Into This is a column that highlights up-and-coming fashion designers that the Teen Vogue style team is, well, into. This week, we highlight artist Jalena Webster, who updates vintage lingerie with natural dyes and embroidered poems.
Months ago, I was browsing a vintage store called House of Strut in Savannah, Georgia, when I came across a set of vintage slips with poetic phrases embroidered onto them. Immediately, I knew I needed to find out who the designer was behind the intricate pieces. I left a note for the store owner, and with the help of another student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, eventually connected with the designer—Jalena Webster, a former SCAD student who graduated in 2018 who has been dyeing lingerie and stitching her writing onto undergarments for the last year or so.
Jalena, who was born in Connecticut, where she lived in a 1920s house that was constantly under construction, developed an early interest in giving something old a new life. Moving around a lot—she also grew up in South Carolina, went to college in Georgia, and now lives in Austin—the 24-year-old says that living in different places has made her more adventurous and willing to try new things, especially when it comes to fashion.
It was in these experiences that she also learned to appreciate the “romance” and “elegance” of old things, finding her love for vintage and thrift shopping. “I’ve always had a taste for antique furniture and houses from the Victorian era. I feel like there’s so much attention to detail, especially with lingerie,” she tells Teen Vogue.
Her affinity for slip dresses started when she was 19. Since then she’s been collecting both new and old lingerie, including slips, bras, girdle shorts, and skirts, and she still continues to wear them, regularly pairing the lingerie with mom jeans and other pieces from the ’90s. “Traditionally lingerie has been about feeling sexy or wearing it for someone else, but I think lingerie should be worn for yourself, and you should feel confident, beautiful, and empowered in it,” she says.
While the slip-dress trend has been rising steadily, Jalena shares, “I always like to see trends come back after they’ve faded for a little bit, because I think that new designers are always going to find a way to make something fresh and new, even with an old style.” Her take on the trend is giving older slips that have been loved and worn a new life. And she does so by updating the vintage lingerie pieces with natural dyes and adding hand stitching and machine-embroidery details.
Spending time scouring local thrift stores for vintage slips mostly from the 1920s and ’40s, Jalena likes to find vintage pieces that are good quality and have special textures, like older lace, which is very detailed and intricate, and soft floral silks.
She also has a love for color and natural dyes because they’re more sustainable and have been around for hundreds of years, which makes her feel connected to something larger than herself. “If you’re using synthetic dyes, you have to use very harsh chemicals. But with natural dyes, the result is pleasant, as you don’t have full control over it,” she explains. Often, she uses avocados, onion skins, sandalwood, and more to dye the garments, opting for dreamy colors that resemble a sunset; her favorite dyed hues are oranges, pinks, and occasionally blues.
The other side of Jalena’s creative process is writing out her feelings. Making these pieces is a way of letting go, whether that’s releasing things from her past or letting go of a bad relationship. Some of the slips say things like: “You suck in bed,” “I fall in love too quickly,” and “To the girls after me who felt damaged when he left.” Using lowercase script letters, the honest and raw text could be seen as biting, clever commentary on modern romance.
To decide what phrases to put on the lingerie, Jalena revisits the pages of her writing, circling whatever she feels drawn to emotionally at that moment and what flows naturally together, sort of like a story. She also make it a point to include darker thoughts rather than happy ones, so that the words contrast with the daintiness of the lingerie. “Beyond the blissful colors there is a haunting meaning, the haunted memories of a love that only seemed to exist in my heart,” she says.
Her first collection, aptly titled “dirty laundry” and photographed on trees—“It was a way of airing out dirty laundry,” she says—was a response to a relationship in which she fell hard for a guy quickly, but he ended up tossing her aside for someone else. “The series was a way of exposing his actions without exposing who he is,” she says.
For Jalena, the slip dresses are a way to help get the anguish of the relationship out of her head, allowing her to accept it for what it was. And while each item could be read in its own way, the creative says that all of the pieces are meant to explore different dynamics of relationships.
The vulnerable writings seem to perfectly match the intimacy of the lingerie pieces she chooses. Plus, having the ability to combine all of her passions through this pursuit—fine art, poetry, and natural dyeing—is freeing for Jalena, who sees clothing as a means to spread her message. “When someone wears one of these pieces, I want them to feel the vulnerability that I have, but also feel really empowered,” she says. “I like that the pieces are relatable to other people and that we all go through different things and are vulnerable at different times.”
Currently, her pieces are only for sale through House of Strut, but one day Jalena hopes to create her own website and own a shop of naturally dyed repurposed goods.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue