We were in Sonoma County barely a month when I found out that there was going to be a Book Festival in downtown Santa Rosa. As someone who is rarely seen without a book in her hands, I had to go to this event. I went from booth to booth meeting authors and taking leaflets from local writing groups. When I saw the paperback with the title "Secondhand Spirits" I had to take another look. And then another.
Juliette Blackwell was sitting behind a table with a display of of her books along with a group of authors. She gave me and Cerys a very warm hello and asked if we liked mystery books. Having just come out of my Sookie withdrawals I found myself nodding my head for the first time ever. Despite Trixie B, I don't tend to lean toward mysteries. I just don't sleep well if I read about murder & mayhem before laying my head on my pillow to sleep. I have bad dreams and worse: I sleepwalk. Still the title said "secondhand". How could I go wrong with that? I bought a copy and asked Juliette to write an inscription to Cerys.
If you are a thrifter then you will love the main character Lily Ivory and her vintage clothing shop in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. There is so much vintage/thrift talk in this book that your head will spin until you are just plain giddy. Seriously, you-must-read-this-book-today.
Juliette has kindly agreed to an interview about a favorite subject of ours; vintage thrifting.
ATG: Your book Secondhand Spirits featured a mouthwatering vintage clothing boutique, Aunt Cora's Closet. Do you have a favorite vintage clothing boutique that you frequent in San Francisco or the Bay Area?
Juliette Blackwell: There are far too many to name! I set Secondhand Spirits in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood because in the Bay Area, the Haight is famous for its funky used-clothes and vintage shops. I love La Rosa, Held Over, Static, Wasteland, and even the Goodwill at 1700 Haight.
In Berkeley, Telegraph Avenue offers a number of great stores; I like Mars Mercantile, Time Zone, and Stop the Clock.
ATG: Are you a vintage clothing collector yourself? What is your favorite piece that you own?
Juliette Blackwell: I wouldn’t call myself a real collector –for that you need serious money. I adore really old clothing from the 1900s, and those items are truly expensive, so I mostly just admire them. Plus I’m not what you’d call petite, so it can be hard to find clothes from that era that fit.
But I do have a number of nice pieces I’ve acquired over the years, especially 1950s cashmere sweaters and old flowy skirts. I have a couple of jackets from the forties, and some beaded items from the thirties. My favorite pieces come from my mother: a lovely cocktail dress with a gauzy black skirt and a lacy bodice; and a fake-fur lined cocoa-colored wool coat. I wore her wedding dress when I got married, as well: it’s a simple piece that her sisters sewed for her. Those items remind me of her, so I love them best.
ATG: Many of my readers are avid thrifters for anything vintage. What's your best piece of advice for finding the perfect vintage item?
Juliette Blackwell: As I mentioned above, money is always a concern for me so I don’t buy much at stores that know exactly what they have, and charge for it – although those are great options for smaller items that can really dress up an outfit…yes, I’m a sucker for vintage rhinestone jewelry!
I usually shop at Goodwill and other charity thrift stores – they often have incredible pieces without even knowing it. I once insisted on paying more than the $2 price tag on a skirt that I recognized as a genuine 1950s poodle-skirt! Another great way to find less expensive items is at estate sales – sometimes clothes won’t be out for sale, but if you ask there just might be closets and boxes full of old stuff that people want to get rid of. Sometimes you have to pay one price for everything and go through it, but there are some real treasures if you’re willing to look.
Finally, I know a collector who works for Hollywood. He goes out on “big waste pick-up days” when homeowners are allowed to put big junk out on the curb. If there are a lot of items from an era my friend is looking for, he’ll actually knock on the door and ask if they have any clothes from that era. He’s surprisingly successful. A lot of people don’t know what to do with their old stuff –they don’t want it, but they hesitate to throw it away.
ATG: What kind of background research was needed to write about owning a vintage boutique shop?
Juliette Blackwell: As always, there’s an astounding amount of information available on the internet. But besides reading catalogs and articles about vintage clothing, I go onto vintage clothing chatrooms and textile conservators’ chatrooms. It’s amazing the kind of detail you can gleam from their discussions. I also interview vintage clothing dealers and store owners, and as is probably obvious from my answers above, I spend a lot of time in the stores, just browsing and watching customers.
ATG: How did you decide to combine magic with secondhand?
Juliette Blackwell: My main character, Lily Ivory, has never felt close to people, so she feels connected to humanity through items that carry their vibrations. I thought of having her dealing with antiques, but that has been done so often…and besides, I know more about clothes than antiques. And I thought: What could be more intimate than clothing? It touches our skin constantly, is there with us on important events like weddings and celebrations, even funerals, and in the old days it was often made by hand by loved ones. I do believe that old things carry a little of the energy of people who’ve passed through—old houses, old furniture, old clothes….
ATG: In Book 2 are you going to continue with the vintage clothing theme or venture into other secondhand areas?
Juliette Blackwell: Since Lily owns a vintage clothing store, obviously clothing will always have an important role in the books. But I do get a chance to talk a little (too little, unfortunately) about ephemera in my next Witchcraft Mystery, A Cast-off Coven (coming June, 2010), and Lily is also considering expanding Aunt Cora’s Closet to include another one of my favorite hobbies: vintage kitchen items. If no one puts a stop to this, I might have her running a secondhand emporium soon!
****Thank you so much Juliette for taking the time to talk to us today about Secondhand Spirits and especially about vintage thrifting. Please check out Juliette's website for more information about the book, upcoming events and where to purchase your own copy of Secondhand Spirits.