I am asked fairly often if I know anything about the original owner of a vintage item. What did she do, what did she look like—who was she?
I have written about some of the women I have either met or gotten to know a bit through their clothing, and it’s about time I updated with a few more. I don’t always have the good fortune to know anything about an original wearer of the vintage fashion I find, but when I do I pay close attention so I can share their stories.
I’ve written about Jacqueline, the mother of a very good friend of mine (I love my vintage clothing sources)
Mrs. Gordon, whose husband was blinded in WWII yet she dressed to the nines (You’re a sight to see, Mrs. Gordon!)
Betty, who was a manager at one of Spokane’s department stores (She’s a Betty)
There are more, and they have been so gracious to me. I have many unofficial grandparents!
I think of Ruby, who made her own clothes with impeccable skill and cried when I offered her money for the clothing, which she was just going to “put out on the curb.” All 100+ pieces of it!
Mrs. Walls, who had “forgotten she had all these clothes” in her basement
Shirley, who let me come to her garage sale way out in the country a day early because she figured no one would care about the clothes (there were enough to open a store)
Carol sat on the stage with her boyfriend, the pianist with Lawrence Welk, while they were taping shows.
There was the gentleman whose wife had passed away and he was finally ready to let go of some of her clothing. He gave me a fantastic set of highballs he bought at the 1963 Seattle World’s Fair when he found out I’d grown up in Seattle.
One man I met had just purchased and laid down a load of stones to make his driveway a little smoother for my visit. His wife had been a manager of better sportswear at a department store in Spokane. We talked quite a bit because my father played jazz trombone and he had a boatload of jazz albums and played jazz himself. He asked me where I thought he got his accent and I guessed New York. He said Chicago, which is his nickname. He came to Spokane when he was 12 and he was then 105.
Then there was Elaine who was sweeping her walk when I first met her. She is African American and came to Spokane on V-J Day, September 2, 1945. Her clothes were so precisely cared for and pristine that they were as if new.
There are many more. One that truly haunts me was an Italian-American model whose daughter offered me her mother’s clothing. She had wonderful items, including this Howard Greer dress. I happened to see her photo and she was one of the most beautiful women you could possibly imagine. She had died estranged from her family and had a very hard life, including alcoholism. Her clothing was very well kept and of spectacular design.
Sometimes there is a name tag or signature.
I especially love it when items have notes or pictures with them, giving us an idea when and how something was worn.
One of my most recent acquisitions is an intriguing (and large!) collection that belonged to a ballet dancer and her mother. Both apparently dressed to be center of attention—the dancer just more youthfully. Many things were altered or embellished…there is an overwhelming sense of flair to everything belonging to these women, which seems fitting!
I like to think that we perpetuate these people through carrying their stories—along with their clothing—forward.