“You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.”
Who in the world came up with that shitty phrase? It’s my least favorite quote of all time. I spent my entire childhood wishing I was somewhere better than my tiny hometown. Where I grew up, football reigned and being a vegetarian was on par with being a Satanist. Fortunately, it wasn’t all bad. I had two doting parents and Sally’s Thrift Shop. Sally’s was my version of church, because it was where I found my bible: Fashion 101 - A Girl’s Guide to Dressing Fabulously.
I remember one particular Saturday when my mother caved on the way home from my youth soccer game. I’d pleaded with her to stop into Sally’s for a minute, and finally she gave in and pulled into a free parking spot right in front of the shop. I unbuckled before she finished parking, threw my car door open, and flew through the front door to the sound of her reprimanding me from her driver’s side window.
Every trip to Sally’s followed the same routine. I had about ten minutes to wander through the aisles—fifteen if my mom was feeling up to chatting with the clerk on duty—during which I would pile as many things into a small basket as I could possibly muster. The rule was always the same: I could pick one item and that was it. No ifs, ands, or buts about it, as my mom loved to say. Even still, I tested her resolve each time.
That day was no different. When I joined my mom at the front of the store I had two purses slung over my shoulders, a fedora resting on top of my head, two scarves, and a basket overflowing with clothes. My mother tsked and took the basket from me, preemptively apologizing to the clerk for having to return all of my unpurchased merchandise to the shelves.
“Mom, please! TWO THINGS, PLEASE!” I begged as she tipped the basket out onto the counter. My glittery tops spilled out in a sad display.
“Josie Ann, you had better pick one thing now or we’re leaving here with nothing,” she said with a stern voice and a hand on her hip.
I knew that look. I knew I wasn’t going to get away with two items that day.
And then I saw them.
I swear a beam of light shined down from the heavens as I stared down at a pair of cheetah print flats on display beneath the glass counter. They looked ten sizes too big, but I had to have them.
I slid to my knees, pressed my hands to the display case, and fogged up the glass with my stinky child’s breath. Then, having learned my lesson, I wiped the glass clean, held my breath, and stared at those flats like they were going to come to life and pounce at me.
“I want…those,” I declared with utter decisiveness.
“Jo, those won’t fit you. They’re probably my size,” my mom protested, bending down to join me.
“They’re also quite expensive,” the clerk said. “Vintage Chanel.”
My eyes widened. Chanel—a label I’d learned from Fashion 101. I didn’t know a lot about a lot of things (in fact I’d been pronouncing it “channel” in my head), but I knew that those Chanel flats were going to be mine someday.
I stared at them until my mom started dragging me out of the store. I dragged my hands on the carpet in protest.
“Save them for me! Don’t let anyone buy them!” I begged. “Please!”
I cried the entire way home as my mom berated me for not appreciating the life I had. I didn’t care that we had a roof over our heads and food on the table every night. What good are basic human amenities without a pair of faux fur flats? I wanted those shoes more than anything.
As soon as I got home, I ran to my piggy bank and counted out all the money I had to my name: twelve dollars and seventeen cents.
The shoes were $150.
For the next year and half, I saved every dime I got. Birthday money, allowance money, Christmas money, (attempting to be Jewish so I could get money for Hanukkah did not work on my parents)—it all went into the piggy bank until the day I could finally walk into the shop, take a hammer to my bank, and walk out with a pair of size 8 vintage Chanel flats wrapped up like Fabergé eggs.
Those vintage Chanel flats were my very first designer purchase, and they were the shoes I wore at twenty-three as I left my small life in Texas with hopes of tackling the fashion world in New York City.
I glanced up in time to watch the driver toss a hastily concealed cigarette butt out the window and cringed. I knew the stench of secondhand smoke would cling to my layered gown, but I was already running ten minutes late and the chances of finding another cab were slim to none.
“Upper East Side,” I answered, sliding into the backseat. “Carlyle Hotel.”
He pulled out into traffic and I tried my best to check my complexion in his rearview mirror. Our eyes met in the glass; I blushed and settled against the seat. What does it matter? It’s too late to fix anything now anyway.
“Ah. The Carlyle,” he repeated with a thick Italian accent. “Must be a fancy party.”
Fancy didn’t begin to cover it.
“It’s the New York Fashion Gala,” I offered, not sure if he was interested in talking or if he was just amusing me.
“Sounds like a party I’m happy to be skipping,” he said, lazily turning back to check if the left lane was clear before swerving over sharply. I fell against the window before I could catch myself and scrunched my nose to ease the pain as I collided with the door handle.
“You look good though. Pretty dress,” he offered with a lighter tone than he’d used the moment before. Maybe he felt bad for insulting the gala, or maybe I did actually look nice in my rented Dolce & Gabbana gown. Either way, I was happy to hear the compliment. I needed all the confidence I could get.