Homecoming becomes sentimental journey for impromptu model
Returning to Putnam County for a visit this week, Suzanne Stern walked into the fairgrounds and right into 1940.
Stern, who grew up in Russellville as Suzanne McGaughey had come home to visit her mother, Jacque McGaughey, and made a side trip Wednesday to the Putnam County Fair.
Family Fun Day -- formerly known as Ladies' Day before political correctness overtook it -- was in full swing, and when Stern strolled through the entrance to the Exhibition Hall East, she walked right into an unusual opportunity.
Apparently, the tall blond who now lives Kewanee, Ill., was just the right size for the slender fashions of the 1940s being modeled as part of the day's program.
"I walked in the door, and they said, 'Hey, you can model,'" she smiled. "They said they needed one more model."
The rest of the models had come along with Debby Jordan of Styles From the Avenue, a Spencer enterprise she founded with a cache of clothes she found at an Indiana auction.
The sentimental journey Jordan provided through her fashions, accessories and anecdotes kept the audience enthralled through 100-degree temperatures and a pair of scary moments in which two spectators appeared to be overcome by the effects of the heat.
Jordan's fashions were displayed on stage and worn by a variety of models young and old, including impromptu model Stern, who wore a beige dress and matching hat at one point and came back in a stylish "Swirl" dress at another.
The unusual thing about this style show was that no one could buy any of the "smart" or "keen" fashions displayed.
Jordan advised that she acquired approximately 1,000 suits and dresses, hats and gloves from predominantly the 1940s rather by chance.
She was attending an auction in Princeton, Ind., when she became intrigued by a box marked "summer dresses."
She excitedly purchased that box, which prompted the auctioneer to respond with "what would you give me for a bag?"
Little did she know the extent of the clothing available from the estate sale of a "shopaholic" bookkeeper for a clothing store who had apparently hoarded the unworn dresses, rolling them up inside-out in feed sacks and stashing them in the attic, their price tags still attached.
Jordan thought she'd discovered the mother lode when she filled her vehicle several times over to transport some of the fashions home. Thrilled with her purchases, she was shocked when next told, "Oh, so you didn't go in the barn yet?"
More vintage clothing had overrun the barn as well. She brought home so many dresses and accessories her husband finally built a separate building to house it all.
Instead of offering any of the garments for sale, Jordan has turned the experience into a history lesson for herself and her audiences.
"I was never really much of a history student," she told the Banner Graphic, "but I've become a history student learning how fashion happened because of history.
"It's been a great adventure, learning about fashions and the real reason behind things like why dresses got shorter."
That's because, she said, during the war years the government decided less fabric was needed per clothing item and ordered dressmakers to take action. Hence, clothes like two-piece swimsuits (and later bikinis) came into vogue, she said.
The Putnam County Fair appearance is one of about six shows Jordan does each year in sharing her fashion riches and knowledge of the era.
She got a laugh or two out of the crowd, showing off a tiny corset and wondering aloud "who in the world" could have ever worn the miniscule undergarment.
"My granddaughter," someone in the audience called out.
"Yeah," Jordan agreed, "and she's three.
"It might fit maybe over a foot or an ankle," she laughed, pretending to try to step into the corset onstage.
"Maybe on our arm," another audience member sarcastically suggested.
Men got equal time moments later when Jordan dug out an unusual men's swimsuit, offered as a rental garment at pools and lakes in the 1940s.
Unlined and made of wool, the community swimsuit must have been a last-resort for male swimmers during the war years.
The itchy-looking beige swimsuit even carried the rental locker number of the last guy to wear it.
"If I have his swim trunks and his clothes," Jordan laughed, "where is he?"
Probably off on his own sentimental journey of some kind.