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Tell The Tale

Tell the Tale Katie Sutcliffe's (Mom's) Class Ring

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Junior high is rarely the bastion of fashion in a person’s life. In rural Illinois circa 1997, we must have known this on some level, as much as any adolescent can claim self-awareness. But there was a confidence just the same. On school days, fashion meant No Fear T-shirts for the boys and denim, velour, or corduroy overalls for the girls. Flared jeans as a throwback to our parents’ college years paired with Doc Marten sandals, tie-dyed tees, and self-made hemp necklaces on any breezy Midwestern summer night. And, only when our mothers really insisted did we pull out the add-a-pearl necklaces and charm bracelets for a birthday brunch at the country club.

Maybe it was the confusion of puberty or maybe it was the fact that our school was located in a not-even-a-dot-on-the-map town in Central Illinois. Regardless, this weird blend of Shania Twain meets the Grateful Dead meets Samantha Parkington pretty much summed up who we were. A little country. A little hippie. Mostly just living large in a small town, trying on different combinations and slowly piecing together projections of self, one accessory at a time.

I remember being embarrassed by my parents plenty, but their clothing was never an issue. When your dad wears the standard golf polo, khaki Dockers, and topsiders (even to mow the yard), there isn’t too much to worry about. My mom always seemed ahead of the fashion curve, but in junior high, it wasn’t her Chanel bag or Trina Turk shift that I asked to borrow. Somewhere in the depths of her cavernous jewelry box, I discovered my mother’s high school class ring.  Round and brassy gold, it wasn’t your typical Jostens fare with a gem vaguely resembling your birthstone. No, this ring was different. St. Mary’s Academy, a boarding school for girls, delivered a hunk of gold, pressed with the school’s crest, made to endure the aftermath of a Catholic education. And, in the end, it wasn’t the sentimental value or the fact that my mother wore this ring as she processed across the graduation stage in Nauvoo, Illinois. It wasn’t that I was looking ahead to the end of my own high school education, trying on a symbol of progress and completion. And, it certainly wasn’t that this ring was likely blessed by the Benedictine sisters of St. Mary Monastery. It just so happens that this ring was physical proof that my own mother graduated high school in 1969.

Sixty-nine.

Two numbers that when smushed together nearly made seventh grade guys’ heads explode. Never mind that I had no earthly idea what was so special about that pair of numbers. Sixty-nine had something to do with sex, and the boys would love it. So, I asked permission to wear it daily.

It was in these early years that I discovered that what makes the boys sit up is never what you planned for. Dr. Pepper Lip Smacker chapstick? Hardly. Abercrombie & Fitch perfume? Forget it. But, the etchings of a couple numbers on your mother’s class ring turned out to be a game changer. For Cliff, Tyler, Joe, Tim, it was as if I’d smuggled a porno into the hallways of our small school. “Cool as shit,” they said. “Baller.” “I wish my mom had graduated in ‘69.”

It would take until college, at least, for these boys to outwardly acknowledge that somewhere in their own fathers’ armoires were cool-as-shit relics of their own. A guitar, perhaps. A fringed vest from that epic frat party at the U of I. Maybe even a list of digits straight from ’69 of all the Debbies and Rondas and Pattys a guy could ask for. But, all that was a long time coming for my peers. In seventh grade, I had found the golden ticket to five minutes of middle school fame. —katherine sutcliffe

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Tell the Tale Julia Rubin's Handed-Down Jewels

I can’t quite pinpoint what exactly makes jewelry so much more personal than a beloved sweater or a pair of shoes, but perhaps it’s the permanence of metal and stones and even plastic—the fact that they don’t wear in the same way fabric or leather do. Maybe it’s because of how a ring hugs your finger, or because of the pleasant but present weight of a pile of bracelets. Jewelry is undeniably there in a way that something like a bag is not.

When I was three years old, my mom took me to get my ears pierced. “She asked me to!” she would later tell my skeptical father. Whether or not that’s true, that’s probably where my jewelry history began. I remember the pink stud hearts of my childhood, as well as the little silver hoops I wore throughout middle school. I received jewelry on birthdays and holidays, but some time around the end of my teen years, I realized I didn’t really like new jewelry. Well, most new jewelry at least.

My pieces can generally be separated into three categories: those that have been handed down, those that I bought while traveling, and those that cost less than $10 and add a bit of levity to my mostly serious-looking stash. The ones that have been handed down are obviously my favorite because jewelry with a story is the best kind.

A few years ago, my great-grandmother passed away and left bags of costume jewelry that the other women in my family had no interest in digging through. You see, Grandma Edie was known for her gaudy style—puff-painted sweatshirts and rings with dangling dice. But I’m not the most understated, so I dove right in and found three watches that I’ve worn every day since. One has an engraved message from my great-grandpa on the back, dated 1944. It is without a doubt the most cherished thing I own.

I also always wear a ring my dad gave my mom during their engagement, as well as one of her now-discarded wedding settings—she likes to switch up rings every few years, though luckily my dad has remained a constant—set with a fake sapphire (great pro tip for old settings, by the way). I have other wonderfully eighties staples courtesy of her, like gold button earrings and a segmented bracelet.

Whenever I visit my parents, I make sure to do a little sweep of my mom’s collection. There’s not much left that she’s willing to part with or that I’m itching to steal, but from time to time I do find a hidden gem. And as adulthood has made it clear I’m not destined to live in the same place as my family, it’s a comfort to have a piece of home—or several—with me at any given moment. —julia rubin

Tell the Tale Maggie's Jennifer Meyer Key Necklace

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I’m BRCA2 positive and do a lot of advocacy work for women like me who are at a higher risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancers during our lifetimes than the general population (87% lifetime chance for breast cancer and close to 50% lifetime chance for ovarian cancer). Being the daughter of an incredibly strong breast cancer fighter—my mother is currently in the midst of her third battle with the disease, a fight that has spanned three decades—I took action when I learned of my mutation and almost immediately underwent a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy and a total hysterectomy. 

I’m considered unique in the community of “previvors” (that’s what we mutants call ourselves) because I opted not to have reconstruction surgery after my mastectomy. That means I am flat—totally flat (which is why loose, flowy tops look so good on me!). My body’s renovation and my resulting sense of empowerment have led me to be a vocal and visible resource for the cause. I field telephone calls from women who have questions about surgery and help women in their recovery process—I think I heal a little more each time I speak with someone and hear them start to laugh through their tears and fears. I did a graphic, scars-and-all shoot that circulated nationwide in an article in Fitness magazine last October and flashed across TV screens during two CNN interviews. I am ridiculously proud of it for another reason, too: It shows my six-pack, which is something I can brag about in the Army (my chosen profession).

However, the greatest tribute to my choice has come from Hollywood: I was asked to be a body double for the character Cheyanne, an exotic dancer who develops breast cancer and has to get a double mastectomy, in the Jennifer Aniston-produced Lifetime movie Five. So, not only was I acting, I was also being told that my body was fit enough to fill in for an exotic dancer—not bad for a 30+ mom. My daughter, Emily, and I hopped on a plane to L.A. and were spoiled with treats and treatments by Jennifer Aniston’s production team. It was amazing. My first acting contract—and probably only—included a nudity clause: My part comes during the intimacy scene between Cheyanne and her husband post-surgery.

At the end of the day Kristin Hahn, Jennifer Aniston’s business partner, came up to me with the ladies from Lifetime and handed me a gift: It was a gold and diamond necklace shaped like a key with a number 5 as the teeth. They had a few of them made by Jennifer Meyer, a designer who I learned is also Toby Maguire’s wife, for the leading ladies involved in the project. After the performance that I put on—apparently I stand still well—they felt compelled to include me in the circle of women. It was amazingly touching. It is by far the most sentimental piece of jewelry that I own because it represents the day that I leaped out of my comfort zone and owned my new body. —margaret smith

Is there a story behind your favorite fashion score that you’re itching to share? Email us at info@ofakind.com.

Tell the Tale Erica's Lulu Frost Earrings

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In 2005, right after college, I moved to New York without a job. I wanted to work in magazines—I was going to work in magazines—but I just had to be there if I was going to land an editorial assistant position. That’s what people told me, anyway.

Well, people were right. After months selling shearlings at a Madison Avenue shop and interning at Vitals—which RIPed under my, er, watch—I landed the job. I was basically rich—$30,000 a year rich—and felt completely, unreasonably justified in buying myself not one but three congratulatory presents: a digital camera to document the last couple pre-iPhone years (promptly lost the charger), a denim Marc by Marc bubble skirt (still wear), and a pair of custom Lulu Frost earrings.

My friend Persis and I went to a GenArt shopping night—one of those events where the free flavored-vodka drinks make your credit card leap to your fingers. Lisa Salzer of Lulu Frost had a booth, selling jewelry made from room numbers she’d sourced from the Plaza Hotel, pre-renovation. Nothing felt more classy—or more New York—than Plaza earrings. (Yes, very Eloise, I know.) But the thing that really pushed me over the edge (aside from anything in a plastic party cup) was getting to pick out each of the little components and hearing the crazy-charming designer say the earrings would be made just for me.

I’m pretty sure Lisa and I corresponded on her Dartmouth email address, and I’m positive that I picked up the finished product from her apartment—an experience that felt so overwhelmingly cool and insider-y that I told absolutely everyone who I thought would give half a damn. It’s one of the stories that Claire and I came back to again and again when we were cooking up Of a Kind—that emotional connection and sense of loyalty that I felt. I will always be a Tim Hamilton super-fan after the Saturday-afternoon-long interview he submitted himself to for the first (100-word?) fashion story I wrote for Details, and my heart skips a beat whenever I see a bunny bag by Mandy Coon (Of a Kind’s first designer!). But Lisa Salzer of Lulu Frost? She’ll always be my first. —erica

Wanna share the story behind a piece that means something to you? Email us about it at info@ofakind.com.

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