A Perfect Vintage Jacket


Last week I brought home a very special souvenir of Jack’s and my visit to Portland, Oregon: a vintage jacket with a mysterious past. GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2941 (460x432)It came from a lovely little shop, Living Threads Vintage, on Taylor Street opposite the Multnomah County central library.

I was actually on my way to the Button Emporium next door, which an antique dealer had recommended to me, but I couldn’t resist stopping to examine the dress hanging on a mannequin outside Living Threads. IMG_9753 (345x460)

And the next thing I knew, I was chatting with Christine Taylor,IMG_9752 (345x460) co-owner with her husband, Travis, while browsing a rack of jackets.

In short order I was telling myself there would be no harm in trying on this very interesting jacket made from Pendleton wool.GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2943 (460x307)This jacket intrigued me–and Christine, too–and we both wondered who made it, when, and for whom. It was beautifully made and in perfect condition.

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The seaming and darting are so beautiful.

The front facing is finished so elegantly.

The front facing is finished elegantly.

Was this jacket custom-made by a dressmaker or tailor for a specific customer?

Or could this have been sewn as a sample for a clothing line, never manufactured, instead ending up languishing in an archive for decades? We may never know.GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2894 (313x460)

The buttons were fantastic.  I admired the bold and yet restrained combination of buttons, fabric, and garment style. They seemed to be made for each other.  GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2907 (460x381)

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2955 (460x307) I would love to work out such wonderful combinations using the buttons I’ve bought at vintage fashion fairs and shops in the UK and Europe. It’s so inspiring to learn from real-life examples.

We wondered when this jacket was made. Could it have been the late ’50s, when more patterns were appearing without the cinched waist?

Another great in my pattern pantheon.

From 1959, this has a big collar and an unbelted version. I made the leopard-collar version a couple of years ago.

The fabric suggested 1940s or 1950s to me. This Pendleton wool was the color–no, colors–of stone-ground cornmeal, with beautiful variegations of grays or browns.

My trusty 3 in 1 Color Tool suggests that this yellow has been lightened with white and shaded with gray.

My trusty 3 in 1 Color Tool suggests that this yellow has been lightened with white and shaded with gray.

The tag read “Extra Small.” The fit was nearly perfect on me–a rare occurrence.GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2954 (307x460)

I love a big collar–and this one could be worn a couple of ways: wider and flatter,GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2918 (312x460) or higher and closer to the face. Interesting.GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2891 (303x460)

Christine liked this intriguing Pendleton jacket on me, too. Still, I wanted another opinion, and I knew where to find it: at the Heathman Hotel, just a few minutes’ walk away. That’s where most of Jack’s fellow Peace Corps members and their wives were staying for our biannual reunion.

I told Christine I’d be back shortly with my friend Rosa to make a final decision. At the hotel, I managed to snag not one but three judges–Rosa, Dora, and Kathryn–who eagerly returned with me to see the shop and the mystery jacket.

Even though I modeled the jacket for my review community over a summery white t-shirt and seersucker pants, the vote was a unanimous and enthusiastic YES. Okay, so there was a little extra room in the shoulders; I could live with that, we agreed.

The inside is perfect. This seems never to have been worn.

The inside is perfect. This seems never to have been worn.

Back home, I pondered what garments I could pair with this jacket to create outfits. Tops, skirts and pants should be simple, I thought, to support this jacket in its starring role.

I scooped up some hats, gloves, and an alligator bag and made the two-minute journey to my sister’s photo studio, where I experimented in front of the camera.

First, with a beret in a hard-to-pin-down mushroom brown color that went with the shading in the fabric:

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The sleeves are longer than three-quarters length, but short enough to call for longer gloves. I wouldn’t mind laying in a supply of long vintage gloves. It’s interesting to me that although the collar points down, I perceive the collar as bringing the eye up, which is a big plus. I can’t explain why, but the shape and color of the beret look right to me as part of this ensemble.

Next, a kind of Loden green felt hat, maybe a cousin of a Homburg. (I bought this Eric Javits hat in 1990, I think.)

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Carrying my pretend purse. I will never make a living as a mime.

The color of the hat is nice with the jacket, but the shape is not. There’s no relationship with the jacket.

How about with this burgundy rabbit-felt hat by Ignatius Creegan? I love this hat.

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There’s my purse! Much better!

The combo is promising and worth pursuing. I see burgundy gloves in my future.

Next up: a Harris tweed hat I bought at a vintage stall in East London on a chilly, drizzly Sunday a few years ago. Quite the workhorse, this hat, keeping me warm, dry and moderately fashionable through several winters.

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2986 (238x460)I think this is a nice combination.

That I could wear a plain neutral beret; a luxurious, plush, rich-colored felt cloche; or a rough-textured plaid tweed fedora with this style and color of jacket was quite exciting.

Lastly, I tried a whimsical beret in an eye-popping orange-red.

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Both items had plenty of personality but seemed willing to work together.

A jacket that can deliver on whimsicality, practicality, and beauty, too? That’s something worth celebrating!

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And with this silliness, this photo shoot is now concluded.

After spending decades in storage, it’s time this jacket started doing its job in the world, don’t you think?  I certainly do.

Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand for studio photography.

Backstage at the Goldstein: Merry and Bright


Here is another item from the Goldstein Museum of Design that I came across when I was working on the donor files project. It is one of several hats, all from the 1950s or ’60s, donated by Mrs. John Gill.

(Note to self: find her first name!)

Of all Mrs. Gill’s hats–at least, of all the ones photographed so far for the Goldstein’s image database–only one is of “normal” size. The rest, including this one, are miniature masterpieces.christmashat4 (368x460)

I’m assuming she chose these for herself and that she wore them. I do hope she wore them.

Of course, at the time of their making, wearing hats was a norm–not something you had to be particularly brave to do.christmashat3 (368x460)

(That reminds me: in Minneapolis about twenty years ago I was walking through Dayton’s department store wearing a handsome olive-colored felt hat–a Homburg?–by Eric Javits. A woman admired my hat and then told me,  “I wish I had the courage to wear a hat.” Gosh.)

Looking at her hats, I wonder what kind of person Mrs. John Gill was.

Judging from this hat in particular, surely she must have had a sense of humor.  A humorless person wouldn’t give this a second glance, let alone buy it and wear it.christmashat2 (368x460)

I also see her having a strong sense of style and fashion confidence. You wouldn’t wear this and expect to melt into the crowd (at least not the crowds I’m around), after all.

I wonder where this hat was on display, waiting for the right wearer to come along. What salesperson in the hat department shared that moment of triumph when Mrs. John Gill perched this confection on her head, arranged the flirty netting over her face, admired her reflection in the mirror and said, “Yes–I’ll take it!”?

I wonder what Mrs. John Gill wore with this. Where did she wear it? And what did people say?christmashat1 (368x460)

Most of all, I wonder who fashioned this bit of millinery whimsy. The museum record states, sadly, “Artist/Maker: Unknown.”

Dear Unknown Artist/Maker, wherever you may be, thank you for this example of dexterous wit.

And thank you, too, Mrs. John Gill–and Goldstein Museum of Design–for safekeeping it for our enjoyment.

To see other hats donated to the Goldstein by Mrs. John Gill:

  • Click here: http://goldstein.design.umn.edu/
  • Hover over the Collection tab.
  • Click on Search the Collection
  • In the Word Search box type Gill. Click on Search.
  • There will be 41 records, some of which have images.

(All photographs by the Goldstein Museum of Design.)

Backstage at the Goldstein: The Gift of a Hat


I came across this delightful and touching story of an American GI buying a Paris hat for his wife in 1944 when I was working on a large files project at the Goldstein Museum of Design, which is on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota.

Tres chic!

Tres chic!

I don’t remember now whether I first saw this handwritten account by the husband, Thomas McCart, and photographs of his wife, Melva McCart, in a file folder or in the Goldstein’s image database. At any rate, the story stuck with me when I came across it earlier this year. It deserves a wider audience.

This is a perfect little story of a giver, a gift, and a recipient.MadameSuzyHat3 (364x460)MadameSuzyHat1 (307x460)MadameSuzyHat4 (353x460)MadameSuzyHat2 (307x460)MadameSuzyHat5 (353x460)

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Did she make her suit?

Look at that shoulder line!

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Even the label design is beautiful.

To see these and more photographs up close, go to the Goldstein Museum of Design database:

  • Click here to go to the home page of the Goldstein Museum of Design
  • Click on the tab Collection
  • Click on Search the Collection
  • In the Word Search box, type McCart
  • The record for this hat will appear. Click on the photo of the hat
  • You will see more detail than you can see in this post.

All photographs by the Goldstein Museum of Design.

Backstage at the Goldstein: Tutti Frutti




As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been volunteering weekly in the offices of the Goldstein Museum of Design on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, tidying up the donor files.  The Goldstein collection includes furniture, textiles, silver and ceramics, but the largest part is clothing and accessories. The files I see each week contain the paperwork–deeds of gift, acknowledgment letters, and inventories of donations–involved in changing the ownership of property.

Inside the cherry hat.

Inside the cherry hat.

Every week I find something in a file–the original charge slip for a hat, an obituary, a yellowed society page showing a bride in the wedding gown that’s now in the Goldstein’s care–that personalizes the donation. Today I paged through the file of a donor who’d left the Goldstein the dress she wore at the 1953 presidential  inaugural ball. The folder was thick with special edition newspaper sections and inaugural programs saved for sixty years.



Many other files are thin and nondescript. There may, however, be photos of the donations online that tell a lot about the donor’s taste, travels, or family connections.

The Goldstein’s collections are gradually being documented in photos. It’s always a treat to look up a donor and find items that have been prepared and photographed so beautifully.

Especially when I see hats I think of the moment the wearer looked at herself approvingly in the mirror at the hat shop and decided, “Yes, this is the one.”

Today I came across the records of these two 1950s hats embellished with fruits of summer:

  • Catalog no. 2004.022.003: From 1950, by Elsa Schiaparelli: “White Hat with White Beading and Strawberry & Vine Design.”



  • Catalog no. 1979.015.019: From 1957-51959, by Peck & Peck: “Natural Straw Boater-Style Hat With A Black Velvet Ribbon Around Crown With Streamers and Fake Cherry Cluster Decoration.”

A few weeks back I discovered this suit with these delightful strawberry buttons:

  • Catalog no. 2003.052.035a-b: From 1990-1995, by Franco Moschino: “White cotton pique jacket with strawberry buttons and short skirt.”





There are more photographs of each of these items in the Goldstein Museum of Design database.  Go to the home page, click on the Collection tab, then “Search the Collection,” and then enter the catalog numbers.

All photographs are by the Goldstein Museum of Design.

Where Labeling Is a Good Thing


When I worked in bakeries and restaurant kitchens and for years after I left commercial kitchens but still baked at home, I had an imaginary bakery. I never wanted the responsibilities of a real bakery owner; I just enjoyed thinking about…

The cursive of "Valerie" suggests extravagance, but "Modes" suggests restraint (to me, anyway.)

The cursive of “Valerie” suggests extravagance, but “Modes” suggests restraint (to me, anyway.)

the packaging.

The cake boxes. The business cards by the cash register. The printed paper bags. The labels.

All designed beautifully, as a final expression of craftsmanship and caring to send out the door with the customer.

It's time to graduate to a label of my own design.

It’s time to graduate to a label of my own design.

When I was fanatical about bakeries I sought them out on my travels. From bakeries in Copenhagen, Budapest, New York, Paris, London, San Francisco, Rome, and elsewhere I brought back cards, bags and wrappers too memory-laden and beautiful to throw away.

When I left my pastry-shift job at Mrs. London’s Bake Shop in Saratoga Springs, New York at the end of the racing season in 1983, I took a little sourdough starter and a sheet of labels as souvenirs. Old friends who rolled croissants with me that spring and summer get a Christmas card every year decorated with one of those labels.

I don’t think any more about having a fantasy bakery. But I still like labels.

I’ve sewn “Hand Made by Paula” labels into the shirts I’ve made for Jack for maybe fifteen years. I’ve never sewn one of these into a garment for myself.  I would feel silly doing that.

"Miss" suggests youth.

“Miss” suggests youth.

But I find myself wanting that final custom touch in my own garments and have started researching vintage garment and hat labels online for inspiration.

Scrolling through more than 400 records of hats in the collection of the Goldstein Museum of Design that have been photographed, often including their labels, I was struck by how much information and atmosphere can be conveyed in those tiny bits of real estate.

This label says "I bought a hat--hooray!--and it's from a special store.

This label says “I bought a hat–hooray!–and it’s from a special store.”

The label that crows, “My hat’s from Harold,” with an image of a hat box, captures the excitement of this purchase.

“Miss” refers to the youthfulness of the purchaser.

But “Madame” suggests the experience and taste of the hat maker.

So say I, at any rate.

I imagine Madame Georgette being a hat maker of taste and experience.

I imagine Madame Georgette being a hat maker of taste and experience.

What does “Mr.” convey?

I haven’t figured that out yet. But I know I’d like to meet Mr. Arnold, whose “A” is made from two hand-mirrors.

Ever seen such a fanciful "A"?

Ever seen such a fanciful “A”?

And who wouldn’t want to meet the whimsical stick figure Mr. Martin, elegantly proffering a plumed hat with a deep bow?

A label to make you smile.

A label to make you smile.

These labels represent both the actual artistry of makers and wearers and a lovely make-believe land that mingles elegance, humor and delight.

A land of millinery make-believe.

A land of millinery make-believe.

(Photographs of all hat labels are from the Goldstein Museum of Design.)