14 posts categorized "Heirlooms"

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


Heirlooms: Schiaparelli Hats & Shirl Miller Leather Bags

Summer is in full swing around here....apologies for the lack of posts but it's been a nonstop whirlwind of go, go, go with no signs of the pace slowing down.  A visit to my sister's for a family reunion sent me home with this lovely vintage Schiaparelli straw hat with black patent leather trim that once belonged to my grandmother, as well as three hat boxes chock full of more treasures from her closet.  (How she managed to hide them from me for the past 10 years is beyond me...)  I remember my grandmother wearing it to horse shows and other outdoor events that required fashionable shelter from the sun.  At the time, I had no idea it was a Schiaparelli providing such glamorous shade!

Schiaparelli vintage straw hat black patent leather trim (2) 

Schiaparelli vintage straw hat black patent leather trim (3) 

Schiaparelli vintage straw hat black patent leather trim (4) 

Schiaparelli vintage straw hat black patent leather trim 

From another side of my (rather complicated) family I was overjoyed to receive this lovely Shirl Miller vintage clutch in embossed leather. 

Vintage Shirl Miller embossed leather clutch Made in USA (3) 

Vintage Shirl Miller embossed leather clutch Made in USA (5) 

And of my own treasure hunting accord I came into possession of this rather fabulous vintage bar pump-decanter set that I am quite certain I will never be able to part with.

Vintage Decanter Pump Bar Set of 3 Glass Bottles 

Hoping to be back soon...wishing you many lovely summer days and nights until then.



 






 

 

xx ~ Michelle


And In This Corner...

Ok, I admit I feel a bit poorly about ranting on (and on, and on, and on....) about the whole eco-UNfriendly recycled vintage dress/gown controversy that I wrote about yesterday and a few weeks ago.  So you can imagine how thrilled I was to read about a much more "friendly" and well executed vintage gown makeover in the May issue of Vogue.

Elettra Wiedemann Prabal Gurung Ingrid Bergman gown Costume Institue Gala Met Ball 2011 Vogue May 2011

Elettra Wiedemann is one very fortunate (and beautiful) young lady.  Daughter of the stunning Isabella Rossellini and granddaughter of the iconic screen beauty Ingrid Bergman, she found herself the heir of a trunk full of Ms. Bergman's evening dresses that had somehow been long forgotten (a vintage treasure hunters dream find!)   She humbly admits: "My family is so amazing, but it's also so overwhelming and overpowering...I'd felt honored to be part of my family but also not sure what accomplishments were mine and what accomplishments belonged to someone else bigger than me."  She also makes this insightful comment:  "It's interesting how clothes can connect you to a sentimentality that can be very complicated sometimes."  (I nod my head in silent agreement as I contemplate the part of my grandmothers wardrobe I've inherited...)

Ms. Wiedemann, in honor of her grandmother, has chosen to wear one of her gowns to the Costume Institute Gala (aka The Met Ball ) on the 2nd of May.  The gown she chose was created for Ms. Bergman by the postwar Roman couturiere Fernanda Gattinoni, who also created the costumes for Ms. Bergman in the 1952 film Europa '51.  Designer Prabal Gurung was called upon as the "cosmetic surgeon" for the dress, as there were a few issues with fit & fabric.  Both heir & designer agreed that it was important to maintain the integrity of the dress and to pay homage to it's original owner, which, being her grandmother, would be of utmost importance to any grateful heir of such beautiful pieces of the past.

"It's still the same dress," says Wiedemann, "but it feels a little bit sexier, more contemporary, and younger."

"The beauty of this dress," Gurung adds, "is it's history."

I think we have a winner.

 

(All quotes from May 2011 US Vogue p. 172 & 174)

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


1930s~~MY GLAMOROUS GRANDPARENTS

I've written about my fabulous Aunt before~~she lives many States away and although I don't get to see her very often, she is wonderful about keeping in touch via email and snail mail~~yes, remember that?????  Well, once again, I opened my email yesterday to find this wonderful collection of photographs of my grandparents taken in the late 1930s.  She found the negatives in some of my grandmothers things and had them developed~~what a family treasure!

DadSept37NY

Here' my handsome grandfather~~we think this was taken on their way to Lake George, NY to be wed!

MomSept37NY

And my beautiful grandmother~~the bride to be!

MomSeptOct1937

We aren't sure if this was the same trip, they were married in October, so this may have been later in the fall.

MomBathingBeauty

Look at this fabulous swimsuit my Grandmother is wearing!  I have one question:

WHERE IS IT NOW??

1936 Gram & Gramp year before wedding

Here they are again, dressed to the nines, in 1936, one year before their wedding...don't they look charming?

Late30s early 40s Look Park, MA Gram & Gramp

And this was taken at Look Park, in Massachusetts, in the late 1930s ~ early 1940s.  My Aunt remembers  day trips here to enjoy a picnic and visit with other relatives who would meet them at the park for the day.
 
 It was so touching to see these wonderful old photographs of my grandparents...to see them so young, so full of life & promise, before children & mortgages & all the trials life would bring to them...what did they dream of?  What did they wish for?  I wish I could ask them now...

Encourage your children to really talk with your parents, if you are fortunate enough to have them still.  They have such a wealth of wisdom & experience to share...and they can develop a friendship that will last forever...

Thank you, Auntie Di, for these wonderful family heirlooms...

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xx ~ Michelle