Vintage clothing connects Hope to her past


When Debra Seward Slone chooses her wardrobe for a special occasion, two factors are likely to come into play.

First, the event will be historical in nature – as history is the Hope native’s passion. And second, her clothes will be vintage or antique, with the latter grading indicating that they are over 100 years old.

You may have seen Slone in costume doing tours of the Crystal Parlor on the second floor above the 1900-era Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor and Museum in downtown Columbus, as she did on the weekends. last for the Bartholomew County Historical Society Open House Tour – Behind the Scenes.

Then again, maybe you saw one of her 2020 shows on women’s suffrage which marked the 100th anniversary of Indiana’s gaining the right to vote.

Or maybe you met Slone at a Yellow Trail Museum event in Hope, like Christmas of Yesteryear or Old Fashioned Independence Day, which takes place on Friday.

“When you put on an elegant vintage dress — with a petticoat, tucked seams, layers of lace — the hair goes up, the hat goes on with the hatpins to hold it in place,” said Slone, who retired at the end of the last year after a 46-year career as a graphic designer. “Add jewelry, gloves and a parasol. Your posture becomes straight, your head higher, and you are transformed into a slower, simpler time.

Slone doesn’t need to rent an attention-grabbing vintage outfit for a historic event. His restored 1869 two-story farmhouse north of Hope is stocked with vast selections of vintage clothing and accessories, purchased through visits to auctions, antique shows and antique shops.

“I’ve always loved fashion,” said Slone, 66. “Fashion has the ability to connect us to our past, a nostalgic connection, and it transports not only the wearer, but also the people who see you.”

From the reactions on people’s faces, “you can tell it brings them back,” she said.

Slone’s favorite period is the early 1900s.

“I love fashion,” she said of when the Gibson Girl arrived in pen-and-ink illustrations by artist Charles Dana Gibson.

Gibson’s designs personified a feminine ideal of physical attractiveness, arriving at a time when the “new woman” was emerging on the American scene as women pursued higher education, romance, marriage, physical well-being, and life. individuality, Slone said.

Known as the Progressive Era, women in the early 1900s fought for the right to vote, embraced social change and “weren’t so confined,” Slone said.

Clothing became more and more comfortable to wear as women gained independence and enjoyed more luxuries.

Skip a few decades and you’ll find clothes from a different generation in Slone’s collection, including a red polka-dot dress she bought about 12 years ago at an antique store in Madison.

When Slone came across the dress, a pinned paper note provided him with historical context: “This is the dress Mom made me when Benny came home from WWII.”

Feeling a connection to the dress, “I tried it on and it fits perfectly,” Slone said.

But as perfect as a vintage dress might look, a hat becomes “the grand finale of an outfit,” she said.

Luckily, Slone has no shortage of handy headwear.

Slone has about 200 antique and vintage hats stored in 45 hatboxes in an upstairs sewing and working room. They range from the late 1800s to the 1950s. Some 1940s and 1950s hat boxes come from Indianapolis department stores such as LS Ayers and Block’s with artwork printed on the outside.

The interest in vintage outfits has mirrored people’s fascination with historical television shows and films such as:

  • “Downton Abbey”, the British television drama series from 2010 to 2015 on PBS and feature films in 2019 and this year, depicting British aristocratic life from 1912 to 1926.
  • The two-season romantic series “Bridgerton” which debuted on Netflix in 2020, depicting the Regengy period in London, England, between 1813 and 1827.

A large wide hat in Slone’s collection dates from 1912, during the “Titanic” era. The 1997 film starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio was critically and commercially successful.

“Pop culture connects with vintage fashion,” Slone said.

A favorite model of Morgan County artist Fred Kreiter, several of his paintings of Slone in vintage clothing are displayed on the walls of his home. They include a 24-inch by 36-inch artwork of Slone in the dress she wore at the grand reopening of Zaharakos.

Slone’s connection to the foodie tourist attraction at 329 Washington St. began when owner Tony Moravec hired the graphic designer to create a 36-page coloring book for its opening event.

“I really wanted to be a part of it,” Slone said of the catering, focusing primarily on design, decor and special events.

Slone then took on one assignment in Zaharakos after another, a relationship that continued until his retirement.

“Zaharakos has become a labor of love,” Slone said. “I was trying to do things that amused me after so many years of delay.”

Moravec had come to know Slone when she was hired to do graphic design work on marketing materials for another of his Columbus companies, Applied Laboratories.

As they began the restoration of Zaharakos, Slone helped Moravec obtain items that would cement the authenticity of the original period.

“We went to antique auctions together and I realized she was a great antique collector and had a really good eye for furniture,” Moravec said.

So when his attention turned to the building’s second floor, where several members of the Zaharako family lived in the early 1900s but more recently had been used for storage, Moravec told Slone, “You’re better than me in these antiques. I will let you go to acquire the necessary items.

“I’m a graphic designer, not an interior designer,” Slone said in response to Moravec, who nonetheless insisted she decorate the Crystal Parlor.

So Slone chose curtains, bedroom furniture and fireplace tiles. She also furnished the kitchen with modern appliances that had an old-world feel.

“She is responsible for the majority of the polish and shine of the installation,” Moravec said.

“It’s become a part of me and I love it,” Slone said of Zaharakos, which stands out as an authentic turn-of-the-century building in a city known for its mid-century modern architecture.

His work with the restoration of Zaharakos earned him the 2013 Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus.

From 2018 until her retirement in 2021, Slone served as Moravec’s executive assistant.

In this capacity, Slone managed special events for Moravec businesses, including the Celebration on the River event from August 13-14, 2021 at his Upland Pump House restaurant, which was part of the Columbus area Bicentennial lineup. .

Deep local rooting

Slone’s interest in history began as a child, listening to stories – mostly about family – shared by her grandparents.

Slone grew up on the family farm along County Road 950 northwest of Hope, where his great-great-grandfather Samuel Seward and his wife Marcia settled in the 1850s.

Without any brothers to help with farm chores, she and her two sisters milked the cows and did other manual labor on the property.

“I feel a connection to my past,” Slone said.

She then lived in a house across the lot on County Road 1000 North, built by her great-grandparents, which she purchased around 1979. She stayed until she moved to his current home about three miles away in 1989.

Slone created pen and ink drawings of each of these homes, displayed on the walls of his current residence, purchased from the Major T. Jester family of Shelbyville. They restored the farmhouse and expanded it in 1975 – adding electricity, heating and running water – to create over 4,000 square feet of living space.

Its exterior is three bricks thick, which helps with insulation given that the house has no air conditioning. Among the peculiarities, its spiral staircase is considered unique for farms in the region.

The restoration included a new kitchen, decorated with an old oak and walnut shop counter that Slone uses as an island. Nearby are rolls of paper, once used by merchants to wrap grocery purchases, as well as string holders and many country antiques collected over several decades.

“It’s very nostalgic and warm,” Slone said of her cooking. “I can’t have company if I try to cook.”

She spends a lot of time in the upstairs working and sewing room which she further describes as her playroom. It contains antiques, his collection of vintage hats, vintage clothes and fabrics.

A wardrobe closet contains hundreds of neatly stacked food bag fabrics from the 1930s through the 1950s, a time when people who survived the Depression used the colorful material to make their clothes.

“When I open this cabinet, I smile from ear to ear,” Slone said.

Her latest passion for collecting is ephemera, i.e. old vintage papers such as advertising, postcards and valentines.

“I have drawers of this stuff,” she said.

Several examples are displayed on tables, including a Saturday Evening Post from 1910 and a copy of the Ladies’ Home Journal from 1911.

When you don’t have kids, “your house becomes your baby,” Slone said.

A former smokehouse connected to the back of his house has become a gathering place for friends and family, displaying pieces from the original Seward property. It has a huge belly stove.

At a family reunion held there, a young relative blurted out, “Is that a Cracker Barrel?”

Not exactly, but Slone’s house is filled with “two things I’ve loved since I was young, art and history.”

Named by Slone as Cedar Hall, the moniker refers to three tall, old cedars in the front yard of his 12-acre property. It also became the name of Slone’s graphic design business.

“I am delighted to be retired. I can start pursuing things that I want to take back – art, things that I love,” Slone said. “One lifetime is not enough to do everything I want to do.”

Slone, however, resisted creating and maintaining a bucket list.

“It would stress me out if I didn’t,” she said.

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