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vintage sources

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Whose dress was it?

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.

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I’ve written about Jacqueline, the mother of a very good friend of mine (I love my vintage clothing sources)

 
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Juana, who worked as a model for one of Spokane’s department stores (Another favorite source)

 
 
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A woman I only know through her grand niece (The suitcase lot)

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Mrs. Gordon, whose husband was blinded in WWII yet she dressed to the nines (You’re a sight to see, Mrs. Gordon!)

 
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Alice, about to be married for the second time at the wonderful age of 85+ (Lovely lady lot)

 
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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!

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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!

 
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Mrs. Walls, who had “forgotten she had all these clothes” in her basement

 
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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)

 
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Carol sat on the stage with her boyfriend, the pianist with Lawrence Welk, while they were taping shows.

 
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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.

 
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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. 

 
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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.

 
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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.

 
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Sometimes there are the hints of a prior owner, left in bags or pockets. I’ve written about some of these in The contents of a vintage pocket and the dating of vintage

 

Sometimes there is a name tag or signature.

 
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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!

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I like to think that we perpetuate these people through carrying their stories—along with their clothing—forward.

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The contents of a vintage pocket and the dating of vintage


I have a box of interesting items found in vintage pockets and purses. I’ve never found the elusive hundred dollar bill or diamond ring, but there have been lots of tickets, invitations, candies, notes and handkerchiefs...even a citation for prostitution! 

Last week, I found these in the pocket of a beautiful 1970s Pendleton coat—


The date on that lower right coupon? 1979. (Just for fun, I tried to use the coupon at my local Fred Meyer yesterday, and raised a minor ruckus!)

 

Just a few weeks before I came upon this groovy bag—


If you look very carefully, you can see dated signatures on it. I’m picturing the end of a high school year and friends signing each other’s yearbooks—only in this case, it was her bag.


This dress (in my Etsy shop), came with a note attached—




As did this hat—




This linen clutch bag is a veritable time capsule, with its contents dating from 1940 and 41. 



I wish all vintage pieces had a date somewhere on or with them!

Two vintage labels I have found to have dates at least during some years of their history are B.H. Wragge—

    

and Marimekko— 



Union labels help with dating. Check out the Vintage Fashion Guild’s ILGWU page for photos of the labels used and their dates. I recently ran across the Cornell University ILR School webpage with even more detail on union labels and dating.

Maybe we should all attach a dated note to our favorite clothing—that, or leave a grocery store coupon in a pocket!  


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Vintage with messages


I have heard from some of you how much you like the background stories of vintage items of clothing. Lots of times I’m asked about the history of a particular dress and can’t say, but personal encounters make the clothes come alive in a great way.

In the past few weeks I have found a couple items with notes. I didn’t meet the original owners but their notes are such lovely links to the past.

This hat, in my Etsy shop, was wrapped with tissue:



This dress came from another woman with a note pinned inside the neckline. It is in my web store now:



One of the more interesting time capsules I’ve seen in my vintage business is this linen clutch with its contents, from the years 1940 and 41, intact.





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My vintage sources


I sometimes get to know something of the women from whom I acquire vintage clothing.

I’ve written about Jacqueline, the mother of a very good friend of mine (I love my vintage clothing sources)



Juana, who worked as a model for one of Spokane’s department stores (Another favorite source)



Helen, a philanthropist (An ode to Helen South Alexander and A tiny fraction of Mrs. Alexander’s clothing)



I woman I only know through her grand niece (The suitcase lot)



Mrs. Gordon, whose husband was blinded in WWII yet she dressed to the nines (You’re a sight to see, Mrs. Gordon!)



Alice, about to be married for the second time at the wonderful age of 85+ (Lovely lady lot)



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)


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 is now 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.



I like to think that we perpetuate these people through carrying their stories—and their clothing—forward.

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She's a Betty

Betty is 99 years of age. That in itself is cause for respect, but if you had to follow her repeatedly up a flight of stairs in her own home you would find even more reason for respect.

I was fortunate to meet Betty last year as she was preparing to leave her home for a retirement home. I presume she has some health issues that make staying home tricky, but she seemed to be doing pretty well, with the help of her niece.

Betty has clothes that were a conspicuous result of being a manager at one of Spokane's late-great department stores, The Bon Marché, to which she had been lured from The Crescent department store when The Bon, as it was called, was just moving into the area. She told me she "set up The Bon" for its opening in 1946.

On her style, Betty said that she wasn't fond of fussy, frilly things. Her clothes have just so many cute details and extra flourishes, they are of very good quality, with a number of the better American department store labels such as Suzy Perette and Lilli Ann. Materials are mostly wool, cotton and silk.

Cotton piqué dress with Matisse-like print

On how she obtained her clothing, Betty said that her husband and she were from rural Idaho, and grew up poor on small farms. Her husband was an Air Force pilot during WWII, and I had the sense from talking with her that they felt very fortunate to be together, to have survived The War, and to be better off than they'd ever been before. Betty said her husband spoiled her, buying her very nice clothes. Of course, her work image had to be important to Betty.

I have quite a few more to show still, but here is a sampling of Betty's items that I have sold or am selling.

All photos with links in their captions will take you to the item still for sale, the rest have been sold.


60s items, a wool knit set made in Italy for The Bon Marché; silky dress by Ranelle

Late 40s Prestige Junior cotton dress; Alex Colman cotton top and full skirt

Venito di Roma knit suit; Lana of Austria handloomed wool outfit

Billy-Dee black cotton dress; McKettrick sundress and bolero

50s brown rayon dress; brown print R & K Originals dress, also from the 50s

Lilli Ann Knit coat and dress; Leslie Fay circle print wool dress

Kimberly wool & mohair outfit; equally sunny suit by Hanbury Ltd.

40s spoof news-print blouse, about which I blogged (here); 50s red faille coat dress

Yellow print embroidered sheath dress; Jerry Gilden Spectator yellow print sundress

Navy and white knits: Schrader dress with button-on jacket; Lilli Ann dress and coat

A third Lilli Ann dress & coat set from the 60s; cream knit dress by Corona Vienna

Suzy Perette sheath dress


Betty was and is a very petite lady—most of her clothing is size 2 to 4—but her sincere kindness is generous in proportions. She found it hard to give up her clothes, symbols that they are of her good and productive life, her loving marriage and all the respect she has earned. Knowing that others would actually wear and enjoy her clothes today pleases her and really eases her in letting them go.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if a new wearer of Betty's clothing has as long and happy a life as she is having, and passes the clothing on to another generation when she is 99?


The women I meet to purchase their clothing bless me not only with their clothes, but with their stories, photos and memories. I have highlighted others in the past, such as Lovely lady lot, You're a sight to see Mrs. Gordon, I love my vintage clothing sources, A tiny fraction of Mrs. Alexander's clothing, Another favorite source and The suitcase lot.


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Lovely lady lot


I have recently listed on eBay what I consider the wedding dress I'd have worn, had it been available to me at the appropriate moment. I love the timeless beauty of this dress, and the fact that it is the very palest shade of blush pink. It truly melts my heart.

Listing this dress gives me a quorum and I am ready to show items from this lovely lady. When she called me she said she was ready to let go of a few things, as she was about to get married. I came to her house only to find that her elliptical machine was partly blocking the door, with her on it.

The lady went to get her items, which date from the late 40s to early 50s and I felt a bit scrambled; her stories and history date her to an age of at least 85, but everything else about her belies this. I clearly remember thinking: She is unmistakably beautiful, and in love.

She had a most unusual late 40s Ceil Chapman gown:

A late 40s softest wool coat:

and a sweet 50s sundress with stripes of tiny rickrack:

Among the items she offered me was this Tula gown and jacket, given to her at the time of her 1952 wedding:


At my first visit she wasn't quite ready to part with her 1952 wedding dress, but pretty soon the call came, with her 2nd wedding (her first husband had passed away years before) pending:

Made by Cahill Ltd. of Beverly Hills, which I've come to find out was an exclusive and high-end wedding gown shop, the dress is made of silk shantung, with the extravagantly flaring skirt lined with stiffened gauze for body. There are more items from this lovely lady...but I'm not sure I'm ready to part yet.



I feel blessed by the women I meet to purchase their clothing, and have highlighted others in the past, such as You're a sight to see Mrs. Gordon, I love my vintage clothing sources, A tiny fraction of Mrs. Alexander's clothing, Another favorite source and The suitcase lot.

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You're a sight to see, Mrs. Gordon!


Every now and then I like to highlight a collection of clothing I get from one woman, such as I love my vintage clothing sources, A tiny fraction of Mrs. Alexander's Clothing, Another favorite source and The suitcase lot. Today, I'd like to show you Mrs. Gordon's clothing.

I never knew Mrs. Gordon, but I did have a music seminar with her daughter, who thought to call me when she needed to find a new home for her mother's clothing.

I don't know Mrs. Gordon, but I do think I have the right to say that she was a very stylish and interesting dresser, from the 40s right through the 70s. What do you think?
































Interestingly, Mr. Gordon, who is at quite a ripe old age now, lost his eyesight from an injury he sustained during WWII; so Mrs. Gordon dressed beautifully even though her husband couldn't see her. I can't help but think that Mr. Gordon got to hear about his wife's beauty and sartorial charm. Here's looking at you, Mrs. Gordon!

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