I totally get Carolann’s affection for clothing. It goes beyond just liking to go shopping, or just liking to look cool. Carolann sees clothing and understands its power to change someone, and its ability to create history. Fashion is history that she wanted to capture and preserve.
Carolann learned how to sew using her grandmother’s pedal machine (which Carolann still has) growing up. She sewed clothes for her Barbies as a kid, and knew how to sew patterns as well. Even when she was a small child, and she received money from her family during holidays, she wouldn’t buy toys with that money, she would buy clothes.
(Carolann with her grandmother)
I can see her reminiscing as we sit on her front steps, her beautiful glowing eyes look off into the distance as she recalls a time that feels so far away. She can remember just hanging out with her friends outside, before a world of cell phones and the internet. Her and her friends would go see Alice Cooper, Yes, J Geils, and Deep Purple at the Coliseum in New Haven. “I just remember the music. The music was really good then. Everything was better then. I miss that.”
She recalled buying her beautiful home 30 years ago in Fairfield, CT. She still lives in the house, and no longer has a mortgage. Her beautiful home is filled with furniture she has found throughout the years and even her kitchen cabinets were acquired from another home. When you head upstairs you find an entire room just packed with vintage clothing and jewelry. It’s a dream room.
It was the early 1980’s when Carolann realized she was a vintage clothing collector. She was always shopping around and even bought things that didn’t fit her, just because she liked the piece. She was working at a phone company in New Haven, CT and there was a Salvation Army close by. She would go into the store on her lunch break and she started buying clothes. She loved the look of the 1940’s and would dress in vintage 40’s tailored suits or military-wear and mix it with her modern clothing while she was working at the phone company.
She had a military pea coat that she loved and recalled that when she wore it one time, an older man came over and told his story of when he was in the Navy. When you wear a piece of history, you get to hear stories, and sometimes you get to learn something you may had never learned otherwise.
She loved browsing the Stormville flea market in NY and can remember when the vendors would just lay out tarps and throw old clothing on there – which would later become sought-after vintage clothing. “Even if it wasn’t in good shape, or if I wasn’t even going to wear it, I just had to have it. Like, I just have to have it.” Carolann and I are also alike in that we both feel a sense of protection when clothes surround you; you’re safe and secure. She also liked collecting oak boxes and occasionally some furniture. Everything she owns was acquired at thrift stores or flea markets. When I asked her if she does that to be sustainable, she said no, but rather it was something she loves doing and something she has to do. When qualifying it, she mentioned, “I can’t spend a lot of money on new things. I feel better when I get a bargain.”
(Carolann in her kitchen)
Every Saturday, she would get up early and head to the Goodwill in New Haven. It became routine and lasted years. Goodwill stores in those days were filled with bins and it was a mess – unlike today, where it’s more comparable to a department store. “There were a group of women that went every Saturday, and it was a competition to get the most clothes,” she recalled. “I would leave Goodwill every week with bags just full of clothes.”
But it wasn’t just “clothes”. She wanted to find things that no one else wanted. “I was always an individual, I never wanted to be like anyone else.” These women weren’t necessarily friends of hers, but they would all meet up every week – and if they saw something strange or something they wouldn’t take, they would pass it over to Carolann. This is how she acquired some of her most unique pieces.
In the year 2000 she opened up her own store in Shelton, CT. It was called The Clothing Outlet, but she called it a “little TJ Maxx”. Everyone was into the brand names like Gap at that time and she would hold their inventory for cheaper. She did very well the first year, but after September 11th, business slowed down. She regrouped and her business would go through normal ebb and flow. She would sell a few pieces from her vintage clothes in her store, but she still wasn’t ready to part with her collection just yet. She finally closed her shop in 2012.
(Carolann trying on shoes in a shoe store in NYC in the early '90's)
Her brother always encouraged her and her clothing collection and said, “Someday you’re going to use this to pay your bills.” And it’s true. I wasn’t the first to come and buy a bunch of her vintage gold. She had vendors and costume designers from Manhattan Vintage Show come by and pick out some goodies. When her store closed in 2012, her collection was something that helped pay the bills before she got a job. It wasn’t easy getting rid of the clothes she spent years acquiring, but she said it has gotten easier to downsize her collection recently.
I’m so glad that she allowed me into her home and let me sift through all of her clothing that took years of hand picking and hunting. I have been to her house four times and she has become my friend. I call her my “vintage mom” because we are kindred spirits and I see a lot of myself in her. I want Carolann’s story to be known because I need to capture her moment in time and expose why she is important to me. If it wasn’t for her knowing the value of the clothing she was acquiring, those beautiful pieces of history may be in a landfill somewhere. I am forever grateful that she welcomed me into her home and to her beautiful collection.
(Carolann in front of her beautiful home in Fairfield, CT)
See her hometown of Fairfield and a snapshot of her beautiful home: