Getting the Story Right

Last week the story broke that a 1940s sweater worn by football great Vince Lombardi had been found in the bins of my local Goodwill Clearance Center.  To summarize the story, vintage dealers Sean and Rikki McEvoy found the sweater while shopping in the store last June.  They did not realize how important the sweater was until viewing a documentary on Lombardi some time later, and Sean noted that the sweater was similar to one he saw Lombardi wearing in the program.  Rikki remembered there was a name tag in the sweater, they got it out, and sure enough, the label read “Lombardi.”

The sweater is being auctioned at Heritage Auctions, with online bids being taken now, and the final sale being on February 21.  The sweater is expected to sell for as much as $20,000.

Seeing as how that Goodwill is my shopping place, you might think I’m upset about not finding that gem myself.  But no, I have another, more important matter to address.  The reporting of this story was downright sloppy.

I admit that I’m a stickler for details.  If a story is worth telling, isn’t it worth telling correctly?  It’s an unsettling feeling to be reading an interesting article, and there near the end is a misstated fact.  It throws doubt onto the entire article.

The first place I read about the Lombardi sweater was on the website of our local newspaper, the Asheville Citizen-Times.  The second sentence held a mistake that completely disrupted my train of thought:

They stopped at the Goodwill Outlet on Patton Avenue where you can purchase things for 58 cents per pound.

As far as I know, clothing at that center has never been 58 cents a pound, and I know that last June the price was over a dollar a pound, $1.09 or $1.10 if my memory is correct.   It’s a small detail, one that only a shopper at the Goodwill would notice.  Unfortunately for me it set the tone for the article, and I found myself scrutinizing every statement, looking for more inaccuracies.

It didn’t take long for this story to spread past Western North Carolina.  The next article I read was on the Green Bay Press Gazette website.  According to that article, Sean McEvoy is a  “Nashville, Tenn., man”.  Actually, Sean and Rikki live in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The local television news, WLOS 13, did a piece on the find.  In it they interviewed the Goodwill district manager who stated that the sweater had to have gone through one of the retail stores where it did not sell before ending up in the outlet center.  Actually, that is not true, as any of the workers in the back sorting area could have told the reporter.  Things that are donated that do not meet a certain standard – like an old, full of holes wool sweater – never make it to the retail store, but go straight to the bins.

Of course the reporter could not help that she was given bad information by the person in charge.  But anyone who has ever worked in a corporate (or educational) setting knows that the boss usually does not know as much about how a place operates than does the lowest employee.

I could go on and on.  Fox Sports reported that McEvoy is from “Ashville, North Carolina.”  Wrong place, misspelled. RTV6 spelled it as “Asherville”.   CBSSports called Goodwill a pawn shop and referred to the couple as elderly, but from their photos, they look to be in their mid thirties.  All the accounts I read state that the sweater cost 58 cents, but only one clarified that 58 cents was the average cost per piece that the McEvoys paid for their multiple item purchase.  Bought by itself, I figure the sweater would have cost about $1.50.

Who knew that it would be so hard to get such a seemingly simple story right?  Do newspaper and TV news sites actually fact-check, or proofread, for that matter?  This is sending a very strong message – that quality content on websites is not as important as hurrying into the latest sensational story that is surging across the web.

What really concerns me is how this sort of misinformation eventually makes it into the “official” story of an event.  An example is the story of how  equestrian influences are often seen in Gucci products.  Many websites and books state that Gucci started out as a maker of saddles and that is why the company decorates their loafers with a piece that looks like a horse bit.  But careful research by  Sara Gay Forden for her book House of Gucci, proved that was simply not true, that Gucci never was a saddler.  Nevertheless, the story got started, and is still often quoted.

I realize that it is hard to get everything completely correct, which is why I appreciate it when a careful reader alerts me to my own mistakes.  But it is our culture of sharing “news” that has led to an internet full of misinformation.  In copying from one site to another, Asheville becomes Asherville, a thirty-something couple becomes elderly, and a thrift store becomes a pawn shop.

It calls to mind that game from childhood called “Gossip” where the first kid whispered something into the ear of the second kid, who repeated what he thought he heard into the ear of the third kid, and so on down the line.  The last kid gets to say out loud what he heard, with hilarious results. “I saw a cat outside” became “High sewer cap hot pride.”

It’s time for “news” sites to stop playing this game, or to at least hire people who know how to listen to the whispering.

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Vintage Miscellany – February 15, 2015

On one of the coldest days of the year, I thought we could warm up with Betty in Miami, August 10, 1942.

Or just stay inside with a cup of something hot and the latest news…

*   In preparation of the Savage Beauty exhibition starting next month at the V&A Museum, much is being written about Alexander McQueen.  How has our view of him changed in the five years since his death?

*  And there are also McQueen books to be read.

*   The Sacramento (California) Public Library will soon be lending sewing machines, along with other tools.

*   Those of you in the UK have another great exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum, Thea Porter: 70s Bohemian Chic.

*  Where does one make a happy-looking hat?  In a jolly workroom, of course!

*   And another reason to visit the UK this spring is at the Imperial War Museum.  Fashion on the Ration features the clothes of WWII.

*   Is Patagonia the world’s most “authentic” brand?

*   And finally, here’s a story that is almost painful for me to report.  Someone pulled a vintage 1940s West Point athletic sweater that had belonged to Vince Lombardi from the Goodwill bins in Asheville.  It is now up for auction on the Heritage Auctions site, and it will end live on February 21.  I have a lot more to say about the reporting of this story, which will be posted later in the week.

This morning I read that the mystery of the sweater ‘s origin has been solved. The widow of a colleague of Lombardi lives in this area and was cleaning house. The sweater ended up in the donate pile.

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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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Quote of the Week

It also seems to me that there’s an unjustified amount of pressure on designers to make youthful clothes. No one wants to be called boring or dated, but the relentless insistence on youth actually seems to be hindering imagination.

I’d like to personally welcome Cathy Horyn back to fashion journalism.  With statements like the one above she cuts to the heart of what bugs so many women over the age of thirty-five about fashion.  Why is “fashion” geared to the young, when it is the older women who possess most of the means to indulge in clothes?

Even if you do not follow the fashion world, it is important to know that there are an increasing number of critics who can see that fashion will not truly be “democratic” until older women can picture themselves wearing the clothing that goes down the runways.

Sure, I want to be thrilled by great design, challenging ideas, even offensive ideas. I’m all for that. But my mind is equally open to clothes that are simply beautiful, that have an easy and inhabited and ageless quality.

Let’s hope the designers and manufacturers are listening.

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Trip Time

It evidently is not cold enough here in North Carolina, because I’ll be traveling north with friends for the next week.  I’ll be in New York City just in time for New York Fashion Week, which I’ll be ignoring, and the Westminster Dog Show, which I may have to trick my friends into attending.  Otherwise it will be nonstop museum hopping and fabric shopping, with a bit of sight-seeing and warm bars and restaurants thrown in for fun.

There will be scheduled posts here while I’m gone, and I’ll try to check in to reply to comments.  I’ll be posting on Instagram as well, so check in for a preview of all the things I’ll find to write about here on The Vintage Traveler.

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Thoughts on Photographs – Vintage and Modern

A lot of my time on any vintage shopping excursion is devoted to looking through stacks of vintage photographs.   I just can’t think of a better way to study how people actually dressed than to examine the photos of an era.  I guess it would be even better if they were all in color.

I’ve noticed that I rarely see photos younger than the early 1970s.  I’m thinking that newer photos are still in the possession of their original owners, but that as time passes and the owners die, treasures from the 1970s through the 1990s will hit the market.

It has occurred to me that these wonderfully old candid snapshots are pretty much a thing of the past.  With digital photography we take and retake an image until it is “perfect.”  We arrange not only ourselves, but also our belongings in photographs.  What we have lost is a sense of spontaneity in our photos.

I know that many history and museum people object to the use of the word “curate” outside of a museum setting, but it does aptly describe how people take photos in the digital age.  I’m not saying that photo “curation” is somehow wrong; I’m saying that it is leaving a false record of how our lives actually look.

Another disturbing thought is that many photos taken today are never seen outside of the virtual world.  Out of the thousands of photos I take in any year, I might actually print a hundred or so of them.  I doubt that anyone prints all the photos they take these days.

Of course the trade-off is that there are so many photos digitized and shared today that the  internet is a virtual photo album of the grandest sort.  More and more people and institutions are digitizing collections so they can be shared online.  We have access to photos of the past – and present – like never before.  That said, I don’t think anything can replace the fun of a good shuffle through a stack of vintage black and whites.

Here are two more photos from the Sophie in Miami set.  In the top photo Sophie is on the left, next to yet another man identified only as Sy.  That’s him in the bottom photo, with his arms around Betty of the fantastic shoes, so he was probably not one of Sophie’s conquests.

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Sophie in Miami, 1938 – 1942

I look at a lot of vintage photos.  I love nothing more than finding a big box of them at a flea market so I can stand and shuffle through them.  I even look for them online.  Whenever I have a spare thirty minutes or so I’ll often go to Etsy and do some searches for sportswear-wearing vintage women.

That’s how I found the photos I’m showing today.  I usually do not look for lots of more than one photo, but I found a group which contained the same people on the beach in Miami between 1938 and 1942.  It was too interesting to pass up.

The set of photos were taken with several different cameras, but some of the same people kept appearing over and over.  The most common factor in the group is a woman named Sophie.  I’ve come up with the idea that these were her photos, and that she and her group of friends traded them for other photos taken on their days at the beach.  That would explain the different types of photos, plus the fact that there are different handwritings on the various photos.

The oldest photo I have of Sophie is the one above, taken in 1938.  The young man is not identified.

This is Sophie and Harry Lack.

Sophie and Harry again, with a better look at her bathing suit.

A month later, Sophie is wearing the same bathing suit, but she has a new guy to pose with, Lou Shapiro.

And then another month later, Sophie is sporting a new bathing suit, and another new guy, Herb Klein.

The photos end in April, 1942.  Here Sophie has yet another new beau, Irving Saltz.  It would be interesting to know what happened to Sophie.  Did she end up with Harry or Lou or Herb or Irving? Maybe the great and wonderful internet will solve the mystery for us.

 

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