Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Jean is on vacation, so as promised a few weeks ago, Valerie is posting on the time capsule found in her basement.

 I'm cheating here just a little bit.  This post should really begin with the photo below - the one that shows us standing in front of the storage bin - to set the scene.  But as you can see, it's a little out of focus, and not above-the-fold material.  Okay, scene is set.  On with the story.

In the earlier post, we spared you multiple photos of all the junk, but this one is included now because it shows, in the neon green outline, the time capsule.

What I found in it were a few things I love and cherish.  Here are the contents, more or less chronological order.

First is a pair of bell bottom jeans I wore and embroidered when I was 16.  Bell bottoms!  We ALL had to embroider our jeans back then.  My boyfriend at the time asked me to embroider his jeans.  I had never embroidered before, and the very thought of failure, leading to rejection, terrified me.  But the results were good enough that I decided to do my own as well.  What a trip down memory lane!

Here's the left pocket:

Here's the right pocket:

I had bought a book on embroidery stitches (probably around the Bowery, which back then was lined with second hand bookstores chocabloc with beautiful vintage books) and I can see from the jeans that I was teaching myself the various stitches.  Of course, the bit I was proudest of was this:

The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers had just come out, and I think that was the first album to have this logo (on the label in the center of the LP).  You could buy patches, but there was a back-to-the-earth movement afoot, and making your own anything was infinitely to be preferred.  The mottled red material came from a splashed red pair of pants I had.  I cut the legs off of those, and made them into short shorts.  On the right knee, the deep blue velvet patch came from a gorgeous vintage blouse I think I got at Holly Harp while she was still selling unwanted 1930s clothes.  I wore it to death in short order, accidentally ripping both the underarm seams wide open.  But I couldn't entirely give it up (it had probably 20 jewel-like glass buttons down the front), so I put it on the pants.  The little white sliver of seersucker, added when I was around 19, came from one of the first dresses I bought - a floor length super A-line dress with milkmaid-like lacing up the front.  I think I wore it once.  It hadn't occurred to me how hard it would be to manage all that material and carry on an active life.

In my junior year of high school, the stodgy rules of dress, under which we had all long chafed, were completely abandoned citywide.  Instead of the rigidly enforced future IBM man look for boys and the Suzy Homemaker look for girls, we were suddenly allowed to wear anything we wanted.  And we did.  In my senior year, I wore short shorts.  Well, they were called short shorts in the 1950s (click here to hear the 1957 song by that name), but when I cut mine from a pair of jeans, they were suddenly called hot pants (click here to hear James Brown's 1971 song by that name).  

One day my brother, ever the agent provocateur, said I should embroider the back of my shorts with a tunnel and train tracks.  At first I was scandalized, not to mention I felt unequal to the task, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.  I came up with a shorthand way to suggest the tunnel, and wore them to school as soon and as long as I could.  They're old and faded now, so you'll have to look carefully for the bricks.  I had silver thread for the tracks and woody brown thread for the trestles.  Back then, you could buy embroidery thread in dozens of colors for ten cents each, at Woolworth's.  When the price suddenly rose to twenty-five cents, I was quite miffed.  Then, as now, I was on a budget.

In retrospect, it's hard for me to believe I wore these to school.  I doubt my mother was pleased, but by then, with three teenagers in the house, I think she just shrugged her shoulders at everything.  I can only say it was the times; we all did it.

The front, all happy and whimsical and colorful (the sun, fringes, butterflies, a fish...), gives no hint of the thematic change on the other side.  We were not a picture-taking family.  Cameras were serious, posing was serious, extracting film was serious, and waiting days for pictures to come back from the drug store was serious.  So we have lots of pictures of Easter, Christmas, birthdays, graduations, etc., but far fewer pictures of random days.  I don't think I was ever photographed in these shorts.

My mother was a war bride, and when she started working, and had expendable income, she returned to Europe every summer to see her side of the family.  One year, when I was still a teenager, she brought me back the white summer cotton dress below, which I adored.

This seems like a good time to remind readers that I pulled these out of a box where they'd been for many years, and they're pretty wrinkled.  The fact that they haven't been ironed works against the photo quality, but I think it's more likely I'll become a reality TV star than that I'll iron anything you see here.  I regret the photo quality, but I don't regret not ironing anything.

From the same trip, I think, she also brought me back this peasant look blouse.  Like many of my peers, I wore this for years.  When I photographed it, I was disappointed to see that I had somehow lost the little twisted blue cotton cord that pulls the left and right side of the collar together in a bow.

I'm pretty sure I bought this little hand-crocheted midriff-baring top at a Salvation Army in my college town.  The job situation was so bad when I graduated that it was perfectly okay for me to wear this at my first job!  In retrospect, I'm flabbergasted, but again, I guess it was the times.

Tired of the cold weather and the dismal employment prospects, my then-boyfriend (not the one I embroidered for) and I moved to Dallas.  From that period, I have an unembellished pair of short shorts (which I did not wear to work, having found meaningful employment)

and this striped cotton body suit with a Bill Blass tag in it.  Readers of a certain age will remember that it seemed every top was a body suit back then.  It was a way to avoid wrinkles at the waist.  Body suits gave women a smooth, taut look.  When I bought this, I was intrigued by the technology that allowed the chest to be breast-shaped, not flat.

These are pretty standard pieces, so some of you will wonder why I kept them and why they're included here.  It's because my boyfriend was teaching himself dark room photography, and he photographed me in them.   (He entered it in a local photography contest, and it won honorable mention.  Which would have been fine, since he was an amateur, until we saw the winners, and then we were a bit disappointed.)  That's a Henry Moore sculpture, if you thought you recognized it.

Dallas had a branch of Loehmann's, and I spent many happy hours there, if only to admire.  One of my all-time favorite purchases there was something best described as a purple motorcycle cop uniform.  I thought I'd died and gone to heaven when I found the matching top and bottom in my size.  Loehmann's typically cut the names out of the labels back then, but I found one with the label intact, and the manufacturer was Cygne.  That label worked for me.  I liked so many of their designs.  Here's the purple jacket:

It's hard to see, but the pants are fashioned after jodhpurs, with flared hips, faux padded inner thighs with criss-cross stitchwork, and elastic stirrups to keep them looking crisp when worn.  Both the top and bottom had metal tabs for extra toughness.  I never much liked the epaulets, but that was a minor detail.  (And riffs on the military look were so IN, probably because the '80s were all about big shoulders.)

When I moved to Japan, with one suit case, this suit was in it.  I didn't know if I'd get a chance to wear it, but I couldn't bear to leave it behind.

Here it is, outside the Tokyo National Museum, somewhere between '83 and '86.  Got the boyfriend (by that time the husband) to take the picture, with one of those dreadful disposable cameras, I think.  Really grainy, and fading now.  If you're asking about the hair, yes, I guess that's a mullet!  And that's a perm on the top.  I was really lucky to get the red suede boots locally.  I wore a size 24.5, and most Japanese shoes only went up to 24, which pinched my feet.  On my rare trips back to the U.S., I made sure to buy enough shoes to last me.

Last in the box is this skirt by Chisato Tsumori.  She initially worked for Issey Miyake, then went out on her own.  I bought this around 1988 in Tokyo.  Remember when Norma Kamali made gray gym suit material chic?  This is Chisato Tsumori's take on that.  You might be able to see the waffle patterning in the material.  It also has amazing stretch.

What really drew my attention when I bought it, though, were the flaps at the hips.  It looks as though she started with a rectangular shape, and just folded the top two corners down over the hips and sewed them to the front.  I've never seen a cut like that before or since.  I believe somewhere there's a photo of me wearing this (with high heeled espadrilles, I think), but it's in the storage bin.  (That will be a job for our intern.)  

That's everything I found in the box.  For the record, not one of these fits the way it used to, and some of them don't fit at all.  Don't ask me which ones.  A little bit of mystery is good for everyone.


  1. Stylish and original forever!

  2. Looks like you've always been a figures!

  3. I remember lots of these looks and it is so cool that you still have them. Love the jeans.

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed your trip down fashion-memory lane. I wish I would have kept a couple of my favourite pieces from the 80's. LOVE the photo of you rocking the purple moto-cop outfit and red boots.

  5. Brilliant! I love this post! Stylish and fabulous whatever age :)

  6. Time capsule! I am clearing out my parents' house, and I found, folded in a brown paper grocery bag, my 8th-grade graduation dress. 1965 mod chartreuse shift with crocheted lace Peter Pan collar. Fits like the day my mom bought it for me. Wore it to work today and got lots of compliments. Does a dress I wore when I was 13 still work when I'm almost 64 (cue Sgt Pepper)? Hell yes! Vintage is vintage. You are an inspiration.