Grandma's closet is this woman's secret fashion weapon

Joanna Morrison can pinpoint the moment she fell in love with vintage fashion — she was 17, and her mum took her back-to-school shopping at Value Village.

'I love wearing weird things'

'I love fashion. I love wearing weird things. I love finding cool things,' says Joanna Morrison of Charlottetown, who collects and wears vintage fashion. (Dave Atkinson/CBC)

It's a beautiful fall day. The air is crisp. The sun peeks from behind the clouds. I check the address of the place I'm going.

This is the spot, a cute old house in Charlottetown that's been cut up into flats. I walk in and ring the bell.

"Hey there!"

A woman in her 20s pops out of her apartment up a long flight of stairs.

"Come on up!" she says.

This is Joanna Morrison. And judging by her makeup, hair, and dress, we've met here in about 1962.

I'm working on a new series for CBC P.E.I. called The Things We Do For Love. I'm talking to people about their passions — not the the things they do for work. I want to hear about the things they do for love.

'I just want to look like myself'

"I love clothes," says Joanna. "I love fashion. I love wearing weird things. I love finding cool things."

Morrison meets up with a photographer every few months to catalogue her new fashion finds with a fun photo shoot. (Dave Atkinson./CBC)

Joanna can pinpoint the moment she fell in love with fashion. She was 17, and her mum took her back-to-school shopping at Value Village.

"When I was younger, I was really concerned about being able to look like everyone else, being able to dress like everyone else. And when I started thrifting, I started to be like 'I want to wear something nobody else ever has.' So that morphed into me not wanting to look a thing like anyone else. And now I'm finally at the point where I just want to look like myself. Which is, like, a mix of the two."

Joanna found herself moving away from the more disposable fashion at the mall and toward vintage, like the dress she's wearing now.

"It really looks like an old, thick curtain to me," she says with a laugh. "It's just this beautiful brown floral pattern. It feels really thick. It feels really sturdy. It was actually made by my great-grandmother, which is really special."

Great-grandma was a terrific sewer. Whenever Joanna's mother or grandmother wanted an outfit, all they had to do was point at a photo in the Sears catalogue.

'A very different style'

Joanna found this dress this summer in her grandma's closet when was visiting Cape Breton for a family wedding.

'I see it in my head, and I want to put it in a picture,' says Morrison of her fashion inspiration. (Jake Arsenault Photography)

"The day of the wedding I woke up and I said, 'I don't want to wear anything that I brought for the wedding.' So I called up my grandma and I said, 'Grandma, can I maybe borrow a dress?' and she was like, 'Yes! Come on over!' She loves it when we go through her closet."

Grandma's closet has been Joanna's ultimate source for well-made, funky vintage clothes.

"I found this dress, and I tried it on, and I was like 'Well this is obviously it.'"

This dress comes complete with memories. Joanna's grandmother wore it the day she brought Joanna's mother home from the hospital in the early 60s. She feels a connection with her grandmother when she wears it.

Morrison likes to play with different fashion looks in clothes and makeup. (Kaitlyn Lawrence)

"She loves fashion, like me. She loves eccentric pieces. She's got a very different style, very loud. She loves bright floral patterns, she likes wearing bright colours. She's never without her bright red lipstick. She's the funniest person with the funniest sense of style, and I think I got that from her."

Striking a pose

Joanna searches her own closet for shoes and a jacket. She and a friend are heading to the Charlottetown waterfront for a photo shoot. Photography is a big part of her relationship with fashion.

'It was actually made by my great-grandmother, which is really special,' says Morrison of this dress, (Jake Arsenault Photography)

"Right now I'm the model in the pictures, but that's not anything that was ever interesting to me. I never set out to model or anything. I would much rather be behind the camera. But to me it's just — I see it in my head, and I want to put it in a picture. You know what I mean?"

"I made this," I say.

"Yeah, exactly," she says.

Her phone buzzes. "Jake the photographer is here."

Ten minutes later, we're strolling along the walkways in Confederation Landing Park in Charlottetown with Jake Arsenault. He looks the part of a photographer. Little red toque. Long black coat. He and Joanna are already laughing and chatting.

'We're kind of going for an old-timey look with the vintage dresses and the sidewalk and the trees and everything," explains Joanna. "A little bit old-fashioned."

"Try right there, by that light pole," says Jake.

Joanna strikes a pose while Jake fires off photos. If she's bothered by the clumps of tourists strolling past, she doesn't show it.

'It's all fun for me'

"I still have to give myself a pep talk before I do a photo shoot," she says.

'I see it in my head, and I want to put it in a picture,' says Morrison of styling photo shoots that include vintage fashions. (Kaitlyn Lawrence)

"You don't seem bothered at all," I say.

"Most times people get some joy out of it. You kinda have to be like, 'We're all happy here. There's nothing to be ashamed of!' We're just trying to be creative."

"That's fun," I say. "From one end to the other of fashion, you enjoy this. You love this."

"I do love it! It's all fun for me."

It's fun for Jake, too. You can tell they enjoy working together.

They try to meet every month or two for a shoot — there's always a new look to capture, a new outfit to try.

Grandma's got a big closet.

More P.E.I. news


Dave Atkinson is a children's author and writer living in Charlottetown.


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