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The Sweetheart of the Rodeo Speaks
By Christine Stoddard
A flock of emails haunts my inbox everyday, each message tweeting like an eerie ghost bird until I finally give it notice. These emails often come from people wanting Quail Bell's attention. Other times books, letters, drawings, and other goodies squawk from my P.O. box. They, too, come from people wanting Quail Bell's attention.
As much as I enjoy sifting through all of this story fodder, I usually want to do my own research and make my own discoveries. One recent discovery of mine was Dakota, the blogger behind Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Somehow I stumbled across her blog and found a fellow fledgling in spirit. An Art History major studying in Vermont, Dakota fancies the past just as any good Quail Bell(e) would. She's particularly enamored of Victorian Goth and the 1930s/40s. Her blog regularly features her beautiful outfits, but also showcases her interest in art and culture from the past. (Including her love of Loretta Lynn and other classic country singers!)
I contacted Dakota with a few questions, curious how she would answer them. In case you were wondering, too, these are her responses:
"No modern frock can compare to the feeling of connection to the past and aged patina vintage textiles convey; it's a bit hard to articulate, but I bet you fellow vintage lovers know what I'm talking about."
You have such a gorgeous look. Can you cite any specific vintage influences of yours?
Oh, thank you!! I am heavily inspired by the landscape and culture of rural America, particularly my corner of Northern New England. I've grown up in a funny little old-fashioned village in Vermont; think Ethan Frome meets "Twin Peaks"! Time is a little stagnant, a little ambiguous…like you go into these old farmhouses that have been in the same families for generations, and it’s this complete chronology of changing tastes: ornate Victorian moldings, faded floral wallpaper, an Art Deco dresser here, a midcentury-modern kitchenette there. A rusted (but running) [John] Deere tractor in the stark Puritan barn. But it’s no museum: we use these old things every day. I am very inspired by that notion of moving forward, sure, but always engaging with the past.
There are many artists and musicians who inspire me, as well: American regionalist painters like George Ault and Andrew Wyeth, photographers Clarence John Laughlin and Walker Evans, Southern gothic writers like Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers, and early country singers like the Carter Family, Loretta Lynn, Dock Boggs, and Hank Williams (to name but a few).
What attracts you to vintage fashion? When did you first discover your love for it?
I started seeking out vintage pieces from the thrift store when I was 14, but didn’t get into the head-to-toe look ‘til I was 16. But ever since I was a little girl I was hopelessly nostalgic; in elementary school I had this obsession with seeking out and reading the oldest, mustiest books in the library, and I collected these vintage model horses (I was kinda weird). The past was like a beautiful golden realm, and it both pained and intrigued me...painful because it's over and gone forever, but so intriguing to find these little vestiges of it. It was a natural progression to dressing the part, I suppose.
As a kid, I spent many happy hours exploring abandoned farmhouses, too. There is a strange sort of magic in those gently decaying shells of homes; stepping into them feels like entering another dimension, where time is frozen. But they are also melancholy places, entirely alone and forgotten; stark reminders of our own impermanence.
I used to dream about running away and living in one particular abandoned farm, the Ashworth Farm. The vivid flowered wallpaper and big empty rooms incited all sorts of romantic daydreams in my mind, and I felt an acute longing to visit the home in its heyday, when the halls rang with human voices, and the pastures were full of cows and corn. I couldn't travel back in time, sadly, so I did the next best thing, and surrounded myself with vintage clothing and ephemera.
And of course, the right vintage dress is just a sublime aesthetic experience. There’s really nothing comparable to the glamour and charm of a beautiful midcentury frock!
Apart from the clothes, what else do you like about days gone by? What do you appreciate living in this era?
Oh, many, many things! I guess I’m a bit of a luddite. I have no television, no smartphone, I live in a little Edwardian farmhouse full of creaky floors and beautiful old furniture. I listen to a lot of old music on vinyl and shellac. I’m an avid fan of Hollywood in her “dream factory," studio system days--the Golden Era of film! People seemed more earnest then, more contemplative, more concerned with just being a good person than being all ironic and blasé. I guess life was more of a battle, and people had to be hardier.
That being said, I don’t wish to sugarcoat the past; I feel very very fortunate to be living now. After all, I get to cherry pick my favorite elements from all these different eras, while living in a much more tolerant and socially progressive time. I think I might also be guilty of liking nostalgia for nostalgia's sake. It's quite a romantic concept. Even if I were alive in the '30s or '40s, I'd probably be the town lunatic wearing Edwardian tea dresses every day!!
What is your day job? Can you wear vintage clothes there without being frowned upon?
I’m a student by day, studying art history at university, and I also waitress to make ends meet. Yeah, I get all sorts of looks and comments, some bad, some incredibly sweet. The neat thing about having a defined style is that it’s like a filter: many of my friends have told me they were initially drawn to me because they liked my look, and as for the inevitable few who do frown upon me, well, I’d rather not waste my time with ‘em anyhow!
Are you originally from Vermont? If not, what brought you there? What can you say about shopping vintage in Vermont?
I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, but we moved to the Green Mountains when I was 6. Now it's been 13 years, and I’m ready to move on again! This place is stunningly lovely, but kinda lonely and cold. On the whole, New England is a goldmine for older clothing and antiques, as there’s so much history (and untouched attics!!) around here. I don't really venture into designated vintage shops much. Thrift shops, estate auctions, word-of-mouth leads, and even dumpsters usually yield the best (and cheapest!) treasures for me.
Why did you start your blog? What has the response to your blog been?
Well, I’ve never had any sort of a physical community where I can talk about my interests; I’ve yet to meet anyone close to my age in the “real world” who wears vintage clothing, loves old films, or listens to the same sort of music as me! And of course my friends and family can only feign interest for so long, so I’ve kept all these passions locked up in my heart, mostly.
I like blogging as a way to articulate and share my old-fashioned aesthetics, and to connect with talented, creative, like-minded folks from across the world whom I’d never have met otherwise. Makes me feel like less of a freak, and more a part of something beautiful.