Our Redheaded Bride (a loyal customer of AlexSandra's Vintage Emporium since she was in high school) was married in March of 2014. She'd been engaged for sometime and knew she wanted to wear her Grandma Jean's dress. Megan was introduced to me by her Aunt and I had met Grandma Jean in the past. It was particularly exciting to work on a bride's family dress with the original wearer at most fittings with a positive and enthusiastic attitude.
Often, it is difficult to decide whether to wear a family gown or buy something brand new. When we met for her initial consultation. She was concerned that some family members thought she had unrealistic expectations, thinking she could fit her modern-day plus-size body into the same dress tailored for her Grandmother's 26" waist. They encouraged her to look at contemporary gowns. She found they lacked the enormous full skirt and sentiment of her Grandmother's dress. Seeing the price of modern gowns was quite a shock to her mother who had bought her own dress at a shop going out of business for $100. Even Grandma Jean only paid $150 for her gown, though in 2016 dollars that $150 has the buying power of roughly $1223, which is not an unrealistic price for a modern wedding gown.
Jean was married in 1959 in this embroidered organdy overlay gown with taffeta lining, much like the fabric used to make Mother Dear's prom dress. Jean's dress features a scalloped hem and a tremendous full sweep skirt. She originally purchased and had it altered to fit her at Lipman's here in Portland, Oregon.
Megan is such a good sport! You can't even tell how nervous she is that her wedding is less than two months away and she doesn't have a wearable dress. The first thing I do when trying to enlarge a dress is to remove the sleeves, open the side seams and let out any darts. So many wedding dresses are voluminously gathered at the waist, the trick is to get the bodice to fit and spread the skirt out to accommodate the new waist size. There were three large bows on the skirt and we removed two to potentially use elsewhere. At first I thought they would make interesting straps if we needed more room. Fortunately, our Readheaded Bride and Grandma Jean are of similar heights. The dress had rather evenly aged to a lovely candlelight and with no obvious stains we elected to forgo the steep cost of cleaning.
Side gussets were created out of the same type of embroidered organdy fabric. I cut them from a horrible 1970s dress redo of a 1950s dress that I picked up on the cheap. There is a similar scrolling branch pattern, though when the color matches nicely enough, the bride needn't worry because the under arm location is covered for the most part.
In this photo of the Father of the Bride giving her away to her groom, the gussets are visible, but do not detract from the dress. The armholes were finished with vintage bias tape stitched on by machine and then finished by hand.
I adore sentimental Megan. In an age where many brides forgo any veil at all or a fascinator/bridcage at the most, Megan found she also had Grandma Jean's veil. There was just one tiny hole in it and I suggested we press out the tulle and she wear it as is. The matching organdy bow sealed the deal for me!
We let this dress out 12" in the waist. Removing the original closure and creating a corset back was critical in achieving this. I'm fortunate that my dear friend, Britta once worked for a pageant shop where she learned many invaluable skills that would never cross my old timey vintage sewing path. As I have done in the past, we commissioned Britta to help out. Unlike the corset kits you can now purchase online, this was custom created by Britta for Megan. Individual loops sewn into a boned edge (for extra stability) laced together with a satin ribbon over a modesty panel made from the dress redo fabric. We also cut into it make our Third Generation Bride's dress fit. There's still enough left over for one or two more of these type of dresses to be altered from one poorly done, sad reconstruction. Once we decided the straps would be hand stitched to fit properly, we repurposed those bows. One resides at the bottom of the corset back, as seen above. Can you find the hole in the veil? Many small flaws aren't readily visible in the vast majority of photos.
It's very rare that the original owner of a family dress makes it to the wedding. These are the photos I delight in. Family gowns can give reason to join together and create something new out of the evidence of stories from the past. When we were finished Grandma Jean whispered to me, "You have magic in your fingers." As I reached in the pocket of my dress for a handkerchief I dabbed my dewy eyes and offered her my sincerest of thank yous.
Megan and Brad were married in Everett, Washington at the historic Monte Cristo Ballroom. Brad was stationed overseas and flew home for the wedding. The ceremony and reception were both held inside the building but some pictures were taken walking around downtown Everett near the waterfront. They celebrated their second anniversary this month.
When Mother Dear was growing up on top of Council Crest one of her neighbors was Bill Berry, a confirmed bachelor. He worked at The Clothes Horse in downtown Portland. One day he confessed to Mother Dear that he would always wake up early on Sunday morning (after a lively Saturday night) to see what The Bolger's were wearing to church. Especially on Easter, which was never a disappointment. Though these photos are from December of 1959 and seasonally inappropriate, you can see why a fashion forward gentleman might rise early to catch the ensembles of the Irish Catholic clothier family across the street. While Mother Dear and I were looking at these photos today I said, "you're wearing wool." She pointed out, "that dress was silk."
I do love the vast potential of the internet. While searching to see if google might know the correct spelling of Bill Berry, I was delighted to find Sentiment: A Memoir by Cheryl Krkoc which recounts her life being raised by immigrant parents. There was a passage about her father's many connections in every town. Her parents frequented The Clothes Horse and made friend's with Bill. They would go for steaks and drinks at The RingSide where Cheryl and her sister would sometimes be invited and Bill would choose drinks he thought fit their personalies. She remembers him once wearing a full length fur coat. He was certainly a dedicated follower of fashion.
At my Grandmother’s funeral Bill Berry arrived with an entourage of no less than five. As MD was shuffling people out of the church, Bill came up to her with his sympathies and apologized for taking up her time. He just wanted to see what she was wearing to the funeral.
With a twirl her voluminous purple wool cape it billowed out, revealing her Mother's purple and pink marbled glass rhinestone pendant center stage as she said, "I hope I didn't disappoint."
“No, that’s exactly what I envisioned you would be wearing."
Though we stopped going to mass when I was three years old, Easter was still a time to get dressed up and go visit relatives for dinner in the afternoon. Evidently, it has always been so as this photo of Mother Dear and Uncle Bill visiting California cousins at Easter in 1949 proves.
The other side of the family was not to be neglected.
Here Uncle Bill and Mother Dear are seen with cousins including JoAnn and Sharon who we have recently rediscovered after they followed my Facebook Fan Page. We've been sharing photos of family members back and forth, many of which have never been seen before by the recipients.
This photo of Uncle Arthur, Aunt Helen and their sons is also from Easter 1949. I find it's a lovely example of spring fashions for men, women and boys for that year. I revel in dated photos as we often don't know exactly when the vintage we find is from. I have found that training with dated snapshots, magazines and movies you can really hone the skill that answers the question, "How old is this?"
Our Easter table was always decorated with paper maché rabbits and panoramic sugar eggs that I would stare into and make up stories about. I shared a paper maché bunny with the neighborhood in my Easter hat window with some decorative egg picks to which I added tiny round brooches. What Easter traditions does your family observe?
Kelsey brought me her Mother's 1978 Lorrie Deb satin wedding gown that neither fit her body nor her style back in 2012. She wanted to wear it and I was happy to help. It probably looked just like this to begin with.
Kelsey had already removed the puffy, chiffon sleeves. She wasn't thrilled with the high neckline and had made a pinterest board of bodices she liked. They were all lace tops with keyhole backs. She bought several lace samples on Etsy and we found that trying to find something to match online was tricky. Finally, I was inspired by a dress Mother Dear had her Mother make in the 1970s.
It was an A line maxi dress cut out of a quaker lace tablecloth and lined in blue. She wore it to her parent's 40th wedding anniversary party in 1978 accessorized with a satin ribbon to match the lining and an antique ivory brooch on top. My Grandmother was a by-the-book sewer and Mother Dear was forever making her construct things in a manner she felt was wrong. But lucky for us she did it anyway. People who don't sew always have a lot of ideas about things, but the how to is often missing. I love how this project mirrored the interactions my Mother and Grandmother had making our inspiration dress. I usually describe bride's by nicknames they earn during their fitting. At this point, we began referring to Kelsey as Tablecloth Bride.
sI cut a section from the center of the tablecloth that looked like it might suit our needs. I loosely trimmed it and kept cutting away at every fitting. You never really know what's going to happen or what the end product will actually look like when refashioning dresses and gowns. Brides with a good attitude, a creative mind and an overflowing imagination are my best clients. This also requires a good deal of trust for a successful outcome.
I'm always very cautious when it comes to this type of work, because if you mess up there aren't always a lot of good ways to correct mistakes. I like to overthink things before getting out my scissors. This results in many fittings. I only charge a consolation fee for the first visit so that brides don't skimp on fittings. They and the time in-between them are valuable for brainstorming and creative contemplation.
A little trimming made a big difference! Next we had to figure out how to connect the top to create a keyhole.
I lopped a piece out of the tablecloth that I thought would suit the shape of the neck. But it wasn't long enough. The bride suggested adding some florets.
I began by painstakingly hand stitching the scallops to the front of the bodice, the lace around the neck hand stitched to itself and we left the back loose until we got closer to finishing and could figure out the best way to wrap things up back there. The answer turned out to be lots of snaps and a few lace appliqués.
I do all of my machine stitching on a 1954 Singer 99K portable machine. It is a workhorse that I can (for the most part) maintain and repair myself. This dress was a just little too small for the bride. I let out both side seams and when replacing the weak nylon zipper with a staunch metal one, I found a great deal of excess fabric to let out at the center back that provided us with a perfect fit.
Precise trimming and a good deal of Fray Check transformed this into something people are unlikely to recognize as a tablecloth.
Next, we had to decided what to do with the hem. The bride didn't care for the original satin, high/low ruffle hem and removed it herself to save on labor costs. I had just purchased a 1930s wedding dress with a square train and thought that might look interesting with her dress.
We ended up making a smaller pointed train with just one corner. This was the most difficult task on this project. Joining the hem of the tablecloth on a curve in front to the pointed back in a symmetrical way on the side seams was quite complicated.
Tablecloth Bride did so many things for her wedding herself. She handmade her hair flower from the chiffon sleeves and her Grandmother's handkerchiefs with added birdcage style detachable veil. She was a delight to work with. I love a creative and challenging project and this certainly provided loads of both.
For a majority of the year The Portland Civic Theater Guild puts on a reading at the Old Church the first Tuesday of the month. This is in part because local actress Lannie Hurst spearheaded a movement in the 1960s to save the leaky Old Church from demolition. It's such a beautiful example of American Gothic architecture with all it's little details, that I can't imagine it's paint peeling and people seriously considering taking it down. Last week we discussed Lannie Hurst, her wedding dress and her contributions to saving the Old Church. These photos were taken on an excursion to see The Guild in 2013. It was a beautiful day and I took the opportunity to be photographed in the Lannie Hurst Memorial Parlour.
I wore a 1957 reproduction Butterick B4513 pattern dress I made to wear to Doug and Mary's wedding nearly a decade ago. I made it for a smaller me, but the back half of the waist is elastic and the bias binding that binds the underarms as well as the front and back of the bodice tie into straps wherever you like, making for a very adjustable fit. I tie them over my bra straps to keep from having to wear a long line strapless bra in the heat. This dress is great because it is simple to make and with a properly sized belt, it can fit a variety of my sizes.
This was a quick and easy dress that I highly recommend. I used a poly Charmeuse by Hi-Fashion Fabrics that was made in 2003. It was left over from my late 1990s-early 2000s addiction to buying yardage at the monthly 40% off fabric sale at Fabric Depot. I whipped this out in a hurry using many shortcuts as I often do for clothing I am making for myself. I didn't cut out the sides of the circle skirt, only the waist leaving the selvages in tact for two reasons. Beyond saving time not cutting, the selvage serves as a finished edge that needn't be serged, pinked or otherwise dealt with. It is also printed with the year the fabric was manufactured so in the future, it will be easy for people to tell this is a reproduction dress and not true vintage. I also did a quick rolled hem with my serger. This usually saves me from having to add length to a pattern. This dress always gets lots of compliments from friends and strangers alike. I think it's the bold chrysanthemum print in black and red on a creamy white background. A full skirt always garners a good deal of attention.
Before the reading, ladies of The Guild serve coffee and cookies and socializing occurs. Please note the thoughtful comedy and tragedy vases on the table. We caught them setting up, before all the action begins.
The lights are dimmed to indicate the show is about to start and we all shuffle off to grab a seat in the pews.
Readings are preformed in front of this magnificent organ on a stage where music stands and microphones are set up. The performance we saw was an edited version of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. A cast of four. Douglas Webster, Chrisse Roccaro, Kurt Raimer and Debbie Hunter.
As I recall, the opened with Madeleine, a peppy number filled loquacious lyrics. "Madeleiene's my Christmas tree, she's America to me, I know that she's too good for me." If you're a Françophile like myself and a musical lover, I highly suggest you take in this show any time you're lucky enough to find it being preformed. But it's not all fun and games. Recently a dear friend of mine was discussing how sometimes she like to unwind from the pressures of preforming with a good cry. This one about Les Vieux from the 1975 Jacques Brel movie does it for me everytime.
I'm always extra excited to see people we know performing and I was delightfully surprised to see long time customer, Debbie Hunter.In a charming 1950s Mexican cotton skirt with sequins.
There's a lot of socializing afterwards where we are introduced to new people...
And reunited with old friends. Debbie's Mother-In-Law is Miss Patty of Romper Room. We purchased and sold her 1959 wedding gown complete with a snap shot of her dress which you can see in it's Etsy listing. We were all pleased we got the same outfit color coding memo.
Mother Dear: Prop Comic. Give my Mom a knife and fork and she'll make them into a candlestick phone and create six to ten minutes of material in a Chaplin like manner. A checker at the grocery store recently turned off his register and refuse to ring up Mother Dear until she explained to him why she always looked so happy. She was a bit taken aback. I pointed out that I don't think people are very good at being happy and don't know how to do it. We decided it pays to have a good sense of humor.
The staircase at The Mallory is tremendous and always reminds me of a scene in Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn as bookworm turned model by photographer Fred Astaire. The camera couldn't catch me coming down the stairs but we did get a shot showcasing the tremendous volume of the skirt.
Obviously, we're fans of the May Musical. Perhaps you'll join us this year? They are so delightfully old fashioned at The Guild that you may purchase your tickets at the door or mail a check to the address listed at the above link. Come and see some of this amazing architecture for yourself!
My favorite thing about vintage clothing and particularly vintage wedding gowns and dresses are the stories. Hearing daughters and granddaughters tell tale of their loved ones and learning about a human being's life from the threads that clothed their bodies. Mrs. Peter Leopold Hurst was born Frances Lanier, though I always knew her as an actress friend of Mother Dear's that everyone called Lannie. Not to be confused with MD's friend Lambie. Lannie passed away in 2010 and when the family was trying to figure out what to do with her wedding dress, our mutual family friend Suzanne (Portland is very small) immediately thought of AlexSandra's Vintage Emporium. I was lucky enough to get the ostrich feathers, but not the hat or belt she wore. Though we don't know the year Lannie was married despite a lengthy obituary in the Oregonian, her crepe backed satin dress feels like silk and is an ode to the style, quality of manufacture and materials available in the mid 1940s.
In 1967, Lannie began a campaign to save the Old Church, Portland's oldest church building on it's original site. She gathered together the community and found the resources and talent to buy, remodel and save this Old Portland treasure. By 1972 it was designated a national historic landmark. You can find out more about it here.
This is the beautiful Lannie Hurst Parlor, adjacent to the church and named in honor of Lannie, her initiative and efforts.
Once a month throughout the school year, The Portland Civic Theater Guild puts on 45-90 minute readings in front of the tremendous organ inside the Old Church. Mother Dear meets up with her actress pals from the past and afterward they head over to "The Mallory" to have lunch at Gracie's. A business (usually a local theater) sets up a display at the center table where they serve coffee and cookies before the performance. Occasionally I attend with MD and last April after advertising in the program the month before, The Guild asked me to bring my wares down to display and discuss my shop for a bit. Since this occurs in the Lannie Hurst Parlor, I thought it the perfect time to have my buddy and master era hairstylist, Kristen Behlings don Lannie's dress and share it with the ladies at The Guild.
I was really excited to get a picture of Kristen in Lannie's wedding dress in the Lannie Hurst Parlor.
This business causes one to contemplate the mortality of human beings on a regular basis. Things like this fill me with an abundance of emotions. To think that a dress might be the reason that people continue to talk about your life and achievements six or more years after your passing is an interesting thought. Reuniting a garment once filled with the flesh of a woman who did things for the betterment of the city of Portland with a building that would no longer exist if it weren't for this one person makes me happy. Sparking a memory of someone who has shuffled off this mortal coil with older people who may have a harder time remembering every day things, feels like giving a gift. Seeing a glow of recognition on an otherwise downward turned face is one of my favorite rewards in life.
Some of Lannie's best advice was on the subject of age. "I delight in my age," she said at 64. "I delighted in every age I have lived. Each has it's sense of marvelous treasures." We should all be so lucky.
Now this dress will become another woman's wedding ensemble. Who knows what she will go on to accomplish. All we know now is that she's going to have excellent taste. We can hope that she will be able to enjoy every age she lives. Find a gallery of studio photography of this dress below. Click on any to fill your screen with an image and click your way through. Find it for sale on Etsy here.
Mother Dear has been gearing up to move sometime soon. We've been sorting (keep or sell) and then packing away her keepers and pricing the sell pile for an upcoming estate sale. I had planned to come over today and when I spoke to her last night she mentioned, "I have two boxes of jewelry for you." I thought she had sorted out two boxes of her own jewelry to sell which we would be pricing. How wrong I was. When I arrived this morning I found out the jewelry was from her friend Linda who sold me her Aunt's 70 pairs of 1960s-1970s shoes and several purses back in 2013.
The shoes were mostly packed in their original boxes. Fur trimmed sandals, Polly of California, 1970s platforms, Henry Waters Shoes of Consequence and more! Linda had everything neatly organized and even wrote down all the shoes and their sizes. She'd mentioned that she was listing her Aunt's vintage jewelry on eBay. Cut to a few years later and she's sold the very best and most expensive pieces and still found she had quite a bit leftover. Instead of dealing with it anymore, she elected to call Mother Dear to get it out of her face. Imagine my delight at two shoe boxes of fresh jewelry from a woman I already knew to have excellent taste in footwear and handbags. Only nervy ladies have several pairs of leopard print shoes. I still have one pair left in my Etsy shop. If you wear a size 6.5 or 7, you should book an appointment to visit the Emporium soon as I still have many pairs of Linda's Aunt's shoes in my brick and mortar that have yet to be listed online.
Many of her purses hang from the ceiling of the Emporium today. The silver lamé clutch, quilted make up bag, and others can be found in my Etsy shop dedicated to the vintage bride.
I'm always interested in seeing jewelry purchased by the same woman who thought multiple pairs of jeweled sandals were a wise investment.
The larger box was filled with jewelers envelopes and vintage department store boxes. At first I was disappointed that Linda wrote on them as that is a pet peeve of mine, but then I realized she only directly wrote on the unbranded box. The Best's Apparel and Nordstrom boxes were thoughtfully written on Post-It notes.
The white box with the Post-It note is from Rhodes and is branded on the underside of the box.
While the boxes were mostly filled with earrings, they did not disappoint. The enamel flowers with biot feather loops were the first things that caught my eye as I have never seen another pair of earrings quite like them in my entire life of looking at vintage earrings. The dense bristle brush earrings above them with enamel centers were also quite unique. The thick enormous rivoli earrings were the first I was tempted to keep. Once I flipped them over and found they were by my favorite American costume jewelry design company, Vendome how could I resist?
All those hot pink earrings explain her many pair of shocking pink shoes like these Polly's, which were the first pair to sell online after the leopard print Spring-o-Lators.
In one bag I noticed some small christmas tree earrings and thought I had the matching brooch back at the shop. Turns out I was mostly right, the ornaments are varying shades of pink on the earrings and monochromatic on the brooch.
I have a love for all things vintage. Jewelry from every decade excites me weather it is fine couture Christian Dior, boutique jewelry like Alice Caviness or plastic five and dime jewelry from Newberry's. When I was in High School, I was into things from the 60s and 70s. Lots of long ropey, brightly colored plastic beaded necklaces brought me great joy and repulsed my Mother, a fashion plus for me at that age. I never knew that they also made earrings to go with such necklaces until today. I had a necklace (and probably still do somewhere around here) that could really use those yellow and orange clip ons.
I've been in need of some white earrings for quite awhile and now I have my choice of these three. I'm leaning towards the 1960s gold toned, milk glass hoops at the top. The flowers are also choice for spring and summer floral print dresses. I also like the glass ball earrings as a nice neutral for many ensembles.
Several pair will make lovely wedding earrings over at Union Made Bride.
After a quick glance through the boxes while at my Mom's house (including these articulated owls and hoops of San Francisco cable cars) she did something that excited me tremendously.
She walked into her kitchen and I realized she must have taken out the most exciting thing in the whole bunch to save for last. She handed me a little tiny mouse pin because I love novelty jewelry and then before my eyes she dangled such a charming treat.
I'll never be able to get all these gems listed online, so if you're local you should book an appointment to see these and hundreds more vintage clip on earrings.
My Mother elected not to get married to her steady beau right out of high school like many of her contemporaries. She wanted to be an actress and in 1961 she moved to Washington D.C. to attend the National Academy of Broadcasting, the year after Wolfman Jack graduated from the same institution. Naturally, she took her elaborate and small sized wardrobe with her. She had roommates from Down South who called purses pocketbooks and cried their way out of speeding tickets by cooing their southern drawl and batting their eyelashes. They also borrowed her clothes without asking or cleaning them before sneaking them back in her closet.
The NAB certainly taught her many things. While I was growing up she was a working actress, most proficiently in the field of radio voice work. What I remember most about the National Academy of Broadcasting and my Mother’s tales of living in Washington D.C. is that we never had grape jelly in our house. Every berry season she would cherish her marionberry jam and recount the days in D.C. where your only jam choice was grape.
She certainly left out a few things about all the fun she was having. Oh those pants! She's always been a pro at removing her glasses before being photographed.
I recently came across a stash of photos from her time there that I had never seen before. I love seeing her pencil skirts and capri pants of the early 60s. She's just 18 years old here and it's interesting to see her style evolve from her childhood in the 1950s into a slightly more sophisticated look that prefaces the more eccentric ensembles she donned as the decade wore on. Her friends and roommates made time for sightseeing, parades and hi-jinx. These photos amuse me as they are a nice look into early 1960s youthful styles and what Washington D.C. looked like during the Camelot Era.