It was part runway, part time warp.
A Napa audience of more than 220 people was treated to an array of fashions – but not the of-the-moment creations of Alexander McQueen or Miu Miu. Instead, the designs on display Sunday afternoon at the Native Sons of the Golden West parlor transported spectators back in time, a century and more into the eras of voluminous hoop skirts, decorous Victorian-era dresses and sassy Prohibition-age flapper outfits.
“Have Bag, Will Travel” introduced Napans to designs from the 1860s to the 1960s – and to the social changes they symbolized – during an hour-long showcase of vintage fashions long disappeared from store windows, but preserved and worn by volunteers with the Goodwill thrift-store nonprofit.
Before an audience of spectators enjoying a high tea of finger sandwiches and sparkling wine, six volunteer models introduced themselves, arrayed in ankle-length lawn dresses from the early 20th century – their pure whiteness, explained the master of ceremonies, showing off the wealth needed for women of the time to keep such outfits spotless.
“How old are you, girl?” the host, Shawn Richardson, asked a younger audience member. Upon hearing the answer, she replied: “Well, at age 7 you would have already had on your first corset of stiff cotton, and by 14 you would have been wearing a full corset!” – drawing amused chuckles from the crowd.
Over the next hour, the decades flew past in a parade of outfits, gradually becoming lighter and freer from one era to the next. Wasp-waisted corsets and layer cakes of petticoats – their effects impishly shown by a model lifting a sachet of smelling salts to her nose –gave way to hooded capes with goggles for open-top auto travelers of the Model T era. Then came at-the-knee dresses marking the social liberation of the 1920s, followed by even more extroverted creations – with accents of feathers or cheetah fur – hinting at movie-star glamour from the 1930s and beyond.
The throwback fashion shows began in 1972 after a chance donation of a never-worn trousseau and decades-old gowns to Goodwill, according to Richardson, coordinator of the charity’s Goodwill Bags auxiliary in the Greater East Bay. Ever since, the group has staged several hour-long fundraising exhibitions a year guiding spectators through the history of fashion – never using replica clothing but always using actual period pieces donated to Goodwill or bought by its volunteers.
Sprinkled among the mostly older, mostly female audience queuing up to enter the Native Sons hall were women who wore their enthusiasm on their heads – in the form of hats from generations past, decked with flowers or feathers or fishnet veils.
“I saw this and I said, ‘Oh, I have to do that!’ I love vintage clothing and this is where I need to be,” said Kay Soper, a retired teacher who moved to Napa in 1965. “Look around here, at all the hats that were around in my mother’s (time). Everyone always used to leave the house wearing hats and gloves. It’s so great to be able to go back in time and see how important dressing up was.”
Afterward, one of the models in the Napa program appreciated the chance to become a piece of living history – but freely admitted how exhausting the shows can be.
“The most difficult one was the hoop dress,” Ginger Fairfield, a Goodwill fashion-show model for 15 years, said of her 1860s-era outfit. “So many layers, so hard to get into, and it’s very fragile because it’s so old.”
Though the fashions tended to become less binding and more comfortable through the generations, another model, Cindy Kavert, pointed to the difference half a century can make when even one of the Napa show’s most recent outfits was burdensome to wear – a green 1960s dress of polyester-wool blend she declared “very heavy and very hot.”
“My favorites are the ones from the ‘30s and ‘40s,” Fairfield added. “They’re so sexy, so feminine. The one thing modeling does is keep us watching what we eat, or else we can’t get into these outfits!” she quipped with a hearty laugh.
Goodwill Bags stages several of the events annually, according to Richardson, coordinator of Goodwill Bags, which partnered with the Napa Valley Genealogical Society on Sunday’s program.
“Vintage fashion and genealogy go hand in hand,” said Christine Dunn, secretary of the genealogy society. “We thought this would generate interest in genealogy. And that’s what makes it attractive to us – it brings history to life.”