Born in the digital age on a mission to connect with the past
The average number of people creating a social media account increases every day. As you read this, 2.46 billion people around the world are uploading pictures and sharing thoughts about what’s most important to them. It used to be that if you wanted to share stuff like that with someone you’d call the landline, send a letter, or pull out a photo album of your recent vacation to Mount Rushmore and sit in a conversation for hours.
But it’s different for the 80 million Millennials who never lived in an analog world. They were practically born with an email address, a username and a set of passwords. Armed with appropriate hashtags and engaging content, many Millennials are using their established online presence to turn historical subjects of unique interest to them into today’s trending topics.
Taylor McGuire, for example, uses her posts to advocate for vintage textile preservation.
At just 23, Taylor has her own online vintage apparel shop called West of the Barbary Fig, which she manages out of Corona, California. Her inventory is not ordered from a catalog. Everything was picked by her own two hands out of yard sales, thrift stores or estate sales she visited on the Two Lane back roads of America and brought back to California to sell to her almost 50,000 Instagram followers. Each piece is a testament to the history and craftsmanship of American-made clothing.
“I’ve always had a genuine interest in era clothing, but I struggled to talk to others about it because of my social anxiety,” explains Taylor. “I began picking as a way to collect what I am passionate about while forcing myself to speak up and negotiate deals with other pickers. I built up my confidence and created an online market for advertising and selling my finds where I can be expressive and share the journey of how they came to be.”
Taylor started out small and simple, collecting vintage quilts that brought back happy memories of time spent with her grandmother. Once she had a dozen of those, some dating from the late 1800s, she started collecting 1950s denim, canvas mailbags and old farm dresses. She would pick items in any condition but was particularly drawn to the pieces that others would typically discard but which she felt could be preserved.
“Repairing has become such an addiction! I’ve taught myself how to patch and darn to save bags and clothing that would otherwise get tossed. I just completed a complex repair on a 1950s green sweater that I am quite proud of. It’s all to honor the original piece and bring it new life.”
When stock is running low, it’s time to hit the road. Taylor pulls a map from her glove box and begins to scope out her next adventure. She has already traveled across America twice, meeting like-minded friends along the way.
“When we go out picking together, we prefer to roll down back roads that weave through the unique small towns of America because they not only have the best picking potential, but they also have the best stories, many of which have yet to be shared with the world. That’s why I get so excited when I discover a new pick or place because I get to share them with my followers and bring attention to some overlooked communities and the treasures they hold.”
Although Taylor’s store is thriving on the opportunities the digital age provides, her traveling and methods remain true to the generations that came before her. Taylor and her back road crew kick it old school, following a paper map instead of talking to Siri, camping out instead of making a hotel reservation, and playing pool with locals in dive bars instead of sipping drinks in fancy cocktail bars.
“Traveling is a great way to get to know yourself and discover something new. It’s liberating to toss a duffle into the back of a car that’s full of only what you need as you’re on the road to find what you want.”
Most recently, on a two-week road trip from Milwaukee back to the West Coast, Taylor and her friends stopped in Lyman, Iowa because it was their friend’s last name. It led to not only discovering a unique small town but to meeting a retired beekeeper living in a 1940s grocery store who had an impressive collection of welding hats — something that was special to her friend. Serendipitous moments like that add meaning to a piece and value to its story.
“There’s a soul connection you feel when you meet the people that have held these pieces for decades. It’s through these experiences I am able to connect the pick to a future buyer. Since my store is purely online, it’s not possible for them to touch the piece before purchasing. I make it a point to have an Instagram conversation with my followers about its origin and where I picked it.”
Some people collect license plates or oil cans, others restore antique cars, old furniture or textiles. Whether you keep them in your barn or share them with thousands of people on social media, you are connecting the past to the present by preserving the craftsmanship of a bygone generation. For Taylor, the technology she grew up with allows her to spread her passion for the things that came before her time and to give those things a new relevance.
“If I can steer my generation in the right direction it would be towards the older, less traveled Two Lane roads for they hold the greatest treasures. Jump on one, meet people along the way, and document your experience to share online. It will inspire others to do the same, and keep the important stories of yesterday alive in a time when we need authentic connection more than ever.”