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.