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The Ability to Accessorize is What Separates Man from the Animals - from Steel Magnolias
By Terry McCormick

As you know, subtlety is my middle name; but every once an era or so fashion presents the opportunity to leap out of the closet draped in glitz, and I hasten to participate. Accessories are the big fashion statement this year, with "big" being the operative word. "Splashy," "clever," and "original" are not far behind. (Dare we add, "don't dazzle 'em with your diamonds, baffle 'em with your Bakelite?" No, I really can't do it.) The time is now, and what better material to work with than vintage clothing and accessories? Vintage clothing folks are in position to make major fashion statements for a few dollars that others may have to spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars to equal. For example, the "witty littlebags"coming out of Paris, ($3,000 and up) are no more clever than many bags you'll find in the vintage shop around the corner. Keep an eye out for wonderful big bags too, like the corde's of the 1940's with lucite handles.

Collectable vintage costume jewelry is sometimes priced beyond the budgets of us proletarian types, but there are still bargains to be found if you can look beyond Bakelite. You like Paloma Picasso's big, gilt necklaces and bracelets? Then you'll love the gilt jewelry from the late 40's/early 50's. These pieces are often relatively inexpensive, still "wearables" not collectibles, and give an elegant, tailored look while still being noticeable and glitzy. I may joke about plastic daisies, but floral patterned costume jewelry is a great perk-up for plain dresses and jackets. Try replacing the buttons on last year's jacket with small flower pins, or maybe beetles or butterflies. Keep an eye out for those cheap, but darling, little charm bracelets that were once sold at the Five and Dime. Wear two on each arm, or combine with gilt chain bracelets. I've hauled out some of my wooden jewelry that dates from WWII: A leafy branch with red cherries dangling on leather cords, a cowboy hat with boots, and a necklace of carved flowers painted red and green. Tres' chic, and not a modern copy in sight.

I bought a charm necklace at Tender Buttons, in McMinnville, OR, made by proprietor Bonnie Rogers. I liked it so much, I went home, bought a glue gun and some needle nose pliers, and assembled two of my own out of bits and pieces of broken costume jewelry, vintage buttons, and chains from the thrift store. This was my maiden venture into jewelry assembly and if I can, you can! People literally stop me on the street to comment on these necklaces. Another project any fumble fingered novice can tackle, with likelihood of success, is a jewelry collage. With a glue gun, a flat backing (get official ones at a rock shop, unofficially use large, vintage plastic buttons), and odds and ends of broken jewelry and pretty old buttons, you can put together a wonderful, glitzy pin or bolo. If you have a shop, why not make up some samples of these ideas, and other ways to use oddments of vintage jewelry and lace; then sell the broken jewelry, bits of lace, beaded motifs, etc, so customers can make their own? A great way to clean out the boxes in the back room.

Pat Lang, Buffalo, NY, wears little vintage mesh bags as necklaces, often decorated with a special vintage button or small pin. Small beaded, embroidered, or crocheted bags also create a look that is charming and highly individual.

Make a cuff bracelet from a large, black, beaded Victorian lace motif; just cut to the right length and add snaps for a closing. Lani Sensenbrenner, The Glamour Years, Bothel, WA made earrings from smaller versions of these motifs, by adding pierced earring hooks at the top. Stunning. Turn a so-so modern jacket into a designer garment by stitching on Victorian passamentaries: beaded lace, braid, or black "jet" motifs. Maggie O'Shea crocheted a cuff and it is such a honey she's been approached to make them for an accessory wholesaler. Old tassels make fabulous new necklaces; see Mirabella for lots of ideas.

One of the hottest selling vintage items at the moment is the print rayon, 40's or 50's, dress. No wonder., they look stylish, feel cool, and travel beautifully. On the other hand, keep an eye out for black rayon dresses as well. Add a vintage lace collar (or pique', if you can find one) and you '11 be so fashionable you won't be able to stand yourself. Have you been turning your nose up at those dull, but ever present, 1940's blazers? Take another look. Wear one over a Hawiian shirt, with a modern linen "skort," or with a one-pocket tee and jeans. Of course, a wild and wonderful vintage pin on the lapel will perk up the whole ensemble immeasurably. Wear a Mexican circle skirt with a below hip length, baggy cotton sweater, cotton tights, and "granny shoes," for an entirely new look. In the late 30's/early 40's, movie stars like Lana Turner and Katherine Hepburn wore what we call "granny shoes" (lace up oxfords with medium heels) with ankle socks. Are you ready to try it?

You say your taste for looking glamorous is lanquishing as your frantic social whirl takes you from MacDonalds to Ralph's Video? Sneak up on the peasants. Wear a beaded or braided vintage bolero with rayon palazzo pants to the movies; drape an embroidered, fringed shawl over your jeans and shirt at the next concert; wear a vintage lace jacket or blouse over a swingy modern rayon skirt to the drive through window. They '11 love you for it. Cover the crown of a straw hat with a vintage silk scarf; wear a man's tie as a belt; find a large, heavy cotton lace collar and drape it over the shoulders of a blazer; wear a teens silk georgette blouse with a rayon or silk divided skirt... the ideas are endless when we take a fresh look at some of the old accessories we've been taking for granted. We're talking dizzying heights of fashion possibilities here.

Copyright 1990 - All Rights Reserved, Terry McCormick, Vintage Clothing Newsletter