By Sarah Bennett

A few curious finds from my years adrift in thrift.

Rainbow Mariachi Home Ec Nightmare

This shirt might look innocent, but please keep in mind that the sleeves it has now were actually just frilly accents on long, absurdly puffy sleeves that would have gotten the shirt’s maker failed out of home economics class during her sophomore year of high school in 1987 were it not for her creative choice of fabric and buttons. And really, it was the fabric that called to me from the rack in the Salvation Army, because it’s rainbow, glittery plaid, like something they’d use if they did a Vegas showgirl review of Caddyshack and Rodney Dangerfield’s character was played by hot lady who stripped to almost nothing except a loin cloth wrought from a swatch of this textile masterpiece.

I amputated the sleeves, not just because they were the size of blimps, but because the body of the shirt is even shorter and boxier when paired against the two zeppelin arms. I thought it was worth working on, however, not just because the fabric and buttons are insane, but because I’m a sucker for asymmetry. I’m also a sucker for homemade craft projects gone wrong, but any time buttons are off to one side, be it on a shirt from the Salvo or a sweater at fancy pants boutique, I’m interested.

As design choices go, I’m not sure it’s particularly flattering or even original at this point, but it’s always drawn my eye. I once came very close to buying a coat with an asymmetrical closure, but when I asked the friend who was with me if it was too white and would make me look like a doctor, she said it would make me look like a chef, because it was a chef’s coat, and I’m an idiot. This shirt was definitely not made as a chef’s shirt--it might’ve be an insane person’s shirt, or for an off-duty clown from a gay rodeo, but however it started, it’s now shirt made for me.

The Denim&Button Bonanza

Obviously, the buttons are what drew my eyes to this dress; it certainly wasn’t the chambray, a fabric I feel is way overrated/leads too easily to a Canadian tuxedo, i.e., denim on the top, denim on the bottom, denim as a jacket and voila you’re off to prairie prom. I also wouldn’t have fallen so easily for the peek-a-boo embroidery/applique whatever, because touches that combine dowdy and revealing elements create a bizarre nexus where Christmas sweater and hooker gear collide. Even the brand name, Everybody, was a turn-off, because a name like that made me think that this dress was originally sold in a store where most of the clothes were wrought from rainbow Guatemalan fabric and/or doubled as bongs.

It was only when I tried it on, however, that I realized what a stealth creation this dress is; the sleeves are both Dolman and dramatically tapered at the ends, which is oddly glamourous, as is the cut of the skirt, which believe it or not, is tight, so what looks like a date night dress for an 8th grade drama teacher in 1987 is actually a date night dress for the ex-wife of drummer from a metal band who’s being taken out by a dentist and wants to pass as normal, and in 1993. It also looks like something Jackie would wear to the Lobo on the early seasons of Roseanne, and while my look is usually more first Becky, Jackie-inspired couture is almost as good.

The dress comes with a big ol’ matching belt, but I tossed that; it’s fitted enough on me (which is to say, it’s probably too small) that the belt is overkill, because the contrast of the loose top and fitted skirt occurs without it. Mostly though, it is just insane looking, because almost every element of the dress is a disaster, but together, they make something that actually looks good, and in 2013.

The Metrogel Vaginal Bag

I have no picture of this bag--even though both myself and a friend found them at different thrift stores on opposite sides of the country--but it was basically the best piece of pharmaceutical swag ever created. Drug companies aren’t allowed to make promotional materials anymore, which is a crying shame, because my Prozac mug, Viagra pens, and Wellbutrin stress ball shaped like a brain are some of my most prized tchotchkes, and certainly the best stocking stuffers from my relatives in the medical field. I guess there were doctors out there dumb enough to prescribe whatever pill was already written on their post-it notes, but no matter. At least the law was passed after the Metrogel Vagina bag had already had its run.

The tote bag bag was navy blue, and in big white letters on either side, it said, METROGEL VAGINAL, with some medical information in smaller type underneath it, so altogether, the word "vaginal" was written on it six times, nevermind that the name “Metrogel” made it seem like it was a medication for the big city vagina on the go, whatever that means. Or a vagina on a subway, or a subway that takes you to a vagina, or just something invented by Eve Ensler in her West Village laboratory out of organic rain forrest saps and cat dander.

I spotted the bag in the kind of flea market in New Hampshire that's consignment at its most ghetto; the store would fill its basement with "booths" (bookshelves and card tables salvaged from half-way houses) that one could rent to sell old junk, like a bunch of small, grimy, abandoned yard sales. Just to paint a fuller picture, the merchant next to the Metrogel seller was offering the base of a popcorn maker for $5 and a copy of Mein Kampf, so you can see why I felt doubly compelled to rescue the Metrogel Vaginal bag from this dank, Hitler-y basement.

At the same time, I wasn't really eager to carry around a bag that had VAGINAL written on it once for each Brady child; outside of  Metrogel sales people, homeless types, and/or very desperate lesbians in search of the world's least subtle conversation starter, I couldn't imagine who the target demographic is for this specific accessory. The purpose I did end up finding for it, which was perfect, was for the street hockey league I was running at the time. The Metrogel Vaginal bag became the central place for ball storage, and nothing brought me or the other league officials more joy on game day than getting to answer the question, "where can I get a ball?" with, "reach your hand (deep/gently/like you mean it) into the bag that says vaginal all over it." I wish I can say I was running a hockey league as a teen and my sense of humor has become more sophisticated since then, but I laughed for five solid minutes at a fart joke my three-year-old nephew told last week, so the opposite seems to be true.

As for my friend who found the exact same bag in a thrift store in Colorado, she ended up giving it to an ex-boyfriend, and I can only imagine what he did with it, although I hope it was respectful. It’s not an easy existence for a tote bag with half-a-dozen vaginals on it, yet it served my league well. I still don’t know what actual Metrogel Vaginal does, but I do know that the bag worked like a dream.