There’s an old part of town southwest of Dallas, called Oak Cliff. The oldest homes are stately, dark, and Victorian. They sit on large plots of land or high up on hills. The neighborhood has always been older families, as well as working class. It is now predominantly Mexican, with expansive Mexican immigrant communities. It has since plateaued economically but went through ten years of solid gentrification. In the entire metroplex, this was the first place to embrace the hipster aesthetic: farm to table dining; breweries; weekend markets; poetry-reading, folk music-playing bookstores.
As the home values have skyrocketed and new housing has taken shape around the walkable shops and dining, the poorest have moved further away from the center. Out of these years of transition, a tiny old Catholic church became an artist’s den, so to speak. The motley crew of people no longer able to afford their usual evening haunts began to assemble themselves through this church. It had always hosted AA meetings and various community outreach events. A smaller subset of friends naturally emerged. This group now ranged in age from early twenties to late thirties -a few having known one another from high school, weed hookups, or music gigs. Overtime, an idea began to manifest among them. They could use the basement of the church to host an art show. Individually they all had something to share, sell, or show. All they’d have to do is pool money for the postcard size flyer then place it onto windshields and into hands; and use any and all social media to promote the night. Raffle tickets would be sold at the door and the money made would be split evenly.
Frankly, they’re just broke, minimum wage employees with barely a running car between them, all desiring to be recognized and make some cash. The musician would be the house DJ with CDs to sell. Otherwise, the basement would be evenly divided by booths and displays like a convention: painter’s art; photographer’s prints; handmade goods. The very center of the basement had an elevated platform, which would be the makeshift runway for the fashion designers. These two fashion designers were the only ones needing non-paid volunteers. They ran an ad on Craigslist, because that’s where every wannabe of any sort is lurking for a gig.
There’s an exclusive enclave of Dallas called Park Cities; within it sits the high-end shopping center, Highland Park Village. Inside the Starbucks there, a striking blond sits in one of the lounge chairs with her laptop propped up in front of her. She’s in between model work and in between photoshoots. She hasn’t signed with Kim Dawson or Wilhemina agencies, because she is just shy of height requirements by two inches. On a curious whim, she opens Craigslist and weeds through the obvious scams and cheap tricks. She finds an ad looking for volunteers to model one outfit during what sounds to be an art gallery opening. Though it’s in Oak Cliff, this doesn’t deter her as the place has become a date destination over the last couple of years. The fashion designer immediately responds and would love for her to participate. The model is given the meet and greet date of all the artists and their volunteer help; everyone can organize; measure display space; measure model’s bodies for wardrobe; trial run the show.
The church in Oak Cliff sits a few blocks off a main freeway, a much farther drive past the tourist section she is familiar with. She parks in the gravel parking lot, enters through the main sanctuary doors, goes all the way to the back and down a narrow set of stairs. The basement space is just one long stretch of polished concrete floors with three thick columns running down the center. The kitchen section seems to be set up well for distributing refreshments and enough foldable seating is already owned by the church. A few tables are left assembled for this meeting. The two designers end up with six models, so they each get to envision three pieces. The costuming idea is entirely organic and low-budget. No additional materials will be bought, so they’ll mainly use household items. The model is slightly mortified to hear this plan but has faith the dress will be imaginative and truly creative; she has in mind all sorts of shapes and drapery. But then again, pleather is horrific in any form. She decides to be a professional about it, stiff upper lip, and not bail on these desperate people. Sizing up the crowd, it’s obvious she has the most professionalism, beauty, and experience.
She is grateful for her foresight the evening of the show. She decided upon a tight, super short, spaghetti strap, black dress, as its minimalism will easily hide under anything she is being given to wear. This isn’t her first rodeo. It is both humbling and humiliating, though, to learn she will wear a literal trash bag. No amount of creativity has been invested. They may as well have put a hole the bottom and inverted like a makeshift dry-cleaning bag. There is no difference in where her head pokes out. Her waste is tied with the actual drawstring of the bag. There’s no proper gathering or tailoring or folding of material. Here she thinks, ‘Only I could pull off being in the ugliest, most unoriginal of designs.’ Was the joke on her from the beginning? The other outfits are so well made. The most bitchin item, a paper maché bustier constructed with sturdy white picnic plates is being worn by a girl with teeny tiny elevated bumps all over her face and body, some sort of dermatitis. The model feels as though she is dancing with the fleas.
What really makes the experience mortifying is the fact that she is actually the only real model among the volunteers, yet manages to walk down and then back up the wrong sides of the stage when it is her turn, thus creating a head-on collision effect with the other person on the stage. This depresses her, to look the least professional. The models have been asked to linger after the show so they can meet and greet with the 100+ guests crowded down in the basement. Layers upon embarrassment prevent any desire to stick around. As soon as the model is off the stage, she beelines for the changing area and yanks off the trash bag, leaves the heap, gathers her things and runs up the stairs and out of the church while the entire event is still in full throttle. No ‘Byes,’ no ‘Thank Yous.’ Please, let no memory linger. The pit in her stomach would be unbearable if she didn’t have a date and a place to be. She brushes her hair and powders her nose while she is driving.
There’s a private party back in Highland Park Village, in the closed off, upstairs part of Bistro 31. When she arrives, her date is seated in a half booth in between girl friends on either side. He is in a blue and white pinstripe suit with a dark blue bowtie. When he sees her, he shoos his friends aside so she can squeeze into the booth. He isn’t sure about her story because if it were genuine, and the fashion show label worthy, he would’ve heard about it and been invited. He had grilled her about how she got the gig in the first place. She only said she was doing a favor for a friend, admitting to the volunteering part; never the Craigslist part. She vows to herself to never use Craigslist again, for anything.
All of the people here seem to be long, languid, and flowy; a truly classy ensemble. Diamond weighted hands hold flutes of champagne. Patek Philippe wrists hold well-aged scotch. Though she knows her black dress choice was useful for earlier, now she feels downright slutty in this crowd. This would be the second to last time she goes on a date with pinstripe suit man. He politely said he wasn’t interested in seeing her any longer. A few weeks later, she heard through a mutual acquaintance that he found her to be ‘below his station.’
Maybe she is white trash.