Prima has a question for you

by Erin on January 17, 2008


ebay item 8305987417

Ruth at Prima, a UK women's magazine, is looking for people who have a treasured piece of heirloom clothing that they still wear (or at least hold on to) and a picture of their relative wearing it, for a story. (If you fit this description, you can email her.)

Because both my parents came from military/service families and moved CONSTANTLY, I don't have a lot of "inherited" clothing. I do have two things: my grandfather's cloak from the US Naval Academy (which I don't wear because it weights eleventy-billion pounds; also, I am not now nor have I ever been a fresh-faced midshipman), and my grandmother's (other side of the family) nutria fur coat, custom-made for her in Buenos Aires in the 1960s. That I wear about once a year, usually when it's both below freezing *and* I have something to get all dressed up for. (It has a hood! It's very warm! But it's not exactly a carpool, run-to-the-grocery-store kinda thing.)

Oh, and I also have a verrrrrry fancy Persian lamb shrug-type jacket that belonged to my great-aunt Jayne (but before you start in with the whole "style! it's genetic!" argument I should point out that she is the sister of my mother's stepfather and that we don't, in fact, share any genes, only a deep love of Balenciaga). I should go look at the label and tell you what it is, she buys a lot of couture. I don't get much chance to wear that, as it only really looks good over a column-style ball gown …

Even if you don't have a picture for Ruth, feel free to post about your heirlooms in the comments … I'd love to hear about them!

[Oh, and thanks to Cat for the image -- she just told me that the Library of Congress has put 3000 photos on Flickr! Go check them out, there's a lot of great stuff there ...]

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie January 17, 2008 at 8:59 am

I have a seal fur coat that was my Aunt Martha’s (not really my aunt, instead a “friend” of my actual great aunt). It’s gorgeous, and feels fabulous, but I feel guilty every time I wear it.Diamonds from my grandmother’s wedding ring were in my wedding ring; I am now divorced. Does that count as an heirloom? I have a ton of her jewelry, and I love it and constantly get comments on it.

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Becky O. January 17, 2008 at 9:38 am

My mothers family were more inclined to farming and frugality. Most heirloom were worn to scraps and rags.Heirloom books on the other hand are plentiful!I just saw the LOC project on flickr last night and I am over the moon thrilled!!!Those images are amazing… “a picture is worth a thousand words” has a whole new meaning when looking at those historic shots.

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Jill B January 17, 2008 at 10:08 am

I was just wearing a flannel coat that was my great grandfather’s. Most of his clothing, however, is stored away for me to turn into some quilts, which the folks who can’t fit into his clothes are looking forward to.

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Bean January 17, 2008 at 10:09 am

Oh wow, the LOC archive on Flickr is AMAZING!! Thanks so much for sharing it, I hadn’t seen it before!!

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Cathy January 17, 2008 at 10:13 am

I had no idea there were color images like this in 1941!

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Barbara Prime January 17, 2008 at 10:21 am

I have my god-mother’s wedding dress. She was married mid-50′s, so the style is from that era – short sleeves, tight bodice with a pointed collar, full mid-calf skirt. It’s made from pale gray Japanese silk with an orchid pattern woven in. She bought the fabric in Tokyo (she was a fight-attendant) and had a seamstress make the dress. She left the dress to me before she died. Even though it was a tight squeeze (she had a 24″ waist!) I wore the dress for my own wedding last September.I have photos of me wearing the dress, of course. I might be able to get a photo of her in the dress, but I know it’s not very good quality any more.

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Cathy January 17, 2008 at 10:36 am

I have my mother’s going-away dress from 1944. It is a long-sleeve turquoise shirtdress with a cocoa embroidered motif on the left side of the bodice. The hem is faced – I’m sure she planned carefully to get the dress out of the material she had. And yes, I do have a picture of her in it.

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Erin January 17, 2008 at 11:13 am

I have a navy blue tea-length wool cloak that was my mom’s in the late ’60s, early ’70s. I don’t have a photo of her wearing it, but I wear it fairly often myself. It goes pretty well with full skirts. The seams on the armholes are starting to split, so it needs some repair beyond my stopgap hand-sewing.

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Erin January 17, 2008 at 11:26 am

Oh! I totally forgot. I have a plaid wool coat that was my grandmother’s, and there’s definitely a photo or two of her wearing it. I don’t have those photos, though.

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Anna January 17, 2008 at 12:01 pm

I have a goooorgeous lace petticoat that my mother gave me. It is unbleached (creamy coloured) cotton with about eighteen inches of handmade lace round the bottom. I love it so much – I wear it with a dark red corduroy skirt, and the bottom half inch or so of lace shows under the skirt. My mother used to wear it in the seventies with HER dark red tiered corduroy skirt, and I believe her mother wore it ocassionally in the fifties. However, it was given to my granny by her primary school teacher, who made it herself to wear under her wedding dress in about 1925. Every time I wear it, I think about the woman who made all that lace by hand for her wedding, and wonder what she’d think if she knew I was still wearing it… Sadly, there are no photos of anyone other than me wearing it though.

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Jennifer January 17, 2008 at 12:13 pm

Does my mother’s daishiki from the ’70s count? It’s in my closet, and I wear it occasionally.My mother has a lambswool coat from her grandmother, but since she lives in the south (and never dresses up for anything, either)I don’t think she’s worn it in ten years…

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barbie2be January 17, 2008 at 12:19 pm

i have the very first jumper that my father wore when he was in the navy, circa 1940. he was as skinny as a rail and even in my wildest dreams it never would have fit me. but i love the way it makes me feel like i have a connection to him still.i also have my grandmothers (maternal) mink stole. i never wear that either because really… who wears mink stoles these days?

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Scarlett January 17, 2008 at 12:24 pm

We have a “family jumper” that was knitted my my great-grandmother for my eldest auntie, and was passed down through my other auntie, uncle, mum, my five older cousins, myself, my sister, our younger cousin, and now my eldest cousin’s two babies. There are pictures of…probably eight or nine of us in it. It’s navy blue, with red fair isle patterns.

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Katie January 17, 2008 at 12:25 pm

I have:-a wool sweater whose age no one knows, heavy enough to serve as my casual coat-an ankle length brown leather jacket -a red sundress with white print border, from about 1970 although it’s rather timeless and looks more 50s-ish-my mother’s kilt and sweater bought in 1967 in Scotland-gorgeous maroon suede calfboots that my grandmother had, no idea the eraTo top all are the baby dresses that dd wore, which were originally *my* grandmother’s. Grandma was born in 1927.

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Kristina January 17, 2008 at 12:46 pm

i actually have a number of things that belonged to different relatives. all my relatives seem to be pack rats (and apparently, so am i) and keep practically everything they own. i have two favorites, though. one is a beautiful long gray caroling coat that belonged to my mom when she was a teenager. i don’t wear it much anymore, but i used to wear it frequently. the other is a black fedora that belonged to my grandfather. it is a little small for me, but i keep it on my hat rack to class it up (the rack). it never occurred to me to try and find pictures of my relatives wearing these things…i’m really interested in researching that now. thanks for the great idea!

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Judith in Umbria January 17, 2008 at 1:01 pm

We are ca,era shy so I don’t have photos. I do have treasures.My daughter now has the Pendleton plaid wool skirts that I wore and my 10 year older half sister wore before me. I have my mother’s 1934 jodphurs! Cool ones. I have a pink linen bolero that my mother embroidered in wool flowers — a stunner. No photos, because she was in a TB sanitorium when she did it, and she was never that thin again. If I ever lose my bust, I’ll wear it. That thing is slim, but very beautiful.I was fascinated by costume since babyhood. I used to critique my mother’s outfits at four. Funny that she didn’t appreciate the effort.

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rebecca January 17, 2008 at 1:29 pm

This actual garment is in my grandma’s trunk somewhere but when I was in 3rd grade I wore my great-great-GREAT grandmother’s dress to a harvest festival at a living history museum. I’m all for wearing vintage but I can’t believe anyone let me do that! My g-g-g-grandmother was (clearly) a tiny woman. The dress was black gingham and cut with a detachable cape since she belonged to a plain sect.

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The Momma Chronicles January 17, 2008 at 1:44 pm

I have a sweater that my great grandmother made, knitted out of royal blue wool with bright birds on its front and back. I have a photo of myself in the sweater, shoulder-deep in pumpkins at a local patch.I figured I’d get a pic of all my kids in the sweater as well, since I still have it.I emailed them to Ruth. :-)

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Leizel January 17, 2008 at 1:48 pm

I have an army shirt that one of my aunts embroidered with a dragon on the back and a couple of pair of my mother’s awesome argyle socks that she wore in high school (all vintage mid 70s, so not sure if they’re heirlooms yet.) I also have a few of my great-grandmother’s “dress” aprons. My mother still has a really lovely button-up undershirt made of super thin cotton with hand tatted cap sleeves from my great grandmother (another tiny woman.)When I was in high school, I wore my great-grandfather’s ca. 1930s red and black plaid wool hunting coat all the time. It’s still probably the warmest coat I own, though I don’t wear it much anymore as I’ve passed the days of wearing comically-oversized clothes.

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becky f. January 17, 2008 at 1:49 pm

I have a belly dancing costume that belonged to my maternal grandmother (something she took up, for fun, rather late in her life).I also have the dress my paternal grandmother made to wear to my parents’ wedding (blue and floral). I wore it once, in the seventh grade; my bust grew out of it before the rest of me did. It’s too bad, too, as the dress is so pretty, and I love its story.

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Diane January 17, 2008 at 2:12 pm

I have plenty of vintage clothing, but most of it belonged to strangers. This does remind me of a funny story, though. When I was in high school and just discovering my love for clothing from the 40s and 50s, I wore my mother’s black velveteen cigarette pants (circa 1957) to school. They. Looked. Fabulous. However, during 3rd-hour Algebra II as I sat into my chair, the velveteen disintegrated! This was no pop-a-seam incident, it was all-out 30-year-old fabric decay across my butt. Learned a little lesson about testing the integrity of vintage fabric that day!

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Anonymous January 17, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Why, yes, I do have some family clothing that I hang onto and don’t wear often. One is a dress my mother bought before her death in the late 1970′s. I loved the dress and always kept it. I think I’ll dig it out. I also wore her wedding gown when I got married. I no longer have the gown as it was not good luck to either of the wearers. I have my father’s Eisenhower jacket and an uncle’s Navy dress coat, as well. I should get around to repairing the lining on it since it’s heavy wool and the temperature is supposed to plummet this weekend. I wonder how many of these I can find photos of, now. Hmmm . . .—Karen

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Andrea R January 17, 2008 at 3:52 pm

re: the color photo from the 40′s. there were home photo-coloring kits available. This one looks really well done. My grandfather had one – I wonder if he still has it? I know he has photos he coloured. You could also get your photos professionally coloured.As for clothing, I have some of my grandmother’s things. She was great for saving everything, as she was in London during WW2. I have a teeny-waisted floor-length skirt, made from parachute silk and dyed black. It has a cummerbund waistline and measures 25 or 26 inches there, steel zipper now broken. I *did* manage to wear it to my prom. I used to have the crinolines to go with them, also made from parachute silk, but a borrower never returned them.I also have a silk taffeta plaid dress she wore as a bridesmaid when she was 12 or 14. My aunt has a picture of her wearing it. It is very very tiny. It was tight on me when I was 13. :DI also have couple dresses form the 50′s one pink and child-like with lace trim and balloon gathered pockets. The otehr a wild brown/white/grey print. There’s a blue silk dress for entertaining. It had a wide cape-like collar and a lipstick stain. Nanny said she wore it once to a fancy dinner event for Grampy’s work.She also saved some things of my aunt’s – a skating costume from the late 50′s, taken apaprt, a cardigan, and some clothing I wore. She sewed many of her own things and left a lot unfinsiehd which I inherited. She started a smocked dress for me on light blue cotton and never finished it. I did and my eldest daughter wore it when she was four. :)I *love* vintage clothing -especially ones that tell a story. (and yes, I’ve saved clothing from my own children now).

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Anonymous January 17, 2008 at 4:12 pm

I have my mom’s c.1950 green gym suit! It’s a one piece affair with her name — Patty — embroidered on the breast pocket. So Cute! I don’t wear it.

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mamafrog January 17, 2008 at 5:37 pm

Would you believe–a little green knit wool cap that looks like just the hood from a coat, sort of a fake fur ring around the face part and a plastic hair-band type of thing that keeps it on. My aunt, who is in her 70′s, wore it as a little girl. I wore it when I visited my grandparents in the winter (and deliberately forgot my hat so I could wear it), and my daughters wore it when they were little. Still have it, but it’s too fragile for my granddaughter to wear now. It makes me think of my grandmother, tho, whom I loved dearly and miss every day!

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Tealeafer January 17, 2008 at 7:50 pm

I have a lovely story about two pure white cotton heirloom gowns that are not from my family but won them at a high price from the Salvation Army auction of antiques… These are two 1895 floor length cotton nightgowns, just like Gramma and Great Gramma wore, wonderful condition, were wrapped in blue tissue, and two sisters wore these at the turn of the century, and believe they lived in Southern Alberta Canada.. I love these gowns, all hand sewn, hand stitching, amazing condition for being over 100 years old. just had to share this, I love the part that it was two sisters that owned these heirloom gowns and they have not been separated for over a hundred years and each one slightly different. Penny

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Val January 17, 2008 at 11:15 pm

In my closet is a shirtdress my mother made for herself when she was a girl. Probably in her tweens or younger. I think she always hoped I’d wear it, which is why it’s in my closet, and not hers.

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mkcs January 18, 2008 at 12:51 am

I have my mother’s old cape (heavy green wool, comes down to just above the elbows, has slits for hands to go through at the front, and gold buttons up to the throat), which reminds me of Jackie Kennedy very strongly; my grandfather’s beige single-breasted jacket, much too big for me and rather fabulous anyway; my dad’s old gold brocade waistcoat from the 60s, which I can just squeeze into still; scarves that belonged to my grandmothers…Nothing really old, sadly. Jewellery lasts so much longer than most fabrics.The only really old fabric I have is the heirloom baby shawl that I was brought home from hospital in. Not quite clear if it was my great-great-grandmother or my great-grandmother who was first wrapped in it. Shetland-style woolen lace made by Scottish-descended New Zealanders.

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Kristine January 18, 2008 at 1:09 am

Along with some of my Mom’s other things I have her 60′s era hot pink linen sleeveless evening gown. Have yet to wear it as most of the formal events we attend are in the winter. The best part is that somewhere in my mom’s house is a picture of her wearing this dress standing in between my sister and me who are wearing coordinating Lilly Pullitzer hot pink and green linen shifts with matching jackets! Gotta unearth that pic on my next trip home.I’m drooling over your USNA cloak. Perhaps a Secret Lives of Uniforms…if that thing could talk!

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lfs January 18, 2008 at 7:39 am

I have many of my Mother’s things that I have worn through out the last 30 years – from leather gloves and velvet jackets to dresses she made in the 40′s as well as bed-jackets and other items. However, my most treasured item is the hand-sewn batiste cotton gown and slip my father’s grandmother made upon his birth in 1930. With oh-so delicate appliqu at the neckline and the tiniest of pin tucks down the front. My own son wore it home from the hospital at his birth in 1982. He was wrapped in a quilt my Mother made with knitted (tatted?) booties out of a pearlized thread (?) some other family member made in years past (pre-50″s as we also wore them as infants). Unfortunately, my son did not want his own son to wear a “dress” when brought home from the hospital last year. I will leave it to my daughter at this time.

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tea January 18, 2008 at 8:00 am

I come from a long line of packrats, so when my grandmother passed away, my great uncle gave me a whole attic full of her clothes. And shoes. And jewelry. So the collection is a bit too numerous to count. But my favorite piece is a sugar pink velvet dress with matching full-length coat. I really need to start taking pictures of these things, though, and set up a plus-size vintage store. The family line ends with me and I, sadly, can’t wear any of it. Though I might be able to take some of it in. By the way, are we certain that photo is authentic? To me it looks like a modern staging of vintage. Or a band photo. Partially because the expressions on their faces and partially because of the angle. It was pretty rare in the 40s to take candid shots; it would have been considered wasteful. Especially because of the way they’re dressed; if they were putting on a show (hence the circus costumes), it would have been too socially embarrassing to reveal their behind-the-scenes relaxation. Of course, I’m probably totally wrong. Though now I kind of want to stage fake candid vintage shots.

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Lucelu January 18, 2008 at 8:22 am

My father kept clothing forever and I have his sweater, which has a name “Old Blue”. I wear it occasionally and I am sure there are pictures of him in it. I think he purchased it in the 1960′s at least. There are also suits, one a white and blue stripe–I’m blanking on the name of the fabric type but it is popular for the spring and summer. I plan to refashion it.My mother did get rid of much of my grandmother’s wardrobe, much of which was home sewn as she was a seamstress. I remember wearing one spiral skirt and matching blouse at Halooween when I was a kid, made out of cream and tourquise crepe. The skirt was very twirly. Alas, no pictures.

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Cathy January 18, 2008 at 8:42 am

Tea- click the picture. It’s part of a government project in the 30s and 40s. (You’ll recognize some of the black and white photos in a similar project.)

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tea January 18, 2008 at 9:06 am

Oops! I feel dumb now. But awesome. Thanks for the heads-up, Cathy.

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MadeByAmanda January 18, 2008 at 9:14 am

The wedding dress I wore last spring at my wedding was worn by my mother (in the 70′s)and my grandmother (in the 40′s). My grandmother sewed it for her wedding. Unfortunately no pictures exist of my grandmother in the dress, just a very blurry home video. My mother had put on some long, gunne-sax style lace sleeves, but I took them off and put the original cap sleeves back on. Body type runs strong in our family. It fit me almost like it had been made for me.

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holli January 18, 2008 at 10:30 am

I have my grandmother’s gray Persian lamb coat, which I wore to formal events in high school, but these days I a) have no formal events, and b) have comes to terms with the fact that the sleeves are just too short. I wore my mother’s sweet 16 dress to a winter formal in high school. It’s floor-length black velvet with a big white collar. I still have it, but the last time it fit me I was maaaaybe 15– being taller than all your relatives means very few hand-me-downs.My mother inherited a ring of her grandmother’s that was beautiful, but too big and gaudy for her, a huge tear-shaped opal surrounded by tiny diamonds. So she had the stones re-set into a necklace for me and one for my sister– I got the opal and one of the diamonds, she got the rest of the diamonds on a chain. They’re both beautiful, and wearable, and I think of my great-grandmother whenever I wear mine.

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Pamela January 18, 2008 at 10:15 pm

There was a barn and carriage house full of things dating back to the 1880s, when my uncle sold the family place outside of Boston in the 70s. The whole extended family were packrats and there was plenty of space. My uncle did not clear it out in time and I am afraid a lot of it went to the dump, since the buyers were not so understanding.That said, a few trunks were saved and I have some lovely things. I have a white wool embroidered baby coat and white leather booties, trimmed in pink, worn by my father in 1914. I also have a sterling rattle. Pink was not an unusual color for boys then. In fact, we have studio pictures of the 2 brothers with dutch boy haircuts, wearing what would be considered dresses today. Why do so many men worry about their sons turning gay if they wear pink or prissy clothes? I have a 1930s silk velvet and lace bias gown with bolero which belonged to my great-aunt. She was a college professor and a single lady. My father said all her students thought she dressed very smartly and had the nicest dresses at their dances. When I was a child she always bought me my “good dresses” at R.H. Stearns in Boston. I have several “combinations,” or one-piece unders, in both silk and batiste, which were found in a trunk of my grandmother’s things. They were all hand embroidered and I assume they were part of her trousseau, from 1911. The same trunk has a disassembled dress, with boning and long skirt, in a garnet and black silk plaid lined in cambric. I really should try to reassemble it! I don’t think it was her wedding dress. She was in her late 30s when she married in 1911 and had both my father and my uncle when she was over 40 years old! I also have her natural linen driving coat with matching cloche hat from the 1920s. It goes with all the cars my father has saved!My father, age 94, still wears clothes he had in 1929. He has his high school sweater, some very old jeans, and a terrific pair of 1940s khakis with a great cut. I would love to make a pattern from them. He also has, but does not wear, a one piece wool knit swimsuit(the kind with straps) and a complete trunk packed with everything the army issued him as a glider pilot in WW2, including a survival kit.My mother, tends to purge, since she has spent her life cleaning up after all these squirrelers! She still has her wedding suit.

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Sondra January 19, 2008 at 8:57 pm

My grandmother was a thrifty, careful farm woman. She made all her clothes. She splurged in the 1950s and bought a spring coat – yellow, short and swingy. In the mid-70s, she “made it over”, taking it apart, turning the worn places in, and giving it a new lining. In the 80s, she made it over again,this time using contrasting fabric to make a new collar, a band down the front to replace where the bottons had worn, and pocket flaps. My sister still wears this coat, and I smile every time I see it.

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Jan January 21, 2008 at 11:12 pm

Hello, I have my mother’s wool coat with mink collar. It has 3 large rope-y buttons and the cut is a-line with 3/4 sleeves (hey I’ll have to get some of those “new” long gloves). The label actually says “Hudson’s – Detroit” inside the neck. The coat is pristine, and it was a purchase my mom made in the 60s, encouraged by my grandmother, who I only know through stories since she died when I was 3. I adore it. It’s going to be a prominent feature in my family-fashion/sewing scrapbook.

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Anonymous January 22, 2008 at 3:02 am

My parents were married in 1944–both in suits, which they still have. For their 50th anniversary two of my cousins wore these suits and replicated one of the poses from the wedding book: my short mother looking up at my tall dad just the way she still looks at him now, 64 years later. I have both pictures. I have my aunt’s 50s wedding dress (I was her flower girl at 8), but could never have worn it. I had to arm wrestle her for it recently to keep her from discarding it; she just couldn’t understand why I would want it. I guess she gave up trying, because she gave me my uncle’s tux (not vintage) without a squawk.My cousin owns a duster that belonged to our great-great aunt that I rescued by embellishing with subtle embroidery and strategic placement of mother-of-pearl buttons, as well as replacing the rusted, covered buttons with mother-of-pearl. She does wear this at times, but I don’t know whether she has any pictures.Oh! I almost forgot: I’m not sure this qualifies, but I have a picture of yours truly in my dad’s chaps and other western wear in 1963, on my way to a Halloween party. I was a junior in H.S. Not sure I could round up a picture of Dad in them, but maybe…and he does still have them!And Erin, what a kick that you are related to Jayne Wrightsman: I used THAT picture of her in THAT portrait collar dress in one of my Fashion Design classes! I read the whole article about her and was so intrigued, though now that’s about all that I remember. Sigh.saidee

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Jessica January 30, 2008 at 6:19 pm

For my first wedding, I wore my great-grandmother’s wedding dress, made for her in 1908 in Phoenix, Arizona. Silk, puffed sleeves, high collar, panel of lace all the way down the front, chiffon swags (anchored with chiffon roses) connecting the sleeves to the bodice. Gorgeous.I also wore the original corset. The dress was made with an 18″ waist (she could lace smaller — they just picked 18″), then let out (not sure how much) for my grandmother.I was the seventh woman in my family to wear the dress: great-grandmother, grandmother, mom, aunt, and two of my mom’s cousins. I’ve seen wedding pictures for everyone but my grandmother and one of the cousins. My great-grandmother’s picture, with her Gibson-girl pompadour and her feet on a pillow because they didn’t reach the ground, is gorgeous.Unfortunately, the silk was shattering when I wore The Dress (as it’s referred to) in 1996, and I don’t think it’s been stored well since. (I don’t have possession of it.)

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brightfeather December 6, 2008 at 12:21 am

We don’t have any grown-up people clothes… Instead, we have baby clothes that have been passed down. My niece (who is six months old) currently has a hand-knit little yellow sweater that my great-grandmother made about 26 years ago. And carefully wrapped and stored away is a hundred-year-old christening gown, complete with lace cap and slip, that we trot out when new babies are born into the family. It’s a pretty little thing, made of fine cotton with drawn-work decorating it. :) It was made from the underskirt of Great-grandma’s wedding gown for a great aunt of mine…

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