A (Stiletto-Clad) Walk Back in Time: Kitty Brigham

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

We're taking a little stroll through the past to talk about our favorite fashion moments. Here, we walk with guest bloggerKitty Brigham, the boutique manager atjinny boutiquein the Short North.

First time I remember being aware of style:

As a little girl, I had multiple dance and ballet recitals every year, and I became very aware of style and "dressing for the occasion," so to speak. I loved putting together costumes for my solo and duet routines the most. My mother and I would shift through pages and pages of dance costume magazines only to find that nothing quite fit the number. So, much to my amusement, we would put together our own outfit. This usually involved using vintage clothes, thrift finds and retuning old Halloween rags. Glitter, lace, ribbons, sequins and lots of spandex, as I remember! My favorite place to visit was The Wright Place downtown on Main Street, between 4th and Lazelle, which was a dancewear specialty shop. Sadly, they closed quite a few years ago, but I still remember everything about the store-from the wigs to the platform area where they specifically fit you to the correct pair of pointe shoes, from the the steps to the second floor where spools of material could be found to the discount basement filled with undiscovered dance treasures. I know had it not been for these magical moments spent styling the perfect ensembles for my recitals, I would not have unearthed my love of styling unique and personalized fashion.

First pair of shoes I remember loving:

Funny enough, the first pair of shoes I remember loving were not my own. They actually belonged to my grandmother. When I was a little girl of about 5 years old, my Dad was attending The Ohio State University working on his sociology degree, and he would watch me and study while my mom was at work. Growing up in German Village in the early '80s was a lonely time for a little girl, as the influx of families and children had not yet occurred. This meant pestering my Dad endlessly for attention, and when I became too much to handle, I was given a "time out" in the long hallway at the back of the house. I didn't sit and pout, rather I chose to open the wood paneled doors to the hall closet that held my grandmother's out-of-season clothing. Dry-cleaning bags, hat and shoe boxes abound! I remember clearly opening a shoe box from The Union and finding inside the most beautiful footwear I could imagine. They were red and black suede high-heeled ankle boots. The whole of the boot was red with a black spat covering the top and back of the shoe, there were also little black suede covered buttons running up the outside of each boot where an elastic loop held them in place. The rich scent of leather was intoxicating, and I couldn't wait to try them on. After that, I found that I almost looked forward to having a "time out" so that I could visit the wonderful boots and strut up and down the hall feeling like a grownup on the way to some fancy party. To this day, I wonder what happened to those boots, a favorite childhood relic gone with the passage of time. My dad once told me he would often finish his studies and come to get me from the hallway only to find me asleep and would feel a pang of guilt at having sent me off. Little did he know, playing make believe in red suede high-heeled ankle boots is positively exhausting!

The thing I wouldn't take off as a kid:

I had a thing for skirts and dresses that spun around when you twirled, if underneath there was a crinoline, all the better! When I would go shopping with my mom or grandma I had to "test" each dress before making the decision to take it home. If I loved the dress but it didn't spin enough, I would reluctantly pass.

Most memorable first-day-of-school outfit:

I absolutely loved the dress I wore for my first day of kindergarten. It was a camel, ivory and black plaid dress with a knife pleated skirt, white bib with pearlite buttons and lace around the Peter Pan collar. I remember wearing it with white ankle socks and black patent leather Mary Janes. Runner up would have to be what I wore for my first day of high school. Pleated and peg legged Francois Girbaud jeans in a hunter green, a plum coloured silk button-up blouse with a tapestry vest that had a little gold chain on the breast pocket, complete with a pair of brand new Sam and Libby ballet flats in purple. My hair was pulled up on the sides and scrunched to perfection, with Aussie Scrunch Spray of course.

Must-have clothing item or style when I was in junior high:

My older cousin, Lisa, was in high school when I was in middle school, and she wore Guess all the time and always just looked so darn cool. While I was back-to-school shopping, I came across a powder pink Guess sweatshirt with three-quarter length sleeves that had the logo embroidered in black thread. On the rack right next to it was a pair of pitch-black Guess jeans. I had to have them. In fact, I felt I needed them. However, my mom and grandma, who vetoed both the sweatshirt and the jeans, didn't understand my need. Didn't they know I needed this outfit to succeed in 7th grade? Didn't they know it totally matched my brand new Trapper Keeper that had pink pointe ballet shoes on a black background? It seemed they did not. We left downtown and made our way back home. I felt dissatisfied with all my new clothes because nothing was as special as those two Guess pieces. After dinner I saw a shopping bag on the sofa in the family room. I peeked inside to find the coveted pink sweatshirt and black denim. I screamed in the way that only teenage girls can pull off and jumped up and down. My mom and grandma had secretly gotten the sales girl to ring them up and hide them from me. I wore that sweatshirt for at least ten years until the seams had rips and the wrists were discolored. I loved it so!

What I wore in my senior pictures:

Stove pipe denim, a white Nirvana t-Shirt, hemp necklace with little silver beads on it, Doc Martens and a blue flannel plaid shirt. I had pin-straight hair with carefully curled under "shell" bangs.

First piece of clothing or shoes I remember splurging on:

I remember my splurging on my prom dress! It was a lovely black, floor-length '40s dress that my mother and I had tailored to my frame. We adjusted the sleeves to be capped, the neckline to have a twist at my décolletage and a slit put in the front of the dress. This was my favorite dress ever worn to a school dance by far.

Most memorable wedding look:

My cousin, Lisa, got married in the mid-'90s, and I was a bridesmaid. I had only ever been a flower girl, and I was so excited. I remember we went to the Wedding Plantation on the East Side of Columbus. She selected a dress that was a deep, iridescent plum taffeta that picked up teal with the right light. It had slightly puffed sleeves, a sash and full skirt. Of course there were the "dyed to match" pumps as well. I remember the entire wedding party was heavily bronzed and tan. I love this wedding look because it was so completely of the moment and quintessentially '90s!

Item in my closet I've had the longest:

I find it difficult to get rid of anything, even if I haven't worn the item in years. I know at some point just the right party or just the right outfit will need a certain something or other to complete the look to perfection! I would not believe this if it were not that I have been proven right on this account so many times. With that said, I tend to keep jewelry and trinkets forever. The clock pendant from my grandma is certainly the piece I have had with me the longest.

Items I've literally worn out:

It is always a tragedy to me when a favorite frock "passes away." This is far too common when you collect vintage pieces. Dresses from the 1940s are particularly at risk since the gabardine material was often made with a formaldehyde-based coating to prevent wrinkles and creases. Over time, this coating breaks down, and the dress literally disintegrates into oil. I have completely worn out a number of frocks from the '40s, and I lament their demise each time.

Items I've bought multiples of:

I am extremely guilty of purchasing the same items over and over. Embarrassingly enough, when I am at a thrift shop and I see a unique button-up housecoat, I simply can't resist. However, my enthusiasm for them was somewhat dampened when I finally realized why so many of the have names like "Edith", "Ruth" and "Violet" written in ink at the back on the neck.

Biggest fashion miss (aka: the style moment I wish I could take back):

Age 13, a cornflower blue Laura Ashley dress with a white damask print, sporting a wide lace collar, heavy white lace tights, white kitten heels and terribly teased hair.

Biggest fashion hit (aka: the style moment that made me feel most amazing):

About four years ago my best friend, Wendy Smith, and I took a "girls only" weekend trip to Las Vegas. It was the first time for us both, and we didn't know exactly what to pack. Being true to ourselves, we took what we knew looked best on us. Our cases were filled with over-the-top, '50s fit-and-flare dresses and boho/glam maxi dresses from the '70s, with purses, jewelry and heels to match, of course. When we went out the first night to go dancing, we were both shocked by the lack of style. The young ladies were all wearing a variation of the same five styles of cheap spandex dresses in a horrid kaleidoscope of neon colors, with heels they were clearly inexperienced with wearing. At first, waiting in the long line, we felt we looked like factory mishaps that came out differently than expected. This feeling completely changed when we were taken to the front of the line and given VIP passes and were told how different we looked. Thinking it was a sort of "one-off" happening, we were nonetheless flattered. However, this happened time and again at every club, all weekend long. Each time the gentleman who pulled us out of line would say something to the effect of, "You ladies don't look like anyone else," or, "You are both so unique," and it made us feel amazing. I know individual style and the confidence to be a little different than the rest is something that will always be noticed and will always be appreciated, even in a place like Vegas!

All-time most memorable style moment:

To me, this was a completely private moment in my life. As women, we are constantly trying to find our own style and niche. I think what we wear and how we project our image has a lot to do with how we feel about ourselves. It can be difficult at times. I just know one day I was getting ready for work, and I looked in my closet and found such a variety of styles and options. I could see from the garments how my style has changed and also in some ways, how it has stayed the same. I saw all my choices, from vintage to hand-me-downs to thrift shop finds to advanced designer pieces. I sighed and thought to myself, "Yes, this is who I am: varied, unique and evolving."