Sepia Saturday 384: Piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.
For as far back as I can remember, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence was a clothes horse. She followed fashion trends and kept up with the latest in age-appropriate clothing, footwear and accessories.
A 1950 photo from the day that she and I first met in Gloversville, N.Y., shows her stylishly attired with every hair in place.
Not that she spent inordinate sums on her outfits.
Known in our family as Boom from my childhood rendering of Grandma as “Booma,” my grandmother was a serious sales shopper keen to find quality at reduced prices.
To this end, she frequented garment industry company stores once common in her home town and in the Albany Capital District, where she lived when I was growing up.
Fashionable from a young age
I wondered how far back her fashion sense went — then I discovered two photos of Boom taken in 1906 when she was about one year old.
Clearly, her German-American parents started her on a fashion-forward footing at a young age.
In the first photo, my grandmother’s shiny black hair peeks out from beneath a snug little winter hat.
She is posed for the studio photographer in a light, double-breasted fur coat with a Bishop sleeve. Atop her head and at her neck are full, fashionable bows.
A dress with staying power
In the second picture, my grandmother looks very smart in a crisp, white ankle-length dress and patent leather shoes — accessorized with a chain and pendant, a baby ring and a little bracelet.
Her dark hair, gathered up at the top, shines even more brightly in this photo.
The dress features an eyelet hem, eyelet detail and gathered sleeves with eyelet cuffs. Vertical stitching adds interest at the yoke, which falls from a lacy neckline.
As I studied the photo, something about the dress seemed familiar — so I took a look in the closet where I store family heirloom garments.
How wonderful to discover this dress among several recently given to me by my younger sister Amy — saved and passed down through four generations.
A textile legacy
My maternal grandmother Liz was big on family and heritage. She set up “baby boxes” for her daughters (my mom Peg and my Aunt Rita).
Then — starting with their baby shoes — she filled each box with important artifacts and documents from their childhoods.
Boom also maintained a huge collection of family photos, passed on by her parents and my grandfather’s family — which she carefully labeled for future generations.
So is it any wonder that she would save her baby dress from that handsome photo?
The cherished outfit was probably tucked away and passed down by her mother — my great grandmother Celia (Mimm) Stoutner. Although ivory with age, my grandmother’s little dress has held together for 111 years.
Could this be the quality garment that started my grandmother Liz on a lifetime of carefully dressing for every occasion? If so, what a wonderful textile legacy.
Up next: My fashionable maternal grandmother at age five. Please stop back.
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