The Charming Stories of 18 Timeless Vintage Outfits
What’s the oldest piece of clothing in your closet? Grandpa’s WWII uniform? Great-Grandma’s wedding dress? The first suit you ever owned? Heirloom clothing brings back memories more vividly than photographs—because you can see and touch garments that you or your loved ones once wore.
Labor of Love
“I kept this dress all these years because it represents a labor of love from my mother,” says Nelle Goff Wheat, shown at 17 wearing the organdy formal her mother created in 1949. Nelle wore the gown in a local beauty pageant and at Lexington (TN) High School’s Junior-Senior Dinner. Today, the dress hangs in her bedroom alongside her grandmother’s bed and dresser. “Wonderful memories surround me when I reflect on things of the past,” says Nelle, now of Oakland, TN.
Good Design Never Goes Out Of Style
Wilma Hawes Connely, bottom, stands next to the suit she bought for $20 and wore for her marriage in 1952 to Dennis Connely, below. Purchased at J.C. Penney in Neosho, MO, the outfit was displayed at a Penney store in Tulsa, OK, as part of the company’s 100th anniversary. “She will never part with that dress,” says daughter Connie Connely of Tulsa.
She Dressed for Success
Standing next to husband Dayo (left photo), Joy Thompson, 20, wears her best dress on May 9, 1950, for a ceremony at Illinois State University recognizing scholastic achievement. Joy holds Mark, their first-born child. “I realize now what a special day this was in a young woman’s life,” writes Joy’s daughter Lisa Krall, of Dewey, IL. “She maintained a high grade point through the stresses of marriage, pregnancy and motherhood. I’d say she did it with grace and style!”
“Every year at Christmas, I find some occasion to wear it,” Bryce Clifton of Fremont, NE, says about the silky red tie adorned with artsy, glittery winter scenes, below. The cheery accessory belonged to Bryce’s father, Ray Clifton, in the early 1950s.
A Sharp-Dressed Man Wearing Love on His Sleeve
Newlyweds (and college students) Alvin and Doralee Griffith Klein canoodle in a porch swing at his parents’ Wisconsin farm in 1952, top. “I still hug her as much as I did when I wore that pullover!” says Pastor Al, now 88 and retired from the ministry in Calhoun, GA. He proudly shows off the well-preserved sweater in 2016, above.
A. Lovell Elliott of Barnstable, MA, strikes a professorial pose in the Harris tweed suit he bought to wear at his new job on Jan. 10, 1950. (He spent $76.50 for the suit and five ties at Frankenberger’s— an upscale haberdashery in Charleston, WV.) “My reasons for keeping it are practical,” he says. “I’m of Scottish origin.”
I was the scoreboard operator in the late 1940s for Johns Hopkins University’s football and lacrosse teams and all I got was this T-shirt. -Gardner “Dubby” Mallonee II Baltimore, MD
“No electronics. No Jumbotron. Just metal numbers we hung on pegs,” recalls Dubby of his volunteer activities at Johns Hopkins University. His father was school athletic director.
The Best Black Coat
Marion “Dolly” Trahan of Port Neches, TX, models the black coat she bought in Louisiana in 1957. “It was my favorite,” Dolly says, noting the stylish pushup sleeves, the buttonless closure and a black bow on the back. “When I got married and moved to Texas, the coat came with me.”
Warmed by her 54-year-old cable-knit sweater, Marcia K. de la Cerda braves the cold weather at her home in Lakewood, NY. Her mother, Dolores Lawson, knit the mohair garment for Marcia to take to Brockport State College in 1962. “Believe it or not, this item is in mint condition,” Marcia says.
The Cutest Cadet
Cadet Jim Jenkins stands at attention while wearing the dress gray tunic and white trousers required at West Point in 1953. His wife, Barb Jenkins, still has the uniform hanging in her closet in Manitowoc, WI. “He was the cutest guy in our eighth-grade class,” she recalls about their early days in nearby Green Bay.
Olive Drab Wool Serge
This waist-cropped Eisenhower jacket, right, belonged to Sgt. Raymond I. Tevault, who served in the Army from 1942 to 1946. The jacket came to Michael Tevault of Murfreesboro, TN, after his father died in 1970. Wearing a different jacket, Raymond points to a bald tire, below. “New tires were impossible to get because of the war,” Michael says. “You just basically patched them and prayed.”
High School Uniform
Marjorie Wolters of Portis, KS, is shown in 1947 wearing her Smith Center High School uniform. “I thought we looked great in them when we performed as a group,” Marjorie writes. “I was happy to wear this uniform at my 25th and 50th annual alumni get-togethers.”
What To Wear
The military’s strict guidelines about appearance applied to the Women’s Army Air Corps during WWII when Ruth served. Uniforms included wool olive drab for winter service and khaki cotton, shown here, for summer service.
Women in Uniform
Ruth Morgan struts her stuff as part of the Women’s Army Air Corps near Portland, OR, where she met and married her husband. Years later, her grandson’s wife, Laci Gausnell, models the olive green WWII uniform and garrison cap. “The best part of having her uniform is sharing it with my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” writes Ruth’s daughter, Patricia Gausnell of Roseburg, OR.
Six-year-old Marilyn Vileta Hicks, left, smiles in a 1943 portrait taken for her father, who would soon be leaving his family to serve in World War II. Her granddaughter Jillian Hicks, above, wears the same flour-sack dress (made by Marilyn’s mother, Marie K. Vileta) at age 6 in 2005. “Seeing her in that dress brought me warm thoughts,” Marilyn writes from Marshalltown, IA.
A Dress Made for a Boy
“My grandmother made a baby dress and slip in anticipation of having a daughter,” says Jerri Sue de Cordova Fox of Enid, OK. Instead, Ella Sherrill deCordova gave birth to Kenneth (Jerri Sue’s father) 100 years ago on Jan. 9, 1917. Eventually, both Kenneth’s granddaughter Jill Elaine Jones Dry, near right in 1983, and his great-granddaughter Lily Gabriella Dry, far right in 2010, wore Grandma Ella’s handmade outfit.
Coat and a Hat to Match
Earleen Sunday Johnson, 3, below, sports a pink coat and matching hat bought by her grandmother in 1958 at Hein’s Department Store in Waukegan, IL. Earleen’s mother, Betty Sunday, saved the coat for the toddler’s future daughters to wear. “Well, I had four wonderful sons,” says Earleen, who now lives in Libertyville, IL. “The beautiful coat that my mom so carefully preserved for more than 50 years finally was unwrapped and worn by my granddaughters.” One of them, Haley, is shown clutching her stuffed lamb.
Beautifully Handmade to Last for Years
For 70 years, Levenia Coats of Sulphur, LA, and her family have taken turns wearing a dainty sky blue dress. Levenia, age 5, above, wears the dress crocheted for her by her Aunt Laura, followed by granddaughter Hailey in 1997, and great-granddaughter Ella in 2015.