Sunday an old friend and I attended the Ottawa Vintage Clothing Show. This is what I wore. Yep, I finally, finally mustered my courage and wore one of my vintage hats… out in public. I love vintage hats. But, I buy them, plan an outfit around them, and then at the last minute chicken out before I make it out the door. Not this time.

woman in black jacket and pants, on a lawn with river behind
On my way to the Vintage Clothing Show, in black and vintage.

My old hat looked great with the colours in the new scarf that I bought recently at Chatsworth House in the UK. And the green in the scarf is the exact shade of a Prada wool sweater I bought in New York last year. So, I’d say the outfit was a match made in heaven.

Besides, if you can’t wear a vintage hat to a vintage clothing show…where can you wear it, eh?

woman in black jacket and pants, on a lawn with river behind
Hoping this hat stays on all day
The Ottawa Vintage Clothing Show is an annual event each November. And I hate to miss it. My friend and I had a wonderful time, this year. We chatted with the vendors, with each other, and with other shoppers, many of whom were decked out in their own vintage pieces. We each bought something, and then we decamped for a long and chatty lunch. Sigh. All in all a great day.
I love old things, jewellry, clothing, dishes, furniture. I think they tell us a story. And help us make a connection to the past. And that makes them special to me. That’s why I’m writing this post. To talk about connections, and how some of the old things I own make me feel connected to the past, in particular to my family’s past.
I’m pretty sure my love affair with old things, and the stories that go with them, began when I was a teenager, when my Mum married my stepfather and we moved to the farm. I remember rooting around for treasures in the cellar, behind the barn, or in the rafters above the old machine shed. Some of these things, like a fat crockery vase, and an old wooden chest, I’ve carted around with me ever since. From whatever apartment I lived in when I was single, to Hubby’s and my home now.
I particularly love old things that belonged to family. The ceramic cat that sits in my spare bedroom and which sat in my grandmother’s house as far back as I can remember. The cup and saucer that my father bought for my mum when they were newly married. The black leather clutch which my aunt had specially made for my grandmother in the forties, which has my grandmother’s initials on it, and which I still use for special evenings or occasions which call for dressing up.

Years ago when I started shopping for antiques for Hubby’s and my home, or for vintage jewellry, I learned a lot from my friend Mary as we browsed through country antique fairs. When an item interested her, she’d pick it up, carry it over to the merchant and say…”Tell me about this.” I love that approach. It elicits all kinds of surprising detail and information about the item’s value and provenance. And sometimes quirky stories about the object’s history.

“Provenance” is a word usually reserved for rare and valuable antiques where the chain of ownership must be proven since it has an effect on the object’s monetary value. To me it just means the story behind the object.

Each and every item that my grandmother or my mother has passed on to me was accompanied by a story. Stories about dances my grandmother attended as a girl. Stories about my father and his and my mum’s life together before I was born. None of my treasures is particularly rare or valuable, as far as I know… except to me. I know the “provenance” of them all. And knowing the story behind the object, gives it a greater value to me, and makes me feel connected to the original owner.

My friend with whom I attended the Vintage Clothing Show on Sunday is currently down-sizing; she and her husband plan to sell the family home and move somewhere smaller. She has jewellry, and crystal, and china which she’s had for years. Some of it belonged to her mother and grandmother. On Sunday she collected business cards from vendors who expressed an interest in buying some of her things. Because, she told me, her daughter and her daughter-in-law are not interested in owning any of her treasures. I’m told the same story by other friends. “Young people today don’t want our old stuff,” one friend said recently.

Really? I don’t understand that. Okay, maybe young couples don’t want a complete silver tea service, or a set of china with twelve place-settings, but why not accept one piece of silver? A tea pot, maybe, to be lovingly polished and used on special occasions, knowing it belonged to someone who knew and loved you. I have a china sugar bowl which sits in my cupboard and which I use every day. It’s chipped. But it belonged to my mother-in-law who died in 1991. It sat in her kitchen cupboard. And every day it reminds me of her.

Maybe I’m just too sentimental. Maybe the children of my friends are simply not sentimental about family things. After all, they are just things. But I loved the fact that there were a lot of young people at the show on Sunday who seemed pretty excited about buying old things. It makes me happy to think that someone’s grandma’s fur stole will be loved again.

And I’m equally happy that I have a couple of nieces who are sentimental, and who love old things as much as me. I know when the time comes some of my treasures with a story to tell will go to a good home.

woman in black jacket and pants, sitting in front of a house
All ready to shop for vintage… in my vintage hat.

Now… I should probably go and dream up some outfits to go with my other vintage hats. I don’t know folks; some of my hats are pretty … well… out there. To wear them in public, I’d probably have to “screw my courage to the sticking place” to quote Lady Macbeth.

Then again, there’s always next year’s Vintage Clothing Show.


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46 thoughts on “Vintage Connections… Wearable and Otherwise”

  1. Well, you make those hats look terrific. (Yes. Buy more!) And I love this post. Your appreciarion for the history and the personal connection to these beautiful objects is admirable. Maybe I am saying that because I am the same way – my sons tell me I am sentimental about such things – but I cannot imagine not having these precious links to the previous generations. Especially when they are so lovely!

    I theoretically had to downsize a year ago when I sold my house and moved, knowing that in a rental space temporarily I have less space, and I am going to have to move again, which means divesting of more than I did a year ago.

    I find it easier to shed things that I purchased, even if I purchased them 20 or 30 years ago, than getting rid of special objects I remember from my childhood that belonged either to my mother or to my grandmother. So I have an old cupboard full of 1950s China that was my mothers, and some remnants of dishes and small serving items from the 1920s and 30s that were my grandmothers. But I cherish these things.


    I'm so glad you are part of "by invitation only." And I look forward to hearing what you pick up at the vintage shop. Hats with plumes? Hats with veils? I think you could pull it off!


    1. Ha. No more hats allowed until I wear some of the ones I already own. But I did buy a pair of Bakelite earrings which will go with a vintage bracelet I already own.

  2. I feel the same Sue . Old stuff has not been ' fashionable ' here in the U.K. for some time now & my loft seems to have ended up as the repository for unwanted family treasures . Old aunts have died , my sisters have downsized & modernised & I say ' No don't get rid of it , I'll look after it till the youngsters want it ' . I could open my own antique shop except I'd never bear to sell anything & everyone is at Ikea anyway . I'm convinced fashion will swing round & these things will be precious again . There was a little chink of light a couple of weeks ago . My niece of twenty five was very taken with my old pine pedestal kitchen table & wondered where she could get one . Perhaps the tide is turning . Perhaps .
    Why don't you get all your hats out & have a little fashion parade for us . They make me look like a dotty old lady ( Norma Desmond again ) but they look good on you . You've got the right face .
    Wendy from York

    1. I think this love of old things must skip a generation or two. My friends who collected rustic pine furniture in the seventies have children who seem to want everything modern and sleek. But maybe those millennials just coming of age will be lovers of old things.

      Not sure I can promise the hat fashion parade. Some of them look a bit dotty on me too. Now that I'm not in my thirties anymore… which is when I bought many of them. Old things look nice on young faces…ironic, even. But on aging faces… maybe not so much.

  3. Today I was reading about someone who lost her house to wildfire in Knysna. Finally finding the courage to pick thru the rubble. In a spirit of zero waste she sorted out bits of china with memories of her grandmother – going to be a mosaic splashback in the new kitchen.

    I love that – and I hoard old stuff. As I sit here I see the old cabin trunk from my mother's grandmother. She had a son in California and another near Vancouver. Since the lock says Pennsylvania either the older trunk didn't survive the journey across the Atlantic? Or she came back with extra stuff? But this trunk travelled from London to Cape Town with my mother.

  4. I love your interpretation of the topic today and have had such a good time visiting others. There is nothing like favorite family items to take us quickly back to precious memories. Happy Tuesday!

  5. I love vintage, but yes, it is not as valued by the younger generation and I don't want a lot of my parents as want to live minimally. What to do? My mom is not a collector so that helps. I love the stories and the history. Love the hat on you! I also buy them and chicken out. So fun to see them being used again.

    1. I don't buy much vintage anymore…or antiques. Not like I used to when I was furnishing our home back in the nineties. I bought bedroom dressers, a table or two, a rocking chair, and since I then had no more spots to put things, I stopped and just browsed to enjoy the view.

  6. Hi Sue
    It just so happens I was in the basement going thru drawers when I happened upon my Mom's vintage red/burgandy reptile purse with a brass clasp. I have often admired this purse and wondered it's history with her. To me, it looks expensive, very stylish from the late 40's or early 50's. It was packed away so we never discussed it. I have never used it myself! I have a few vintage evening bag and cannot part with them! Once in a woman's restroom at a hip restaurant they had displayed evening bags on the wall…now that was cool!
    Wear the hat…it suits you!
    Robin T

    1. Thanks, Robin. I still look for the perfect evening bag when shopping at vintage stores. I have my grandmother's clutch… but a lovely red one might be just the thing:)

  7. My vintage is Bakelite and Galalith – I have a whole lot of bangles and some wonderful necklaces and pins. I aspire to be Iris Apfel in my old age. 🙂 My first piece was a necklace that was my great-great aunt's – my dad told me she was the first "career woman" in the family so she's my spirit animal. And she inspired me to continue collecting. Now when we go to Paris (trip #5 in January for my 60th!) we visit our two favorite vintage jewelry sellers, and I have fun.

    1. I love Bakelite jewellry, especially the bangles. But my wrists are so skinny that nothing ever fits me. Still I've found some great elasticized bracelets at vintage shows which I love too.

  8. As Robin T commented, you should definitely wear that hat…more often 🙂 It really suits you. Great colour and shape.
    I regret not keeping some stunningly beautiful dresses from the 50's belonging to my mum ..although to be honest her waistline was much smaller than mine. I believe one of my nieces had them for a while,not sure if she's kept them though. I remember mum telling me how her wedding dress which was then worn by her sister in law and a friend was given to a local orphanage,where she was sent pictures of lots of girls wearing it (war time) Apparently it was eventually made into cushion covers!
    With a few exceptions I feel my children's generation don't seem to want "family heirlooms" although I'm sure all this will turn full circle. Even our Christmas tree, lovingly decorated with toys I've added to from various countries ..very traditional, is deemed old fashioned by my sons! Im not changing it though, it holds so many memories on its branches. Hoping one day I'll have grandchildren who see it as I do 🙂
    Have a good week Sue.

    1. Love the story of your mum's wedding dress, Rosie. I with you with respect to vintage Christmas tree ornaments. Can't imagine buying a whole tree of ornaments just to go with this year's colour scheme. Ickkk. The very idea turns me off.

  9. I would wear the hats whatever. And you have just reminded me that I have a hat that needs to be packed for a weekend away, just in case it gets a bit chilly. Some years ago, I gave a helping hand to my cousin who was emptying her in-laws house prior to selling it. I have known this house and its contents for most of its life but it was sad to see so many things that had been ignored, broken or simply left to gather dust and, as we found out, we couldn't sell any of it. I took a few things for old time's sake but it was actually hard to find anything. In the end, it was a small yellow cream jug and it still sits in my kitchen cupboard, perfect for puddings, plus a box of old Christmas baubles that were headed for the skip. Every year I hang them on my tree and love them. But so much of that house was literally binned. It said everything about the fixity of my aunt and uncle's views and how it was impossible to help them change, even when it meant that they could no longer live in this house.

    1. Cleaning out a big house that has generations of stuff is a huge undertaking. We did that for Hubby's Mum, who still had his dad's air force uniforms tucked away, as well as the kilts he wore as a pipe band drummer. And my mum's house which had not only her and my step-dad's things but some stuff that belonged to his mother. Thank goodness, Mum had done such a good job of chucking a lot of old and worthless stuff when she moved to the farm 40 years before. And she had already chosen and packed the things she wanted to take with her to her new little house before we did our thing. Still there was a lot of sorting. And after Hubby had carted everything we didn't want to keep to the newly opened Salvation Army Store, we joked that she had single-handedly stocked the store.

  10. First, you have a lovely face and figure for hats…..the key is letting go of a feeling of selfconciousness around wearing a vintage hat! And this one is so subtle, its not like its a wagon wheel sized mount of ostrich feathers (which would be cool too……).

    Second, I hear you on the youngsters not wanting the heirlooms, and I have to admit that I have in my attic a lovely and large set of my mother in law's "good china" – expensive, collected over years as she could afford another place setting, etc. Its in the attic because it isn't my taste at all (grey flowers on very white, with silver-y rims). I was contemplating seeing if my niece, her only granddaughter, would like to have them – it would be very expensive to ship them to her – but one of my sons commented that he had always liked "that stuff". SO until he isn't about to move (a chronic state at his nomadic stage) it stays in the attic. Multiply by a zillion sets of 1950s good china and I tremble for the fate of the landfills of the future. And of course he doesn't remember the grandmother to whom the china was significant, so that connection is missing.


    1. Thanks, Ceci. There will be no wagon wheels with ostrich feathers… not that there's anything wrong with that:)

      Love that your son wants the china. We tend to ignore that boys have to set up house too!

  11. I was just in a huge antique store in Denver, where I so wanted to buy several different antique hats (a weakness for feathers showing up). I summoned up my commonsense and resisted that urge, but I still left with a 1930s horse book and a framed tapestry of a medieval knight and lady on horseback. You see my real weakness. (I'm not supposed to buy books anymore.) Neither of my twenty-something kids are really interested in old/antique family things, and as an only child, my home has become the repository of everything family oriented. Since I do genealogy, I have a room full of original documents, and memorabilia from my husband's family as well as mine. All his parents' things that we couldn't bear to part with, things from my mom as we just downsized so she could move full time to her condo in Florida, have come to my house. The sheer mass and magnitude of the stuff that I have is actually frightening. I did discover tools that my father's father had carved his name into, that I had never seen before. Since he was a blacksmith and builder, it is possible that he made the tools. I want to go through everything and organize with notes and pictures, so that the kids have a fighting chance of recognizing what might have significance to them. It's a labor of love. Thanks for posting.

  12. I share a love of vintage everything! I collect vintage jewelry, antiques, vintage purses etc. My children do like my things. They don't want all of it but they like to mix it some modern things. I hope that never changes. I can't imagine having a home filled with no memories or history. Loved this post!

  13. Oh, you need to wear that hat more often, styled just like that!
    And absolutely with you on the stories that vintage items hold, but what a challenge when downsizing. . . .

  14. What a lovely post on our Bio subject Sue and a subject that is close to my heart. I love vintage too and love wearing hats. You look great in yours … you should now wear them all of the time !!! XXXX

  15. You look fabulous in that hat. Don't stop. Oh, you're so right what to do with our antiques. Our collections. Our… I love my mother's wooden spoon. Use it every day. But what will my children want. Maybe it will be my grandchildren. I know my children will want my paintings but our collections? Downsizing? I'll think about it tomorrow.

  16. Sue,I really,really like your two vintage hats (this one and the one on the right)-they suits you sooo well,please don't stop,I'm sure that the rest of your collection is fabulous.
    I particulary love things that belonged to my family,as well as you. It really is deep connection to my roots and people I love,together with the stories.

    1. Thanks, Dottotessa. I may have to take Wendy up on her suggestion and do a post on hats. I have a lovely shot of Rosie in her hat on her daughters wedding day to include if I do:)

    1. Thanks, Iris. I probably should have clarified on the IG post… those were my blog stats. I was pretty excited that I had that many hits. Of course I do know they aren't all people who came to my blog and were so entranced with my writing that they stayed to read. I know that some (probably many) are just search engines etc. Still… felt good to see the numbers roll over.

  17. There are very few things from my grandparents' time left, as the respective houses on both sides were destroyed in WWII. The most complicated heirloom my mother left me is her stash of fabric. She had a wonderful eye for colours and fabric, and when she was able to travel quite a lot in her later years, she brought home the most wonderful materials. But She never got round to doing anything with all that beauty. So the stash is now sitting in one of my cupboards, waiting for me to get my sewing machine out… I may have to turn into a quilter in my old age.

    1. Wow… I never thought of that. Both grandparents homes. How awful. All the family things, heirlooms, pictures, keepsakes, gone in a flash.
      A quilt would be a wonderful idea to make from that fabric. I have a few friends who are quilters. It can become addictive, I think.

  18. Hi – lovely and interesting post. I have so many hats, but actually I don't like vintage as I see vintage items as an item I could find anyway in a charity shop for a tenth of the price! It's interesting we've downsized and don't have any antique furniture – we're minimalist, modern and streamlined and I'm loving it. I have kept just a few things that belong to my parents, but only a few. The children are not interested. What I have done is some family history though and that is not to be thrown away as I know all too well that when I've gone – they will be interested!!!!!

  19. What a great article, Sue! I also love treasured antiques and old 'stuff' passed down from my mother, my grandmother, my dad and my mother-in-law. I even have some pieces from my great grandmother. I do love them and cherish them but my children have also said they are not too interested in these things. I hope this will change as they get more permanently settled. For now, I am keeping and loving these objects, stories and the people they represent. Thank you for a thoughtful article. – Margaret G

  20. Thank you for a thoughtful article, Sue. I too own many treasured antiques passed down lovingly from my mother, father, grandmother, mother-in-law and even my great grandmother. Every time I see them and use them I am reminded of these lovely people and the stories they told and lived. I just love the beauty of the patterns, artistry and craftsmanship of things that were well made and not just churned out en mass by corporations. My children have not expressed an interest in these things but I still hold out hope that they will love them too when they are settled. Maybe these things will remind them of me!!
    Thanks for writing, Sue. – Margaret G.

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