A Spring Fashion Show: Vintage & Contemporary

Corsets & Hoop skirts, oh my!

Yesterday I went to the Kemper Center. It’s one of our historic landmark structures in our town and located right on the lake. It used to be an Episcopalian Boarding School for young women. A gorgeous well restored Victorian home, called the Durkee Mansion is part of the complex.  This house was the original home for the Charles Durkee family. He was a senator from Wisconsin in the Civil War era. 

The Kemper grounds are lovely, and today the buttery cream brick school complex includes an exquisite example of French Renaissance Revival style home. We refer to this home as the Anderson Art Center. Weddings, parties, art events, funerals all take place either in the school buildings or the Art Center. 

In the spring, summer and fall the grounds and gardens are spectacular. In the winter, the stark beauty of the trees and icy rocks along the shoreline conjure up fantasies of wintry fairy tale settings. At Christmas the Durkee Mansion is decorated for Christmas in the Victorian style and tours occur on weekends. 

Is that an 18 inch waist?

The reason for yesterday’s visit was a fashion show put on to raise funds to continue the maintenance and renovation of these historic buildings and grounds. The event took place in what used to be the gymnasium of the school. The wood work and murals were fantastic. 

The vintage part of the fashions had clothes worn in the last half of the nineteenth century. They were displayed on a raised stage area at the front of the mural-walled gymnasium. These pieces of clothing, shoes, hats, and jewelry were on loan from local families whose ancestors wore these items. 

Looking at them gave me shivers as if I were looking into a cheval mirror and stepped into a different time. I was very glad I’d gotten to the event early enough to take my time and appreciate these small tableaux. I also wasn’t hurried by others seeking to get closer to view the displays. 

Our desserts

But soon I’d finished taking photos and moved off to the table where my friends were gathering. 

Heavy white linen tablecloths draped over the tables which seated eight. Mismatched but delicate, old china dessert plates were set out around artfully displayed homemade desserts. These served as centerpieces for each table. Navy blue linen napkins, stemmed water glasses, and silver cutlery finished the place settings. 

Our luncheon entre was excellent and fit the theme of vintage blended with contemporary. We were served a traditional ladies’ lunch–chicken salad. However, it had a contemporary twist: served on a bed of fresh spring greens (never available here in earlier eras, not at this time of year 🙂 ). The dressing melding the chicken, herbs, and celery was a lighter concoction, perhaps buttermilk and sour cream, but not full of mayonnaise; that suited me just fine. In addition to the usual green grapes, the salad had dried cranberries which added a texture and taste that was different. And since many people today veer away from nuts, this salad had none. 

One of the wall murals in the gymnasium

Totally scrumptious and perfect for the event. My mouth is still partying with memories of the salad’s flavors. 

After lunch came the contemporary fashions. 

What I appreciated with this fashion show was the fashions were on women of all ages with bodies of real women. They wore trendy clothes that we might consider wearing as we go about our social, daily, and career lives.  From shoes to jewelry, we saw many outfits which pleased us. I suspect some similar items may soon infiltrate some of our closets. 

I wondered if 100 years from now these fashions might be part of a fashion show and luncheon for future generations. They might be displayed in tableaux reflective of today’s less formal homes. Then I wondered how different those future fashions might be since yesterday’s contemporary clothes and accessories differed so greatly from the vintage ones worn by those people who first used these buildings 150 years ago. 

I love the chair here!

Would I do something like this every month? No. It wouldn’t be special then. However, for a dreary Saturday in early April, I enjoyed walking back into history through clothing that might have been in people’s closets. Then in a blink, I returned to present day to see items I could visualize in my closet. Or in the closets of those characters about whom I write. 

Have a great week, everyone. Let’s hope spring really does arrive here soon. Until then, I’ll be dreaming along the shores of Lake Michigan—dreaming of daffodils, violets, baby robins and bunnies. What will you be dreaming of?

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7 Comments on “A Spring Fashion Show: Vintage & Contemporary”

  1. Edie Ramer Says:

    I’ll be dreaming of finishing my wip!

    It sounds like a lovely day. This is the first I’ve heard of the Kemper Center. I’ll have to check it out.

  2. caseyclifford Says:


    I had my son’s memorial service in one of their public rooms. It had been the school’s cafeteria and the wood in so lovely in there. Plus the view.

    I hope to see you next Saturday and you’ll be able to say: yes, that wip is finished.:-)

  3. Anne Parent Says:

    Your description of the Kemper Center calls me to take a road trip this Spring.

    My dream is one complete week dedicated to my revisions.

  4. Elle J Rossi Says:

    Sounds like a fantastic way to spend a Saturday!

    My dream, like Edie, is to finish this MS. For the most part, it’s done. Definitely needs some tweaking, though.

  5. caseyclifford Says:


    Change the word dream now to deadline. I’ll bet you’ll make that and your “dream” will come true! I’m rooting for you! 🙂

  6. caseyclifford Says:


    Tweaking creates the diamonds in our writing. May the tweaking force be great within you this week! 🙂

  7. Deb Says:

    What a beautiful day you had! (Wish I could have been with you.)

    And now a whole new look for Casey Comments as well. Love the freshness, like buying a wardrobe! Well done, my friend! Enjoy the weekend.

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