When I was nine, I walked up the street in my hometown of Niceville, Florida, to a musty, crammed-full antique shop named The Little Old Ladies Trading Post. I bought a large bell (I think now) from the early 20th century; I'd been eying it for months. I paid eight dollars, from money I won in the local library's Halloween competition after my sister sewed me a scaly mermaid costume and did my hair and make to the hilt. I put that large clangy metal bell at my bedside and often thought about its past lives, its uses, purposes, and influences.
Like millions, my fascination with the past was initiated by things from it. Today, my analyses of the past still often hinge on objects, especially clothing. I'm an assistant professor of U.S. history and material culture at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. My work has appeared at smithsonianmag.com, Racked.com, theconversation.com, as well as in Winterthur Portfolio, The New England Quarterly, and most recently, Business History. I focus on material culture, urban history, capitalism, race and ethnicity, and gender and sexuality in my work.
My book, From Goodwill to Grunge: A History of Secondhand Styles and Alternative Economies (UNC Press, 2017) looks at how secondhand goods sold at thrift stores, flea markets, and garage sales came to be both profitable and culturally influential. By focusing on dress and clothing, the book shows how conservative and progressive social activists--from religious and business leaders to anti-Vietnam protesters and drag queens-- used the exchange of secondhand goods for economic and political ends. Artists and performers, from Marcel Duchamp and Fanny Brice to Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, all helped make secondhand style a visual marker for youth in revolt.
I am available as a historical content consultant for museums exhibits, films and television, and other visual formats.