Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Clothes of Our Lives

I visited with my old Jr. High School teachers, Mrs. Butler and Mrs. Bleiweiss the other day.  Metaphorically speaking.  A friend and I drove to Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, Connecticut for a charming exhibit of John Meyer of Norwich clothing.  Meyer is credited with advancing prep to American women, using tailored lines, natty fabrics, and other customary features of men's clothing.

I remember my mother’s 1960’s wool plaid Bermuda shorts, Peter Pan collars and Shetland cardigans which gave the decade just after the extremes of Dior’s New Look, a welcome change and a chic casual appeal.  But upon entering the exhibit, it was deja 1970 all over again as I beheld the clothes of my 7th and 8th grade teachers; the plaid skirts and matching sweaters, sprigged cotton dresses with tan leather belts, and trim navy dresses with white plackets and piping.  Apparently, some other women saw their Jr. High teachers too, or so they said on the video loop that was playing.  Even my dear friend was heard to murmur something about a beloved "Miss Brylawski".

I love that the clothes on our teachers’ backs were for grown-ups and that there was no mistaking the adults in our school.  If you were a male teacher, a daily coat and tie was required and if you were a female teacher, an outfit from John Meyer of Norwich fit the bill nicely and gave necessary authority in our unruly school. Like us, our teachers loved Tattersall, checks, tartans, pleats, wools, and crisp cottons.

We wanted John Meyer of Norwich because their clothes were in Seventeen and Ingenue.  The shorter skirts with vests and chiffon blouses, Fair Isle sweaters, tartan coats - it all fit our 1970’s aesthetic -   we wanted to look like Love Story's Jenny Cavalleri (Ali McGraw) to Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O'Neal).  Mom liked the clothes because they made us look neat and uncorrupted.  Before long, bell bottoms, fringe, and hippie chic had their way with us. 

John Meyer of Norwich conveyed an Ivy League sensibility that still looks terrific if a bit chaste.  Afterall, there was no in-your-face cleavage; only alluring nipped waists and leggy looks.  The company evolved and tried to embrace a more bohemian expression but my fascination remains with the roots of Preppy.  It's where clothes took root for me too.

When my friend and I returned home, we pulled out my old Seventeens and scoured them looking for John Meyer of Norwich ads.  It didn't take us long to find several colorful ones.  These were the clothes of our lives.
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  1. I am so glad that you were able to see this exhibition, and that it meant so much to you. The power of our clothing never fails to amaze me!

  2. As we wandered that exhibit, Donna, I was enthralled with the precise cuts, all-American freshness, and wonderful fabrics we saw. It was a blast from the past, yes, but like I said, Miss Brylawski's look of quiet stability and Ivy League poise conveyed so much authority to an impressionable preteen like me. I LOVED the exhibit! Thanks to Vintage Traveler for alerting you to it and thanks for making my birthday visit to this wonderful place happen!

  3. I want to see this exhibit! My grandmother bought the John Meyer line for Denholms and then at Marcus company. I remember her dove grey suit with a slim pencil skirt and matching cape. It was beautiful. Thanks for sharing Emily!!!

  4. If you go Chris, you will be greeted by the most dapper, articulate, cultivated, kindly man named Dan. He will be wearing a suit and dressed right down to his cufflinks!

    A matching cape?!?!?! Be still my heart!

  5. And never not stylish! Thanks for these photos!

  6. I decided to start at square one with your blog, beginning at its beginning.

    It tickled me when I read how much you enjoyed Victoria magazine in its heyday. Alas, I too, threw away all my old issues when they stopped publication. What was I thinking?! That gaping hole only provided room for more stuff!

    It's not quite the same, somehow, but I'm still delighted they decided to restart publication, and hope you're enjoying it too.

  7. Gail, I loved Victoria and met Nancy Lindemeyer and took her to lunch (the founding editor)! When I need comfort, I reach for my Victoria's. Keep in touch.