Introducing our first personal style edition of Once Worn with Sarah Jean Culbreth. Sarah Jean currently works at Beacon's Closet, interns at The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute, and will soon be starting the Fashion and Textile Studies MA program at FIT.
Sarah Jean's unique sense of style, beauty regime and ability to replicate historical garments are just a few of the many reasons we wanted to feature her on Inside The Archive. Read the in-depth Q&A below and make sure to follow her on instagram @sister_wife.
When/why did you become interested in fashion history and wearing vintage/historical clothing
When I was young, my mother and grandfather took me to see the Fashion Museum in Bath, England which really piqued my interest in fashion history. It was exhilarating to see clothes from hundreds of years ago and to imagine the wearer of such complicated and beautiful dresses. I distinctly remember feeling bewildered when I saw my first bustle.
I started wearing vintage clothes in high school, mainly because I didn’t like what the other kids were wearing. My mom taught me how to sew and so I started altering clothes that I found at thrift stores. Watching old movies helped me learn silhouettes and patterns from different eras- I was always on the lookout for 1960s dresses to emulate Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour.
I started recreating historical clothing to learn more about how garments were constructed and what it’s like to wear them. It is one thing to recognize a 1860s day dress, but quite another to feel the sway of a crinoline.
How would you describe your personal style
I think that it’s a reflection of my interests.
Who or what has influenced your style most
What I wear is most influenced by research, whether it’s directly or subconsciously. During a recent visit to the New Orleans Museum of Art, I saw a photograph- The Sketch by Getrude Kasebier- for the first time. I had been studying the Photo-Secession movement and was surprised to see a Kasebier photo at the museum. After a moment, I looked down and saw that I was dressed almost exactly like Beatrice Baxter, the subject of the photo.
What is your most treasured item in your wardrobe
The practical side of me says my most treasured item is my black oxfords that I wear every day. I’m on my feet nearly all day and comfortable shoes are essential.
But the other, more romantic, side of me treasures a pair of beautiful beaded pants that my boyfriend brought home for me. They look to be mens cotton pants from the late 19th century and have mysterious blue and white glass beading down the legs. Because I have no information regarding their history or purpose, I like to imagine that they come from a Native American trader.
Where do you find style inspiration
Currently, I am most inspired by dance- specifically Balanchine’s Apollo and Graham’s Appalachian Spring. And the work of strong, creative women like O’Keeffe, Karinska, and my friend Bunny is always on my mind. For me, choosing what to wear for the day is driven more by a feeling than anything else.
How do you see your style evolving
I think my style will evolve every day for the rest of my life. There is really no way to know where it’s going because as my realm of knowledge expands, my appreciation for different eras and cultures will affect the way that I dress.
Describe your beauty routine
My routine is simple and, at risk of sounding predictable, a little old-fashioned. I wash my hair once a week with a pine tar shampoo and I moisturize with a jojoba- frankincense- lavender oil concoction. I comb and braid my hair every morning, brush my teeth three times a day, and floss before bed. I don’t wear any makeup but, once I work up the courage, I plan to start wearing thick kohl eyeliner everyday.
Do you have a signature piece or heirloom that you wear often
I don’t feel fully dressed without jewelry- I love the sound and weight of my stacked necklaces and earrings.