Archive for March, 2006

A Vintage Fashion Lover’s Field Trip

Friday, March 31st, 2006

The last two times I visited Lowell, Massachusetts, I met other Move On members to lobby Marty Meehan, my congressional rep, not to authorize the President to go to war in Iraq (he didn’t listen), and the time before that I was chaperoning a classful of fidgety fourth-graders (my son included) to the Lowell National Historical Park, a sprawling, dull brick-red network of 19th century textile mills, where I learned all about “Mill Girls and Immigrants” in the industry’s checkered past and the kids zoned out, happy to be out of school but hopelessly bored.This time, the destination was Lowell’s American Textile History Museum, and, more specifically, its “Finishing Touches” exhibit on accessories both historical and contemporary. Organized by Jody, the wonderful New Member Coordinator of the equally wonderful Vintage Fashion Guild, the expedition was a chance for New England-based VFG members to meet “offline” and also indulge their passion for learning about (and feasting their eyes on) museum quality vintage goodies.

Things started out with a free-form tour of the exhibit, a palimpsest of everything from white leather Victorian button-up boots, 30s velvet opera cloaks and capes, and beaded miser purses to sweater clips, a Mr John bucket hat, and men’s palm-leaf- and bowling-pin-painted swing ties. Sadly, photography was prohibited plus I arrived late (last minute sick kid emergency) and had to rush through, so my memory, never what one would call eidetic, is particularly spotty today and has transformed what should have been an indelible mental record into a pleasantly colorful blur.
still life
The museum’s website promo on their exhibit will have to serve as a substitute, along with the “still life” above of our favorite vintage accessories, which we brought along for a show-and-tell session over lunch (my camera doesn’t do Dianna’s amazing confetti lucite purse justice, and I wish Chris’ flapper era flattening bra, Jody’s iridescent midnight/plum beaded box purse, and Charity’s Pauline Trigere black silk dress, found thrifting near the museum, were part of the composition as well).

The Oscar: Part 2

Monday, March 27th, 2006

The story isn’t over yet, though… Typically, acquiring a special occasion frock requires lining up accessories and maybe a schlep to the tailor, but if the evening wear is a generation old, there’s a third task the new owner wear must face as well: Getting out the vintage aroma.

And so it was with my glorious Oscar. It may have looked pristine, but it certainly didn’t smell that way. Delightfully free of the brown splotches and shmutz euphemistically referred to as “tea stains”, “age freckles”, and “storage dust” (though perhaps these “imperfections” were just really well camouflaged by the dark color and rococo print?), it nonetheless smelled as though the rich hippie who once called it hers had partied hard in it and then stuffed it in the back of her closet for the next three decades. (I’ll reserve the fascinating topic of how to tackle stains way beyond their statute of limitations for a future blog entry, and stick for now to that of the olfactory challenges posed by well-aged perspiration, perfume, smoke, mothballs, sometimes in combination…)oscar label

the labelMy first line of attack was my local dry cleaner, where I’ve had surprisingly good luck with everything from ornately beaded sweaters and silk wiggle dresses to vintage dyed leather jackets and swing coats with rhinestone buttons. Apart from rare episodes of color bleed or an occasional stain too stubborn to vanish completely, nearly all the down-at-heels duds I’ve brought there have found salvation. The verdict on my smelly Oscar, however, was disappointingly grim: “These flowers are gonna melt; no way I can clean this”.

The Oscar: Part 1

Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

gownIf this blog has languished for over a month, it’s because I just finished a stint as a Bar Mitzvah Mom–that harried, tragicomic, often insomniac character who seems to have walked straight out of a Woody Allen movie (one of the early, funny ones) to juggle her 13-year-old’s weekly tutoring sessions, daily cantillation practice, and efforts to compose a scholarly d’var Torah with her own caterer, florist, DJ, and photographer arrangements, in a crazy marathon of maternal pride and utter exhaustion…

But survive I did (you should have heard my son chant Torah…), and the experience even netted me a vintage anecdote. It concerns the gorgeous 70s Oscar de la Renta gown pictured to the left and below, a full-skirted, sheer-sleeved confection of black chiffon layered over opague silk, its metallic floral print exquisitely stencilled in gold and silver paint. The yards upon yards of fabric in the skirts rustle and sway, a miracle of near-weightlessness. The cummerbund-wide belt that cinches it at the waist is embroidered in scrolling tongues of gold thread and backed in satin-sleek leather. Worthy of museum display, the gown wore me (definitely not the other way around) to my son’s bar mitzvah. I found it on eBay, and snagged it for a song.

the belt

the belt

Now, in a nice bit of symmetry, as the fickle goddesses of Hollywood were side-stepping the heaps of couture gowns flung at them by designers vying to showcase their creations on Oscar night (the Academy Awards were scheduled for March 5, the night after my son’s bar mitzvah), I was busy prepping for an “Oscar” shindig of my own. I’d purchased my Age of Aquarius stunner over a year earlier for resale, tried it on for fun (except for the length, its measurements were perfect for me), and found myself falling in love with it, the way a little girl falls in love with a frothy pink tutu. Never mind the oodles of cash it could have earned me; nothing was going to part me–ever–from something so breath-taking, so much finer than anything I’d ever owned, and so insanely, impossibly CHEAP. (A few months later, I did act the responsible businesswoman and sell off an identical Oscar gown—though in a larger size!) All I needed now was a tailor who would hem my fantasy frock with suitable reverence, and maybe a pair of toe shoes.