How singer and writer Mollie Kaye turned her love for all things vintage into a community event.
By David Lennam | Photos by Jeffrey Bosdet
You really can’t miss her, especially in a town where dressing to the nines means matching fleece, Lululemon leggings and Blundstone’s (or Birkenstocks in the summer).
Mollie Kaye is living, breathing vintage — stepping out of a time machine as June Cleaver in hat, gloves, requisite handbag and patterned pandemic mask to match, as magnificent and bubbly as a bottle of 1959 Taittinger.
For the past 18 months, the 52-year-old singer and writer has been making every Tuesday a throwback in the head-to-toe style of a kinder, gentler time, beetling around town, like a mannequin from Macy’s circa 1955, inviting conversation and plenty of stares.
“I come from the States and I’m Jewish and I was raised in a family where the women were pretty outspoken and willing to talk to strangers,” she says. “I realized I was never going to really fit in here in Victoria, so I decided to ‘fit out.’
Turned-out Tuesdays was an invitation Kaye sent herself to doll up, mingle and show up as her authentic self.
“All of a sudden I was meeting amazing people doing amazing things that I never knew were here. It was a real lesson. You really do attract whatever you put out there.”
And Tuesdays have changed everything.
“I feel like when I get dressed up in this way, it calls out aspects of my character that are authentic but specifically tailored to the character of the gracious, put-together gal who thinks it’s important to show respect for yourself and community by wearing something on purpose and snazzy when leaving the house.”
Kaye turns out in fully accessorized and always matching sweater sets, a wiggle dress, kitten heels, brooches and pillbox hat. Her window is 1948-1963. The ’50s.
“I have some wool, cotton, but I’m weak for vintage cashmere. And the hats are often wool or fur felt. I live for wool.”
“In a perfect world, I’d have a walk-in freezer to store all of my woollens.”
She sources her wardrobe from thrift stores, second-hand shops and vintage fairs.
“I love the thrill of the hunt, so I accumulated a bit too much stuff. Now I’m selling it off on Etsy, but it pains me to part with things. I’m a real addict. I just love making people smile, and that’s my litmus test for buying anything. Will it make people smile? If so, it’s worth the two, five or 10 bucks.”
“We lost something in Western culture when everyone stopped wearing hats.”
THE REAL KAY’S CORNER
Karin Knowlton knows vintage. Her Cook Street Village shop, Kay’s Korner, is all about funky vintage furniture and bric-a-brac and truly transforms into Kaye’s Korner when Mollie pops in each Tuesday. And, if you want to catch her in action, that’s been a go-to spot since the summer of 2019 when this whole social experiment began.
The day the pair met, Mollie was probably wearing a light blue Madras plaid shirtwaist dress from 1958, found in a shop in Columbus, Ohio, where she grew up.
“She just walked in here one day,” recalls Knowlton. “I was gobsmacked, and I said, ‘Wow! What’s with your getup?’ ”Kaye returned every Tuesday, “and it’s been a thing ever since” —a thing that Kay’s Korner customers and followers on Facebook and Instagram get excited about.
How Kaye will be turned out this week. A cape? A stole? Something in fur?
“She’s got the figure and the looks to go with it. Did you see her Catwoman outfit?” asks Knowlton.
“That was beyond hot. She borders that line between hot and the conservative ’50s. There’s something very sexy about being covered up and festooned. She’s a kick, fun and flirty … and she’s genuine.”
Kaye favours the middle-aged housewife, but there are excursions into glamour queen, senior prom sweater girl, even the occasional calendar pin-up. But her favoured style is definitely suburban, apron-clad housewives with apple pie cooling on the windowsill.
“The ’50s,” she says with an approving Ahhhh, “the ’50s are so iconic. It’s like people have this embedded in their psyche. This is mom, this is grandma, this is what ‘nice ladies’ look like. You can trust a lady dressed this way because she’s here to be kind, nurturing, helpful, generous … plus I think it’s erotic as hell.”
The first time Kaye dressed up was to help a friend promote her vintage fair. But when she ran out of postcards advertising the fair she found it was her business card everyone wanted.
“That was a bit of an ‘aha’ moment.”
Even a year of lockdown hasn’t ruffled her. In fact, it may have ironed out some of the wrinkles a hectic pre-COVID schedule demanded.
“In February of 2020, I was go, go, go — I performed a sold-out stage show,” she says of her musical satire, which was staged at Hermann’s Jazz Club and a secret Chinatown location. (She describes herself as kind of like the love child of Randy Rainbow and Doris Day.)“I was dancing Argentine tango twice a week, I was socializing with friends … and I was ready for a break.”Ready or not, it came.
And for Mollie it came dressed to the nines. Kaye isn’t appalled by the anti-fashion vibe worn in Victoria but hopes her retro-fit Tuesdays inspire more of us to rock out our best looks.
“Like, wow, it does feel great to look like a million bucks. Wear your suit! Wear your dress! Wear your hat! Wear your interesting necklace! And talk to strangers. You’ll feel so much better.”
And just because you’ll want to ask her, “Mollie, what’s with all the hats?”“Oh, the hats. I’ve always loved old hats. In the beginning, I was a collector of old men’s hats: bowler hats, straw boaters, top hats. I realized I only had one or two ladies’ hats, so I went and got a few more.Then they just started to find me. I have about 90.
We lost something in Western culture when everyone stopped wearing hats. There’s symbolism in hats and function too. But mostly, it was a signal that you were honouring the public sphere by showing up splendid.