My great grandmother was the very epitome of fashion of her time. When she woke up every day, she dressed in either a dress, a suit with a skirt, or a blouse and a skirt, along with sensible pumps. If she went outside for more than something quick like checking the mailbox, she was wearing a hat, like the big sun hat she wore while working in her rose garden. But when she went out into public, she ALWAYS wore gloves and a hat, and carried a handbag that matched her pumps. Coco Chanel said, “you can never be too elegant” and my great grandmother certainly was always elegant. There were no slacks, pants or even shorts in her closet, and she always accessorized elegantly. She wore simple diamond and gold jewelry and a diamond and gold watch. My great grandmother was deaf so we took her on all of her errands, and when I was a child we usually went to her house every single day.
I loved peeking around her dressing room door when she was getting ready for those little trips. She sat in front of her vanity with the big round mirror, and opened drawers looking for the right brooch to wear with her outfit of the day. She opened her compact and powdered her face, put on lipstick, combed her hair and then pinned her hat on, and finally opened her glove box to choose a pair of gloves.
When she got to the point where she couldn’t live by herself anymore, she moved in with my great aunt, who had five daughters, and her jewelry was slowly dispersed among them. My younger sister managed to get the mink poodle pin my great grandmother loved, and I collected mink jewelry for a few years looking for my own special mink poodle pin.
But my favorite piece of her jewelry came to light many years after her death, when my mom was looking through her closet for a clasp to replace one on a broken bracelet. She gave me the small bag and I could see bright red cherries peeking through the broken bits and bobs. It was a Bakelite carved cherries pin, and I was absolutely thrilled to find it. I never knew my prim and proper great grandmother wore something as . . . . un-elegant as a big bold plastic cherries pin. Suddenly, I saw her in a completely different light . . . .
Ann M. Pitman is the author of three volumes of “Inside the Jewelry Box”, collector guides to costume jewelry identification and values. Her newest book is “Juliana Jewelry Reference.”
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The story “You can never be too elegant” reminds me of my Mom and is very warm for me…