Category Archives: Holidays

White Christmas: The Exhibition at the Upcountry History Museum

I’ve talked a lot about nostalgia here in the past, especially how Baby Boomers were brought up with a sense of nostalgia, not for our own past, but for that of our parents and grandparents. Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, I was fascinated by my mother’s stories of her Christmases, especially when she was a young woman living in Asheville in the early 50s. Maybe that’s why I love White Christmas so much.

I was thrilled to discover that Greenville, SC’s Upcountry History Museum was presenting an exhibition of clothing, props, and ephemera from the movie. Like most movies from the past, the costumes from White Christmas were reused, sold, and scattered over the years since the movie was made in 1954. I was surprised to learn that the Rosemary Clooney House in Augusta, Kentucky has been collecting items from the movie for fifteen years. What they have achieved in assembling a collection of costumes from the movie is remarkable. I’ll talk more about this as I show the collection.

Let me start with the costumes that probably are the most iconic – the red Santa costumes worn in the finale. These are both replicas, as the whereabouts of the originals are unknown. It is suspected that the gowns were actually repurposed into other costumes, but the evidence of this does not exist other than the fact that repurposing was a common studio practice. The Clooney House has worked closely with Paramount Studios to locate lost items, but the bright red suits and gowns seem to have disappeared.

Note the color of the replica, and the color red in this original poster. More on that later.

Here are Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen as they performed “Sisters” in the movie. The Clooney House is lucky to have both dresses.

This is the dress worn by Clooney. It evidently had been displayed in bright light and the top, while original, is badly faded. The skirt was in shreds, and had to have a complete restoration. The fan is one of two found in storage at Paramount. The other was badly broken, perhaps due to Crosby and Kaye slapping one another with it.

Vera Ellen’s dress was found in the holdings of a private collector in Texas. The bodice had been cut and badly altered into a sweetheart neckline. But the skirt was intact. Having both dresses made the needed restorations clear. Matching lace was found, and Vera Ellen’s high neckline was restored.

Note the difference in color between the studio photo and the actual dresses. Some of it is due to fading, but it seems a bit more is at work here.

Here is a set of costumes from an ensemble dance number featuring Vera Ellen. In true 1950s style, the song is about marriage, and Vera Ellen as Mandy, is a bride.

As a bride should be, Mandy is attired in white, and her chorus-girl bridesmaids are in red. But look at the costumes on display. The color difference is most obvious in the bridesmaids’ costumes, but all are considerably different in reality than in the movie. The difference could be partly due to dye degradation, but a more likely explanation was that color had to be adjusted for the technicolor process.

I tend to go with that explanation because even the matching accessories were the same color as the outfit. And I’ve never seen dye fade that uniform.

The two men dancers’ outfits are the most recent additions to the collection. We were told that the museum is actively adding to the collection, and sadly, the museum was recently outbid for a desired object on eBay

Greatly adding to the exhibition was the inclusion of enlarged photos of the actors wearing the costumes.

Another scene well-represented in the collection is the party scene where Vera Ellen and Danny Kaye announce their “engagement”. Rosemary Clooney wore this lovely dress, which is a much deeper green in the film.

This is Vera Ellen’s dress. At this point I need to point out that Edith Head was the designer of the costumes. At the time, Vera Ellen’s weight had fallen quite low, so Head used tricks to beef her up a bit. The high neck hid a thin neck, the white added a few pounds, and the swag across her hips help disguise her thinness. In recent years some have tried to blame her weight on anorexia, but there’s no supporting evidence that her weight was due to any medical condition.

This dress and the pearls were worn by the great Mary Wickes, the busybody housekeeper.

Costumes from the men in the movie are much less represented. But they were able to locate the uniforms worn by Dean Jagger, Bing Crosby, and Danny Kaye near the end of the film. The uniforms had been reused and altered by Paramount, so the museum had replica patches and ribbons made to match the ones worn by the stars.

The hat was worn by Vera Ellen, and the gloves were worn by Clooney in her famous solo night club act. The gloves were found at Paramount, but the dress has disappeared from sight.

There’s more, but these were the highlights. After watching this movie every year for decades, it was such a treat to see these costumes, and to know they are assembled in one collection. It would have been nice to see any one of these costumes individually, but how much more impactful it was to see them together. As a collector, I tend to not think of garments as “museum quality”; I tend to think more in the lines of how does a garment fit into a collection.

There are many collectors of Hollywood costumes, and I salute them for saving so many artifacts that would have otherwise been lost. The leader in this area was Debbie Reynolds, who not only saved many items, but inspired others to do the same. Hopefully, some other White Christmas items are thriving in these collections, and that they will someday make their way to the Rosemary Clooney House.

As always, seeing an exhibition is more fun with a like-minded friend. Thanks to Liza for meeting me at the museum!

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Happy Valentine’s Day to Us All

Every year I get this anti-Valentine’s Day vibe from posters across the internet.  I think it is time we took the romance out of the holiday and made it strictly about love – love for family, love for pets, love for art, love for one another.  Spend the day with the ones you love, or doing the things you love.

I’ve always adored Valentine’s Day because the association with flowers seems to be the first herald of spring.  How can that be a bad thing?

Best wishes to all my Valentines!

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New Year’s Wishes

I want to thank everyone who takes the time to read my vintage ramblings week after week.  I’ve said this before, but the internet is such a gift to people who want to connect with like-minded others.  I’ve made so many friends through this blog, and I treasure all of you.

2014 was a good year for me.  I didn’t get to travel as much as I’d liked (due to circumstances I could not control) but I’ve learned that adventure is where you find it.  Most importantly, this year was free of personal tragedy, and for that I’m most grateful.  We still have our Spookster dog, and at seventeen years and nine months, that is saying a lot.

I wish all of you the best in the coming year. May we all look for the good in life, and do what we can to correct the bad.

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Holiday Wishes

May you all be as well dressed as this 1930s skier.  Here’s to a fashionable New Year!

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Veteran’s Day, 1919

Repost from 11/11/11

This ad is from 1919, a year in which Americans were seeing the return of many injured servicemen from WWI.  America had a bit of a romanticized view of the war, being so far removed from the horrors that Europe was experiencing, and even after the war ended, and many men came home with their rose-colored glasses removed, the public was pretty much unaware of the horrendous experience of it all.

This ad came form a 1919 Harper’s Bazar.  Many of the stories in the magazine, and in others from 1919, refer to returning soldiers,  and to the war, but there really is no mention of just how bad an experience it had been.  In the stories, there seems to be no “shell shock,”  no poison gas, no death.

I guess it would have been worth it had one of the names for WWI been true – “The War to End All Wars.”  But unfortunately, they were wrong in 1919.

 

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The Colors of Summer: Red, White, and Blue

I love red, white, and blue, not because the colors are somehow “patriotic” but because they simply say “summer” to me.  When we think of clothing classics, we think of the little black dress and the white cotton shirt and the cardigan sweater.  Maybe we ought to also consider this on-going color combination favorite.

To make my point, today I’m sharing some summer clothes from my collection, all of which have some combination of the color trio.  If you are a newcomer to The Vintage Traveler, you can click the links to read the original blog post about each item.

The early 1970s tennis dress above reminded me of tennis star Chris Evert.

Along the same lines is this 1970s  tennis dress from White Stag.  Note the logo on the pocket.

Red, white, and blue always says “nautical” to me as well.  This gathered novelty print skirt from the 1950s shows why.

Continuing with the nautical theme is this  late 1950s or early 60s short sleeve jacket.  Just add navy slacks.

Add these red 1950s Summerettes to make the ensemble complete.

A 1930s beach-goer would have covered up with a red,white, and blue beach pyjama.

For sports spectating, the 1930s woman might have chosen a nautical themed sundress.

Nautical themes were also good for shopping, as seen in this 1930s cotton frock.

Bathing suits have always looked good in red, white, and blue, as in this Jantzen suit from 1936...

And this swimsuit from the early 1970s.

Got something red, white, and blue to sell or to share?  Feel free to post a link in the comments.

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December in Review

For those of you who think I do nothing but shop for vintage treasures, I’m showing a bit of my Instagram photos from December.  Instagram has turned out to be the surprise of the internet for me.  I love these little glimpses into the lives of people around the world.  It’s the only social media that I use without a direct connection to this blog, so it is more like play.  You can get a sneak peek by clicking the link at the right.  You don’t even have to set up an account to view photos.

I showed the progress on my French couture jacket.  Here is the collar and the fringe.  This was the last component in the construction of the jacket.

I share a lot of my Scottie dog collection on Instagram.  There are lots of Scottie lovers there.

I’m in the process of reading the memoir of Stanley Marcus, a book I found at the Goodwill Outlet.  Marcus was the CEO of Neiman-Marcus for many years.  So much fashion history…

And more of the Holiday decorations.

This is a project I’ll be showing here in a few days.  It’s a Harris Tweed / cashmere sweater mash-up.

Christmas dinner with my family was celebrated at a local restaurant.  That’s my little great-nephew and his daddy, nephew #2.

Carolina Boulevard in Clyde, NC.

Today I visited a museum in Asheville, and took a few photos of some of the great architecture.  This is the S&W Cafeteria, an Art Deco masterpiece.

I want to thank all of you who take the time to read The Vintage Traveler.  Having this blog and the conversations and friendship here have helped me deal with the loss of my sister.  I’m so pleased that over the past year the readership has almost doubled.  I look forward to more of our discussions of fashion past.

 

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