I probably shouldn’t have bought it.
At this point, “I probably shouldn’t have bought it” should be etched on my gravestone. My weakness for beautiful clothing, particularly vintage, isn’t exactly a secret. Please, never look at my Etsy account.
But I really, really wanted it. I had been circling the room at International Market Square, admiring the Oscar de la Renta, the Carolina Herrera, the entire wall of Chanel twinsets, then coming right back to this yellow and navy wool plaid Bill Blass suit, the perfect fusion of Cher Horowitz and Jackie O. I was so into matching separates right now! I could not leave it alone, no matter how hard I tried.
“Just try it on,” they said. “What harm can it do?”
The Bill Blass suit belonged to a Minnesota woman named Mary Wangsness, a family practice doctor from North Oaks. When she died, a good deal of her extensive collection of designer clothing was placed in the hands of Patric Richardson of Mona Williams, who opened Mary’s closet to the public during a special event at IMS.
I knew it would be dangerous to attend such an event, but something pulled me there that Sunday morning. A clothing designer friend accompanied me and we spent close to two hours examining every impeccable piece. These were clothes from a different time, when you dressed up to lunch at the Galleria instead of throwing on your Lululemon. They were aspirational. They were beautiful. They were a peek into another woman’s world, a woman who had spent hours carefully choosing her clothes from the Oval Room, from Bergdorf, from the runways, from the designers themselves.
There’s something special about clothing. I don’t mean the jeans and T-shirt you wear on the weekend when you don’t want anyone to notice you, or the items you throw on before work when you’re running late. I’m talking about the perfect pieces, the ones that make you feel like the most wonderful, enhanced version of yourself, the you that you’re proud to present to the world. I’m talking about the black dress that gives you the confidence to exist in a room with an ex-boyfriend, or the coat that makes you feel like you can take on anything the world — or the weather — throws you.
Ever since I moved to Minneapolis in 2006 from a teeny-tiny farm town Up North, I’ve been collecting clothing. I’d always loved to dress up, stacking my "Vogue" magazines to the ceiling of my teenage bedroom. But when the nearest shopping center is Grand Forks, the best you could get was American Eagle.
Moving to Minneapolis opened so many fashionable doors for me. I will never forget the rush I felt when I found the perfect strapless black Marc Jacobs cocktail dress for $40 at the old Everyday People in Dinkytown. I’ve added Dolce & Gabbana and nameless vintage pieces to my closet(s) thanks to June Resale and Value Village. I’ve always enjoyed wearing other people’s clothing. I like a history lesson that lives in my closet, and I like to imagine the women who’ve worn these things before me.
I stepped out of the makeshift fitting room in the suit, which fit as if it had been made just for me. I looked thinner, brighter, more pulled together, a throwback that I could modernize with one of my ratty old T-shirts and some crazy shoes.
“I kept wondering why this one didn’t sell, especially because it was featured in a fashion show,” said Seth, one of the event's salespeople.
He went on to tell me that everyone working the sale had felt Mary’s presence in the room, guiding shoppers to the pieces she knew would be perfect. I guess the suit was just waiting for me.
Pieces like this are magical. They carry the best of their previous owner within their threads. When you wear them, it rubs off onto you. You give them new life, take them to new places, add your own mystique and personality to them.
The slinky '40s gown I bought from a local jewelry designer came to her via Palm Springs and, before that, it hung out in Hollywood. Last week I wore a Chanel cashmere sweater that once belonged to a '50s Playmate named Carrie Radison, who later retired to Minnesota. I wear her clip-on earrings, too. I didn’t know the previous owners of my favorite pieces, but I feel like I do when I decide to wear their clothes.
I bought Mary’s suit. It was inevitable, of course. She was waiting for me to walk in that room so she could connect us, and now this Minnesota woman who loved clothes as much as I do is a part of me. I hope we have fun together.
Kara Nesvig is a freelance writer and beauty blogger living in Minneapolis. Find her writing all over the Internet, especially at xoVain.com.
ABOUT 10,000 Takes: 10,000 Takes is a new digital section featuring first-person essays about life in the North Star State. We publish narratives about love, family, work, community and culture in Minnesota. Got a story to tell? Send your draft to firstname.lastname@example.org.