Miss Weaver’s Beaded Flapper Purse

Once in awhile, I run across an interesting vintage item that really causes me to believe that it just longs to tell its secrets.

Miss Weaver's Mysterious Beaded Flapper Purse

Miss Weaver’s Mysterious Beaded Flapper Purse

I don’t even remember where I found this sensational beaded  flapper purse, but it absolutely HAS to have secrets to share.  It’s possible that it belonged to a woman named Ruth, for inside, there is an envelope addressed to a “Miss Ruth Weaver” with a return address stamped on the back from a chiropractor and a postmark of 1926 Indianapolis where she lived just south of historic Woodruff Place.  Did Miss Weaver have a bad back from dancing the night away?  Or was the chiropractor a beau?

Admiring the multitude of midnight blue carnival glass seed beads, patiently sewn onto the silk purse in loops, I wonder —  Did they once shimmer enticingly in the dim lights of the speakeasy Miss Weaver and her beau spent the evening dancing and (gasp!) imbibing in the forbidden “waters”?

It was inside the purse that I found the folded envelope.  And inside the envelope are lots of loose beads and two straight pins.  Was Miss Ruth in the process of completing the decoration of her purse, or are they wayward beads that tried to escape as she kicked up her heels in her new, flirtatious flapper dress?  We’ll never know but there’s more …

Miss Weaver's Lost Beads

Miss Weaver’s Lost Beads

The purse handle, made of black grosgrain ribbon and hand sewn to the frame, is broken in two!  You don’t suppose she was in a speakeasy when a quick exit was required?!  As she picked up her purse to make her escape, maybe it caught on the corner of a chair back, breaking the handle and a few of the threads which held the sparkling beads.  She would have quickly picked her purse up off the floor and vainly tried to scoop up as many of the, now wild and carefree, beads as she could to erase any evidence that she’d been there.  In her distress, a young man stops to help corral the beads and slips a few wayward ones into an envelope he happens to have in the breast pocket of his jazz suit.  Handing Ruth the envelope, he helps her to her feet and guides her to the safety of the lighted sidewalks of Indianapolis where they pretend to have known one another for some time and have just stepped out of the neighboring theater only to find chaos on the street in front of them.

Once the danger has passed, Ruth notices the last trolley car of the evening arriving.  She quickly thanks her new friend for his help and smiles sweetly before turning and going up the steps and taking a seat.  Looking out the window, she sees him wave to her.  She smiles and returns the gesture.  As the trolley starts forward, she realizes … they did not introduce themselves!  She doesn’t know his name!

The chiropractor's envelope

The chiropractor’s envelope

But once Ruth reaches her home, she opens her purse and finds the envelope … with the name and address …

As you can see, this purse needs a new owner.  I’m having entirely too much fun making up Miss Weaver’s escapades!  (Or maybe … Miss Weaver was the crotchety old maid aunt who snatched the purse from her gallivanting niece, tearing the handle and breaking the loops of thread holding the beads.  Angry, because the beads have scattered on her floor, Aunty grabs an old envelope from her chiropractor’s office and places the beads inside…..)

Help meeeee!

“Chic Chicago” Exhibit at the Chicago History Museum

Why has my blog been so silent the past couple of weeks?  Other than being busy beyond belief, we took our annual mini-vacation to Chicago.  It’s a treat for us all and a “thank you” to my son and his girlfriend for helping at the vintage clothing shows throughout the year.  We started the tradition about 3 years ago and had so much fun we can’t stop ourselves now!

The museums in Chicago are superb and there are always new, rotating exhibits to see.  Pierceton is close enough to Chicago that we have some Chicago stations on our cable system so we always pick up new ideas of places to go and things to do.  As if there could ever be any boredom there!  Yes, we love to visit the Windy City.

If you hang out with me very long, you’ll find I’m torn between food and fashion.  (Here’s where I have to maintain a little dignity and mention that I CAN still wear vintage clothing, but a girl’s gotta have some fun!)  We discovered Tuscany on Taylor Street in Little Italy.  You know you’re in for a treat when the basket of fresh Italian bread is delivered to the table with a huge roasted garlic bulb that the waiter mashes on a plate and mixes with olive oil.  Oh my.  And accommodating!  My son prefers white sauces and asked if a particular dish could be served with white sauce and before he knew it, the entire dish had been personalized for him.  Our waiter was a complete doll.  We are going back soon, even if we have to make a special trip.

But I digress …

Other than finding a couple new POPs (Pig Out Places) one of my favorite exhibits was at the Chicago HistoryMuseum.   Here’s where I beg everyone’s pardon for the lack of graphics since, understandably, no photos are allowed of the museum collection.  BUT the Museum of Science & Industry has an  Old Town area where fotofanatics can run amok and I got a nice picture of some shoes!

The exhibition “Chic Chicago” displays an exquisite selection of beautiful designer dresses that include antique Worth gowns from as early as 1861, early Chanel – a personal favorite,  Madame Grès, Poiret, Christian Dior’s early New Look, Halston, Givenchy, Vionnet, Versace, Mugler …. plus so many more.   And ohhhh … I was particularly taken with a 1938 evening gown by Gilbert Adrian influenced by Cubism and intrigued by the 1954 “Butterfly” ballgown by Charles James.  The “Butterfly” gown exhibit included a smaller, touchable version that I really appreciated because the wings and bustle are truly a feat of engineering.

Then there was the Fortuny Delphos gowns.   Sigh ……

They had to call the janitorial staff to follow me around to mop up the drool.  Those museum people are so fussy.

Imagine the thrill discovering that there was yet another special exhibition there at the same time, “Bertha Honoré Palmer” that included more breathtaking gowns worn by Mrs. Palmer, wife of Potter Palmer who built The Palmer House hotel.  This exhibition featured antique gowns and personal items owned by Mrs. Palmer that dated from the 1880s to the early 1900s.  Particularly enjoyable to see were more unusual items such as a winter coat, circa 1885, a court presentation gown from 1892 with a 9 foot train, a 1908 teagown, and circa 1910 red velvet shoes.  Remarkable fabrics … fabrics which are so sadly unavailable today.

Yeah, the janitors mopped up there, too.

So if you’re anywhere NEAR Chicago, be sure to take the opportunity to check these two exhibitions out at the Chicago History Museum.  “Chic Chicago” is only open until July 26, 2009 so HURRY!  The Bertha Honoré Palmer exhibition will run until January 4, 2010.

Both exhibition catalogs are available at the Chicago History Museum.  Janitorial services extra.

She Had It First

Meet Chloe, my most recent addition to the Wall of Fame.

Meet Chloe - the latest addition to our Women With Bad Attitudes.

Meet Chloe – the latest addition to our Women With Bad Attitudes.

I have no idea what this lovely lady’s real name is.  Sadly she is one of the “instant relatives” so often found tossed into a box in an antique store.  (Let this be a lesson to always identify your photos!  Do you want to end up with your face in a box with a thousand other unknown faces 50 or 100 years from now, with strangers making up stories about who you were?)

For some reason, she just “told” me her name was Chloe … so now she is Chloe.

Chloe caught my eye because, well, she has the Attitude.  And an awesome blouse.  Oftentimes, an old photo will catch my eye simply because of the clothing.  Chloe caught my eye because she has both.  Take a good look at her.  She KNOWS you want that blouse.

One of the great things about scanning an old photo is the ease of enlarging it to see the details.  And the details of this blouse, or waist, are wonderful!  Each shoulder has a small, probably ¼” tuck, then working toward the collar, it looks like a vertical wavy line of whitework embroidery, then flowers with 5 petals – they almost appear to be individually sewn on – then 5 or 6 tiny pin tucks.  Vertically, down the center is ruffled lace decorated with fabric covered buttons.  Sort of makes the graceful high neck collar look a little boring with mere lace insertions and pin tucks.

Was the blouse a ready-made, or did she make it?  What was the occasion of the photo?  A graduation?  An engagement?  Whose picture is in the locket?

So feminine.  So romantic.  And Chloe owned and wore it when it wasn’t vintage!  Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a vintage blouse AND a photo of the original owner wearing it?  Those are so rare.

Of course now I wonder what her skirt looked like.

It’s kind of thought provoking to realize that the antique or vintage dress we may be fortunate enough to own today originally belonged to and was worn by someone so many years ago.  The original owners would probably be surprised to learn that many of us today are so appreciative of the style, beauty, workmanship of the clothing that was taken for granted as part of their lives.

Ahhh … so that’s explains Chloe’s attitude, “Remember, I had it first”.

Women With Bad Attitudes

I have a Wall of Fame.  Or maybe it’s the Wall of Infamy.  Here at the shop, the wall behind the counter is covered with hats, purses, bodices … and Women with Bad Attitudes.

How it came to be was purely accidental.  I had come across a modern decorative tile that depicted a Victorian woman giving the proverbial “look that could kill” with the inscription, “Everyone’s entitled to a hissy-fit now and then” and it just seemed to address my … shall we say, state of mind … at the time.  I hung the tile on the wall behind the counter.

She has ATTITUDE - "Patience"

She has ATTITUDE “Patience”

Not long after that, I added a wonderful hand-tinted photograph of a Victorian lady in a beautiful gold oval frame to my inventory.  Being too lazy to haul out the ladder and out of space near the floor to hang the photo, I put it on the wall behind the counter.  One day, I realized that the lady in the oval frame looked like she could have been the woman on my tile!  Evil stare and all.  I call them Patience and Mercy.

Is this the same lady, or what? She *definitely* has ATTITUDE!

Is this the same lady, or what? She *definitely* has ATTITUDE! This is “Mercy”. Reeeally?

"Bonnie" definitely has attitude!

“Bonnie” definitely has attitude!

As happens in a vintage store, more and more things accumulate.  Occasionally, an item comes in that just SPEAKS to me.  A particular chalkware statue of a girl called to me.  Chalkware (really plaster of paris) was commonly given as an inexpensive prize at fairs or carnivals between about 1910 and 1940.  This particular piece is fairly common  – she stands about 16″ high and wears a cute pink jacket and wide legged, cuffed pants with a matching cap cocked at a rather sassy angle and a green striped (with glitter!) turtleneck.  Her hands are in her pockets and she has a sort of pouty “don’t mess with me” expression painted on her face.  Since she came to live here, I’ve mentally compared her to others I’ve seen out and about and no others have this pouty expression!  She sits on a shelf on the wall behind the counter – I call her Bonnie.

Back in 2006 the dear lady, Nedra Beebe, who owned the building my shop is in passed away.  I made a copy of her obituary that included her photo on pretty paper and put it on the wall.  Nedra and her husband had a very successful and well-known antique store here since May 1, 1940.  She was LEGENDARY.  I could do an entire blog about her.  She was quite the lady and one heck of a good businesswoman with a loyal following.  Countless of her customers have come in and the stories they tell … oh my.  She had THE attitude!  One story that has been told quite often was that occasionally a customer would invoke her ire.  Consequently, if that customer attempted to purchase something, it was no longer for sale!

About this time, it occurred to me that I had unintentionally covered this wall with photos of Women with Bad Attitudes.  And yes, my photo was already there.

Some years ago my husband and I had one of those old-timey black and white photos taken where you “dress up” in costumes.  Yeah … we did Bonnie & Clyde (don’t get me started on everything wrong with the styles portrayed there!).  That photo also hangs on that wall.  Now you know why I’m qualified to ascertain “attitude”:  It takes one to know one.

Bad attitude, for sure!

Bad attitude, for sure!

So what does all this have to do with vintage clothing?  Since realizing that I have this absurd collection of Women With Bad Attitudes, I’ve consciously collected a few more photos of Women With Bad Attitudes to study and admire the hairstyle, the dress, the hat, or some other fashion attribute. I find that old photographs are an excellent window into the past that, over time, becomes a learning tool that helps us understand a lot of the whys of fashion, such as how hairstyles affected hat styles and how certain types of jewelry were worn during a particular time period.   I’ll be posting these photos  soon with some thoughts and comments and, hopefully, some information about the fashions depicted.


Stay Tuned!

Fascinated by a Nelly Don dress

Welcome to my blog!  (How’s that for cliché?)  Like beginning a presentation, I always have trouble with the opening.  I’m fine once I get going.  In fact, just TRY to shut me up!  LOL

1950s Blue Floal Nelly Don Dress

1950s Blue Floal Nelly Don Dress

A dress inspired me this morning.  Isn’t that fabulous?  I always like to do a little extra research for my descriptions when I add anything to the websites, especially when there is a label or an interesting feature or history.  I’ve had other Nelly Don dresses, but this one just has that Pitty-Pat Factor.  I love it.  I would wear it in a second, but it will take longer than a second to return to my pre-marital, pre-motherhood weight and shape.  Liposuction, here I come!

The style is just adorable with the wide waist, cap sleeves, and pleated skirt.  One of my favorites.  But it’s the F A B R I C that really caught my attention:  a dark, royal blue with black sort of amoebas and bright pink, green, white, and gray spring flowers scattered throughout.  They stand out so –  almost starkly.  It’s very striking and THEN it fastens at the center front with small rhinestone buttons.

So I did a little research about Nelly Don dresses.  In an archive of Time Magazine, there is an article entitled, “Nellie’s Big Night” dated Monday, October 18, 1948 that gives a brief overview of her success story. (An interesting side note – did the original article misspell “Nellie” throughout the article, or is it a transcription error?)  A documentary book and film “A Stitch in Time” that was made, I believe, by a nephew reveals that, besides having started the “largest dress manufacturing company in the world” she was actually kidnapped and refused to pay the ransom!    It has been stated that her company made 75 million dresses between 1916 and 1978.  Check out the Nelly Don website!

It fascinates me to learn about the lives of women like Coco Chanel and Nelly Donnelly who were successful business women with multi-million dollar businesses at time when most women were happy housewives (or not so happy).  Yep, we’ve come a long way!

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