How I Shop: Heidi Gardner

The 'SNL' star talks nostalgic fashion, N.Y.-versus-L.A. style and the one vintage piece she's perpetually on the hunt for.
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Heidi Gardner

We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures in our column "How I Shop."

When it comes to style, comedian Heidi Gardner very much encourages you to heed to those nostalgic urges you might feel every so often, whether that means clipping on that bedazzled barrette or browsing the latest at Juicy Couture

"It's really cheesy, but even with style, I would say to follow your heart and maybe even the things that you liked as a kid or that you were drawn to. I always find that those are the things that make me the most happy," she tells me, over the phone. "Even the interests I had as a kid, they're still the things that I like to do now. So, maybe listen to that little girl, little boy, and indulge them every so often." 

Gardner will frequently find herself searching for tees with images from movies and TV shows she loved growing up or for pieces that remind her of specific characters she thought were just so fabulous. "My perpetual life search is for the white leather jacket that Ferris Bueller's girlfriend Sloane wore in the movie," she says. "A cropped white leather with fringe is something that I'm always on the hunt for, but even on Etsy I can't find the right one."

She's a big vintage shopper and has been for years: She would go thrifting to source costumes to wear on stage when she was doing sketch comedy in L.A. at The Groundlings, before moving to New York for "Saturday Night Live." Now, she works with one of the most legendary costume department on television, one that's able to painstakingly recreate looks in a matter of hours

"There's something so nuanced and specific that the wardrobe department at 'SNL' knows how to do," she explains. "It's like they've mastered every type of woman, every type of man. Even when it's a flannel shirt with a normal winter coat over it, if there's just a little too much sheen to it, it's like, 'No, that says a little too much about this woman. She's not that loud with her clothes.'"

Every element of an outfit seen on the Studio 8H stage is considered, Gardner continues: "Sometimes you'll be playing just a woman in an office and I've got Gucci shoes on. I'm like, 'They're not even going to see the shoes, are you guys sure you want me to wear these?' But they're putting that much into every character so everything makes sense. It's just the thought and the detail. It's people that have gone to school for years — and not only school, but their whole lives, they've been noticing and studying people. It's really cool to see." 

Another thing the 'SNL' team can't be beat at? "Tying bows," she says. "Just the art of any sort of bow-tying that the wardrobe department knows how to do is just incredible. I could never tie a bow like they can."

Ahead, learn more about Gardner's love of nostalgic fashion, how moving to N.Y. from L.A. changed her style and the one vintage piece she's perpetually on the hunt for.

Heidi Gardner 2

"My personal style is, oh my gosh, definitely vintage-heavy, with an emphasis on nostalgic kitsch. I feel like deep down, I might be trying to recreate my mom's closet from the early '90s. I think that's what's really going on. The closet I used to play dress-up in is now what I might be making my own adult closet.

"What really catches my eye [when I'm shopping are] gemstones, big shoulders and accessories. There's a dress in particular: My mom had a velvet sweetheart mini dress topped with gems around the bust line with a little Bolero jacket, also black velvet and lined in gemstones. She was also the type that would have the Marabou pumps that she would wear with it, and lots of my grandma's costume jewelry. I just feel like that outfit alone — I mean, I remember her getting ready to go to events at a hotel or something and it was just like, 'That's a woman. That's what I want to be.' I would spend Sundays, all day long, just trying on her clothes. She also had all those old hat boxes with fancy hats with veils in them and it was really cool.

"I feel like I was very adventurous with style as a kid and as a teenager. Then when I lived in LA, I got a little insecure with, I didn't realize it at the time, but maybe fitting into like a mold of L.A. You're either Westside or Eastside. And the Eastside, which is where I lived, was a little more minimalist — just that Cali boho minimal style, like a vintage T-shirt and jeans, which looks great, but I think there was still part of me that I was holding back. I was always very scared to wear a hat or a bright color, because I think people would be like, 'Oh, you're wearing a hat,' or something. And then you had to defend your choice.

"I think moving to New York and the fact that no one cares what you're wearing at all [changed that]. I met my friend Shea Daspin, who's also my stylist. She's so playful with her clothing and colors and nostalgia, and I think she helped unlock something in me that was always there that I kind of covered up. So, it's my friend Shea and New York that did it.

"I think [Daspin] does a great job with toeing the line of fun and stylish and a little over-the-top and comedian trying to dress funny. She keeps me in check in that way. She never lets me go too far. I just was sending her pictures from Dolls Kill — they have a Bratz clothing line and there was some Bratz jeans and a Bratz belt and I was like, 'Oh my God.' She kind of reined me in, like, 'Just a belt, you don't need to be wearing Bratz from waist to ankle. But maybe just a little Bratz around your waist or something.' 

"Then also little things like when I'm putting together an outfit and I'm editing at home, her reminding me like, 'Push up the sleeve to see your wrist a little or add a bracelet or something like that.' I know it doesn't seem like a big deal, but just pushing up your sleeve, it makes the outfit look cooler. So, that always helps. I do feel like she's made me a better dresser, but at the same time, I need that stylist with me. I'll think like, 'Oh, I'm so good.' And then Shea comes in and everything just works together so much better. It's such an art that she does.

"Recently I did an interview on the Conan O'Brien show and I wore a sequin bodysuit [by Cheng-Huai Chuang], white fringe jeans and Susan Alexandra earrings [pictured at top]. It was so much going on, but it still worked and was chic. I think that's what I like — a lot going on, but chic. And that's something where you really need a stylist to actually make that work. Because if you try to do it yourself, it's probably just going to be a lot going on.

"[When it comes to style inspiration], there's that show from the late '70s and all through the '80s, 'Dallas,' that, I mean, is a wealth of fashion. There's a particular character on it, Sue Ellen Ewing, who's played by Linda Gray — she just walks on screen and it's just like prestige and power and sometimes vulnerability, whatever this character is going through at the moment. All the women [on that show], you're so able to track the hair trends of the '80s. Even Victoria Principal on the show, who can pull off anything, she had a very early perm and it was so bad and they got rid of it after an episode and a half. They were like, 'Not even this glamour queen can pull this off.' So, anytime I'm shopping for vintage and I see something that reminds me of one of the women on 'Dallas,' I'm like, 'Oh, got to snag that.'

"There's also this movie called 'She's Out of Control.' There's a makeover scene — it's basically this girl, on her 16th birthday, gets a make-over. She gets her braces off and she gets a whole new wardrobe. There's this image of her coming down the stairs. She's got white knee-high stockings and an all-white outfit, like a ruffled skirt, and a cape white jacket. I mean, she's supposed to just look like angelic innocence, but it's also one of the coolest outfits I've ever seen. In different ways I have tried to procure all the pieces to make my own walking-down-the-stairs moment, even though I don't live anywhere with stairs.

"I have a couple of different strategies [for vintage shopping]. One of them is [checking] Etsy, for sure. Something will pop up into my mind that I'll remember — it'll just be like, 'Oh my God, remember that woman who was wearing a pink one-piece snowsuit and furry boots, from when I was a kid?' I'll just see an image and wonder if someone is selling that on eBay or Etsy. It even could be movies that I loved from the '90s or something, like 'Death Becomes Her,' and I'll be like, 'I wonder if there's an old T-shirt of that. Etsy is my first stop.

"Then, a good friend of mine has a vintage store called Dry Vtg And. She does all of her sales on Instagram. I always look at her stuff. In Brooklyn, there's a store called Le Grand Strip in Williamsburg and it's owned by this French woman, CC. You walk inside and, to me, it's like every girl's wildest clothes dreams, of hats and pumps and purses and gems. It's girly to the max. [There's also] Spark Pretty in the East Village, and that is also like, you walk in and it's out of my dreams. And Mr. Throwback on East 9th Street as well — it's vintage sportswear. 

"I really like Sandy LiangDauphinette, House of Tame, Private PolicyPH5... I like those 'Clueless' checkered skirts or blazers, anyone who's doing that. Susan Alexandra for jewelry and accessories. Dumbgood makes shirts and hoodies and sweatsuits that are all just old movie logos. They're really into horror movies, I've got a bunch of their 'Hellraiser' T-shirts and sweatpants with Pinhead on them. They make a 'Seinfeld' line — I have a 'Seinfeld' puffer jacket. So, that's the part of my personality, where anything reminds me of shows or movies that I love, [I'm] very into repping that as well.

"As far as trends that I'm into right now, there's this flea market in Dumbo, right under the bridge, and this one girl who sells this really perfectly-curated line of pieces that I think were sourced from Italy. Everything looks like slightly '70s, like Gucci and Miu Miu lately, with the platform loafer and lots of gold belts. That's something that I just feel looks so modern. Also the fact that, with this season of 'The Crown,' people are really into what Princess Diana was wearing makes me really happy, because I just think she was just such a style icon.

"My friend Amanda Gilbert, who's the one who's got Dry Vtg And, and Shea, usually those two are my go-to [to text when I'm shopping.] I mean, they're pretty bad though. They're usually shopping enablers. But every so often too they'll also rein me in, which is very helpful.

"I recently bought an Orlando Magic starter jacket from probably '90 or '92. It was something that when I was [younger], I thought was quite the coolest jacket you could have, that some of the boys in school had. It just had the best colors and one of the coolest NBA logos. Personally, I think it still looks as cool as it did."

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

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