Really Pure Culture
Leg Avenue was slutty, and I was not.
My first job in Seattle was at a vintage clothing store in the University District in the mid-2000s. I was hired on at $10 an hour as a clerk, then $11 as assistant manager and $12 as manager. After taxes, I took home about $300 a week. At 27, living with seven roommates who shared food and utilities, it worked. There was enough for brunch at the 5 Spot on Saturday before my shift and a coffee at Victrola.
Every fall, the vintage store becomes a costume shop, a seasonal cash cow for the owner thanks to University of Washington students shopping for frat party costumes with other coeds. Staff spent September taking sexy nurse or naughty bumble bee costumes out of plastic bags, hanging them, and adding prices and security tags.
I did not love, or like, costumes of any kind. I loved (and love!) vintage — buying, steaming, and organizing one-of-a-kind pieces. I imagined the history of the clothes that came in and had the first choice of items. Deadstock t-shirts, red line Levi’s, beaded granny sweaters, black 80s dresses with slim belts. Graphic totes with ironic messages, 70s ski hats with big tassels, fancy 50s gloves your grandmother would have worn. Bakelite bangles, cowboy boots.
As a single woman, the Ave where the store is located never felt particularly safe at night. I would close the registers, send employees home, and reconcile the books in a closet-sized office. Shut the lights, set the alarm, and move real quick. Locking the old wooden doors at night, a group of Insane Clown Posse Juggalos were often hanging out across the street.
Staff spent October dressing up every day we worked, at least five days a week for long shifts with checkout lines snaking around the store. To meet the “wear a costume” requirement I would dress through the decades, borrowing clothes from the smattering of racks in the back that were not filled with sexy cop and firefighter costumes from the company LEG AVENUE. 60s hot pink mod dress, 70s glam disco silver dress, 80s Siouxsie and the Banshees-inspired black dress with puffy sleeves.
I would not wear Leg Avenue. It was slutty, and I was not.
Leg Avenue costumes were provocative, and as a prudish person it was deeply embarrassing and absurd to consider wearing one. Costume or not, I never dressed up to go out.
I wore a tank top and jeans to the Baltic Room one night to go dancing. Leaving the dance floor, a large man in an all-white sweatsuit grazed my breast in this way like it was an accident. A sweep across the chest, which was very much intentional. I lost it, swore at him, jumped up towards his face. It was like I was waiting to explode.
Vintage store, pre-Halloweenification, 2005
My dad was weird about Halloween like a lot of evangelical dads, mumbling about it being demonic. I always went trick-or-treating anyways. But unlike the kitsch of my family being “anti-Halloween”, sex before marriage was an imaginary line which evangelicals like me were told to not cross, and to do anything to protect. And in my worldview, scanty outfits were all a part of sex-before-marriage-ville. Someone said (I wish I could remember who) that growing up evangelical, virginity and eternal salvation are pretty much the same in terms of importance. I began to wonder, where did the evangelical obsession with purity begin?