|Past Perfect Essay
by Jamie Hayes
My mother and grandmother taught me that if you love a piece, use it often and enjoy it, rather than saving it only for special occasions. This edict helped to form my high-low style at a young age. For example, I remember attending my first day of kindergarten wearing most of my late great-aunt’s costume jewelry, which I paired with Mr. Potato Head’s yellow plastic glasses. Similarly, when I was nine years old, I remember that my favorite kickball outfit was a cornflower blue satin, floor-length, tiered bridesmaid dress and petticoat, discarded that summer by my mother.
I adore clothes, but I do not treat them as precious objects. Things fall apart, and most especially when you actually use and enjoy them, and really live in them: biking and sweating and dancing and cooking and working and generally going about your business. That said I do not view clothing as a disposable item. As someone who makes clothing, I’m aware of the immense amount of labor and resources that it takes to produce it. I prefer to invest in a few high-quality items that I truly love, and have them for years, rather than buy a mass of cheap items that fall apart or go out of style after a few wears. Given the above, it’s probably unsurprising that I love vintage clothing: it is unique, usually of much higher quality than contemporary clothing, and yet typically much more affordable. It also exists largely outside of the trends and tends to fit my small frame better than contemporary clothing.
The piece I chose to have remade, a girls’ gym uniform from the 50s, embodies many of the tenants of my style—it’s durable and well-made, sharp and unique (its original owner, “Schulkin”, even customized it with some janky pink embroidery). Paired with red 40s style platforms and a belt, I feel like Rosie the Riveter when I wear it—capable, strong, and sexy in a powerful rather than obvious way. I became the owner of the uniform in 1999, when my dear friend and one of my style icons, Jena McClintock, traded it with me for a pair of pants that I made for her. It then languished in my closet for many years, because I was self-conscious in the short shorts. Finally in the summer of 2006, the uniform, and I, busted out. Since then, the uniform has made appearances at many a barbeque, show, and dance party, including several of my birthdays. I associate it with the sense of freedom and liberation that summer brings after the harsh and seemingly endless Chicago winter. In the cold of winter, I dream of being warm enough to wear it again and to enjoy being outside.
I have used it and enjoyed it, and now it is on its last legs, threadbare and a bit saggy. All good things must come to an end. But the uniform will live on, in this new version, made exactly to my measurements, interpreted by another tailor’s hand, yet another layer of history added, and now embroidered with my name. In a sense, it has become my summer uniform—the perfect item for all my favorite summer activities, in which I feel most completely and comfortably myself.
Bio Jamie Hayes’ interests lie at the intersection of fashion, art, culture, and identity. Her approach is both collaborative and customized. She believes that clothes should fit one’s body (not the other way around); that trends are largely irrelevant (people should wear what flatters and interests them rather than what someone else dictates is fashionable); that style is a form of self-expression; and that everyone in the chain of production of clothing should be paid a living wage.
She has explored these topics through: her studies academic studies, earning a B.A. from Washington University in English Literature, a B.A. from Columbia College in Fashion Design, and a Masters in Social Work from the University of Chicago; and through her work as a fashion designer for six years at 1154 Lill Studio; her current work in the field of immigrant and labor rights for Arise Chicago; her costuming work for various dance and theatre companies, including Redmoon Theater, Roosevelt University, and Hyde Park School of Dance; and her work writing for publications such as Stopsmiling. Jamie also deejays occasionally. She lives and works in Chicago.
|photo by Alix Lambert
photo by Alix Lambert
Jamie’s birthday at Danny’s, 2008