Last week, I wrote an ode to my old T-shirts as a means of introducing one of my favorite stores, “The Fairey Godmother.”
My brother, Stephen, and I shopped there when we were teenagers, and we bought some pretty funky stuff. At the time, Stephen had a haircut that made him look a lot like George Harrison, so the retro suits and vintage bell-bottoms were perfect. Consider, for example, that he wears a buttercup yellow suit in one of our family Easter photographs.
I was just happy to find pants that were long enough. In addition to my more-normal assortment of T-shirts and plaid bell-bottoms I acquired through the years, I bought my costume for our musical my senior year at The Fairey Godmother, Stephen’s prom dates bought their dresses there, and my cousin bought his prom tux there (baby blue, if I remember correctly, with ruffles).
But this post isn’t about clothing. It’s about community.
Back when we shopped at The Fairey Godmother, the store was located in Harrisburg, in the actual city. It was small and narrow, packed to the brim with clothing, shoes, bags, jewelry. It was dark and probably seemed spooky to the average passerby. The sign was faded and the handwritten notes on the door may not have seemed welcoming.
A few weeks ago, trying to locate the store online to see if it still exists, I discovered that the store’s name is actually “Fairey Godmother’s Vintage Clothier.”
And that “e” in fairey is intentional.
You see, this was not your average vintage/retro/used clothing store. This store’s primary clientele was not high-schoolers like Stephen and me and our friends. It was the gay and lesbian crossdressing community in greater Harrisburg.
Yes, you read that correctly. The owner, Barbara Day, was literally the fairey godmother. (You can read more about this here, one of the few websites to mention the store.) She sold clothing, but she did more than that. She created a safe space. She was an advocate. She was a friend.
Barbara took a liking to my brother and remembered him years later when he stepped into the store with his wife. Barbara saw him come through the door, looked up, and said, “Well, look who it is.” It had been years, and she remembered him.
Maybe because he was memorably small–at the time–or maybe because he took seven girls to the prom his junior year, or maybe because he designed and sewed his own tuxes for both proms.
He’s a memorable guy. And I was his kid sister, even if I had fifty pounds and a good five inches on him.
The Fairey Godmother has since moved to a new location in a new town, but it’s still open. I tried to stop in a few weeks ago while in Pennsylvania, just to see if Barbara would remember me, or at least be able to place me as Stephen’s sister. I did find the store, and took a picture of the sign, but it’s only open two days a week, and only at particular times. Since we were heading back to Kentucky, I had missed my chance. But I peeked into the window, and made J do the same, shading our eyes to keep out the summer sun. I could see the narrow aisle, the racks of clothes, the jewelry cases, the shoes on the floor, the spiral staircase packed to the brim with clothing.
It was the same.
And that is where we shopped, sheltered teenagers that we were, getting a peek into a community we knew nothing about. Even then, though, I knew it was a special place.
Because it was where fairey godmothers live.