Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Hand me down




How do we remember, or come to know (and perhaps even love) those who are no longer with us? It might be through the stories told to us of their escapades and fearless adventures. We hear about how our Grandma walked through a busy British town in bare feet every day, or listen in amazement to the tales of great-grandparents who fled their East European home disguised as ski tourists. Possibly we recognise their faces from old photo albums that were discovered when clearing out a house – accompanied by boxes and boxes of unsorted images, with veils of dust over the faces. If these relatives were even older there might perhaps be the occasional posed painting or daguerreotype to admire. Or, if we’re lucky then there could be some grainy footage from holidays when the Acropolis wasn’t yet a humming tourist destination, and it was still possible to imagine the Greek Gods floating over the shoulders of our then-young grandfather. All these relics from the past serve to educate us about our ancestors and build them up in our head – creating living sculptures made from papers, portraits and words.

Sometimes these scraps of memory are woven together with fabric. The final way to understand the characters of those we never knew is through looking at what they wore. My (still alive but remarkably changed) 93 year old great-grandma favoured Jaeger cardigans and dainty shoes – many of which came from charity shops in later years. My other maternal great-grandma (and great-aunts) owned a large variety of hats, gloves, scarves and bags – typical of what women of their generation wouldn’t leave the house without. And my paternal grandad, who died when my dad was little? Although we have photo evidence of him as a ‘dapper young chap’ in three piece suits or slacks, I know him specifically through a few objects dotted around our house. The first is a Stanford vest; a relic from his college days. Then there are the white rimmed fifties sunglasses – so big that I feel like a child playing dress up again, as the frames slip down my nose. And finally, hanging on a hook in the hall, I can see a straw fedora that wouldn’t look out of place on the Sartorialist.




Wearing (or even just owning) clothes that belonged to various relatives is the ultimate recycling – not only are the garments being re-used and re-discovered (where they might otherwise have been dumped), but these items can also be given a new type of life. Our own stories are added to the ones that went before them. “If these walls could talk...” is an over used phrase. However, I wonder if a more interesting saying might be “If these clothes could talk”. What we wear accompanies us all day long and our clothes are party to whatever we do or say.

Sometimes I feel as though every item my grandma has given me should have a label stitched into it, detailing its history. “This couture dress was bought in a thrift store, and worn when I was a jobbing actress in New York”, or, “I brought this sixties flower brooch with me when I moved to London”. We could scribble our own additions on to each label – “I used the seventies patchwork floppy hat to keep the sun off my face during a family picnic”.

So, in memory of my family members who are no longer with us or who do not enjoy the health they once did, here are three outfits styled (almost) exclusively with pieces from the past – handed down from great-grandmas, grandparents, aunts and cousins three times removed.




The first of the three ensembles is made up of the previously mentioned Stanford vest (and white sunglasses), worn with silk knickerbockers (used as shorts) that were discovered, still unworn, in a great-grandma’s house. The silk shirt underneath belonged to my maternal-great grandma (who has been a wonderful source of all things silk and fur related), as did the long string of faux-pearls. The silk scarf in my hair comes from the box of treasures from my other maternal great-grandma’s house.

The second has a floral dress hand-made by one of my maternal great-grandmas (she of the hats and gloves), worn under a black lace bodice that was owned by another great-grandma. The two great-grandmas on my mother’s side did not get on, and therefore it’s quite bittersweet that I am pairing their clothes together. In addition, this black lace strapless top has been worn and styled by four generations on my mother’s side – having been made by my great-grandma, who gave it to her daughter, who in turn passed it on to her daughter (my mum), who wore it, stored it, and one day found it had been appropriated by her daughter – me!
I am also wearing a velvet choker and a little belt that both belonged to a paternal great-grandma. The wedges are not family owned (but second hand from ebay), as my feet are much too big to be stuffed into vintage shoes.

The third look was very circus inspired – especially in the colour palette. The white blouse was my great-grandma’s, and the black trousers were my maternal granddad’s. I had to cinch them in with a sash, as the waistline was somewhat larger than mine – however, I love the voluminous look of the legs. The red satin evening coat worn over the top belonged to my paternal great-grandma. Most of her clothes were donated to an American theatre wardrobe department (sob), but this is one of the few pieces I have been lucky enough to receive. The brooch at the neck is Christian Dior, and was from my maternal great-grandma (along with the pearl clutch). The shoes are second hand.

All three outfits have elements of red running through them, which wasn’t planned, but seems appropriate. If we go back once again to the symbolism of colours, then red stands for courage and valour - two qualities that saturate various family stories. However, it also represents anger, which is just as apt. There have been fiery arguments, harsh words and great sadness. However here red is tempered with white; the sign of peace and serenity. Hopefully there is a dash of that in the family mix too.

I will be on holiday as of friday, and so my next post will be pre-scheduled for the middle of the following week. I have been really busy, so will announce the giveaway in that, after using a random generator - everyone's answers were too good (thoughtful, funny, reflective) for me to make a rational decision! This will gave the winner plenty of time to contact me with an address before I get back.

37 comments:

Elizabeth @rosalilium said...

So lovely to read about the stories and personal connections with these clothes. I think that is one of my favourite things about second-hand and vintage clothing. I love the stories!

the nyanzi report said...

I love the last three pictures and so is the outfit. Great story.

The Fancy Teacup said...

It is truly touching to see you style outfits using recycled items handed down from the ones you love. You look extraordinarily beautiful in each one!

♥, Jamie
www.TheFancyTeacup.com

Vanessa, Take only Memories said...

Wow what great outfits! Loving the first one! Your hair/scarf is so cute!

CALAMITY JANE said...

The way you describe how we build in our
minds relatives is fanastic, you do really know how to write!

The Thriftaholic (Leilani) said...

I've always been envious of all the vintage pieces that have been handed down to you by your stylish relatives, it's amazing to hear some of the stories behind these ensembles! Sadly none of my relatives held on to their clothing but I did inherit my grandmother's wedding ring/engagement ring and her jewelry collection.

November Grey said...

I love that you styled these hand me down garments. And you look stunning. xx

Frocktasia said...

Thant handmade dress is awesome, I'm loving the funky print!
I love the idea of history been woven into the fabric of a vintage or second hand garment, it's especially evocative if the item is from a
member of your own family.
I have some pieces of my mothers that I will never part with & even though some of them may only be 70s/80s el cheapo catalogue bought bits, their value on a personal level knows no bounds.
Great outfits & styling as per usual.
Take care luv,
Jennie
xXx

alexandratherese said...

Roz this is so beautiful - I'm sure all of your family members are/would be so proud to see you making such fantastic use of their old clothes. Indeed it would be very interesting (and somewhat scary!) if our clothes could talk - but in your case particularly, as your relatives seem to have led such interesting lives! The Stanford vest stands out to me in particular as I don't expect there are many of the ones worn by your Great Grandad's generation still around! You really do look like you have stepped through a window from the past.

Hope you have a lovely holiday + looking forward to seeing next week's post!

Alexandra xx

Rachel said...

This is such an interesting post, I often get to pondering about what memories we have left once people are no longer with us, memories and objects are really all we have, and the objects are the only tangible things we can really hold on to. I have some coral necklaces from my grandma and a black top that I can barely fit into which I'm sure she enjoyed wearing in the fifties. The outsides you've styled are really lovely the last one in particular is very striking.
Have a fab holiday! xx

la tienda de la telaraña said...

Marvellous....
You mix clothes in a perfect way, they fit you perfectly, and you seem so actual!

Ginta said...

Beautiful outfits & beautiful stories!
I just recently wore my parental grandma's (?) bloomers too! I really enjoyed the possibility to reminisce her like that.

Fashionistable said...

What a wonderful way to bring all your family together. I love that you are wearing the waring grandmothers together. My favourite is the last look. It is so striking and the 1st pose is perfect. Is this your mum taking the pictures again? She is really good. You are all so lovely and talented. Send her my love. Have a wonderful holiday. Xxxx

Celynne said...

I really love that white blouse in the last outfit.

Jessica said...

I love the pink coat, your hair looks great in the first look :)

http://chicgeekblogger.blogspot.com/

Please take a minute to look at my vintage boutique;

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The Foolish Aesthete said...

These are absolutely beautiful. I love objects with a story -- clothes, jewelry, furniture, even houses. It is a wonderful tribute to your family members (who obviously had good taste!) to style your photos with their mementos and weave in their stories. Love to your family! xxx

sacramento said...

I always enjoy wearing clothes with a story behind.
Lucky you that know who they belonged to, so you can cherish them even more.
You are so beautiful in the last thress pics, my dear Roz.
XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

daisychain said...

I just adore how you make knickerbockers utterly wearable.

London is passion said...

So nice!
The first outfit is awesome

Lydia said...

The top looks is one of the coolest outfits I've seen in a long time. I love the use of the jersey. I'm filing that one away. Also I can't wait til my hair is long so I can wrap a scarf around my bun like that!

Penny Dreadful said...

How lucky of you to have such stylish relatives :) My family were all farmers so clothes had to be practical and cheap; perhaps that is why I find vintage clothing so fascinating, because it is a glimpse into a world so outside my own background x

Sophie Loloi said...

Very cute outfit!:)

www.theparalleluniversee.blogspot.com

Pull Your Socks Up! said...

What an amazing post Roz, you've done your relatives proud. The third outfit is dead gorgeous - what an AMAZING combo!! The weir sign pic is so cheeky:). I hope you have a wonderful break xo

danniekate said...

i love that dramatic red coat! looking forward to our portrait date! xx

Lace and Tulle said...

LOVELY!!! very touching!

Alice In Fashionland said...

Great post! I love the pictures.

the Citizen Rosebud said...

I need to come back and look again- love how you style clothing. Your love of vintage doesn't stifle the way you put an outfit- all of these are so fresh and beautiful and not a whiff of retro. Lovely!

Meena Dhuga said...

great post!!! lovely story!

http://pinklemonsorbet.blogspot.com/

Meena xxx

adrielleroyale said...

What a wealth of history, beauty and fun! You make everything look so beautiful :) Great tribute!

Michelle Lee said...

love your look and photos!

pinklemonincrystal.blogspot.com

EIGHT LONDON said...

What a beautiful idea. And what great treasure your grandparents left you! Much as I love my Granny, I can never forgive her for haplessly chucking away all my great-grandma's belongings - who was the only style maverick we've ever had in our family. I long to inherit something to play with in the way you have.

The 3rd ensemble is my favourite - you really suit the tuxedo look!

EIGHT LONDON

SabinePsynopsis said...

Such a wonderful approach of cherishing these clothes and making them look fresh and new and totally yours. I've got a few items from my grand and grand grand mother. They're nearly falling apart, but I love them.
Beautiful photos, too, Roz! xo

Ruta, Look Ugly in a Photograph said...

Beautiful outfits! You have the most incredible clothes. That pink jacket is fantastic, so out there.

And you write beautifully. I love how you give meaning to clothes.

Irusja said...

Amazing outfits! I love the style!

http://inelegancewetrust.blogspot.com/

Vix said...

Beautifully styled and fabulously written. It's wonderful to own some treasured possessions of loved ones and ancestors long gone. I have Great-Great Grandmother's mourning jacket and her husband's top hat, my Grandfather's mother's wedding dress and boxes of mourning jewellery (what a morbid lot my family were). x

Soccer Mom Style said...

How I wish I had my grandma's and grand aunt's dresses and their purses!
These photos are so beautiful. I love the second from last - the portrait. You look so dreamy and Romantic as if you just stepped out of Chekov's short story or Tolstoy's novel ;)
Have a great vacation!
xx
maya

Catherine said...

How wonderful that you have so many items that belonged to your family members! My heart breaks over all the lovely clothing I have seen in my family photo albums that disappeared over the years.

I gasped when I got to the photo of you in the red satin evening coat. What a treasure!

- Catherine at Littlehouse of Style
http://littlehouseofstyle.blogspot.com/