Portlandia's Carrie Brownstein on Her Favorite Hometown Vintage Stores, The One Fashion Piece She Never Has To Buy Again and Her Peeve with Prints
I’m not sure you want to take all of your fashion cues from Carrie Brownstein’s characters on Portlandia. The thrift-inspired wardrobe of the show is usually more kitschy than chic. And we can't argue with that—the frumpy knee-length khaki shorts and ribbed turtleneck sweaters that turn up totally help define Brownstein's quirky characters. And this season, not only do we get Brownstein and SNL star Fred Armisen's oddball characters, we get some oddball cameos too: Chloe Sevigny, Roseanne Barr, The Dirty Projectors and Rose Byrne are just a few of the neat people who will visit the hipster enclave.
The show is a collection of comedy sketches set in the famously eccentric city of Portland, Oregon, Brownstein’s current homebase (she was born and raised in Washington state). But Brownstein is known to many first as a musican, due to her time as the guitarist of Sleater-Kinney, the seminal '90s riot grrrl band. And today she's still an indie music force to be reckoned with, as Wild Flag’s lead vocalist and guitarist.
While we may not want to dress like Toni, the moody feminist bookstore owner Brownstein plays, and certainly not Lance (she switches genders for that one!), we can learn a thing or two from the real Carrie Brownstein, who prefers a modern, tailored look and whose wardrobe includes plenty of buttoned-up shirts and staples from J. Crew.
Lucky spoke with Brownstein about everything from what she wears when playing live to where to shop when in Portlandia.
Season 3 of Portlandia is underway now. Check it out on IFC, Fridays at 10/9c.
Lucky: I thought the “Simply Hideous Shoes” entry in the Portlandia book was very funny. Do you think it's fair that Portland has a rep for being ultra-crunchy?
Brownstein: Well, you have this very damp climate. I will say that Portland does not have a great shoe store. Sometimes Nordstrom or a couple of boutiques sell a handful of good shoe brands like Rachel Comey or Acne. But It’s hard to find great shoes in Portland. Portland is vintage clothing. You just have to work a little harder here in terms of finding good clothes. I’m completely aware of all the ways that Portland is wonderful, but I wouldn’t say it’s known for great shoes.
Do you have a favorite character to dress up as?
Yes, two people. One is Toni, my character in the feminist bookstore. Our costume designer, Amanda Needham, really shops for Toni and Candace in a very holistic way. She doesn’t shop for costumes; she shops as if they’re friends and she has a closet to fill and she knows exactly their preferences and tastes. They’re very spacious items. I feel like I’m putting on an entire apartment, like there’s so much room in the clothing. Nance is also a very comfortable character.
Does that style carry over to you personally?
In regular life, I have to wear much paler clothes with clean lines. That just tends to look better on me. But character-wise, I find that strange, loose, wild-patterned clothing speaks so much to who that person is. It has so much to do with risk-taking or excessive adventure, compensating for a level of boredom or monotony in their lives that they’re trying to make up for with bold prints.
What designers do you like to wear?
Recently, I’ve been wearing Vena Cava. They have really nice tailoring. I think they do a nice job of complementing clean lines with some movement, which I think is good because it makes for a more interesting silhouette when there’s a little more movement and texture. I also love Acne and Rachel Comey shoes a lot. To be honest, J. Crew continues to be a standby for me as well as Steven Alan and APC. I always try to branch out in terms of style, but I’m petite and I feel like I have a small head. Edgier or bolder prints kind of swallow me, so I feel like it's best for me to stick with things that don’t wear me. Anything that conjures a button-up shirt is something I would wear. I recently took a photo of my closet and the amount of button-up shirts...I honestly should never purchase one again. I don’t need to. Ever.
Do you approach dressing for Wild Flag differently?
Music always seems to have a heightened sense of persona. There’s some functionality that needs to exist, especially for what I wear on stage. I have to wear heels but I can’t wear something that is completely lacking structure or support. I try to think of things that are slightly architectural and have a good silhouette but that aren’t going to cause any distractions. I don’t want to be thinking about what I’m wearing while I play. I don’t want to be worried about something flimsy that’s going to slip off my shoulder or a shoe that’s going to give out from underneath me. I end up finding a couple pieces that work for an entire tour. Especially with guitar, you’re being bisected by the strap so it kind of has to work in concert with the instrument and the microphone. It becomes part of the logistics. But my outfits tend to become a slightly heighted version of what I would wear on a day-to-day basis. Nothing too crazy.
Can you recommend some vintage stores you like in Portland?
There are two great vintage stores. One is, like if you wanted to dress right out of Mad Men, this place called Xtabay. Rock N’ Rose is another good vintage store. For the really good thrift stores, you need to head out to Oregon City or Milwaukie, or just go out to 82nd Avenue and drive along and there are tons of good thrift stores, whether it's Goodwill or Value Village or Salvation Army. They’re all great.
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