Welcome to the first installment of Milwaukee Muse, a column about inspiring and stylish ladies and gents in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Get a behind the scenes look into their closets and collections and hear about the vintage pieces that they truly love and cherish.
Milwaukee has never been known as a particularly stylish city. No offense, Milwaukee. You know I love you. But in a sea of sweats and throw away fashion, certain magical creatures truly stand out. Traci Bunkelmann is one of those unicorns. But it’s like, she doesn’t even know she’s a unicorn. That is how you know she is.
I first met Traci Bunkelmann in or around 2010 when she started working at Comet Cafe. I was immediately attracted to her charisma and infectious laugh. She had amazing and understated style that you cannot fake. Easy and unpretentious but never on accident. She would show up in perfectly thrashed t-shirts, really good jeans, and lots of jewelry. On the rare occasion we would see each other outside of work, she would be wearing some wild and adventurous ensembles. Outfits that take time and confidence to pull off. Respect.
So I asked her if she would like to be my first. And she said yes. In preparation I asked her to pull her top three vintage pieces. When I walked up stairs she had a approximately 12 pieces out. It’s hard to choose when you fall in love over and over again.
This woman has more hiding places for clothing than anyone I have ever met. They are in the closet, stacked next to the dresser, stacked next to the record player, in the dresser, and in the crawl space. It is pretty impressive.
After rooting around in Traci's collection we sat down for a very serious interview. Very serious.
Ashley Smith: Where did you grow up and were you into playing dress up as a kid?
Traci Bunkelmann: I grew up in Monroe Michigan. And yeah I guess I was. But I was a dancer so I was always in costume anyway. I kinda dressed my brother up more than I dressed myself up. My girlfriend Carla and I would dress up like bride and groom when we were little and we would also wear my dad’s tshirts and roll the sleeves and make little dresses.
AS: what kind of dance were you into?
TB: I did all of it. But jazz was my favorite. But I did it all. Jazz, tap, ballet, and gymnastics back then.
AS: If you put on a pair of tap shoes right now could you do a dance?
TB: Yes (giggles bunk style)
AS: Good to know. When do you feel like you developed your personal style?
TB: Oh man. Definitely when I was young. My parents were real cool about that stuff. I wore my dad’s clothes to school in elementary school. I would wear his sweaters.
My grandma volunteered at a thrift store. I would get to go in the back and go through all the stuff that’s not out on the racks. Yeah I was definitely wearing some weird shit.
AS: How would you describe your style?
TB: When I actually look at everything, it would be jeans and t-shirts. I would still buy all the other fantastic kind of shit. But if I had to pick, It would be jeans and a t-shirt.
AS: What is your favorite piece of vintage? What's the story?
TB: My jean jacket. Even though I have a million of them. It’s my one constant. Denim is my constant. I had a vintage Levi's jacket that had pockets and I was dancing my ass off at a club one time and it got stolen! I had long black leather gloves in the pockets and those were vintage too. I was so bummed! And this one has become the replacement because its nice and fitted and tiny and has pockets. I don’t know if I got this one at an actual thrift or if I cheated and got it on etsy. But I've had it for years.
AS: If you could trade wardrobes with anyone dead or alive who would it be? (she had to take a day to figure this one out. Its a hard question so we'll come back to it.)
AS: What was the last album you listened to?
TB: Erykah Badu New Amerykah Part Two
ANF: If you think of a dead person let me know.
The next morning Bunk texted me with her answer to the wardrobe swapping question. “Duh!!! Jane Birkin!!!! Closet trade”
Which is a perfect fit in my opinion. Jeans and a t-shirt.
Traci Bunkelmann is killing it at the Milwaukee based online retailer, Bonadrag, in marketing and promotions. She lives in Milwaukee with her very tall and handsome beau and neurotic dog Go Kart. Follow her @tbunk