The Collectors – a visit with Lizzie Bramlett

1960s/70s decorative clothes hangers – another one of Lizzie’s weaknesses…

Image of LIzzie Bramlett from her about page (the pics I took were all blurry…)

About 16 years ago I met Sharon Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bramlett online through the Vintage Fashion Guild, and I have been an avid follower of her posts and blog, The Vintage Traveller, ever since. Kenn and I were especially delighted to meet up with her in person for the first time last week on our quick trip down south to Asheville, North Carolina, and Tennessee, where we installed our Lucile dress at the Titanic Museum.

Looking at a Bonnie Cashin sketch that matches her Cashin suit – part of her collection’s catalogueing

After meeting at a restaurant for lunch we followed her to where she stores her collection — a ‘darling’ duplex cottage built in 1903 (darling is not a word I generally use, but there is no other word for the quaint southern charm of this little white wooden house.)

Upstairs, the racks are filled to capacity with riding habits, bicycling skirts, snappy suits and coats and sporty dresses; boxes are packed with woollen bathing suits and accessories.  She has assembled a tight collection of garments and accessories ranging from couture pieces to a selection of sportswear, both active and spectator, dating mostly from the 1870s to the 1970s. She is not apologetic for collecting what she likes – decorative hat boxes and hangers, 1920s/30s ensembles, disposition-printed 1950s skirts, and at least one example from couturiers and designers whose work she admires: Claire McCardell, Bonnie Cashin, Chanel…

Lizzie is a curator without a museum – her collection is meticulously tagged, bagged, photographed and recorded, with everything identified chronologically in a series of catalogues. Her memory snaps to attention when asked where something was found — a flea market in Savannah, eBay, the local thrift store… She remembers each piece like she acquired it yesterday.

Here, hanging on her racks and tucked away in boxes is a carefully curated exhibition that needs to be seen, and what better way than through a museum exhibition… hmm, sounds like an idea for the FHM!

I didn’t even notice she had a camera… but she snapped a shot as we started looking through one of her racks! https://thevintagetraveler.wordpress.com/2018/04/11/a-visit-from-the-fashion-history-museum-guys/

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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24 Responses to The Collectors – a visit with Lizzie Bramlett

  1. Really enjoyed this sneak peek at Lizzie’s fabulous collection! It’s difficult to pick a favorite item, I am rather partial to that Art Deco felt appliqué coat with it’s original hang tag, how amazing it is still with the coat!

    • Jonathan says:

      It was a fantastic coat… how does something languish away for nearly a century with its original hanging tag!?!?!

  2. Hollis says:

    Lizzie has a wonderful collection and it is indeed curated beautifully. And darling is the only word for her cottage! I am envious you two got to visit.

  3. What a wonderful collection! I’m so appreciative that you shared a peek into her beautiful selections.

  4. jacq staubs says:

    What a wonderful afternoon and way to meet. I have learned a lot from Lizzie and her posts. The art – fashion illustrations – catalogs – posters all have really been fascinating . My 30 year career was in fashion merchandising and as an editor. I wish i had known her then.

  5. jzzy55 says:

    Huge fan of Vintage Traveler, and enjoyed your kind blog post about her collection!

  6. I loved meeting you and showing off my stuff! Thanks for coming by, and for sharing my collection with all your readers!

  7. Phyl D says:

    Ah, this was so great! As a vintage fashion lover and big time fan of both your blogs (need to get my hands on all of Jonathan’s books), this was such a treat and I’m thrilled that you finally got to meet. Lizzie, any chance that any part of your collection will ever be on temporary display in any museums, including Jonathan’s museum?

    On a different note, have either of you caught the episode of a TV series on Fox Business News called “Strange Inheritance” that featured Charlotte Smith and her vintage fashion collection inherited from her godmother, called “The Darnell Collection”? It’s one of the largest vintage fashion collections in the world and I highly recommend seeing that episode, if you can. You can also Google “The Darnell Collection” for her website.

    Cheers!

    • Jonathan says:

      I can’t speak for Lizzie, but I have seen a fair number of stories about the Darnell Collection. I believe Charlotte Smith has commented on some of my blogs here too. As for an exhibition using Lizzie’s collection. We will be discussing that more, probably this November. She has agreed to loan a portion of her collection to us for an exhibition, and having seen it now, the strength of her collection is in sportswear – so perhaps a sportswear show for 2020… details to be worked out!

      • Phyl D says:

        Dear Jonathan,

        Thank you for your kind reply – I’m thrilled that you and Lizzie are working on a future exhibition of a portion of her collection and I will keep this in mind re future plans for a trip to your fashion museum.

        Jonathan, I also appreciate that you and Lizzie have both brought up the name of American designer, Philip Hulitar in your writings on fashion in the past.

        Both of my grandmothers worked as very accomplished seamstresses in NYC during the mid-twentieth century and my paternal grandmother worked for Mr. Hulitar’s dress design company from the early 1950s through the early 1960s, as well as working for several other dress design companies in that era.

        I am currently researching and writing what I hope will ultimately be a book on his design career and have had the great pleasure of making the online acquaintance of Charlotte Smith whose recently published third book, “One Enchanted Evening”, features one of two beautiful Hulitar gowns in her Darnell collection. I’m not surprised that she’s a fan of your excellent blog, too.

        Wishing you and Lizzie B. all the best in your future endeavors in vintage fashion.

        Cheers!

        • Jonathan says:

          We have one Hulitar dress in the collection, from c. 1970, if I remember correctly… I will have to pull it out of storage next time I am there (it’s off-site in our ‘to catalogue storage…)

          • Phyl D says:

            Jonathan,

            Thank you for sharing that information! Hulitar’s designs were often worn and favored by various prominent socialites, and celebrities from that era, including actresses like Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Fontaine and Dina Merrill.

            While researching info on Philip Hulitar for the past several years, I couldn’t help but notice that his designs are becoming increasingly collectible, with their prices rising accordingly.

            FYI – Hulitar’s design firm closed around the Summer of 1964, however some of his company’s designs were still being sold in clothing boutiques and department stores through 1965 and one of his gowns was featured in a Life magazine article, as late as their May 7, 1965 issue, in a feature on top NYC clothing saleswoman, Jo Hughes.

  8. Phyl D says:

    Dear Jonathan,

    I sincerely hope that you will see this email as I would like to contact you directly RE the Philip Hulitar dress that you have in your personal collection. I’m currently assisting (on an informal basis) the Director of Collections and Interpretation of a New York museum which is planning on launching the first comprehensive exhibit of Philip Hulitar’s career in the near future and would very much like to give your name as a contact for a possible loan out of this dress, if you are open to that possibility…..naturally, I’d prefer to email or call you directly, if that is alright with you.

    Thank you.

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Phyl;

      We have at least one Philip Hulitar dress in the collection, but I think we have two (it’s currently uncatalogued and stored off-site). Of course we are open to the possibility of loaning for an exhibition. Feel free to pass on my info to them.
      Regards
      Jonathan

      • Phyl Dougherty says:

        Dear Jonathan,

        Thank you so much for your speedy response! I will forward your information to Joshua Ruff, Director of Collections and Interpretation at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, NY (located on the North Shore of Suffolk County, Long Island). Their textile collection was recently named after Philip Hulitar and his wife Mary, whose family have been long time supporters of this museum. Your willingness to consider working with their staff for this upcoming exhibit is greatly appreciated.

        Joshua and his staff are currently working on the June 22nd opening of an exhibit on Robert Moses, but I think he will be in touch with you in the next several weeks, if not sooner.

        How exciting that you may actually have two Hulitar dresses in your collection. Jonathan, FYI – if you should ever come across any dress with a “Stefenee” label, this was another line produced for a short time by Hulitar’s New York company in the early 1960s.

        As a longtime vintage fashion enthusiast and having read countless books on the subject, I want to tell you how much I am currently enjoying reading your book on 1940s fashion; such detailed information and wonderful photos that I’ve never seen before. Truly a labor of love and thank you for sharing all this fascinating information! Can’t wait to continue with this series of books….

        Regards,
        Phyl Dougherty

      • Phyl Dougherty says:

        Jonathan,

        Sorry, I’ve tried to post a follow-up comment re the New York museum contact who wants to get in touch with you, but not sure if it went through or if it posted twice…

        Phyl D

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