothes should be tight enough to show your a woman but loose enough to show your a lady." I am not suggesting that we should all walk around in head-to-toe garments that cover every inch of our skin. I am merely revealing that constantly posting up close and personal body shots on social media networks is distasteful and arguably toxic to those who view it. It seems like my generation was on the cusp of the budding popularity of social media and the generation just below mine is often criticized for overexposing themselves. Where do you think they learned to do it? I think that we all need to take a minute and reevaluate the manner in which we use social media and assess how that speaks of our character.

As a woman, I feel compelled to bring what little bit of light I can to this issue. In a sense, I think it is fantastic to see my generation begin to think about living a healthy lifestyle. I thoroughly enjoy reading about the different workouts that people do and recipes they share via social media. But at the end of the day, being healthy is much deeper than the way your body looks under the Lo-Fi filter on instagram. There is strong evidence from the actions that we take on social media that we are losing grip of our self-respect and it is only my hope that things will turn around before more and more people unintentionally begin supporting toxic behaviors and consequently impacting the confidence of those who look to them as role models.

This post isn't pointed toward one particular person, site or incident. I do not intend to offend anyone who believes that partaking in the type of behaviors I have previously mentioned is normal and beneficial to others. I, just like those who post these pictures, am simply exercising my first amendment right by expressing my concern for this trend.

"To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves- there lies the great, singular power of self-respect." --Joan Didion

As always, thank you for reading!

Recipe Review: Asparagus Bundles

My aunt and I both love Trisha Yearwood's recipes and she shared this one with me a few days ago as I was brainstorming what to make for my Sunday dinner. She began to tell me about how you take bunches of asparagus and wrap them in bacon...Sold! She had me at bacon; let's be honest, what could possibly be bad about anything wrapped in bacon? I gave these a try this weekend and they were amazing. Here is my adaptation of the recipe below:


2 pounds fresh asparagus, ends trimmed
12 slices bacon
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 

Karen's additions:

1 teaspoon of dijon mustard
Juice of half an orange

Note: I divided this recipe in half because I was cooking for only two people who eat asparagus and we just about killed the whole batch!


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Take your asparagus and rinse them in a colander in the sink. Snap the end of each spear off where it naturally has flexibility. Divide the asparagus in 12 bundles.
  3. Open up a package of uncooked bacon (I used Smithfield Maple Bacon) and begin to wrap each bundle about a half an inch from the bottom. 
  4. Lay the bundles in a baking dish. 
  5. In a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter, soy sauce, mustard, orange juice, garlic salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Pour the hot sugar mixture over the asparagus bundles.Caution, do not worry if the mixture looks watery; that is okay!
  6. Transfer the dish to the oven and roast until the spears have begun to wilt and the bacon looks fully cooked, about 25 minutes. 
  7. Serve and enjoy!

Recipe adapted from: