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Dumpster chic: Your trash is a treasure for Fairbanks' frugal fashionistas

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Posted: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 9:27 am

FAIRBANKS - “There’s something sticky in my shoe.”

It’s a warm and sunny early September afternoon and Trista “Ruckus” Saunders is sorting through a pile of garments and footwear in hopes of putting together a few interesting looks. She, along with friends Katie “KFace” Robb, Nick Hautman and Don Gillie, work quickly out of the back of two vehicles where Saunders and Robb have amassed a sizable selection to choose from.

Folks mill about, vaguely curious, but with their own business to attend to. Across the way two men sit on an old couch, singing softly while playing acoustic guitar.

Four thousand miles away in New York City, Mercedes Benz Fashion Week has just wrapped up in the tents outside of Lincoln Center. Amidst the news of celebrity sightings and rave reviews for various collections, a New York Times piece by Ruth La Ferla bemoaned the commercialization of “street style — once fashion’s last stronghold of true indie spirit.”

There’s no risk of that happening here though. As with most things, Fairbanks takes indie spirit to a whole new level of extreme. Forget “street” and think “transfer site.”

“The idea originally came after looking at an Urban Outfitters catalog,” Saunders said. “We thought, ‘They just look angry, and they’re in scraps of clothing.’ Those are clothes that we could have found or have found at the dump. We should do Dumpster fashion.” And they did. They gathered up some girlfriends, piled into a car and headed to the transfer site. There they picked through the re-use section, stripped and changed in the car, and took their first photos. A few clicks of the computer mouse later and their blog, “Arrogantly Shabby,” was born.

But what originally began as a sort of joke quickly turned into a fun hobby.

“We just kept doing it because it was a blast” said Robb. The blog, whose name is a nod to the slogan for Robb’s hometown of Pawleys Island, S.C., gets about 50 to 100 hits per day. October will mark its two-year anniversary.

The blog’s URL, flagrant-vagrants.blogspot.com, reflects Saunders’ take on the phrase. “We’re pretty flagrant about being poor,” she laughs. “We go to the dump and we put it on the Internet.

We’re pretty proud of our thriftiness.”

While resourceful and thrifty are two words that do come to mind when thinking of Fairbanks, not everyone shares in the women’s excitement for Dumpster finds.

“When I told people that I worked with, when I worked at UAF, that I’ve got this fashion blog with Dumpster clothes about half the people were like ‘Oh my God, you wear clothes from the dump? That is so gross!’” Saunders said.

“I love when people who I know would never come to the dump are like ‘Oh I love that! Where’d you get it?’” Robb continued. “I had a scarf that was a bed sheet and someone was like ‘Oh I love that print’ and I was like ‘Dumpster sheet! It’s a bed sheet from the dump.’ And her face was like ‘Oh, I already complimented it, I can’t take it back.’” Like most Fairbanksans, Robb’s boyfriend Nick Hautman was no stranger to the transfer site but his view has gotten broader since dating Robb. “I’m more of a thrift store guy. You just have to be persistent here and you’ll find things that are just as good if not better.”

But, back to the sticky, icky inside the shoe.

At the Farmer’s Loop West Transfer Site, Kface and Ruckus have met up to produce their latest hobo-chic fashion shoot for “Arrogantly Shabby.”

Rather than dive and shoot on the same day they now accumulate stuff during the week. The ladies will swing through the city’s various transfer sites as they pass them and keep a collection of clothes in the back of their cars. Once they gather enough options, they meet up at the transfer site for a photo shoot with Hautman, Gillie and other friends and volunteers. The clothes are not washed before wearing.

Most things are picked just for shooting purposes and may be altered on site with scissors or binder clips. If they love something, they’ll keep it. But most stuff is returned to the concrete slab in the re-use section.

There are just a few rules for the shoots. First, things can only be worn in one shoot. And second, you cannot look in any kind of mirror. You have to dress yourself and not have any great idea of what you look like.

Also, try to “smeyes.”

That is, smile with your eyes. Although Robb has tried to do so she is more noted for her trademark scowl, which is a shame since it belies her mega-watt smile and boisterous laugh.

While a sticky shoe can be a drag, it’s not the worst of what they might run across. Rotting meat and full cat boxes rank fairly high.

“Moose bodies are not that bad. The worst is fish remains,” said Saunders, prompting a collective groan at the stinky thought of it.

“It’s the difference between the re-use platform and the Dumpsters,” Hautman said. “We certainly will go into the Dumpsters but most of the stuff we use is from the platform.”

While they’ll make the rounds to see if there’s anything interesting in the Dumpsters, they don’t go crazy with it. Meaning: No gloves, no stick.

“When you’ve got a stick that’s a whole other thing,” Saunders said. “You’re committing.”

Once the outfits are selected shooting begins around the site. Some photos are taken by a fence, some near or inside a Dumpster, others over on the slab. Today’s options also include a hot tub, an office chair and some sort of rack structure which Gillie, an engineer at PDC who arrives to the shoot fresh from a showerless week in the field, decides to hang from.

The blog evolved quickly to include male models but those shoots are harder since quality men’s clothing is pretty scarce at the sites.

This has not stopped Gillie from doing entire shoots in women’s clothing.

“It takes a lot longer for us to find stuff for a guy’s shoot,” said Robb. “Hence, him wearing all female clothing once. He looked great. No one would ever know that shoot was all female clothing. He’s a skinny boy. He wears stuff that we can’t wear.”

Watching Gillie and Hautman pick through the clothing pile to create their own outfits for today’s shoot, it seems that they have natural sartorial instincts.

“Katie has molded me,” clarified Hautman. “I didn’t have any sense of fashion but she’s hammered it into me and now I kinda like dressing up.”

“I’ve learned that there are so many ways to combine things that look awful to make them look wonderful,” Gillie added. For those who might want to give Dumpster fashion a try, the group offers such fun tips as be creative, be willing to try anything, and there’s no room for shame. They also advise avoiding the dump after it’s been raining, steering clear of the bin men, and to “keep dem eyes open.”

As is common in Fairbanks, this hobby is actually a way of life and it extends beyond the quirky fashion shoots.

Saunders, who is planning a wedding, has gotten shoes, table cloths, Christmas lights and other décor items from the transfer site.

Favorite trash find ever? For Saunders it’s a tie between a low-back, pea-green 1970s pin tuck velvet couch and a dead stock vintage Aztec Indian print rug. For Robb, a low lying cot with storage under the bed area and an attached desk.

“Not only do we find badass clothing at the dump,” Robb wrote on “Arrogantly Shabby,” “we also come across lots of other ridiculously beautiful things for the house.” Robb also runs a DIY lifestyle blog called “Campy Attributes” and sells collected wares online in an Etsy store called “Teal Tub Vintage.”

Quentin Crisp wrote that “Fashion is what you adopt when you don't know who you are.”

Clearly he never made it to Fairbanks or crossed paths with the women of “Arrogantly Shabby.”

For more tips, fashion shoots, smeyes and scowls visit the “Arrogantly Shabby” blog at http://flagrantvagrants.blogspot.com/

Anne Kristoff is freelance writer who splits her time between Fairbanks and New York City.

Fashion and Re-use Tips from “Arrogantly Shabby”

• Modify your clothing! This instantly transforms a dress into a skirt, makes a hem more on-trend, a child’s pullover into a cardigan, a pillow case into scarf or head band. If you screw up something, there’s no investment.

• It’s easy to look frumpy when doing casual. Keep in mind: something has to be fitted, or show a bit ‘o skin. Think skinny jeans/baggy sweatshirt, or baggy pants/tight top

• Make it lady-like with heels or flats, or tone it down with boots.

• Summer is a time for layers too. Add dimension to an old tunic or dress with a lacy skirt slip underneath.

It adds texture and sexy boldness without being overly tarty.

• Try pairing primary or bold colors with their softer counterparts for a pop of color that isn’t so punchy.

• Dress up plain white with a cute layer, funky belt, or both. When you’re rocking a simple look, a few accessories and some color go a long way.

• Note the details on an otherwise simple outfit. It makes it special, but still casual.

• When mixing bold prints stick to the same color grouping or family of colors.

• The easiest way to make a dress better is to add a belt.

• Scissors are a wonderful thing to keep in your car for last-minute fashion modifications, impromptucrafting and, of course, self-defense.

• Nothing beats a well put together guy. You will stand out. (Especially in Fairbanks). Our men’s outfits constantly prove that you don’t have to spend the cash to look fancy.

— Anne Kristoff

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