During my pre-New Yorker days as a Starbucks barista, I was latte-ing away when a simple coffee order turned into a side conversation about the lipstick I was wearing. As you could imagine, the idea of anyone TELLING me what to wear (aka abiding by a uniform, following corporate standards, whatever) never settled too well with me; mostly because I was seeing everyone on campus while wearing a pair of KHAKIS and sneakers. It was a big no from me. But, of course… I did it. Non-slip shoes and all. Anyway…! With no jewelry, nail polish, or accessories of any kind allowed to spruce up these barista “outfits”, lipstick was my only weapon.
The eccentric woman who complimented my lipstick was still chatting away with me as I pretended to wipe tables around her while my friend covered for me on bar. I was drawn to her as she was to me. We couldn’t stop talking. After a bit of chit-chat, we got into the career conversation. I told her my major and she replied with a rather unexpected answer. She was a fashion designer! As a 19–year–old sophomore looking for an internship, this was music to my ears. I wanted to do something fun. Something different. Something that wasn’t just handed to me by an advisor or planned out through a pre-set program because of where I went to school. I wanted the connections and the unique experience. I couldn’t even believe how perfect this seemed. This certainly spiced up my afternoon Starbucks shift.
That weekend, I skipped the usual Cinco de Mayo festivities to attend a more formal interview with her. We sat and sipped tea in the Starbucks (ironically) below the Providence Biltmore and I had never felt more fancy or excited. My mind was reeling as she gave me the position on the spot and we set our dates to begin working together.
“Easy!” I thought. She had a fashion show coming up in about a month that she needed some major help with. Things were all lined up and I was more excited than ever.
School ended. Summer began. And my little blue VW Bug and I were commuting to Providence a few days a week for this internship. I felt like quite the adult. Now normally, here’s where the dishing would begin. However, for the sake of karma, privacy and using the internet for good, not evil… we’re going to keep this one light. Let’s just say that from day one of this internship, it was not a thing like I expected. I was a chauffeur, an errand runner, a “slave to fashion” as some would say. Except for the fact that I didn’t touch or see a single garment until the day of the fashion show; which turned out to be absolute chaos and was hosted in a sticky nightclub with probably less than ten attendees. It turned out to be a bit of a crazy ride, and I wasn’t the only one. Two other interns had been hired from my school as well. The three of us were caught in this crazy whirlwind of mixed up tasks, strange hours and bizarre run-ins. We hosted model castings in tattoo shops and spent more time running errands and rummaging through emails than anything else; all while trying to work on a social media strategy with no WiFi and all taking turns for the single, blue Ethernet cord in the dining room.
Needless to say, there were tons of rules being violated and ends of the deal that were not kept. We were in an extremely unprofessional environment, and after about a month of this, we spoke up. My school urged us to stop and I found myself on the phone with the Dean telling me I was not allowed to return to this designer’s home and to send in my resignation immediately; necessary, but disastrous right? I thought so too. Until the universe proved me wrong.
Now, I was left with no internship and a gap in my credits (this really did not sit well with me). The whole reason I did this was to get a head start and now I found myself on the borderline of a set–back. Not a chance. The Dean told me they would help me find a new internship but their offers weren’t for me. Again, I was trying to aim outside the box here.
My mind wandered back to some of my favorite places around town. I wanted to find something exciting and still in the city. Something of interest. Since my first year at school, my favorite hobby was to wander around Downtown Providence and explore. Coffee shops, boutiques, galleries and especially the vintage shops. One, in particular, was my favorite.
Carmen & Ginger was a teeny little vintage goods store inside of the historical Providence Arcade. No, this was not the kind of arcade you’re thinking of. There was no pinball or Pac-Man. The Arcade was a historical landmark and one of the first shopping malls in the country that was now home to unique little shops and even had a couple floors of micro-lofts where people could live. It was a gorgeous building with a glass atrium and a historic feel like no other. I loved walking through there more than anywhere else in Providence. On countless occasions I would pop into Carmen & Ginger and rustle through every little item, buying nothing due to my “poor college student” budget. On a more than a few occasions I would even ask if they were hiring, needed help, etc. The answer was always the same. A “no”, which I totally understood based on their perfectly efficient way of running the store . I knew I probably couldn’t be of much help anyway. However, I was particularly drawn to this place. Every inch of the store was tastefully filled with vintage goodies and was color coordinated with the signature C&G colors: orange and teal. I just felt good being in there.
Anyway, back to the real story. In a state of desperation to find a replacement internship, I couldn’t help but think about Carmen & Ginger as an option. I wanted to work there so desperately. As I sat and thought a bit, I remembered that a Starbucks coworker of mine had helped out there with some intern duties a while back. I reached out to her immediately and sure enough, she kindly connected me with the owner. Christine, the shop owner, invited me in to chat.
“FINALLY!” I thought.
On that day, I remember waking up with such excitement, put on my favorite outfit and polished myself up to look my absolute best for this interview. I needed to land this spot. After tossing some quarters into a dysfunctional Providence meter. I made my way into the Arcade and sat at the shop counter with Christine as we talked for a bit (with just enough time left before the parking meter ran out). I was honest with her and told her about the bizarre situation I was coming out of. It felt more like talking to a new friend than having an interview. She ended the conversation with a warm welcome and invited me to begin helping out at the shop a few days a week for the remainder of the summer to fulfill my internship requirements. I was ECSTATIC as I ran back out to my car, praying I put enough quarters in to avoid a ticket. Everything was all good and we (my car and I) blasted the happiest music the whole ride home. I couldn’t wait to begin.
The next couple of months were great. In between tasks, we would talk endlessly about life, horoscopes, vintage and all of the similar interests we had. On the days Christine wasn’t there, her other shop worker, Val would come in fully equipped with the same enthusiasm and exciting conversation. They were the best part of coming into work each day. Christine would share stories about her days living in New York, adventuring around, running into celebrities like Andy Warhol. Her stories amazed me. She lived the life I had aspired to grow into someday. New York had always been on my radar, so hearing her talk about it made me light up inside.
As my internship came to a close, I left with a lot of things. Sure, I left with a handful of employee discounted purchases and some new items to add to my closet; but most importantly I left with a whole lot of inspiration and knowledge about the vintage world. It was great to meet people who shared the same passion and appreciation for things of another time and understood that each piece carried a story along with it. Although, I do believe one of the most important things I left with was an amazing vintage kimono Christine had given to me as a parting gift.
This piece was as vintage as it gets… the kimono was from way before our time. Questionably even an item of the 1930s. It was magical. Kimonos were my favorite trend at this time. I wore them all summer long over dresses and with different top and pant combos and would lounge around the house in them as if I was some sort of golden age film star. However, this was the most important one I was adding into my collection. I don’t know where it originally came from, who wore it, or what its story was. Maybe it was worn by a movie star, or backstage in the dressing room of a Broadway star… I will never know, but that makes it more exciting. The fragile silk was carefully taken care of all these years and is in great condition for an 80 something–year–old article of clothing. It has a few holes, but its colors remained vibrant with gorgeous details and embroidered crescent moons. It has become one of my most prized possessions, all thanks to a bad situation that turned into a very special opportunity. This single piece is now tied to some of my fondest memories.
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