Saturday, January 31, 2009

$100 Shopping Challenge

I'm off to the mall today. I don't shop in them much personally, being a grunge-queen and all, but I write about them sometimes for my shopping column ... which is what I'm up to today. The Dufferin Mall has issued me a $100 shopping challenge: buy the nicest thing that I can find with the $100 gift card they give me, and they'll donate it to a charity that helps the community to in turn be auctioned off to raise funds for that organization.

I got to thinking about all the thrift stuff I've amassed for $100. Clothing - let's just say the list would be exhaustive if I had to itemize all the pieces I've found that add up to $100. Larger ticket items like furniture, let's see:

The bottle green 1960s Kroehler loveseat in this pic was $60 at a garage sale, and the teak coffee table was $15 at another. The chair and table were trash finds; the lamp was $3.99, the blanket (by April Cornell!) was $3.99; the orange pillow was $5 (got two for ten in a funky shop near Morrisburg Ontario); the floral pillow $1.99 - have I hit $100 yet? No? Ok - the Krizia fashion coffee table book, $3; one of the landscape prints propped on the table, $4.99. Equals under $97.96!

Display Dismay

An easy way to spruce up your digs is to showcase your collections, but figuring out how to display your stuff can be daunting. I learned the hard way that putting too many items together can produce a cluttered, junky look. The best way to show off, say, my head vase collection, is to group (no more than five) items of similar colour or theme together in odd numbers - the experts say even numbers can be too symmetrical and I tend to agree.

But what if you don't have a collection per se? First off collections needn't be hoity toity Lampe Berger or Faberge eggs. They can be cheap 'n easy and exist in your home without your even knowing it. I found a collection I didn't even know I had recently - and digging it up solved the dilemma of how to display three separate items I always had displaying separately. Once I figured out I had three jugs - two thrift store finds and one a gift - I threw 'em together and voila, instant display. It helped they had similar colours - the soft hues and florals I associate with the "Shappy Chic" look popularized by Rachel Ashwell bring some continuity to the tableau while the different heights make it more interesting visually (they also pop against the black book they're sitting on).

1). Take a peep around your place and see what you have. Pebbles you've collected from the beach; mounds of letters from old lovers; hardcover art books - anything can be a collection.

2). Displaying a collection needn't entail fancy shmancy contraptions you see on the reality TV home decor shows. It can be as simple as plopping three jugs on a pile of books, or stacking coffee table books in an unexpected place like the floor.

3). Don't be scared to showcase an odd ball that doesn't fit into your collection on its own. If it truly is unlike anything you have, it'll stand on its own as a statement piece if you create a backdrop that showcases it well.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rocker Chick

This pic isn't the greatest but I hope it does some justice to the fab charm necklace by Toronto designer Joan Kreitzer. The price may not be grunge-queen, but in a way the piece is truly grunge-queen, rocker-inspired with a blue suede string strung through with silver charms and Swarovski crystals. Kreitzer made a bunch of these and similar neck pieces for Canadian Idol - I love the contrast of frayed leather and pretty bling!

I wore it tonight to a cocktail party with a thrift outfit: a cheapie Zara tunic, vintage Bergdorf Goodman black quilted jacket, Bongo jeans and my blue strappy booties (dubbed my rocker-chick boots by my sis), pictured below.

Grunge-queen goes rocker glam.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Breaking All the Rules

Grunge-queen is happy to give out tricks and tips of the thrifting trade, but she's not a huge rules person - in fact one of the first freelance fashion pieces she wrote was called "Breaking All the Rules" ....

Grunge-queen philosophy is meant to open up possibilities for creativity and self-expression, not restrict them. That's why I have a beef with the tone of some decor and fashion publications that seem bent on disseminating should and should-nots and various dos and don'ts to their readers - I find it encourages a kind of creative neurosis, a distrust of one's one intuitive juices that hinders exploration.

My advice: breaking the rules - and possibly making horrid style mistakes - is how you come to know yourself and cultivate your own aesthetic. And it can be incredibly liberating. So go ahead, reupholster that chair, as I did, eventhough you don't know a damn thing about it. If it looks a little lumpy-bumpy like mine who cares? That imperfection is way more human - and definitely more grunge-queen.

See my shopping column in the Town Crier group of newspapers for how I broke some of my thrifting rules while shopping for a summer wardrobe ....

Click Here

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lean Jeans

A friend visiting grunge-queen last night asked me where to find good jeans on the cheap. Value Village, I'd have to say, is where I get 90 percent of my denim (the other 10 percent at charity thrift shops - the ones you see here were $7.99 at Sally Ann).

Thrift shops are fine for denim, but as a for-profit enterprise (owned by Savers in the States) it's VV's business to ensure there's the breadth of selection and sizing available in stores - meaning you're bound to find a lean jean steal.

VV prices are higher, but you can get a decent pair of jeans for $7.99-$9.99, and the prices will go up from there based on quality, label and perceived value, and stylishness (and location as prices vary between stores). My best finds include a pair of Bongo jeans for $19.99 (that look so good on I've worn them three weeks straight - and they rock with my new booties, below) and a pair of Guess jeans for $24.99 - both brand new.

PHOTO CREDIT: Francis Crescia, Town Crier

1). Even if they're a screaming deal, they have to look fabulous on and you have to be able to sit in them without hurting yourself.

2). You can find cool current styles without resorting to high-waisted straight legs from the 1980s. I go for the low riser jeans with a flare as they're hip without being uber trendy (I avoid teeny teen jeans at all costs). Look for decent jean labels like Guess, Mavi, Bongo, Vibe, Buffalo etc.

3). I'm pretty picky about labels and pricing. I tend not to buy mid-market jeans that I can get new for relatively cheap (the Gap, Old Navy, etc). The pricing Gods at VV can sometimes price these items higher than what I want to pay because they know that a certain label has a certain cache.

4). Last time I donated at VV I got a 20 percent off coupon - save these for pricier purchases like denim. I betcha you can still pick up a 2009 VV calendar for $2.99 - in it there's a coupon for every month with a different percentage off. Don't knock it, coupons rock in these recessionary times!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sassy Strappy Booties

My thrifting pal Martin requested a view of these booties, found for $9.99 at Stretch Thrift, my local thrift shop:

Italian distressed leather pointy-toe boots with sporty wrap-around strips that Velcro to the sides.

Pretty spanky.

Here's hoping I can walk in them.

Before and Afters: Dining Room part two

Before: Junky clunky
I'm on a roll here, but I had to finish showing you the dining room makeover.

I love this big 'ole wood dresser with curving drawers I made my ex haul from the end of the street. But what the hell was I thinking? I tried to heed the rule of grouping collections together, but my head vase collection just looks junky when jumbled together with all these white pieces.

Try two: Matchy-matchy yuck
The second attempt: eeew. In an effort to group all my coloured glass together (to highlight the orange "made in Canada" stamped vase I found for $9.99) I created the worst little tableau in the history of the grunge-queen: an overly-symmetrical, matchy-matchy blah-sville barrage of tchotchkas.

After: Looks like Spring
Try number three united the light and the dark and balanced the scene. I kept the lacquer mirror and lamp and added: my beloved blue head vase (found in an old coin company shop while a broke student in Ottawa and traded for a bunch of jewellery), perched on my thrifty decorating books;

my Canadian-made orange vase next to a piece of green pottery; a gorgeous crocus arrangement given to me by Scott, owner of Vanderfleet Flowers in the Humbertown Mall in Toronto; a piece of green tile given to me by a Toronto artist and a hand-made purple card by my very artistic twin sis, who designed by grunge-queen logo btw.

The very scary hanging lamp reflected in the mirror (which I propped length-wise against the wall to add height and drama to the space) was a leftover from the previous tenant - I need my ex to come over and help me string up my girlie-glam chandelier (pretty please!). Grunge-queen has great ideas, but she's not handy, alas.

MAKEOVER TIPS: I can't stress it enough... be in the mood for playing when tweaking the decor of a room. Practice restraint with all your baubles. It's easy to want to cram in all your precious possessions, but taking away a few pieces and hiding them in a drawer creates a less cluttery look - and will also bring new life to the hide-away pieces when you haul them out again. LASTLY: you can have Spring in your room in the dead of winter -- hopefully I've demonstrated that!

Before and Afters: Dining Room Re-do

Before: Dreary-sville
As promised: here's more.

My dining area was dark and icky before. I loved the drama of the black quilted dollar store tablecloth, but the look was all hodge-podgy. I was trying to make the area a bit of a nook where I could read and have a coffee when that pip of sunlight slants through the window near the table in the afternoons, but I failed bigtime.

Then I had inspiration: go for girlie. In the dining room? Why not?

After: Light and airy chic
I wanted the tablecloth to stay, but the area needed some contrast to balance the dark. I lightened it up with a white leather chair (found curb-side and jazzed up with a cheap faux-fur rug and a silky striped cushion) and some black and white photos.

Purple sheers and a lamp with a purple lampshade zoot up the girlie-glam factor.

The thrift store stool is covered with one of my fave vintage skirts that I used to wear when I was 16 - there's no rule saying you can't incorporate things you love into your decor!

Now I'm totally digging the feminine vibe. The painting was dug up at the thrift store:ever-emotional, I paid more than I normally would for it ($39.99) as it reminded me of how I imagined heaven to be as a child (minus the brightly-clad women). The wrought iron chair, part of a Sally Ann set, was a victim of my silver spray paint phase a few years ago, but it looks tres "Shabby Chic" now that the paint is coming off a bit.

The trio of beaded Moroccan boxes (.99 cents each at Sally Ann)on the books and the stacked bright boxes from Mexico and India add a pop of colour on the black tablecloth. The black sculpture, picked up at Value Village for under 10 bucks, melds into the tablecloth and maintains the drama. The crystal lamp is an Imperlux made in Western Germany (the tag says): $30 at my local thrift shop!!

Before and Afters: Re-do of the re-org

Before: Clutter-bug nightmare
Bad, grunge-queen, for not posting the last few days. I will make this up to the kind people who tell me they visit daily by posting a few things today - thanks a bunch for reading!

In truth I spent part of my weekend trying to re-do my failed re-org (see "This Yellow ain't Mellow" post below). A decade ago my bro-in-law called me the Martha Stewart of Grunge because most of my furniture came from the trash (still does). But grunge must be balanced by a certain amount of "queen" - ie: glam, chic, a pinch of sophistication - or else the whole place is just going to look like a trash heap from hell.

After: Girlie glam-pot rules ....
My past re-org attempts were trashy indeed - the pics speak for themselves and encapsulate the mistakes many do-it-yourself decorators make: too much stuff and no cohesiveness.

Take a peep at my old desk area (top) - eek. Can you fit any more bric-a-brac in there? The new look, bottom, is very Carrie Bradshaw. Simple, clean, good lighting and curving lampshades, and some girlie touches. Some glitter and a few transparent orbs bring it all together. I love mirrors - they reflect lamps and natural light and make spaces look bigger - I found this big 'ole heavy gold one at Value Village for $14.99.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Green Suede Belt

If you're doing a little belt tightening these days, I know what you mean: literally. I found this green suede Simon Chang belt at my local thrift shop for .99 cents. Love it! Only thing is, the belt goes through the loops on either side of the circle and doesn't attach in any way to the other side of the belt by way of buckle or snap - meaning both ends pop out of the loops if I bend over, breathe, sit down, etc (doesn't help that when done up, it's 27 inches - my exact waist size!). So while others are penny pinching, I'm getting my waist pinched by my spanky new fashion belt. Mmm, effective way to ensure my waist stays the same size, come to think of it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bittersweet Thrift

Normally I revel in the potential histories behind the pieces I find in thrift stores, but sometimes I'm reminded that items can make their way into these shops for not so cheery reasons. Once I found a beautiful silver frame with what I thought was a fake wedding photo in it - you know, the stock photo they put in to sell the frame. When I got it home I went to put my photo in the frame and found, underneath the "fake" photo, the actual stock wedding photo. The couple I had initially looked at in the frame was the real couple. They looked so happy there - what were they doing in a thrift shop and what happened to them?

I had this same feeling when I found this self-portrait of a child, with her name and school written on the back, in my local thrift shop for $1.99. I thought it was such a beautiful use of colour, such a lovely self-portrait for a six-year old - I wondered how a parent could let it go, how it got here? I couldn't leave it there. I bought the frame you see it in at the same thrift shop for $3.99 and now it's sitting on my wall, with all my other thrift store art.

I had to give it a home.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dollar Store Wallpaper

No, it's not Mac-Tac! I found this black wallpaper with tiny floral patterns in a Toronto dollar store for a few bucks a roll and did one bedroom wall with it. The room was long and narrow and having that accent wall gave it a dollop of drama. When I moved, I found a roll of Ralph Lauren paper with trees all over it that I absolutely love - at another dollar store. I haven't done a thing with it 'cos this time I want to take it with me! Instead of putting it on the wall and leaving it there as a present for the next tenant, I'm considering somehow framing a large piece of the paper or making a screen out of it. I recently picked up the new Domino: The Book of Decorating (great book; great decor mag) and in someone had framed a lovely large piece of wallpaper like a piece of art. Well, why not? I just have to find someone to do it for me!

My Look:

I spray painted the icky brown lamps and crappy blue IKEA mirror silver and threw a sheeny retro Value Village bedspread over my beloved brass bed, found in a junk store. The 'matching' side tables were once a strange sort of vanity - an ex sawed them apart and gave them a new leg each and voila!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This Yellow ain't Mellow

This was to be a decor post until a Sunday afternoon "let's just move this picture" morphed into a full-blown re-org gone bad (DO NOT attempt a re-do if you're not in the mood, and don't try "streamlining" your space if you're a junky clutter-bug).

If the sea of black coats on the subway in January as much of a downer for you as it is for me, consider a pop of colour to blast you out of those winter-blah doldrums. This Bill Blass swing coat was in the window of my fave neighborhood thrift store and looks amazing with everything from jeans to dress pants - not the best coat for a skirt or dress, I'll admit. The best part: the $12.99 pricetag.

TIPS: Don't ignore thrift items if the colour isn't so great but everything else like size and style are perfect for you. Yellow is horrid on me, but I look great in this coat if I wear my teal pashmina and make sure the blue is closer to my face than the yellow (and the overall look is enhanced by the fact that the two colours are complementary). Paired with a fab Value Village pin I found for $1.99, this outfit is so spiff it almost doesn't matter what I wear under it. The lesson: 1980s pieces with huge shoulder pads can be resurrected without your being run out of town by the fashion police, especially if you zoot up the glam appeal with tailored pants, big sunglasses and a cloche hat.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Rich Bitch

Ah: Joan Collins, multiple face slaps, impossibly huge shoulder pads ... and slightly atrocious jewellery. If re-runs of the 1980s soap Dynasty make you wax sentimental for those horrifying fashion times of yore, take heart: you can pay tribute to the rich bitch look popularized by Collins' character Alexis for super cheap ... and still look like you're living the high life in these economic downturn-y times.

Simply hit the thrift stores and think gold, pearls, multi strands, and Mr. T.

I found this uber heavy gold tone 3-strand choker at Salvation Army for $1.99.

This multi-strand faux pearl and gold choker? A buck at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store.

TIPS: Don't always look in the jewellery cases where the bulk of the jewellery is normally contained. I found both these chains intertwined with cheap plastic Mardi Gras necklaces in equally cheap looking plastic baskets on the jewellery counter.

For a more relevant rich bitch look, wear them with black cashmere turtlenecks or (pictured here) an indigo wool-angora sweater (picked up at the thrift shop, natch!).

This one was a bit more: $4.99 at Value Village if memory serves.

For more tips on finding great jewellery in thrift stores, read my shopping column titled "Diva finds the coolest chain gang in town" in the Town Crier community newspaper

Click Here

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Plastic Fantastic

This was just a sad little jumbled heap in the Value Village jewellery case, but the deal diva in me was sure she'd picked up the scent of something special when she saw it there. A double strand plastic necklace with a clasp stamped "West Germany", this amazing find was a mere $4.99. Not sure of it's worth or even it's era (it's got to be post WWII ... I'm guessing 1950s or 1960s), though I've seen West German plastic necklaces on the website of vintage jwellery doyenne, Carole Tanenbaum ( selling for $300-$500. I have some people in mind who may be able to give me a sense of its history, so I'll report back with any news. I have heaps more thrift store jewellery news and an article I wrote too, which I'll post soon!

Decorating Vignettes

This photo features probably the only new piece of furniture I've bought in my life (and even then it was on sale): a wrought iron table with curvy legs, picked up at Bill's Garden Centre on Pape Ave. in Toronto a few years back near the end of the gardening season when the wrought iron pieces were on sale.

If you're rejigging your decor or just want to add a pop of newness to your pad, try starting by creating a little vignette - it makes the task of redecorating less daunting and is, in my opinion, a therapeutic exercise in itself. Here an old wood desk organizer that an ex gave me fits perfectly on the table top. I've stuffed it with old childhood books I can't part with and other bits and bobs. On top, a pretty pitcher in "Indian Tree" by Lord Nelson Ware, given to me by my best friend before she moved south, is a lovely focal point, as is the original painting I picked up in a framing shop for 10 bucks. The crappy seascape picture I found at Value Village for $1.99; it's too ickky to give any prominence to in my space but I loved the idea of hanging it near the floor in the nook of the table - the blues from the two pieces create a line that cuts through the table. Every time I look at this creation I think I'm looking at an old-fashioned writing desk; the look has an old-world appeal to me.

So put on some music, grab a glass of vino and play around in your space. Once you've created one vignette you can string a whole bunch together and voila: you have a whole new look!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Trash Tales

I just read an old article on pickers in New York (in a magazine picked up at Value Village, but that's another story). Being a picker sounds like my dream job: all you do is dig in the trash, yard sales, thrift shops and the like and then sell the Tudor signet rings and Salvador Dalis you find to antique and collectible dealers for thousands of dollars. A trash trover myself, I say successful picking is the result of having a great eye, an opportunist attitude, and the guts to rifle through junk on the sidewalk for all to see. I haven't found anything too meaningfully valuable, but most of my pad is furnished with respectable and slightly impressive curbside gems. My street is treasure alley: I spotted the copper side table (pictured here) that's stamped "Firenze Italy" across from my apartment; ditto for the chair - and that bit of blue you see is the corner of a Barrymore love seat a former love literally pulled from the dumpster. The quilted red pillow was found at good 'ole VV for a few bucks, as was the black statuette. The Hermes scarf poster: five bucks at a church sale.

TIPS: People throw out all kinds of amazing stuff, so don't assume it's crap if it's in the trash. I look for solid wood pieces and anything with good lines. I've had fab luck with upholstered chairs, though I won't bring anything in that's stinky and I always vacuum my finds 50 times (sometimes I'll even leave a chair out on the balcony for a few days). I've used a non-chemical bug be-gone silica powder type stuff to ease my mind about creepy crawlies, but honestly I've never had any bug problems....

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thrift Store Ethics

I've never been a proponent of fur. But after picking up a 1950s cashmere coat with a flip up mink collar a few months back, I've experienced first-hand its impossible warmth. I found this blue jacket at my local thrift shop for $9.99. I was slightly angst-ridden over buying it, but when I wore it today (one of those minus 30 degrees Celsius days) under my coat, I could see how people in uber cold climes wear fur coats. In truth, I love this jacket. Aside from keeping me toasty, it looks great with jeans and ankle boots. Repurposed fur is actually becoming pretty popular these days. It diverts existing fur from the land fill and is an alternative to buying new (though I can't say my purchase would damage the existing fur market since I would never buy a new fur). I guess you could argue my fur supports the industry by encouraging others to buy new, but in the end, I'm responsible for my actions. And if I have fur in my closet, I'd much rather it came from an old source than from a new one.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cashmere Dreams

People often say I dress like I shop at Holt Renfrew: in truth I've never set foot in the place. How serendipitous that I should pop by the Salvation Army on my way home yesterday and find a cherry red cashmere V-neck tunic sweater with a Holt Renfrew tag on it, brand new. The price tag read $290 - AK! - and the Holt Renfrew powers appear to have marked down to $199 (do I care if it was last season?). Good 'ole Sally Ann had repriced it at $6.99 - YAY! It didn't matter that it was a (very small-fitting) size large - belted with this vintage belt dug up at the Toronto Film Studios sale this Fall ($30) the pookiness at the back went away in a jiff (and forced me to suck in my tummy all day long). Worn with a Jones New York lined wool skirt ($3.99), a lined wool blazer by J Crew ($7.99) an old silk scarf and a 1970s chain necklace ($5.99), I have me a spanky work outfit for just under $60. Throw in some patent strappy shoes for $6.99 and you got some serious sex appeal ... that garnered some attention in the office today, let me tell you. Items shown here were found at the Salvation Army or other thrift stores.
TIPS: Shop high on the food chain - ie: go for good quality fabrics like wool and cashmere, and look for good labels. If you're not sure what fabric it is, go by what feels wonderful (and there's really no mistaking cashmere). Look for nice detailing (lined jackets with coloured piping in the J Crew jacket; neat thread detail and clasp on the leather purse); Build your wardrobe around basic pieces (the skirt and jacket) and add colour and flair with all the other accessories you add on (chain, scarf etc). And - Shop regularly at charity thrift stores like the Salvation Army, of course! The prices rock and you can find some real gems if you train your eye to look for 'em.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Grungequeen is back!!

Grungequeen is back! will reign supreme again, but she's taken a year off and still needs a little time before she unveils herself in all her thrifty regalia. For now she's back with a new name, grunge-queen, and a new temporary abode on blogspot - and she's feeling pretty queenly about all the truly regal fashion, home decor and style tidbits she has to share with all you bargain-hunting stylistas out there in Toronto, Canada, the world!

A picture says a thousand little grunge-queen words: Dollar store curtains tied back with a long chiffon scarf; Ralph Lauren fabric used as a tablecloth; wrought iron chairs spray-painted silver; a Value Village tea set and a jaunty consignment store lamp shade ... Grunge-queen is all about developing "chic on the cheap." Whether you're a recessionista, eco-maven, compulsive shopper, junk guru, or just plain broke, the grungy glam-pot in you will love grunge-queen. Enjoy it - there's lots more to come!