I made a special trip home for my small prairie town’s Blast from the Past Fashion Show. The event was put on by our local performing arts council, as a fundraiser for a festival they host every spring. When they sent out a call for both clothing and models, I was at once surprised and thrilled – the request was not only for clothing, but for the stories behind the clothing, too. They did not just want models, but models with some sort of connection to the clothes they would be wearing. The idea was that a granddaughter would walk down the runway in a blouse her great-grandmother made, or a niece would wear a dress from her aunt’s wedding in the seventies. The clothing was important, but equally important were the lives the clothes had led.
The weekend before the show, I had come from university to my tiny prairie hometown for a visit. That Sunday afternoon, my delightful seventy-something-year-old neighbour came over to deliver some food (as per always) and discuss the development of the show. She had donated some clothing and was excited about the prospect of it being worn again, so many years later.
“We’re supposed to wear hats,” she reported, “Come over next weekend and I’ll let you wear one of mine.” I may have let out a little squeal of excitement, and the prospect of vintage fashion in tiny St. Michael made my neighbour just as happy. As she left, after an hour of talking about pillbox hats and wedding shoes, she called from the doorway, “It’ll be more fun than a picnic!” I haven’t been to many picnics in my life, but now that the show is over I can tell you she was absolutely right.
When I arrived at the show on Sunday afternoon, hat firmly on my head, the place was abuzz with ladies and tea. Everyone was chatting or marveling over the displays of clothing, shoes and accessories that didn’t make it onto the runway.
Organized by decade, the program started with pieces as old as 1920 and worked its way into the seventies. The grand finale was a display of wedding dresses from the same span of years, the highlight of which was a woman who modeled her very own gown from 1952. With every few pieces came a story about where the piece was from – who it belonged to, where it was worn, who was wearing it now.
In a community where fashion rarely differs from the jeans-and-tee-shirts norm, this appreciation for clothing from the past surprised me – though only momentarily. The audience was full of the women who would have worn this clothing the first time around, the Red Hat society filled a table or two, and they needed a whole bus to bring residents from the seniors centre. Who would enjoy the stories behind vintage clothing more than the people the stories belonged to in the first place? But whether you were old enough to have lived through these periods or not, you understood every item of clothing was connected to a person, an event, a life.
Growing up, it never seemed as though my fellow small town inhabitants shared my love for thrift store treasures and clothing dug out of the back of my grandmother’s closet – but after everyone’s enthusiasm for Blast from the Past (old and young and in-between), it’s possible I’ve been wrong all along.
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