Century of style hits the runway

Nostalgia: A fashion show benefiting a county charity features the top looks of yesteryear.

November 03, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Fashion statements that defined every decade of this century are coming out of storage next week, all part of a Festival of Memories, a show to benefit a Westminster charity.

The production features vintage clothing, from the Gibson girl to the gown of the millennium.

Kathy Brown, director of Shepherd's Staff, an ecumenical ministry to Carroll County's needy, is used to seeing old clothes, which people continually donate to the ministry.

But she put out a call a few months ago for clothing with a history and was inundated with authentic costumes.

She wrote the show around flapper dresses, cherished prom and wedding gowns, minis, maxis and bell-bottomed pants suits.

"We will have 1899 to 1999 in review, with music to match," said Brown, whose living room is decorated with dresses, coats, hats, shoes, battered luggage, military relics and back issues of Women's Wear Daily. "People will really get interested in the history of this stuff."

Julie Day, a model rehearsing in a pillbox hat and a 1960s gown, got into the spirit.

"It feels really weird to be wearing clothes this old," she said. "I think I am going for the Jackie Kennedy look."

"I love old-time clothes," said Rosalie O'Farrell Brenneman, who lent several family heirlooms.

Included in the show are her grandmother's turn-of-the-century embroidered linen blouse and her mother's full-length mink coat and alligator handbag, gifts from Brenneman's father shortly after he returned from World War II. Gertrude O'Meara O'Farrell hardly wore the fur, preferring to keep it in a cedar cupboard in the attic, but her daughter is eager to show it off.

"These things show as much about a period in history as a piece of furniture," Brenneman said. "They are pieces of art. I want other people to get to see these items and appreciate them as much as I do."

Alberta O'Farrell's shirtwaist blouse will be modeled in the first vignette, with a 1905 silk eyelet gown, also part of Brenneman's collection.

"I saw it at an auction and knew I had to have it," said Brenneman. "It is all handmade lace with silk threaded around each eyelet."

Her appreciation for older and finer pieces probably started with her grandmother, who owned a Westminster antiques shop for years and saved everything.

"I was raised with antiques and learned to value the things I had, because they just don't make them like that anymore," said Brenneman. "I have always valued those things and have added to them."

Nicki Smelser, fashion coordinator and commentator, will work history into descriptions of the clothing, nearly all of it drawn from the community.

"Much of the clothing is prized possessions that people just couldn't give up," she said. "They have kept them for decades."

Or they've been bought after someone else kept them for decades. A black lace, tea-length gown trimmed with pearl beading embodies the flapper. Carol Samios of Westminster, who will wear it in the show, found the dress with its 1930s label in a Philadelphia antique shop.

"I think I can walk out in front of 500 people," Samios said. "This dress gives you confidence."

Brown has labored to keep the show authentic, but in a few instances she has resorted to replicas. A Taneytown seamstress followed an antique pattern for a 1910-style tea dress, and a poodle skirt came from a costume shop.

But in depicting the war years, Brown has insisted on the real things. She has located a genuine World War I soldier's uniform and is hoping to find a '90s man small enough to wear it. His sweetheart will be seeing him off, dressed in a long, straight skirt and veiled hat. Alden Jackson has lent the show about 25 vintage hats, many worn by her 89-year-old mother.

Several World War II uniforms, the mink and a floral print dress make up the 1940s revue. When Smelser moved into her Westminster home several years ago, she found the designer crepe dress hanging in the attic. She said she imagines it went to USO dances.

Gowns are either timeless, or "it might be that fashion repeats itself," said Brown. She is using Alice Drummond's sequined gray silk gown for a 1990s skit. Drummond bought the designer gown more than 25 years ago and might donate it to a museum, but finds it still works today.

Contributors offered so many wedding gowns that Brown might display them in the lobby of Martin's Westminster the night of the show. Francine Dissinger's designer wedding dress made the cut and will be on the runway. She bought the virgin wool minidress at a boutique in Brussels in 1966.

"It was geometric, frill-less and it worked great for a casual wedding, but, of course, you could not bend over," said Dissinger, who later had the dress lengthened.

The most striking of many prom gowns will represent the 1950s. The pale coral, strapless satin falls gracefully over tiers of netting. The '50s scene will also focus on a pony-tailed bobby-soxer in a poodle skirt accompanied by a young man in baggy jeans and a 1958 Westminster High letter sweater, once worn by Smelser's husband, Jeff.

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