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Phoebe Verkouw Proves Beauty Can Come from Ashes

She knows that her style isn’t for everyone, but Phoebe hopes to inspire people to dress more colourfully and have more fun with their clothes.

Phoebe, The Dress Fiend, embracing the summer sunshine

Phoebe Verkouw, perhaps better known by her Instagram handle The Dress Fiend, has found extraordinary success as a sustainable fashion influencer.

She has a combined following of nearly 165,000 on Instagram and Tiktok and has been featured in a monthly fashion segment on Good Day Sacramento for the past 10 years.

And, those are just the stats.

The thrifted and vintage looks she shares on social media feature showstopping hats and colourfully eye-catching designer pieces.

And, though from the outside, it looks like Verkouw has a perfect life, she is quick to share that her life hasn’t always been pretty.

“I’m celebrating almost five years clean and sober. Alcohol and drugs had a tight grip on my life for a long time, and I should have died from my addiction. But thanks to AA, therapy, and my art, I came through the other side.”

Six years ago, Phoebe’s life looked very different from what it does today. Instead of frequenting charity thrift stores and antique fairs, she visited homeless shelters and emergency rooms.

“My father passed away from alcohol addiction at 42. I overlooked that, and for a while, I could drink normally. But then I couldn’t, and it became super destructive for me. I realised that I had these fiend-like qualities in my DNA and that I was drawn to alcohol and drugs. But eventually, through a lot of hard work, I turned those obsessive qualities toward fashion and The Dress Fiend was born.”

Phoebe in beautiful vintage pale peach coloured dress and matching gloves
Phoebe wearing a 1950’s Suzy Perette dress

Verkouw got her love of fashion from her mum, Deb Verkouw. Deb was a single parent and they were poor, but she was an excellent seamstress. She made some of Phoebe’s clothes and took her shopping at thrift stores where she taught her what fabrics to look for and how to find quality pieces.

Phoebe said, “I also got the artsy and creative side of styling from my mum. I read W Magazine and Vogue in the ‘90s. We were into sustainability before sustainability was a thing.”

Verkouw segued that love of art to a degree in art history and later at a job at the Crocker Art Museum. Though she was made fun of in her school years for her non-conventional way of dressing, working at a museum was a new experience. It gave her an incredible platform to express herself authentically through fashion.

At the museum, Phoebe regularly interacted with artistic docents, visitors, and coworkers and felt free to start having fun with her outfits.

“Art was my thing and fashion is an extension of that. Several people at the museum encouraged me to start a blog to share my thrift finds. I took their advice, and within a month, it was forwarded to a TV station. They offered me a monthly segment on thrifting that I’m still doing 10 years later,” said Verkouw.

In the past two years, Phoebe has been featured on two magazine covers and had a viral Instagram video with over six million views. And, after Frances Valentine co-founder Elyce Arons saw the video, she decided to recreate the look.

Verkouw is so gifted at finding unique thrifted pieces that we knew she was the ideal person to teach us how to thrift.

Phoebe recommends that someone interested in thrifting start by shopping at small charitable thrift stores like those run by the Assistance League or American Cancer Society. These stores are usually clean and well-organised, are run by volunteers, and host curated events that feature quality clothing.

Phoebe standing under tree blossom wearing a 1960’s coat
This 1960’s coat has a Tiffany blue satin lining

“Follow these stores on Instagram to find out when they are having vintage or designer events. They usually hold their best pieces for those events. If you get there early, you can get some great finds. If you are new to thrifting, invest in classic pieces that you can spruce up with accessories. You will be able to be more creative because you won’t be stressed about the price. I love hats and scarves, but figure out what works for you. Accessories are a fun way to elevate your style,” Verkouw said.

Another option is buy/sell/trade stores like Crossroads Trading and Buffalo Exchange. You can also find high-end coveted pieces at consignment stores, many of which authenticate their designer items.

For those who prefer to shop online, Poshmark and thredUP are two good options. Both allow you to filter results by size, color, brand, style, and more, but thredUP items are sold by the company itself and Poshmark items are sold by individuals, which allows you to negotiate.

When shopping on a site like Poshmark, Verkouw says a great first step is to enter in your sizes and narrow the results by thinking of brands you like. And, if you aren’t sure what you want, start by filtering by color.

For vintage clothing, Phoebe recommends Etsy and antique vintage fairs. When attending a fair, be sure to bring a tape measure since vintage sizes are very different from modern-day sizes. Know your measurements and browse all different sizes to find the best pieces. Phoebe finds some of her favourite pieces at antique fairs.

Phoebe wearing a bright yellow pleated skirt and black and white stripe tee
Phoebe looks so chic in this vintage outfit

She knows that her style isn’t for everyone, but Phoebe hopes to inspire people to dress more colourfully and have more fun with their clothes.

“You can take inspiration from someone without duplicating their style. That’s part of the problem with society– we want to fit in so badly that we try to copy what someone else is doing. Thrifting affords you the ability to be more creative. Have fun playing around. Some days you will fail. Some days you will succeed. Both are part of the learning process.”

And the beauty of thrifting is that when you are “ready to break up,” as Phoebe puts it, with a piece of clothing, you can take the item to a buy/sell/trade store and get credit toward new pieces. You can have a constant rotation of clothes while keeping items out of the landfill.

Phoebe Verkouw says her success and all the gifts she’s been given are only made possible because of her sobriety. And, she is happy to be able to honour her mum, who passed away from cancer in 2017.

“She would be so proud. She always knew I could be more, but I am stubborn and didn’t always listen. She is my guardian angel. I know she can see everything that is happening and is here by my side.”

Verkouw has been through many hardships– addiction, grief, PTSD, and depression. She survived them all and encourages others to “keep putting one foot in front of the other. Whatever hardship you’re having, light is at the end of the tunnel.”

Phoebe wearing a sustainably made organic cotton dress with a butterfly print
Phoebe wearing a sustainably made organic cotton dress by Nikkie Marie

Thanks for sharing your light with Hayden Hill, Phoebe. And for reminding us that beauty can come from ashes.

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