Branding Queens

Is it just me, or does it feel like we are all starting to Brand Ourselves?  Through social media we each curate our lives and reveal in mostly filtered perfection, (or sometimes purposely non-filtered perfection), images and witty sound bites creating in essence our own brand.  The Brand of Me.  I am part of this trend too, I post regularly on Instagram: there is Mary Ellen the Pit Bull Advocate, Mary Ellen the Living with Cancer Through Humour Gal, Mary Ellen the Vintage Loving Stylehoader.  Is this a bad thing?  I don’t know, but it does make me a bit uncomfortable.

It used to be that creating a brand was done primarily by companies in order to sell a product.  To this day fashion retailers continue to be focused on creating a desirable brand in order to make money: “Understated elegance for the woman who knows true luxury.” “Affordable classics with a twist!” “The only watch for the man who works hard and plays hard.”  But now that we are all self-branding, are we in some strange way selling ourselves?  And to whom and for what reason?  Many successful fashion & lifestyle social media wizards are actually selling items, often through sponsored ads, so that makes sense.  But what the hell are the rest of us doing?  I realize I am probably just overthinking all of this, but it still kind of freaks me out.

The other issue with everyone becoming a Branding Queen (or King), is that – at least for me – it can lead to increased depression & anxiety.  If I see one more perfectly decorated home with that damn fury IKEA bear rug thrown casually but not casually over a mid-century chair I am going to stab my eye balls out!  Or another reclaimed wood dining-room table, sparkling with glitter and pastel food and champagne bubbling over in mis-matched but perfect vintage glasses with an incredible floral arrangement in a milk jug bought for just $2 at a garage sale!  I can’t take it!  This past weekend I actually suffered from a bout of “Insta-Madness:” I went to my favorite Leslieville bakery – Sweet Bliss – and bought myself three delicious treats (luckily for me my partner is Paleo, so I get all the sweets to myself!)  Upon arriving home and admiring my goodies in their low-key unadorned box, I found myself thinking that they would look much prettier “styled” on a vintage floral China plate.  OMG!  What has happened to me?!  Thankfully I am not THAT insane and I happily enjoyed my sweets on a regular, almost ugly plate.  And they were damn tasty!

I guess for now I will just cut back a little on social media so that I can remain sane-ish.  But then again, I did just buy my dog a new bandana, so I might have to Instagram that as part of my “I’m a Pit Bull Advocate” Brand.  #stopthemadness

Bright Ribbon

“I look like I’ve been pulled through a hedge backwards!” Brenda squawked, adjusting her bouffant hairdo.  She whipped out a coral lipstick and started applying it without a mirror, painting two large half circles.  Clown-Chic, thought Shannon.

“You look fine,” Shannon said, as she un-packed the bags of clothes dropped off by Mrs. Blackwell.  Mrs. Blackwell – one of their best clients – brought in high-end designer clothing almost every week.  Chanel, Valentino, Hermes.  Most of the items had been worn only once or twice, many not at all.  Last week’s haul had included a black Gucci dress with its Saks Fifth Avenue price tag still on, $6500.  A year’s rent for Shannon.

Brenda came around the corner, red stiletto pumps clicking on the floor, each click like an exclamation mark.  “You know about Mrs. Blackwell, don’t you?” asked Brenda leaning in, last night’s scotch masquerading as today’s perfume.  “No,” Shannon said, arranging Mrs. Blackwell’s Louis Vuitton luggage set, one on top of the other.  Shannon thought of her own luggage, a set of black hand-me-down Samsonite from her mom who’d told her to tie bright ribbon on the handles so that she’d be able to easily identify them at the airport.  Shannon had tied bright ribbon on the handles, but then everyone else’s mother had given the same advice and now luggage carousels were overflowing with plain black suitcases tied with bright ribbon.

Brenda took a swig of her coffee, leaving a ridiculous coral outline on the white cup.  “Mr. Blackwell, her husband, never gives her any actual cash because he’s a fucking control freak.  He makes her use credit cards for everything so that he can track her every move.  Bastard.”  Brenda lit the first of endless cigarettes, blowing smoke out the open window.  Shannon continued to hang clothes, admiring the fabrics.  Silk satin, wool crepe, cashmere.  To pass the time she often played a game with herself called “Name that Fabric.”  For every correct answer she won a quarter, which she took from the cash register.  Shannon was getting pretty good at the game and she wondered when Brenda would ask why they were always out of quarters.  Thankfully bookkeeping was not Brenda’s forte, though gossiping was.

“The funny thing is he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about how much she puts on her Saks or Neiman’s credit cards, she can charge up a storm and he doesn’t care.  But he never gives her spending money, she never has even one damn dollar in her purse.  He wants to keep her powerless because he’s an evil prick.”  Brenda sucked deeply on her cigarette, which was encased in a 1950’s style cigarette holder.

“So Gilda, that’s Mrs. Blackwell’s first name, Gilda buys tons of expensive clothing and then she sells it here.  She squirrels away the money she makes selling her clothes into a secret bank account.  Can you believe it?”  Looking satisfied with her storytelling, Brenda stamped out her cigarette and pulled a red pen from her bouffant.  She started writing out price tags and barking at Shannon.  “Dior floral dress, $785.  Missoni red sweater, $350.”  Shannon tagged the items as they went along, struggling to keep up with Brenda’s caffeinated pace.

Shannon looked at Brenda’s reflection in the gold vintage wall mirror.  Back in the day, the 1970’s Shannon guessed, Brenda had probably been one of those cute, button nosed, petite yet improbably busty blue-eyed blondes.  Most likely she had been a cheerleader, or maybe a baton twirler for the marching band.  Yes, definitely a twirler, thought Shannon.  Brenda was still petite with great legs.  “I’ve got killer stems,” is what Brenda always said as she pranced around in her high heels and short skirts.  But now Brenda’s cute button nose was overshadowed by her puffy eyes, which looked like two mini puffed pastries sitting high on her face.  Her petite twirler body now accented by a swollen booze belly.  Brenda was a well-seasoned alcoholic, destroying her good looks one drink at a time.

Brenda grabbed the ringing phone “Uptown Consignment, Brenda speaking,” she answered in her smoker’s gravelly voice.  “We DON’T do vintage, that’s for those young, trendy, Instagram-selfie girls,” groused Brenda.  “We only accept clothes that are 1-2 years old and in perfect condition.  And don’t bring me any mall crap, we are a high-end designer’s resale shop.”  With that Brenda slammed down the phone.  Well, that’s one way to approach customer service thought Shannon.

As Brenda stilettoed back to her office to refill her cigarette holder, Shannon took Mrs. Blackwell’s new Dolce & Gabbana strappy heels and put them in her tote bag.  She would add them to her eBay shop later tonight when she got home.  She could probably get $225 for them.  Shannon’s dream was to go to Paris next spring and she had already raised $925 towards her trip.  Although stealing was not the most legitimate way to raise funds, Shannon was surprised at how little she cared.  Plus, she only stole from ridiculously rich ladies like Mrs. Blackwell, ladies who would never know the difference.  In fact, now that Shannon knew about Mrs. Blackwell’s scheming, she felt a certain camaraderie with her.  They were both essentially doing the same thing and Shannon thought that Mrs. Blackwell would probably approve of her fundraising efforts.  The fact that Shannon was also stealing from Brenda didn’t faze her either.  Brenda’s father had made a fortune in the steel industry, leaving her a massive inheritance.  So why Brenda even bothered with this stupid resale business was beyond Shannon.

As Shannon waited for Brenda, she patted the Louis Vuitton luggage set like it was silky cat.  Sadly she wouldn’t be able to steal luggage from the store.  Brenda was clueless, but not that clueless.  Yet Shannon would not fly to Paris with her crappy hand-me-down Samsonite – I mean God, how ghetto would that be? – she would have to figure something out.  Shannon’s luggage thoughts were cut short by Brenda’s bellowing.  “I need you to go out and pick up some party supplies.”  Party supplies was code for Brenda’s weekend bingeing supplies.  “I need two bottles of Glenlivet 12, three bottles of Veuve and an assortment of cheese, crackers, grapes and olives.  And don’t get me that hideous blue cheese, that stuff looks grim.”  As Brenda went to find her car keys and get cash, Shannon stashed her incriminating tote bag in the back cupboard.  “We’ll do Mrs. Blackwell’s inventory when you get back” yelled Brenda from her office.

Just then two of their regular customers came in, both were secretaries at a big law firm.  They were always dressed impeccably.  In fact they looked almost as good as the female lawyers they worked for.  This pleased them greatly and irked their bosses.  How could they afford such style on their measly secretary salaries the lawyers wondered.  “Uptown Consignment” was their secret and they made a point of telling only the firm’s support staff about the shop.  Let the lawyers pay retail.

As Brenda chatted them up, Shannon went out the back entrance and slid onto the luxurious leather seats of Brenda’s Mercedes convertible.  Shannon didn’t have a car.  She took the bus to work, along with all the cleaning ladies and day laborers.  Growing up, her mother’s car had always had those grimy fabric seats that stuck to your clothes.  Shannon hated those fabric seats.  One time, her friend Lacy, who came from a well-to-do family, had commented on the seats.  “Oh weird, I’ve never sat on fabric seats before,” she’d said with surprise.  Shannon had felt humiliated.

Shannon put the top down and rooted around in her purse until she found her new Oliver People’s sunglasses.  Mrs. Stein had accidentally left them at the store last week.  When Mrs. Stein had called asking if anyone had found her sunglasses, Shannon had told her “no, but I’ll let you know if they turn up,” and then put them in her purse.  The thing was, they really looked better on Shannon, they just didn’t suit Mrs. Stein’s heart-shaped face.

Shannon drove so that she hit every red light.  That way the other drivers, especially the men, had plenty of time to admire her.  Her long wavy blond hair blowing in the breeze, oversized sunglasses, sexy car.  She was dazzling and she knew it.  Just then her phone beeped, it was a text from Brenda: “add to list: box of Parliaments, DARK chocolate – NOT milk!  NO blue cheese!!!”

At the next light a handsome young man leaned out of his convertible Porsche, “You need to go to lunch with me NOW.  Four Seasons Patio.  Meet you there in five.”  The light changed.  Shannon thought about it.  She WAS a little hungry.  I mean it was almost noon and all she’d eaten for breakfast was a Pop-Tart and a cup of coffee.  The Four Seasons was just a couple blocks away, she’d seen it before but never been.

She pulled up to the valet, smiling and taking her ticket like it was the most normal thing to do.  Like she always pulled up to 5 star hotels in her Mercedes.  Like the Oliver Peoples sunglasses now perched on her head truly belonged to her.  Like the blond streaks in her hair didn’t come out of a drugstore box.  She applied some lip-gloss, muted her phone and walked towards the patio.  Porsche-man was just being seated at a corner table.  Shannon breathed deeply, tossed her hair and smiled widely.