Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Travel Treasures #1 // Michigan Edition

It is difficult for me to discern where the line between my love for shopping and my love for travel lies. At this point, the line is so blurry in my brain that the two activities are lumped into one big orgy of fun for my prefrontal cortex. A vacation without having shopped is no vacation at all.

Similarly, there is a blurred line between "trip" and "vacation". To me, "trip" implies that there is work or business attached to it. This grey area is where family trips lie. I spend a lot of time shuttling back to the Midwest to see family. That I consider these "trips" isn't necessarily a bad thing; I've got a finite amount of time and a lot of quality time to squeeze in, so I mean business when I go home. Still, if I'm making any sort of trek you can bet your bottom dollar I'll be searching for treasures. My eyes are always peeled. 

Here is where we run into a challenge: my Michigan hometown is not a shopping mecca. In fact, it is so rural that you should tread lightly when describing things as a "mecca". This was always my biggest grievance about my location growing up. I shop, therefore I am. Therefore, existing without malls in my proximity in an era when online shopping was merely emerging is what I considered "roughing it" growing up. Desperate times called for desperate measures in the aisles of mass retailers like Wal-Mart and (recently deceased) K-Mart. Given that this hasn't changed, and that there's family involved in this kind of travel, we are better off not using my previous description of "orgy of fun" when talking about shopping during my family trips to Michigan. Despite that, even though I may not be having all the fun that the Romans did when in Rome, I'm pretty good at creating my own culture.

Whatever you fancy, locals at home know that sometimes you have to create your own fun in our remote corner of the world. When one gets desperate to scratch the retail itch, one gets crafty. My late grandmother, a purveyor of garage sales, auctions, and dollar stores, was a master at finding items for a dollar or less. (My husband cringes each time I channel my grandmother's enthusiasm from beyond the grave to say "it was on sale!") I like to think that my eagle eye came from being her shopping apprentice. Just as I can spot the pins in the carpet after my mother's sewing group leaves her house, I can spot a one-of-a-kind item in the abyss of a rummage sale. My keen eye is an inherited trait.

It was this force that was with me when I bumbled into Kim's Creamery in Elkton, the local ice cream shop around the corner from my childhood home. Kim's is open seasonally and in addition to scooping up ice cream, they also serve other great desserts and sandwiches. (The latter makes me wish they weren't a seasonal operation!) As if the ice cream weren't enough of an indulgence, Kim's also has a small selection of vintage items, which you know I couldn't help but rifle through. And and it was there, in my post-black-cherry-ice-cream-haze, that I saw her: a vintage Saks Fifth Avenue pocketbook.

Vintage Saks Fifth Avenue Pocketbook, Black, Gold Hardware
I did a little internet digging to see how old it might be. In matching the label with one found on VintageFashionGuild.org, my best guess is that the bag dates back to the late 1940s/early 1950s, an era in which things were built to last. Considering she's sailing right past 70 years old, I'd say a lot of love went into making this bag. Her "Made in England" tag also appeals to my Anglophile heart. This post-war beauty came from a time and a place where the future was looking brighter, quality mattered, and a good structured bag helped one put their best foot forward. The mere thought of the hand gloves she must have held sends my heart aflutter...
Saks Fifth Avenue Label
Made in England Label
Gold Clasp

She needs some love (the handle leather is cracked where it meets the hardware), but she's in standard vintage condition. I tried a smidge of black shoe polish on the handle, but it only minimally masked the issue. I would like to find a way to spruce it up without replacing the handle, as it is tacked onto the bag quite hard, but defects add charm for vintage lovers. They present challenges for us to bring out the best in our items, as well as add character when little flaws aren't fixable. I appreciate one well-worn item ten times more than several items, unused, in impeccable condition. (Do as I say, not as my closet sometimes indicates.)

Over the years, I've had recurring dreams of upscale shopping in close proximity to my old stomping grounds. A mall next to my high school cafeteria (like the cool kids in my current town get...spoiled little turds), a Ralph Lauren at the corner of Elkton and Geiger Roads (with a wheat field backdrop). But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine finding a Saks Fifth Avenue gem right smack in the center of town...with ice cream to boot. 

While my wildest dreams are the place where a 2-story Saks is erected in place of defunct banks on Elkton's Main Street, when will lightning strike again and plop a classic leather bag right into my hands for the low price of $10? Probably around a quarter to never. And isn't finding a one of a kind better than picking one of ten off the rack? In my not always humble opinion, way better!

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