The Minimal Alien

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Joan Alice Gabriel is a fashion icon at the University of Windsor. Though that may read as a hyperbolic statement to those who have not spent time on the campus, I assure you that Joan's style is truly emblematic of decades gone by.

However, Joan is not uncritical vis-à-vis her own devotion to vintage clothing. She is a self-professed hoarder. "I used to dress strictly in 50s and 60s dresses," she tells me. "I cringe now at the thought but it helped me develop an eye for picking out vintage." She now dresses a bit more 70s but will never shy away from a 60s mod dress.  

Before I even knew who Joan was, I wanted to see what she was wearing. Without trashing athleisure too much in this interview, I will say that Joan's outfits were a breath of fresh of air in Dillon Hall, where I sat beside her in Sixteenth Century Non-Dramatic Literature.

Joan is presently finishing her degree in Creative Writing and English Literature (with a double minor in Women's Studies and History). "I can give unwanted lectures about post-modernist poetry while intoxicated more than I'd like to admit," she laughs. She journals nearly every day. Her dream is to publish a collection of poetry and a bionovel of sorts on Sylvia Plath. A lot of new information has been released on Plath and Ted Hughes in recent years, so she would love to analyze it at the graduate level.

When she's not working in retail at H&M at Devonshire, she spends her days with her cats, reading, or in the dusty rows of thrift stores. A Windsor café queen, she is particularly fond of the Green Bean. "That vegan rice and bean wrap is A+," she asserts. She also praises the Ottawa Street area for its cheap breakfast and cool bookshops.

I ask Joan what makes her think too hard, and she reveals she has OCD "in an actual medical way, so, everything." She can be very obsessive over words in particular and needs to spell them out multiple times once they get in her head. When I ask her what she wants people to know about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, she replies, "I just don't want people to question it." She occasionally needs to be reminded not to "try to control everything, but it's never out of a bad place,” just her brain telling her if the chairs are out of place her cats will get hurt or if the dishes are left out she will get an airborne illness.

Keep reading to discover the other information I have gathered on the charming 23 year old native of Brockville.

RS: What are the best things to do in your hometown?
JG: Anything with the view of the St Lawrence river. They've recently opened up a train tunnel that was closed my entire life, and you can walk through, which is pretty cool. It goes half the stretch of the town. Personally though, I just enjoy drinking iced coffee with my best friend Kaitlin, thrifting at the dirt cheap thrift stores (small towns rule for that) and being with my siblings.

RS: You were the firstborn of four children to working-class parents. Tell me about your upbringing.
JG: I think I really wanted to create some sort of identity that wasn't the uniform everyone else wore. I grew up in a very cliché, rural Ontario small town. I could walk the entire city I lived in, in about an hour and a half. I used to finish my shift at the movie theater and then spend hours in the nearby Goodwill picking up fabrics and sewing clothes to look like different Audrey Hepburn characters. I taught myself to sew really young. I never had a lot of money but spent a lot of time reading old books and watching classic films.

RS: What kinds of films?
JG: I remember watching Gone With The Wind on TV when I was around nine and wanting to wear that white and green dress so bad. As I got older thrift stores became a place where I could get [a bevy of] vintage with the limited money I had. You're not afraid to mess up because you only spent five dollars on [the item]. That opened doors for me to get creative with what I wore.

RS: That’s awesome! What music do you like?
JG: I was given a record player when I was sixteen by my grandparents which got me into older music. I became very influenced by classic rock and old blues singers. I listen to Lou Reed and Bruce Springsteen like I get paid to do it. I really like George Harrison's solo work post-Beatles but fell and ripped my knee open while listening to "Awaiting on You All" and now my knee hurts whenever I listen to it.

RS: Best concert you've been to?
JG: I saw My Chemical Romance when I was thirteen and I've been riding that high ever since.

RS: What can you tell us about your teenage years?
JG: I was so fucking bored as a teenager. I worked at a movie theater and did advanced classes but I think I always dreamed of living in other decades or places just because I only knew one way of life.

RS: Yet your young idealization of different decades accounted for their forces of oppression.
JG: The 50s were a horrible sexist, racist and just general shit time. I never liked that. People would often be shocked that I had such strong opinions because of how I dressed. Which is bullshit but people seem to think if you personally perform femininity to a strong degree you are weak. I never viewed it like that. The idea that womanhood or femininity is something we should not embrace is so awful. There is a lot to celebrate.

RS: What kind of people do you hang out with?
JG: Kind bisexuals. I think we flock to each other like moths to a porch light. All my close friends can be described as soft spoken but outspoken queer girls.

RS: Does bi-erasure bother you?
JG: I spent years just telling myself I would be okay with being perceived as what people assumed I was (straight), but it did take a mental toll on me. At a certain point I think I people will be more understanding of bisexuality but only if we talk about it. I talk about it too much now. I try not to care what other people think of me. It's hard but as long as I like the way I act, look and feel, I'm happy.

RS: I think that's so important.
JG: Not to sound like a Tumblr post circa 2014 but another woman's beauty isn't an absence of your own. I find inspiration in women I know (or just see) looking amazing or doing ambitious things. I don't want to compete in general, let alone for male approval, because, quite frankly, I like the disapproval of men.

RS: What are some of the weird comments you've received about your business?
JG: Capitalism creates the view that secondhand shopping or reselling is something "bad" or "dirty." I didn't think anyone would care that I sold vintage clothes I found but I got subtweeted by people about "bitches reselling thrift store items" as if the planet isn't already covered in textiles we will never be able to put to use.

RS: Or people say that "reselling is driving up prices in thrift stores."
JG: I can confirm that isn't happening … but the blame should then be placed on the chain thrift stores and not those trying to survive in the hell that is our capitalist state.

RS: How do you lead a sustainable lifestyle?
JG: I try my best to reuse everything I can and I don't use single-use plastic if I can help it. I see sustainable living as an ideal; I don't beat myself up if I forget to reject a straw or if I buy something wrapped in plastic. I just do the best I can and try to encourage others.

RS: How else does capitalism affect you?
JG: I'm aware of the limited action that can be done under capitalism, which thrives on environmental destruction. I think more pressure being put on big money companies that destroy our natural resources and exploit the oppressed is the way to go.

RS: I completely agree.
JG: The people in power don't give a shit and let pipelines destroy land that isn't even ours!!! [For me], being plant-based and living sustainable makes a huge difference but we need more radical action.

/// Joan plans on doing a few pop-up shops soon. In the meantime, you can browse her photos on her Instagram @theminimalalien. (The handle blends her love for environmental action with her love for the X Files.)

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