BY Pamela Des Barres
By age 15, I was a burgeoning style-o-phile, grabbing the first pair of bellbottom Cher pants in Reseda, California, finishing off the Look with a red bandana crop-top and ribboned braids. Attracted to Marianne Faithfull’s bangs and eyeliner, and Patti Boyd’s precocious Hard Day’s Night image, I had my share of Yardley’s slicker lip goo and mod dolly frocks too, some of them homemade (by me, poorly stitched but super cute!)
My interest in ‘used’ clothing began years earlier. Since my daddy had a penchant for adventure, digging for gold in Mexico, to be specific, my mama had to buy my school clothes at our local Salvation Army, which made sure that I was the most uniquely dressed kid at Cantara Street Elementary. When OC Miller was back home from his gallivanting, he took me to yard sales, flea markets and swap meets, further tweaking my fascination for pre-owned anythings. The idea that items had been used and loved, then cast-off by complete strangers made them even more valuable to me. They came with a story that I could only imagine.
My second year in high school, I became friendly with a pal, Linda’s, very old white-haired granny, and we hit it off in a big way; ageless karmic kindred spirits. One sunny afternoon she opened her cedar-chest to reveal stacks of gem-colored velvets, laces and crepe dresses from the 1930s. I was enthralled and instantly greedy. Pam from Reseda was tiny then, and Linda wasn’t (much to her dismay) so I fit into this exquisite finery perfectly. Granny seemed joyous to see her aged clothing worn once more, and gave me several yummy pieces on the spot!
One of these amazing dresses, a blue velvet gown, was immediately cropped into a mini, and I added appliqued flowers and a turn-of-the-century lace collar, found in a thrift store. I wore it to the very next Love-In at Griffith Park and a young photographer followed me around, snapping away. Allen Daviau soon became the first lensman to capture my blooming visage, and also asked if I’d like to dance in a short film about a new band from the UK: The Jimi Hendrix Experience. I’d be quite prepared for that eventuality, thank you! So granny’s blue velvet gown became immortalized as I bounced around on a pedestal behind Mr. H. to “Foxey Lady.”
Another precious piece granny bestowed upon me that day was a long-sleeved vivid red velvet blouse with a floppy flower at the waist and a wrap around tie, that I matched with a long black velvet skirt, slit up one side. You can see me in that uncommon ensemble on my way to the Lenny Bruce Eulogy in my first book “I’m With the Band.”
Somehow these ancient delicious clothes started to define me, making me feel set apart from the mundane JC Penney outfits surrounding me. The femininity, artistry and glory of the fabrics, work(wo)manship, and singular beauty of each piece helped me become more myself. “This frothy coral feather boa, hand-beaded deco gown, emerald velvet cloak, or 1940s pin-up playsuit is ME, baby!” From then on I have been on a quest to wrap myself up in vintage (of course, it was called ‘antique’ waaay back then!) clothing, accoutrements, and jewelry, hoping to feel like a goddess, stand out in a crowd and turn heads for all the right reasons.
The very first ‘vintage’ clothing shop in Los Angeles, The Glass Farmhouse, opened on Sunset Blvd. in 1967, and me and my collection of like-minded dolls bought all our aging lace wedding dresses, feather boas, velvet capes and long chiffon party gowns for a dollar or three. Finally a store where we didn’t have to comb through polyester A-lined skirts and K-Mart cast-offs to snatch up the forties crepe bombshell frocks and ivory net communion dresses! (I always have and still do love to DIG for treasure, however!)
Several of these gypsied-out, resplendent, luxurious girlie-girls (including myself!) began dancing with local bands, which soon caused many other hippie/flower child chicks to follow suit and deck themselves out in long-ago ladies’ dream garb. A handful of us became the Laurel Canyon Ballet Company, then the all-girl group The GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously), known equally for our tattered, patchwork, madcap wardrobe, as our Frank-Zappa produced wacky musical ditties.
It certainly is a lot more difficult these days to find the vintage clothing I love so dearly, but when I come upon a delightful flowered frilled chiffon gown or a saucy 50s afternoon ‘day’ dress, my heart swells and I get breathy, just like that long-ago afternoon when Linda’s granny unlocked her precious cedar chest to reveal all those alluring, gem-colored, life-changing beauties.