Tag Archives: Charleston

Unveiled, Wedding Attire at the Charleston Museum

Wedding attire must be the theme of March, as I was able to attend another exhibition dedicated to weddings, this one at the Charleston Museum.  I’ll write more about the museum in another post, but for now I’ll just say that it functions mainly as a history museum for the South Carolina Lowcountry region.  They have a fantastic clothing collection, most of it coming from Charleston families.  In presenting special fashion exhibitions, they explore not just the clothing, but they have the advantage in many cases, of knowing who owned a garment.  Many of their garments are also documented in period photos.

Traditionally, the museum used some of the costume and textile collection as part of the larger displays that told the history of Charleston.  About twelve years ago they started having special clothing exhibitions, but the problem was that there was no space to adequately show clothes.  I remember looking at a 1920s Worth evening coat that was displayed in a flat case, in a light-filled atrium.  Not an ideal situation, in any sense of the word.

Today the situation is entirely different, as a gallery dedicated just to textiles was opened in 2010.  It’s a beautiful light-controlled space, with a variety of viewing areas, and with seating for those who need to sit and contemplate (or sketch).  The only thing I do not like about it is that all the display areas are behind glass, and that does hinder viewing somewhat, especially if there are interesting details on the back of a garment.

The photo above shows the introduction to the exhibition which consisted of three dresses from different eras.  On the left is a dress from 1927, worn by Mary Gaillard, in the middle is a 1892 dress worn by Ethel Sanford in 1892, and on the right is a 1925 dress worn by Emily Gladys Canaday.  The rest of the exhibition is arranged in chronological order.The oldest dresses were early 1800s Regency style, but my photo is so poor that it is pointless to post it here.

So I’ll take up the show in 1830, when the dress on the left was worn. The bride was Margaret Izard, and the groom was Nathaniel Russell Middleton.  The dress is hand embroidered throughout.  In the middle is the 1842 dress of Middleton’s second wife, Anna Elizabeth DeWolf.  On the wall is a portrait of the second Mrs. Middleton in her dress.  Look carefully to note that her waist was not as small as it first appears to be.

The dress on the right is also from 1842, and was worn by Elizabeth Mary Lesesne Blamyer.  And on the far right is a lovely selection of groom’s vests, all of which were made of silk and worn between 1848 and 1860.

The Charleston Museum is very lucky to have this set in their collection.  The dress was worn by Louisa Jane Dearing, and the vest was her groom’s, Henry Edmondston.  They were married in 1859.  According to the notes concerning the dress, “The bodice laces in the back with 28 pairs of tiny bound holes.” Unfortunately that feature was not visible to museum visitors.

Yes, I know this photo is really poor, but the story behind the dress is too good not to share.  The dress was worn by Louisa Rebecca McCord in June of 1865.  The American Civil War had just ended, and materials were scarce.  According to Louisa’s diary, the bride finally located ten yards of white organdy, the only white goods available in Columbia, SC.  The price was so high that the family sold their remaining carpet, some chairs, and butter and lard from their plantation in order to pay for the fabric.

These two dresses date from 1883 and 1884, and were creatively positioned in order to show the most prominent features of the dresses, their bustles.  These were in a corner with glass on two sides and so visitors could see the slim silhouette of the front and the fullness in back.

I probably need to pause here and talk about color.  The overwhelming number of dresses shown were white, or whitish.  I made the comment when writing about the bridal costumes at Biltmore that I found it interesting that all the dresses were white when the vogue of white wedding dresses did not come along until 1840.  Of course, white wedding dresses did exist before that date, and by the look of things in this exhibition, they were common.  An interesting comment was made by Jessamyn: :The main thing that changed in the 19th century was the idea that white was obligatory for a bride.”

Here’s another look at the 1892 dress of Ethel Sanford.  The museum also has a matching evening bodice.

At this point I need to stop and put in another plug for Dressed for the Photographer by Joan Severa.  Having just read that book helped me see the changes from dress to dress.

The silk dress on the left dates from 1906 and was worn by Sarah Francis.  The suit was worn by bride Alma Grace Van Keuren in 1910.  What is really interesting is that the suit has a department store label, Louis Cohen & Co, Charleston, S.C.  Ready-to-wear for women was still in the early years, and in 1910 most clothing for women was still being made by professional dressmakers or at home.

This dress was worn by Alice Prioleau Ravenel in 1914.  Note how the train curves around to the front where it is attached to the dress with a spray of artificial orange blossoms.

These three dresses are from the 1920s.  On the left, a velvet dress worn by Harriett C. Arthur in 1922.  The middle dress belonged to Annie Kangeter and dates to 1921.  The bride’s sister made the dress, which you can see on the bride in the photograph  on the wall.  The third dress was worn in 1924 by Septima Toomer Holmes.

You can see how styles were becoming less ornamented in the 1928 dress on the left.  It was worn by Cornelia Milam, and was made by her mother.  The dress in the middle was worn by Ruth Petty Pringle in 1931.  It was bought in a Charleston specialty shop, The Frock Shop.

Left to right:  1937, bride Martha Kirk; 1942, bride Jean Walsh; 1945, bride Ruth Raymond Huegel; 1948, Bernice Alice Byrd, but altered in 1989 for her daughter Amy Bassett Cole; 1952, bride Elizabeth Lamis.

The textile gallery also has a section of casees and drawers to display accessories.

And, of course, what is a fashion exhibition without some shoes?

Unveiled runs through July 19, 2016, and I highly recommend it to anyone living or traveling in the Charleston, South Carolina area.


Filed under Museums

Charleston Harbor Wedding

I’m back from a whirl-wind trip to Charleston, SC after attending the wedding of one of my nieces.  It was held on a boat, as you can see, and it was chilly, which you might not be able to see.  I’m wearing a cute 1963ish silk dress which is obliterated by the very necessary white sweater.  That was a real shame, but I’m also wearing vintage shoes, and carrying my vintage Gucci bamboo handle bag. (Side note:  We looked at the new ones at the Gucci store.  Good gracious, what a disaster they are.  They are big old over-grown mutations of a sweet, classic handbag.  It ought to be illegal.)

In the above photo:  Niece Lindsay and her husband Ben, little brother Scott, me and little sis Susan.    It was a beautiful venue for a wedding, and it just got better as the evening progressed:


Filed under Road Trip

Charleston, SC Traditional Stores

It’s really interesting to me to see how the downtown areas of cities have adjusted to the fact that many shoppers actually want to shop there.  I still think that in my corner of the Southeast, Asheville has made the most of this renewed interest in downtown shopping.  Greenville, SC has also re-emerged from the ruins quite nicely, as has Charleston.  Still working on it are Savannah, Winston-Salem and Greensboro, and I have hope for those three cities.  Unfortunately, Charlotte, NC is pretty much an over-developed lost cause, and I’ll admit I’ve not been in downtown Atlanta since Rich’s closed in 1991.

One of the biggest problems facing downtown shopping districts is accessibility, otherwise known as parking.  I know a lot of people who just will not go to downtown Asheville because they have to pay to park.  That’s a shame, but because Asheville has a big tourist base that knows a good thing when they see it, downtown is thriving.  Tourists are also a major factor in Charleston and Savannah, but in those two cities, there are also large, up-scale neighborhoods that are within easy walking distance of the shopping streets.

I’m pretty confident that is why Berlin’s in Charleston has survived.  Berlin’s is primarily a men’s shop, and it has been on the corner of Broad and King since 1883, selling traditional menswear.  Their clientele is literally within view of the store’s front windows.  In recent years they have worked on up-dating their image, and that is reflected in the shop windows.

There is a small women’s section of mainly formal clothing, and a small children’s section.  The store was closed when we were nearby, by I did manage a few nighttime shots.

I could not resist these little girl’s shoes from Vivienne Westwood.

Further up King Street, in the heart of the shopping district is M. Dumas and Sons.  This is another long-time Charleston store, opening sometime around 1920.  The store itself seems to have been decorated in the 1920s, with an old Otis elevator, and a mezzanine level that looks out over the selling floor.  Even if you don’t intend to shop, you need to go into the store just to see that stores looked like 80 years ago!

Today they sell mainly the sort of haute preppy style that seems to be so popular in Charleston, but there is some nice menwear from firms like Filson and Balbour.  If you love a good sale, check out the mezzanine, where everything is 70% off.  A lot of it is borderline vintage.  My last trip there I bought all the made in the USA Levi’s  in my size that they had left.

Aren’t those vintage Levi’s banners super?

There are several other notable, locally owned businesses in downtown Charleston.  Bob Ellis Shoes has been there since the 1950s, and Ben Silver is the ultimate men’s haberdashery.  And there are several beautiful boutiques, including Christian Michi and Hampdon Clothing.

But for the most part, King Street has the feel of a shopping mall, with stores that can be found anywhere in the USA:  Gap, Talbots, Ann Taylor, J. Crew, Apple and on and on…  Worst of all, the large Saks Fifth Avenue store that was built in the 1990s is now a huge Forever 21.    It makes cities like Asheville and Savannah, who have more of a home grown feel, seem all the more inviting.  The trick to shopping in Charleston is to skip the chains, and focus on the local.


Filed under Road Trip, Shopping, Viewpoint

Charleston Museum, Threads of War

Last week I was finally able to see the new textiles gallery at the Charleston Museum in Charleston, South Carolina.  There were a few weeks left on the opening exhibit, Threads of War, which focused on  clothing and textiles from the American Civil War.  This was totally appropriate, as this is the 150th anniversary of the war, and it started in Charleston.  Visitors to the city hear a lot about the war because it played a huge role in the city’s history.

The Charleston Museum itself has an interesting history.  It is the oldest museum in the US, having been founded in 1773, with displays opened to the public in 1824.  These were the days of collecting “curiosities” and the Charleston Museum had its share.  Through the 19th century the collection of Egyptian artifacts, stuffed birds and pickled snakes grew.

But it was the early years of the 20th century that brought a change in the emphasis of the collection.  The museum began collecting the history of Charleston, and as a result, they now have an amazing collection of Charleston artifacts, including clothing and other textiles.  Today the museum primarily tells the story of the city of Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry of South  Carolina, both through their historical collection and the older natural science collection.

For years, the textiles were used within the exhibits that tell the history of the city, and as a result, only a very small part of the textiles collection was ever on view.  Starting in the mid 2000s, the museum started doing special exhibits that focused on the clothing collection.  The problem though, was a lack of exhibit space.  I can remember one such exhibit called the Age of Glamour,  in which the exhibit was in the hallways,  divided between two floors, and most of the garments were shown flat against a wall or laid flat.  One of the display areas was flooded with natural light.

With the new textile gallery, all of these problems are now solved.  The space was designed specifically for the display of textiles.  My only complaint is that, like the rest of the museum, the entire display is behind glass.  For most of the objects, you cannot see the back, which in the case of clothing can be very important.  Hopefully there will be times when a garment that is meant to be viewed in the round will come out from behind the glass, and be put on a pedestal on the viewing floor!

One great feature, which for come reason I do not have a photo of , but that you can see here, are the series of viewing drawers.  They were full of accessories and photographs.

A real strength of the textile collection is that these things were for the most part gathered from the community over the years.  In most cases, the museum knows who wore each garment, and in many cases even who made them.  It’s a history lovers dream!

It’s not just the textile hall that is interesting.  There are artifacts on all aspects of Charleston history, including its long history of tourism.



Filed under Museums, Road Trip, Textiles

Where Louis Vuitton Items Really Come From

I’m back from Charleston, SC, and I have lots to share.  We don’t have a Louis Vuitton store here in the wilds of Western North Carolina, so I’d not seen this egg themed window.  If it is like the ones from summer and last fall, everyday another egg is opened, with another accessory being brought into this world.

This is really interesting especially in light of the on-going conversation about where Louis Vuitton items are made.  Two years ago there was a series of LV ads that showed young women workers, sitting around a table, hand-finishing the goods.  The only problem is that today, all Louis Vuitton articles are factory made, with the exception of special orders.

But I do like the egg concept, especially the interiors, which are painted gold, of course.

I’ve never cared a thing about owning a Louis Vuitton handbag.  Most people around here would automatically think it was a fake anyway.  I did, however, take a long, loving look at the one below.    I’m glad the store was closed when we went by, otherwise I’d have been tempted to go in and pretend that I was going to buy it.  Then I’d have to stand there and convince myself that it was just too big, and besides, Bernard Arnault  is rich enough without me putting an extra $1500 in his pocket.

But I would love to have some vintage Louis Vuitton, and I’m sure someday my LV trunk will come.  Have I told the story of the one that got away?

About a year ago I went into the post office, when the owner of our local army surplus store was leaving.  He is a notorious complainer, and so I asked my friend at the counter what he was beefing about that day.  She replied that he was in a fantastic mood, having just sold a dusty old trunk on ebay for over $5000.  Turns out it was made by a man named “Louis Vinton,” or something like that.

It had been in his shop for  years, high on a shelf.  Someone had brought it in as pawn, the guy gave him $25, and the owner never returned to get it.  So after it sitting there for about five years, the surplus guy put it on ebay, and found out it was valuable.  And to think that thing was sitting on a shelf not one mile from my house, and I could probably have had it for 50 bucks.

A good place to see old Louis Vuitton items is in a LV store.  They almost always have a few vintage items on display.

But maybe you prefer this window of a local bookshop.  Curl up with a good book and a cat, ya’ll.


Filed under Curiosities, Shopping, Viewpoint

Quaint Old Charleston

I’ll soon be headed out for Charleston, SC, one of my favorite places.   Since the early 1980s, it’s been the place we run off to for a few days of escape, and we’ve seen the place go through some huge changes.  It’s an interesting place, partly because unlike most city destinations, the main draw has always been the historic residential section.

When we first visited in 1983, the downtown shopping area, which is just adjacent to the historic district, had begun the decline that was so common in the 1970s and 80s.  It was interesting because there was still a grocery (A&P, Piggly Wiggly?   Can’t remember.) on Broad Street and a Woolworth’s on King.  Most of the store fronts on King Street were either empty or were occupied by antiques dealers.  There were some notable exceptions:  Berlin’s for Men, Bob Ellis Shoes, and M. Dumas & Sons, all of whom catered to the well-to-do occupants of the mansions just down the street in the historic district, weathered the shopping mall exodus.

The turnaround for Charleston came in the mid 1980s, when the Omni Hotel chain built Charleston Place, which opened up to King, the main shopping street.  For the first several years that the Omni was open, King was still in sad shape, but the first floor of the new hotel housed stores, including Banana Republic, Crabtree & Evelyn, and Laura Ashley.  In just a few years other mid-priced chain stores began moving into King Street.

Today, King Street looks a lot like a nice American shopping mall, with everything from the Pottery Barn to J. Crew to Louis Vuitton.  However, if you look a little closer, you can find the old gems like Bob Ellis, and there are also lots of small independent boutiques, charming eating establishments and bars.  Just a few years ago it was risky to go north of a certain spot, but now North King is full of home design stores and services.

I suppose that King Street is better now, than it was 20 years ago, but it is a little sad that a large part of the major shopping area there could be anywhere in the USA.  And I noticed on our last trip, a year ago, that some of the antique shops on lower King had closed.  I’ll be checking into the retail situation, and will give a report when I return.

There will be postings here on some days, due to the beauty of auto posting, and I might manage a tweet or two!


Filed under Road Trip, Shopping

Charleston, SC

For years now Tim and I head off to Charleston whenever we need to just get away for a few days.  In recent years we haven’t gotten to go as often as we like, and when we do go, we really don’t “do” anything much to speak of.  We spend a lot of time walking and sitting on the rooftop veranda of the inn where we like to stay, usually with a bottle of wine or a cup of good coffee.
We love to walk through the historic district at night, dodging the “ghost tours” that congregate near the cemeteries.  This one is across from St. Philips Church, the site of one of the most famous ghost sightings in recent years.  The traffic around it at night is so bad that the church put up a sign: The only ghost at St. Philips is the Holy Ghost.

Down the street is the beautiful Dock Street Theatre.  I think it has a ghost or two as well.

We also like to shop in Charleston. Traditionally, the main shopping street was King Street, and it remains so today. At first glance, King Street looks like a shopping mall, with its Gap and Talbots, and A&F and Urban Outfitters, but look a little deeper and you’ll find lots of independent gems. Stores like M. Dumas and Sons, which have been on King Street since 1917.  Mainly a men’s store, I’d never been inside until this trip.  The front is full of preppy classics, but the back is where the fun is.  They have old stock, deeply discounted, like a table full of Levis that were made in the USA.  They weren’t quite vintage, but they were made from that fabulous old denim Levis used until they moved their manufacturing out of the country.  I found a pair of 501s and a pair of 505s in my size, for $16 each!  And they also had Filson Summer Packer hats at 70% off.  So lots of bargains.  Of course they also had some of the lushest cashmere I’ve seen in a very long time… at 2010 prices.

And before LB complains that there is no food report, I’m happy to say we were quite successful in finding our way to some of the best seafood in Charleston.  Briefly:  we loved Fleet Landing (where I’m standing above in my new Liberty of London skirt I made, more later) which is right on the Cooper River, Hank’s was a bit of a disappointment and has been marked off the list for our next visit, but the best place we have found is Seewee, which is 15 miles north of town up highway 17.  It is just a basic seafood place, but these people know seafood.  Well worth a little trip.

Last of all, this is a view inside one of the horse barns.  I’m not a fan of horse-drawn carriages pulling cart loads of tourists through the steamy streets of city in a semi-tropical summer climate, but I must admit that they sure found a great decorator to create an environment to keep the horses happy.


Posted by Carol B:

Your blog is a treasure. I am blown away by your knowledge of vintage ready to wear and love your thrift store finds! Thank you for taking to the time to write this blog. 

Saturday, September 25th 2010 @ 7:26 PM

Posted by Christine Seid:

Nice, Lizzie! I’ll be in Charleston for the Cooper River Bridge Run in April and will note your suggestions. 

Saturday, September 25th 2010 @ 8:43 PM

Posted by Amanda:

Thanks for the visit to Charleston. And YOU look great! As Carol B said, thank you for taking the time to write your blog. It’s definitely on my Top 5 list. 

Sunday, September 26th 2010 @ 3:21 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

Carol and Amanda, your money is in the mail 😉 

Christine, if you are not very familiar with Charleston, just email me and I’ll be happy to give even more advice!

Sunday, September 26th 2010 @ 6:20 AM

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Filed under Road Trip