Jerri Bloechl entered this beaded 1920s evening bag.
"Memories light the corners of my mind; misty water color memories of the way we were?"
"The Way We Wore," a Merrill Historical Society fundraising event that invites people to show off their vintage hats, shoes and purses, is a cooperative effort between the Society and Blooming Wishes Floral and Gift Gallery in Merrill. The 100 items entered in the contest span the century between the 1880s and the 1980s and are incorporated into a beautiful display at the gallery.
The event's title was adapted from the bittersweet 1970s song popularized by Barbara Streisand.
In the handbag category, Bev King's small, colorfully-beaded coin purse shaped like a strawberry (precious!) dates from around 1900 and belonged to her grandmother. Pat Burg brought a silvery 1940s beaded bag owned by her mother that is now being held by a teddy bear made from the mink stole she wore when she carried the bag.
Sharon Anderson says of her blue velvet purse, "It's the only thing I own that was my mother's." Barb Schmidt entered a small (just large enough to hold a dance ticket, lipstick and handkerchief) pink and blue metal link flapper-style bag that was purchased by her mother in 1928 with confirmation money.
Shoes range from high-topped, buttoned Victorian boots to 1960-70 purple suede heels embellished with rhinestone clips. A well-worn pair of sturdy leather boy's boots was entered by Mary Ann VanDerGeest. They belonged to her great uncle, who was born in the 1800s. Lydia Bauman says of the two pairs of shoes she entered, "My husband was a traveling salesman and always stopped in Milwaukee to buy shoes for me!"
Judith Wery purchased her red Naturalizer shoes for $14.95 while working in Milwaukee in 1958. She says "They always made me smile when I looked at them." A woman who voted for Judy's shoes noted on her ballot: "I used to have a pair just like this. Now I have bunions!"
And there were hats, hats and more hats: Frilly Victorian bonnets, cloches from the '20s, elegantly tailored examples from the '30s and '40s, picture hats a la Audrey Hepburn from the '50s, pillboxes reminiscent of those worn by Jackie Kennedy in the 1960s. Hats covered with pastel silk flowers. Hats that are barely more than a scrap of veil decorated with ribbon or fur. Hats that look like elegant "metallic" helmets. Hats that were obviously Easter bonnets. Hats that were worn by brides or by their moms.
A luscious apricot silk flapper-style hat came from 8-year-old Emeilia Cimino. Phyllis Frederick's 1950s deep green velour hat with veil belonged to "My dear Mom, who wore it to church every Sunday." Val Grunenwald submitted a hat, gloves and shoes, circa 1948: "This was my 'dancing outfit.'" One of Jayne Fox's entries was completely overlaid with jewel-toned pheasant feathers.
A man brought in a couple dozen women's hats that had been left in a house he bought, many of them still in their big round hat boxes.
Several other men entered hats as well. Tom Burg's 1920s cap was worn by a conductor, possibly from the Soo Line Railroad. Larry Lebal entered a sporty straw boater and a Victorian-era burgundy wool felt bowler with coordinating silk scarf - very classy! There were a number of fedoras, for several decades in the 20th century a "standard" men's hat style.
Twenty-something Tanner Schultz cleverly played off our event title by labeling his entries "The Way They War." His Civil War re-enactment Hardy hat was worn by the "officers of the Iron Brigade to show that their men were gentlemen rather than backwoods rednecks. The black hat is adorned with an ostrich feather held in place by a brass pin showing an eagle holding arrows and an olive branch." The hat was accompanied by a pair of "Jefferson brogans," inexpensive government-issue boots, and a haversack that was used to carry soldiers' necessities.
Votes being counted
This article had to be written before the final vote tally was determined, but there were three items in the lead: Donna Block's amazing pink chapeau (the word "hat" simply doesn't do it justice), tall and lavishly decorated with feathers; Tanner Schultz's Civil War-era design; and Jerri Bloechl's uniquely beaded black Victorian hat inherited from her mother who "collected old things."
Many precious memories are symbolized by these pieces of clothing, lovingly preserved and now so generously shared with our community.
"The Way We Wore" contest has ended, but you can still see the beautiful display of these and many more items at Blooming Wishes, 820 E. First St., Merrill, until the end of August, when the exhibit will be moved to the Merrill Historical Society museum at 100 E. Third St.