23 posts categorized "MJH"

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.


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

The Elegant Way to Keep Warm

1950s Dan Millstein black velvet embroidered evening coat  (2)

Snowflakes fell here yesterday...not much left-over today, but the temperature has taken a big dip and that means time to don a winter coat.

This beautiful 1950s Dan Millstein ~ New York ~ Paris label embroidered black velvet coat is cold weather luxury at it's finest.  Lined in rich champagne satin, it feels like butter against your skin.  The sleeves taper into a snug fit, which not only looks amazing, it keeps those cold winter drafts out.  You can find it in our "Vintage Outerwear Department" in The Shoe.


1930s vintage Filene's blue velvet hooded robe dressing gown (4)

You've seen this baby blue before...1930s vintage blue velvet hooded dressing gown/robe/evening coat from Filene's Boston (quite possibly the original store).  Fresh from the drycleaners and now available in our "Vintage Lingerie/Boudoir Department". 
Finally, something warm to wear with a hood that is not fleece or sweatshirt fabric. 




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

A Day at The Market

The Red Velvet Shoe @ The Top Shelf Flea Market May 22 2011 (5) 

Coco sporting another one of my grandmother's fabulous vintage dresses. 

The Red Velvet Shoe @ The Top Shelf Flea Market May 22 2011 

The Red Velvet Shoe @ The Top Shelf Flea Market May 22 2011 (2) 

The Red Velvet Shoe @ The Top Shelf Flea Market May 22 2011 (3) 

The Red Velvet Shoe's booth at The Top Shelf Flea III.

Christine of Carmen & Ginger hard at work

Christine of Carmen and Ginger.

Menswear Vendors at The Top Shelf Flea Market

Giuseppe of An Affordable Wardrobe, James of 10 Engines, Giuseppe once again and Zachary of Newton Street Vintage.

Vintage Shopping at The Red Velvet Shoe at Top Shelf Flea Market May 22 2011 

A collage of some fun & fashionable shoppers who visited our booth:  Starting at the top left and working clockwise:  Miss Sara, in her lovely cat eye glasses, scored two great 1950s dresses and an adorable pink cardigan, Laura searches through piles of vintage gloves, Remma & Laura leaving with bags full of goodies, including a hot pink & red caftan from Hawaii, one of the most adorable visitors of the day~~this tiny tot left with a lovely multi~colored pastel floral brooch pinned to her little sweater, my two nieces clowning around with some of our vintage hats, their Mom above them modeling a gorgeous hot pink silk dress from Peck & Peck, and a young lady with fire red hair checking out her look in a vintage straw hat.  

Thanks to everyone who came out to attend The Top Shelf Flea Market yesterday (it was most heartwarming to be reunited with some high school friends I haven't seen in over 25 years and to meet one friend's three beautiful daughters...), and especially those who visited my booth, shopped and spent some time chatting with me about our common love for vintage fashions & style.  This marked the third bi~annual Top Shelf Flea Market venue and I think it's safe to say it's on it's way to becoming another fine Boston tradition...

Michelle Johnson of The Red Velvet Shoe 
(Photo courtesy of Carmen & Ginger~thank you!)


xx ~ Michelle

The Duck & Bunny ~ A Snuggery...

The Duck & Bunny Providence RI (2) 

The Duck & Bunny Providence RI (3) 

The Duck & Bunny Providence RI

The Duck & Bunny Providence, RI

The Duck & Bunny Providence RI (4) 
The Duck & Bunny Providence, RI 6 

 The Duck & Bunny A Snuggery
(photo courtesy of the Duck & Bunny website)

  • What: Girls Night Out
  • When: Last Night
  • Where: The Duck & Bunny ~ Providence, RI
  • Menu Sample: Bacon Wrapped Dates ~ Artisanal Cheese Plate ~ The Ultimate New York System Crêpe ~ Homemade Gourmet Cupcakes ~ 
  • Brewhaha:  Guinness on draught ~ Narragansett in the can ~ Maipe Malbec ~
  • Atmosphere:  Absolutely charming!


blue vintage hat 
My blue vintage hat and I had a fabulous time out on the town...and The Duck & Bunny is the perfect venue for catching up with the gals or a romantic dinner for two.  If you're wanting to enjoy the latter, you may want to request a quiet table away from large parties of females who managed to sneak out for a night sans husbands & offspring...


xx ~ Michelle

From A Flea's Point of View

Top Shelf Flea October 2010 (5) 

Carmen & Ginger Top Shelf Flea Oct. 2010 

Christine of Carmen & Ginger.

Vintage Haven Top Shelf Flea Ocotber 2010 

Debbie (& friend) of Vintage Haven.

Top Shelf Flea October 2010 (17) 

The absolute gentleman Zachary of Newton Street Suit Co.


 Top Shelf Flea October 2010 (19)    Top Shelf Flea October 2010 (18)
  Bobby From Boston                           Magpie

 Top Shelf Flea October 2010 (21)     Top Shelf Flea October 2010 (20)
Swamp Rabbit Books                            Artifaktori 

Top Shelf Flea October 2010 (25) 

Top Shelf Flea October 2010 (6)
The Red Velvet Shoe
(CoCo modeling my grandmother's c1949 Flobert gown....NOT For Sale :)

Top Shelf Flea October 2010 (7) 

Top Shelf Flea October 2010 (9) 

Top Shelf Flea October 2010 (10) 

Top Shelf Flea October 2010 (33) 

Best photo of the day....an uncle shines his nephew's penny loafers.

Top Shelf Flea October 2010 (31)

Best Dressed Gentleman~~Mariano.  Trust me.

Top Shelf Flea October 2010 (32) 

Best Dressed Lady~~modeling a 1950s dress by "Coco"~~the lovely
and extremely talented Ida Floreak.

 Top Shelf Flea October 2010 RVS

Thank you to all who attended The Top Shelf Flea II and for granting us another wonderful day.  From the distinguished gentleman who arrived early with his LL Bean bag filled with (handsome) shoes in need of a shine, to the mother/daughter team out for a day of shopping together, to the pretty single gal looking for the perfect dress for that upcoming wedding, to the little man wearing his penny loafers eagerly anticipating his very first shoe~shine....the day was absolutely perfect, from a Flea's point of view...as well as from mine.


(P.S~~If you shopped at "The Shoe" and lost your parcel, it was most thoughtfully returned to me, so please contact me via email at theredvelvetshoe@yahoo.com and I will mail it to you right away.)


xx ~ Michelle

Summer's Bounty & Loss

Lunch at Stanley's  

Lunching at Stanley's with your best friend with respective Barbies in tow....

Making sundaes after Mommy's asleep 

Making homemade sundaes when you should be in bed....

 Perfecting her croquet swing at dusk 

Perfecting one's croquet swing at dusk in a swirly frock....

How we eat clams around here

Waiting patiently for a bucket of fresh steamed clams....

The bouquet of fresh herbs on the counter....

Loving thy neighbor for sharing nature's bounty....and agreeing to eat vegetables tonight to make Mom's day....

Saying goodbye to our boat 

Saying "Goodbye & Safe Passage" to a dear old friend....

Goodbye Madishelle

"Parting is such sweet sorrow......"

The flower girls....

Walking down the aisle for an adored friend and her betrothed....

The bride and groom dance a fox trot 

And watching them dance the night away....in the manner of a fox~trot....

1950s Bonwit Teller pink suit~worn to stand up for my sister on her wedding 

Understanding why Mommy is so happy this suit still fits her almost 20 years later....

Umbrella beach 

One thing I have learned this summer is that one must take whatever joy one can from the present.  That is not to say that we can just go hay~wire and be careless about tomorrow, rather, we have to stop and enjoy the moment....for the moment is just that~ a moment~~which, if un~noticed, un~enjoyed, un~appreciated, can be gone forever....and there are enough things that are "gone" in this world before we are ready to see them go...so hug your Mom, hug your Dad, hug your wife/husband, hug your children, hug your sister/brother, hug your cousin, hug your friend, hug your neighbor, ...because I have friends who, at this moment, would give the rest of their life to, just once more,  hug their wife, mom, and friend...

Until we meet again, sweet friend.... 

xx ~ Michelle

My Alter Ego

If you've been reading my "Tales" for any length of time, you know all about my predilection for old~world style & fashion.  The way things were.  Ladies dressing like ladies.  Gentlemen holding open the door for said well~dressed ladies.  Bartender's who know how to shake up a true Negroni Capriccio.  Main streets lined with small shops & boutiques that open at 10:00 am and close at 5:00 pm, except for Thursday nights, and  are never, ever open on a Sunday.  Well~dressed and well~mannered shop clerks who greet you and are eager to provide the best customer service in town.   A new window display every Saturday morning to tempt all the ladies in town as they cruise down Main St. in their husband's new Chevy Impala...you get the idea.

(photo courtesy of Ancestry.com) 

While the chance that all my dreams of yesteryear will converge upon me and life will, at last, be the way it "was" is practically null, there is one small part of it that seems to be making a comeback:

 (image courtesy of blossomgraphicdesign.com)

"The Boutique"

The 1980's are guilty, not only of some really horrible fashion trends, but of introducing "The Mega Mall" shopping concept.  Yes, The West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada, opened in 1981 - with more than 800 stores and a hotel, amusement park, miniature-golf course, church, "water park" for sunbathing and surfing, a zoo and a 438-foot-long lake.  Not to be out~done, the US hired the builders of that monstrosity to design the infamous "Mall of America" and it was down hill from there.  Small, family owned shops & boutiques couldn't compete with "The Mega Monster Mall" concept of shopping and one by one, they closed their doors.   With more than 16,000 similar shopping centers/malls built in the decade from 1980 to 1990, it is no wonder we drive down Main Street after Main Street in small town America and see this:

Deserted Main St. shops 

Saving some wonderful brick & mortar building from this fate by giving The Red Velvet Shoe a "proper" home is my dream.  And, apparently, I am not alone.  Apparently, way over on the other side of the USA, in Porltand, Oregon,  lives a gal named Liz, who, after hours of studying her blog, appears to be my very own "Alter Ego".

 Xtabay Vintage (4)

This is her shop: 
Xtabay Vintage.  

Xtabay Vintage (2) 

From the silk taffeta curtains on the dressing room

Xtabay Vintage (8)

to the antique French settee....

Xtabay Vintage (3) 

From the gold gilt mirror & leopard print rug

Xtabay Vintage (5)

to the Pomeranian perched on the perfect antique french~blue chair...

Xtabay Vintage 9 

I wouldn't change a thing...not to mention the amazing vintage frocks she manages to get her hands on.  So insist the children ARE taking a nap today, fix yourself a cup of tea (or a glass of something else), and treat yourself to a virtual tour of Portland's amazing Xtabay Vintage.

Liz of Xtabay Vintage Michelle of The Red Velvet Shoe
(photos courtesy of Xtabay Vintage)

Just promise me you won't leave me for my alter ego!

xx ~ Michelle