5 posts categorized "The Farm"

Vintage Clothing: Repurpose With A Purpose

If you know anything about vintage clothing it's that, for the most part, true vintage clothing runs on the super-small side. Sourcing a vintage dress that would fit a modern size 12 + is pretty much a modern-day miracle. The lack of larger sized authentic vintage clothing has actually created a niche for retailers who focus on reproduction vintage: Unique Vintage, ModCloth, and Hell Bunny to name a few. Some sellers, like BERRIEZ, focus on more modern vintage from the late 80's and 90's, when the plus-size market was finally, after decades of being ignored, embraced by designers & retail giants.

Combine that with the fact that few today know how to thread a needle, never mind use a sewing machine. I was in Junior High when "Home-Ec" was taken out of the curriculum "for lack of interest". Without giving away my age, that was c.1979. Thankfully, my grandmother was an amazing seamstress (that's her and my grandfather in the picture below a year before they wed) and did her best to teach me how to make simple alterations and repairs to clothing to both accommodate my changing form and extend life due to wear and tear. She was born in 1914 and lived through some of the leanest days of American history, so nothing was thrown away.  Ever. It was repaired, repurposed, given to a friend or neighbor once no-one in the family could make use of it, and last but not least, went into the rag pile where it would be used for cleaning, polishing, and sometimes wiping down a new-born calf in the dairy barn. Like I said: no waste.  Ever.

 

1936 Gram & Gramp year before wedding
My grandparents in 1936, a year before they wed.

 

I have to admit that, at times, this miserly outlook was a bit embarrassing. I practically grew up on the farm, I knew the hard work and diligence it took to run a dairy in a dying farming economy. I knew that, even though our family owned a lot of land and a lot of livestock, the stress of staying afloat outweighed what appeared to others as a very successful family business. But I was coming of age in the 1980's, an era of crazy indulgence and excess. More was MORE. New was BETTER. Excess was COOL. Waste was EXPECTED.  I can't tell you how many times during my waitress years I would find expensive bottles of champagne practically full after a lavish party of four moved onto their next party. (Thus, my exquisite taste for fine champagne.) I was fighting an inner battle between the standards and ideals I was raised by with the modern world of luxurious excess that seemed so inviting. I'm certain my grandmother sensed it. It wasn't until after she passed and I inherited her vintage clothing and jewelry that I realized she, too, had felt trapped between two worlds. She fell in love with a tall, quiet Swedish man who was a dairy farmer. I'm certain she knew that didn't translate to a life full of elegant parties, dinner and dancing to live orchestras and extravagant shopping sprees in the best fashion houses. But she had a wardrobe that would have said otherwise. Thus began my love affair with vintage clothing.

 

1937
My grandmother on her honeymoon in 1937.

 

It didn't take long for me to regain my senses. In 1988 I sent a letter to the editor of Elle Magazine, outraged over the placement of an Hermès ad followed by a story about the homeless in their March issue; it was published  I suddenly had clarity of mind about issues that a decade of excess had attempted to cloud. My foundation held and my adulthood became grounded in the ethics and standards of my childhood training. I reconnected with my grandmother on an even deeper level; one of the greatest gifts I've ever been given.

Years later, my aunt sent me my grandmother's sewing machine. I set it up and just stared at it for a long time. So many memories. So much I didn't know. I felt polarized by my lack of know-how and the potential I knew it held. I dreamed of my grandmother that night. I could smell her Elizabeth Arden 8-Hour Cream, feel her arthritic hands in mine, hear her contagious laugh. I didn't want it to end. But the next day, I threaded that machine and started practicing on scrap pieces of fabric. And slowly, I relearned how to do the things my grandmother had taught me so many years before. I mended, darned, hemmed, let out seams and took them in. And finally, on one brave day, I altered the waistband on a skirt from one of her vintage suits and wore it later that summer.

Grammy's vintage seersucker suit
The author in her grandmother's repurposed vintage seersucker suit.

As we approach 2020, there's a lot of talk in the industry about "slow fashion" (vs. "fast fashion"), "circular fashion" and "sustainable fashion" - all the tenets of my grandmother's generation coming back full circle. It's like going home again. What's old is new again. Or, can be "like new" again, with a little bit of TLC.  Repurpose with a purpose.

 

Visit this page for a Tutorial on a Vintage Skirt Waistband Alteration that was inspired by my grandmother's suit project.

#slowfashion #circularfashion #sustainablefashion #recommerce #repurpose #sewing #homeeconomics #retail #shopping #clothing #vintageclothing #1980s #secondhand #family #values #ethics #legacy #tribute #fashionblogger

 

xx ~ Michelle


A Month of Sundays

It's school pick-up time.  Despite the millions of dollars spent on our little elementary school, the engineer somehow pulled a "Titanic" as far as parking goes and scoring a parking space is as likely as getting into a lifeboat on the big T.  I've learned.  Always have something to read and something to listen to that you'll never get away with once she's in the car.  Culture gap.  In more ways than one.  I reach under the passenger seat to a hidden compartment where all my "Mom Music" is hidden and grab a cassette.  Oh, you don't know what that is?  Then you're probably too young to be reading this blog. 

I flip through the latest issue of Harper's Bazaar, mostly thinking to myself "people really wear that?" when a song begins to play that gives me reason to pause, be still, and reflect.  "A Month of Sundays" by Don Henley.

 

The demise of the farmer in this country and the role corporate technology and greed played in slowly destroying what many had spent generations building is told in this woeful ballad.   My grandfather was a dairy farmer and I am the grandaughter and daughter of a farmer.  I take great pride in that.  No other inheritance, no matter how materially valuable, could ever replace what my grandparents gave me in life at the farm.  If you are a farm-girl, you understand.  If you are not, you have no idea what you missed. 

Farmer's Daughters & Proud Of It

My grandfather was a quiet man.  A tall, handsome Swede who, I assume, kept most of his feelings on the inside and kept up a strong, quiet front on the outside.  That said, I can only write from what I observed.  His words were few and his routine was paramount to keeping the farm running.  We knew when we could be loud, silly, rambunctious kids and when it was time to be quiet.  Lawrence Welk on Saturday nights was most definitely quiet time.  Dinner was always planned around the show.  He would sip two highballs before dinner (Imperial & Gingerale) which usually left him in a light-hearted and less serious mood and I remember him, at times, throwing his head back and laughing at the three of us girls...I always looked at my grandmother then, and she smiled too, happy to see him joyful and free from the stresses that weighed in on him, if only for a few moments....

Dad playing organ with we three at farm

He had a tiny office just off the dining and living room of the big farm house.  In it there was a huge roll-top desk, a large grey metal filing cabinet, a waste paper basket and a small army cot that had a flat pillow and a blanket folded neatly at the foot.  There was a window that faced North.  Out of it you could see the banana yellow Piper Cub plane, the rusty green John Deeres, the tilting silo and the land he owned rising up like an ocean wave, speckled with seaweed made of black and white cows

Grandpa Johnson at the organ with Brandi

I used to sneak up on him...usually from the living room side as that was where my grandmother had created a "school-room" for me to play teacher in, blackboard and all, and sometimes he would leave that door open.  I would creep, very, very quietly toward the door to see just how long it would take him to discover me.  Sometimes he would say, without turning around: "Is that you, Shelly?"...but most of the time he just sat, very still, with his big journal spread out on the desk before him and a freshly sharpened pencil in his hand.  Not moving, not writing, his head bent down.  Sometimes, after what seemed an eternity, he would rub his forehead and sigh, then slowly turn to look out the window.

 "The Farm" c1910

As a child, I never understood this quiet, almost penitent time he spent at his big old desk.  As an adult, I came to understand it only too well.  His world was disappearing and he knew he was powerless to stop it.  He was an old-fashioned farmer in his golden years who was facing a very modern world and was up against foes his generation could never have fathomed a reality.  There was only one option for him.

Sell. The. Farm.

Those three words resonated across this country with alarming volume...but it was a cry, it seems, that only the farmers and their families heard.  And now, the wealthy masses flock to specialty stores to spend exhorbitant money on "organic", "home-grown", "grown in the USA" products that were once left in a crate on the stone wall of our farm--free for all.  Yeah, that's progress.

I know what fresh milk tastes like.  Do you?  Do yourself a favor--go visit a dairy farm, if you can find one.

Woodstock Fair 2012 (42)

 

 

 

 

xx ~ Michelle


My Grandmother's Closet I

Raiding Grammy's closet (4) 

My grandparent's sold their dairy farm and retired to Arizona.  While the loss of my beloved farm & grandparents was heartbreaking, I consoled myself with their promise to fly us out West twice a year.  They made good on their word, many, many times over, and I'll never forget how grown up I felt boarding that plane with my two sisters twice a year.  

Of course, being the middle child meant I never got the window seat, or the aisle, for that matter, but I did get invited to tour the cockpit (obviously pre 9/11)  and took that tiny elevator down a level to the kitchen and "bar".  It's where I tasted my first Grand Marnier, and although I was nowhere near the legal age, the flight attendant consoled me with the fact that we were miles above anywhere I could get arrested.  He even filled my carry on bag with nips (more pre 9/11).  I later wondered if he knew he was going to be fired the next day~~or maybe he was just making sure I thought the skies were really as friendly as they claimed?   I hid them in my suitcase, but I'm pretty sure my grandfather knew it wasn't just gingerale in our glasses . . .

Anyway, on one visit to see them, my (younger) sister decided to raid my grandmother's closet and try on her fabulous vintage ensembles.  You'll get one a day until their gone.  Sort of like the nips.

xx ~ Michelle


TREASURE HUNTING 101: VINTAGE RALPH LAUREN RIDING BOOTS

Having grown up on a beautiful old New England estate surrounded by close to 200 acres of beautiful farmland and woods to explore on horseback,
anything "equestrian-related" is close to my heart. 

My sisters and I used to spend hours first trying to find our horses, as my grandfather (the dairy farmer) seemed to feel it was the loving thing to do to let them roam free on said 200 acres.  This part of the day could take hours, and my older sister was most devoted to this task.  I would start out on the search party, but my stamina would soon weaken at the thought of the long walk back to the farm, and she would say "Oh, go back and read your dumb book, I'll come get you when I'm back in the stable with them!!" 

This was, secretly, what I wanted, to be able to finish my Trixie Belden book and still be able to go riding and have the picnic my dear grandmother was packing up for us at that very moment.

This scenario plays out so often in my childhood memories that, at times, it seems like it was one long, lazy summer day of reading, riding and roaming around the farm in my beloved riding boots.  It is one of my most cherished memories...it was the happiest time of my life...

So, when I was out "treasure hunting" a few weeks ago, you can imagine my delight when I made this amazing discovery:

RALPH LAUREN RIDING BOOTS VINTAGE

VINTAGE RALPH LAUREN RIDING BOOTS

Be-still my beating heart...I opened the shaft of the boot and saw RL 7 1/2 B...can this be possible?
I tear off my right shoe, close my eyes, take a deep breath and slip my foot into the boot...
and suddenly,
I knew what it was like
to be...

If the shoe fits
 

no, not Cinderella...

Stepsister tries shoe
More like one of her wicked step~sisters!

They did not fit!
 Well, not properly anyway.  I managed to squeeze my foot into the boot, but knew I would not wear them with that same comfort and casual nonchalance as I did back on the farm. 

Deeply saddened, I set them down...

RALPH LAUREN RIDING BOOTS VINTAGE
Goodbye, lovely vintage Ralph Lauren riding boots...

 

"Wait a minute, are you crazy????  Put those in your basket before someone else grabs them!!!" 
I thought to myself.  I brought them home, stared at them for weeks, tried them on a few more times before coming to terms with my grief.

I went through the seven stages, ending up at Acceptance & Hope...

Acceptance of the sad fact these boots just don't fit me no matter how much I love them
&
Hope that someone out there will love them just as much as I do and find them a new home!

You can find them HERE.

Riding boot oil painting by Hollister Hovey
(Painting by the talented Hollister H. Hovey) 

 

Take a peek at my Etsy Treasury for more lovely Equine treasures...

Now, back to my treasure hunting...

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xx ~ Michelle