BY MONIQUE QUINTANA
I’ve always had an affinity for the glam. When I was a little girl in the early ‘90s, my mother would rent me old VHS movies like A Place in the Sun. The image of Elizabeth Taylor leaning over the pool table in her white strapless dress is seared into my skull. When she makes her way over to Montgomery Cliff, the soft rustle of her tulle really gets to me.
As a brown girl, I definitely didn’t grow up with skin privilege, but I did have other privileges. My family did just fine when it came to money. My mother bought me clothes at department stores and boutiques, yet she scrutinized sales tags and even haggled the salespeople the way you’re allowed to in Europe.
One of her favorite places to buy me clothes was at the Emerald Thrift Store in downtown Fresno, the place I’ve lived my entire life. Fresno is both urban and agricultural and is located in the Central Valley. It’s thrift stores are one of its many oddities. I’d say there’s something grotesquely beautiful about buying clothes from thrift shops. They’re always haunted places to me. As I touched each garment in the Emerald Thrift Shop, I always wondered about the first little girl the clothes belonged to.
Since we would always go for the half-off sales, my mother would also let me stock up on vintage harlequin romance novels with raven-haired beauties and ripped bodices. When we got home, I’d try the clothes on before my mother even had a chance to wash them. I’d switch on an old tabletop fan and with my hair blowing around me like kelp, I’d pretend I was one of those harlequin faces, but browner and with more clothes on. Right now, I’m remembering a German stitched sweater, red with gold buttons like claws. I felt beautiful.
I started wearing makeup in the 7th grade. I’d leave my house barefaced and then when I’d get to school, I’d head strait for the restroom and raccoon ring my eyes with a black kohl pencil and dot my lips with reddish brown lipstick that clung to my mouth like clay. Around the same time, I saw Bettie Page for the first time on E’s True Hollywood story. I really liked how I had the same haircut she had. All the other girls at school were getting spiral perms that they styled with strawberry scented mousse, and I was feeling left out.
I knew there was something about Paige that was delightfully trashy, besides the obvious fact that she was prancing around in black panties and up-to-the sky boots. When I got to high school, I grew my bangs out, but every time I saw pictures or a film reel of her, I’d ache in all the good ways.
When I had my son when I was 19, he required so much attention, all I could manage in my daily routine was a hot shower. When he got a little older, I was able to get in a blow dry, and by the time he was six, I was back to my trash glam self. Like a lot of women, I like to change things about the way I look. In the past five years, I’ve had chocolate brown hair down to my ass, fishnet stockings, candy cane striped sweaters, a jet-black bob á la Mia Wallace, leopards pea coats and pleather skinny pants, Hayworth blonde hair, handcuff strap dresses, weed green hair, and now a return to the baby bangs of my youth. Recently, a friend told me I look like a character from a retro-futuristic B-horror movie. That made my week.
Through all these changes, I always cling to some of the same things—they’re like relics to me. They make up my trash glam aesthetic. Sometimes, people will say they want to see what I look like natural, the real me, and I tell them they’re already looking at her. I’m not me until I’ve got my lipstick on, but what I love and what I need may not be what other women love and need. Every trash glamour girl has to define what that means to her. I’m speaking as a mother who struggled her way through community college, a bachelor’s degree, and graduate school. I derive joy from the highs and the lows.
When I say I’m trash glamour, I’m saying that I’ve created rituals out of both desire and longing and necessity, and this makes my style full of contradictions. I’m not so great at dying my hair, so I pay to get it done now because I can finally afford to do that. I have ballerina flats and Doc Martens on rotation. I buy pretty much all my earrings at the flea market in the dusty outskirts of my town. They live long enough for me to love them. Those are my jewels, those are my diamonds.
I’ll scrounge up money for a Marc Jacobs scarf and tie it around my throat like a noose. I have a blood red YSL bag that smells stale on the inside like the place it came from, a pharmacy from the ‘60’s that was converted into a consignment shop in Fresno’s Tower District. All the good shit lines the old medicine shelves under the clinical glow of hot white light bulbs. It’s my mother saying, "We’ll get this." How could someone give up something so pretty? That’s what glamour is for me. For all the people that know me well, they know about these things, my have-to-haves.
Here’s what’s inside my trash glam box:
Ring Around The Black Sunglasses: I used to buy wayfarers from the dollar stores, until I could afford to buy Ray Bans. They’re stark, they’re retro, and they’re my pound of flesh. The best thing about black sunglasses is that they’re good for getting people to look at you, and they’re good for when you don’t want to look at certain people in the eye.
Must-Bleed Red Lips: If you want to see me without my lipstick, then you better kill me. Red lipstick is my every day reach for. It’s Elvira, Lucille Ball, Dorothy’s slippers, and Rodeo Drive. Mine has to be as matte as possible, so it will last a really long time. My favorite shade is Viva Glam I by Mac. All the proceeds from this lipstick go to AIDS research. Red is my favorite lip color because it reminds me of life and death simultaneously.
Black Lipstick is My Sancha: Sometimes red lipstick would translate as black lipstick in old black-and-white films. That’s how black lipstick is for me. I feel just as glam when I wear black lipstick. I love to wear it during the day because it’s more trashy that way. I rarely wear bright or muted colored clothing, but when I do, I like to wear black lipstick, to get that yin and yang of color.
Jewelry Must Multi-Task: Every year, I’ll invest in a statement jewelry piece. My most recent is a chunky spiked cuff bracelet. I always try to look for jewelry that can double as a self-defense weapon.
Draw on Eyebrows: I can’t go anywhere without drawing my eyebrows. A lot of beauty guides will suggest that you use a shade that’s a touch lighter than your natural hair color, but I like my eyebrows dark because it’s more dramatic. It’s my Liz Taylor meets chola.
Remember Your Magic Sticks: Bobby pins are super cheap insta-glam. You can use them to make suicide rolls, a ballerina bun, a pompadour of just about any size, or bumper bangs if you’re not willing to cut your hair. They’re like little needles of joy.
Love Your Hot Rods: Hot rollers get you to about any era of glam you want to. It’s really all a matter of how you brush your curls out. Lately I’ve been doing ‘50s style waves or I’ll run my fingers through the curls for a messy, grungy, baby doll look.
Black Hole Your Closet: My art teacher once told me that black isn’t color, but the absence of color. With that being said, black is my happy color. What I always try to do is make the black clothes compelling. I’ll show slivers of skin, or look for details that make a garment special, like a bow in the slit of my skirt or a coat with a nipped in waist. I mix polka dots and stripes. I wear tights under high-waisted shorts. The other day I wore all black with a giant pink fake flower in my hair. Now, that’s unexpected. That’s trashy.
Monique Quintana is the Editor-in-Chief of the literary blogazine, Razorhouse and the Beauty Editor at Luna Luna Magazine. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from CSU Fresno, and her work has been published or is forthcoming in Huizache, Bordersenses, and The Acentos Review, among others. She is a Pocha/Chicana identified mother, daughter, sister, lover, and teacher from California’s Central Valley.