Next up on the list of heroes – Michelle Eigenberger! I met Michelle through a search on Etsy. She had a storefront there where she sold vintage fabric. Perfect for those of us making antique-y looking flowers using old items, right? Instead of becoming a customer (sorry Michelle!), I became an admirer of all things her. Michelle can pull off cat-eye eyeliner on your average Tuesday and it looks awesome and badass and totally appropriate all at the same time. She has a style that is all her own, but seem 110% capable of hanging with the Old Boys (or, er… Brookfield Moms) club when thrown into their lair. And even though she’s smart enough to keep her head down and do great work at a day job that helps with health insurance and a stable income, she gives her baby, Bolted Vintage, 110% of her attention in the down time instead of laying on the couch like the rest of us.
As always, she answered a bunch of questions to see what we can do to grow up and be just like her.
Who do you want to be when you grow up? Are you this person yet?
I would certainly like to be that pink-haired vintage boutique owner that spends her days sewing odd things and playing dress up and scouring every last thrift store on the face of the planet. Some days I feel like that girl. Other days I feel like I need to vacuum my house, scrub the floors and stop buying new pairs of underpants to avoid doing the laundry.
What is your favorite part of your life?
I enjoyed everything about my life when my hair was magenta. Except I did not enjoy dying my roots constantly, so the magenta eventually had to go.
What’s the most annoying part of your day?
Feeling like there is so little time to do the “fun” parts of my job. I have a non-related, full-time job on the other end of the Earth, and the commuting and the working a 9-to-5 to pay the bills of it all can be a bit much. I am certainly thankful for steady employment (because I do not need any more excuses to go insane), but following your dreams can get a little cramped when it’s stuffed into the two days at the end of the week.
How do you handle a stressful day?
I go thrifting. Sometimes I go for a run, but usually I go thrifting. It’s such a great stress reliever, hunting through the racks for a vintage designer piece or the huge, HUGE! thrill of finding a 1960s full cupcake skirt tulle prom dress, languishing at the back of a dirty Salvation Army. I also find ironing calming, as well as soaking a bunch of vintage double-knit polyester dresses in a bath full of oxyclean. There really is something about watching 50-year-old stains disappear that can put a girl at ease.
What is the biggest secret to your success?
I don’t take myself too seriously. I am an equal opportunity purveyor of kitsch & couture. I don’t let every “Are you just selling old clothes?” comment get me down. I appreciate the smell of vintage, the hunt for vintage and the fact that I have the opportunity to curate a minute slice of history with every piece of clothing in my collection.
What is the biggest “duh” thing you do the rest of us don’t?
I avoid installing air conditioning and cable television in my house. I also eat a lot of vegetables and avoid all red meat & pork. But I watch a lot of network television and eat occasional chicken because chickens are jerks.
What was harder for you to accomplish than you expected?
Getting a job in my field after college! I mean, it wasn’t technically difficult to “find a job,” but I had these funny ideas that because I worked on the student newspaper at some dumb state school (GO WARHAWKS!) that I would get a job as an associate editor at a regional magazine or as a beat reporter at the metro newspaper. I landed a real doozy. We’ll save that for another time.
What comes easiest to you? Does this help or hinder your awesomeness?
Going out and doing what I want to do comes pretty easy, a habit I started in high school. I did so much stuff in high school, just because I figured I’d never really have such a unique opportunity again to cram so many experiences into four years. One day I just decided I wanted to sew a quilt, and a few weeks later I had stacks and stacks of vintage fabric piled up (and a finished quilt!). I decided I should sell some of my fabric, so I got a stall at the East Side Green Market, which then turned into selling fabric & clothing at the ESGM, and now I’m selling all over the Midwest and online. I also decided I wanted to go to Europe a few years ago, so I took my sister and we went. It’s the following through of it all, I guess.
Have you had the same goal(s) your whole life or do they change? If they change, how often?
Generally, I’ve always just wanted to be happy, fulfilled and not have to worry too much about money. The hows and whys and ways of it have certainly changed – I’ve had times I’ve wanted to be a doctor, detective, gymnast (ha.), pottery artist, travel writer, photographer for National Geographic and magazine editor. I would probably still be OK being half of those things.
What is your ratio of life-planning to life-happening?
I always, always have a micro-plan. I will always know how to get from the airport in Rome to a bus stop in the middle of Tuscany, but I have no idea how to say “CAN MY DUMB AMERICAN SELF PLEASE BUY A BUS TICKET?” in Italian.
What else should we know?
I was Greenfield’s Junior Miss Runner-Up in 2001.
Bonus question: Classy vintage is a growing trend, but stepping into a pop-up shop or brick and mortar joint can sometimes be intimidating for the uninitiated. What can you tell a potential shopper about shopping?
Don’t be apprehensive! We vintage shopkeepers are here to connect you with a piece that has traveled through time to make your acquaintance and fit you like nothing else ever has. We are here to help you find a great thing, so stop by, take it all in and have fun – try some things on! Look around! Feel what quality clothing is like (BUT PLEASE DON’T DUMP YOUR COFFEE ON ANYTHING). And remember that the things you are looking at are truly irreplaceable for the shopkeeper – another just like it probably no longer exists, if it ever did. Be realistic when trying on pieces and if you don’t think it will fit DON’T FORCE IT. If you pop a seam or bust a zipper, be honest and fess up.