Today, I’m excited to present one of debut author’s Kate Scelsa’s favourite things in celebration of Fans of the Impossible Life. This book sounds incredible and I’m really excited to have Kate on the blog today!
What I Love: Thrifting
By Kate Scelsa
I didn’t discover thrifting until I was in my mid twenties. I was a teenager in the New Jersey suburbs in the ‘90s, too young to be a good DIY riot grrrl, relegated to the mall and the occasional trip to the Urban Outfitters in New York for my clothing options. And Urban Outfitters was a special treat. I bought an expensive sweater there once, was so proud of it, and then it turned up as THE sweater in the show “Rent.” You know the one:
And all I could think was, “This is supposed to be something that poor bohemians wear??? That sweater cost eighty dollars!”
But this is the curse of mass produced clothing.
I was pretty creative even with my limited mass produced options. I went to a high school with a strict dress code, and I enjoyed subverting the system from the inside. A floor length grungy blue plaid skirt with an oversized men’s polo shirt and green converse was technically within the “spirit of the dress code,” but wasn’t exactly what my school had in mind for its prepster students.
If only I had known about thrifting back then, I could have had so much more fun! As a girl who was always self conscious about what size she wore (Why? What was the point?), I couldn’t at the time imagine going to a store where there was only one of everything. Surely nothing would fit me! Oh how wrong I was.
I spent most of my twenties touring and performing with a New York theater company called Elevator Repair Service. We were on the road a lot, and everyone had their own coping mechanisms for tour stress. Some people exercised every day, some people went to the pub, and I bought clothes. You may think this sounds impractical. You’re on a month long tour to Europe and you’ve already packed a full suitcase of clothing and you’re going to buy more? Yes. I can’t even tell you the number of over-the-weight-limit bags I had to pay extra for. And it was even worse than that. In the beginning, not knowing any better and just needing to get a shopping fix, I was going to chain stores. And not even cool chain stores. I have seen the inside of the H&M in more countries than I care to admit.
Why did I become a weird shopping addict in these moments? Probably for the same reason my coworkers exercised or went to happy hour. Tour is exciting, but it’s also stressful, and there’s not a lot that you can control about your environment or your schedule. You’re basically on a business trip, spending most of your days in a room with no windows, nervous about the show, trying to get along with everyone. You just need a little comfort.
Clothing brings me comfort.
In my young adult novel “Fans of the Impossible Life,” my character Mira is also obsessed with clothes. She’s a bigger girl who suffers from bouts of depression and chronic fatigue syndrome, and often feels like her body is working against her. So she “decided that because she couldn’t love her body, she would try to love what she put on it.” There is a great power in expressing yourself in this way that is truly available to anyone. Also wearing fun clothes is fun.
It was in 2007 that touring took our theater company to Portland, Oregon, land of artisanal everything, DIY whatever you like, grow your own hops to make your own small batch beer, etc. Portland is everything that the TV show “Portlandia” makes it out to be, and I loved it. Now, Portland is not big on chain stores, and I was limited in my shopping addiction on that tour to places within walking distance of the theater and our hotel, and across the street from the theater was an entire row of vintage stores.
Now is a good time to make a differentiation between a thrift store and a vintage store. Thrift stores are often non-profit second hand stores (usually they’re charity shops, although some are for profit) where there tends to be a lot of useless crap, but it’s cheap. You have to wade through the crap to find the gems, and it’s all about the thrill of the hunt. Vintage shops are curated by people who have already done that work for you, bringing you selected second hand goods, and they are much more expensive. Vintage stores are great. But thrifting is a lifestyle.
So my thrifting gateway drug was these Portland vintage stores. All of my fears about not being able to find my size were allayed as soon as I started trying things on. Sure, there was stuff I liked that didn’t fit me, but there was some stuff that did, and it was very special. A magenta sheer A-line with a blousy collar and rhinestone buttons that I wore for years. A vaguely nurse-ish white dress with off center buttons. The best hats I had ever seen.
I quickly realized that buying second hand is all about knowing your body, what looks good on it, what your cut is, and what you feel comfortable in. When you know those basic things, shopping second hand really becomes a treasure hunt. You are trying to home in on the clothes that are perfect for you, that DESERVE to be in your closet. You are mining for gold.
After Portland I was hooked. Every city we toured to I searched out Goodwills, flea markets, and giant thrift stores. Then when I did the absurd thing of bringing home more clothing than I had left with, at least I was bringing home hard-to-find treasures that would allow me to remember the places that I had bought them. There is nothing more satisfying than having someone ask you, “Where did you get that dress?” and being able to reply, “A thrift store in Adelaide, Australia.”
But the beautiful thing about thrifting is that it’s available anywhere. Some of the best thrifting I’ve done has been in the suburbs of Minneapolis, in a small town in Illinois, and off a highway in San Antonio. And of course the price makes it even more democratic. There is nothing pretentious about a really good thrift store. It is accessible to anyone and it does not judge. Hipsters shop next to grandmas and everyone is looking for something different and everyone respects the legitimacy of the hunt. In this way, value becomes a subjective thing. Objects and clothing are able to find the person that needs them and that will appreciate them.
I don’t buy exclusively second hand. I would say about half of my closet is thrifted or vintage and the rest is new. But thrifting is my favorite way to shop, and my most indulgent vice. I’m not touring as much anymore, and living in New York City does not provide me with the best thrifting opportunities unfortunately. Stores here tend to be either overpriced or already picked over. But I’ve made the very dangerous discovery that it’s easy to thrift online. You just have to know what you’re looking for, and be down for the hunt.
But thrifting in an actual store will always be more fun, because there’s a conversation with history going on between you and the objects. In FANS, Mira describes it by saying, “In a really good thrift store you feel like you’re in a room with all of these stories, and it’s up to you to go and find the stories that you want to bring home with you.”
Some people are creeped out by wearing previously owned clothes, but the thought never even occurred to me (although I will admit I have never been up for the second hand shoe situation, that’s where I draw the line.) But I love the fact that a garment has had a whole life before it comes to me. Maybe it’ll have a life after me too. It reminds me of this old movie my dad always loved called “Tales of Manhattan,” where we follow a coat from character to character, and the through-line was just the life of this coat. Clothes have a kind of magic to them, and that magic might just be bigger than each of us.
About Fans of the Impossible Life
The story of a girl, her gay best friend and the boy who falls in love with both of them.
MIRA is a chronic fatigue syndrome-suffering, vintage dress enthusiast. She’s starting over at her old school St. Francis Prep, where she promised her parents that she would at least try to pretend that she could act like a functioning human this time, not a girl who can’t get out of bed for days on end, who only feels awake when she’s with Sebby.
SEBBY seems to carry sunlight around with him. Even as life in his foster home starts to take its toll, Sebby and Mira together craft a world of magic rituals and impromptu road trips designed to fix the broken parts of their lives.
JEREMY is the painfully shy art nerd at St. Francis who’s been in self-imposed isolation after an incident that ruined his last year of school. When he sees Sebby for the first time across the school lawn, it’s as if he’s been expecting him – a blond, lanky boy with mischief glinting in his eyes.
As Jeremy finds himself drawn into Sebby and Mira’s world, he begins to understand the secrets that they hide in order to protect themselves, to keep each other safe from those who don’t understand their quest to live for the impossible.
Fans of the Impossible Life is your perennial coming-of-age story, inspired by Brideshead Revisited with echoes of John Hughes’ classic 80s cult movies. Perfect for fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Looking for Alaska and I’ll Give You the Sun, this captivating and profound story about love, loss and growing up is an astonishing debut novel from a true rising talent. Above all else, Fans of the Impossible Life is a story about the magic of finding those friends who truly see the person you are and the person you’re trying to become. As Mira, Sebby and Jeremy try to fix their broken selves and live their impossible lives, Kate Scelsa beautifully portrays those transformative teenage friendships that burn hot and bright, resonating with anyone who has ever felt a little bit different from their peers.
About Kate Scelsa
Kate Scelsa is the author of the young adult novel “Fans of the Impossible Life,” out 10 September from Macmillan in the UK and 8 September from HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray in the US. Kate grew up in New Jersey, went to school at Sarah Lawrence College, and now lives in Brooklyn with her wife and two black cats. She spent much of 2002-2013 traveling the world with theater company Elevator Repair Service, performing in their trilogy of works based on great American novels, including an eight hour long show called “Gatz” that used the entire text of “The Great Gatsby.” Kate is currently collaborating with her dad, the legendary free form radio DJ Vin Scelsa, on “The Kate and Vin Scelsa Podcast,” now available on iTunes and SoundCloud.