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Way back in the 1980s, Lynn Yaeger started working in the Village Voice’s classified ads department. It wasn’t long before she was publishing insightful (and often biting) articles about street-level fashions and the politics of dressing. Tonight Yaeger is receiving an award from Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Below we’ve included a couple of choice articles and examples of the ways in which Yaeger cast a discerning (and sometimes dissenting) eye over the fashion landscape.
Affordable Antiques & Collectibles
Left But Not Forgotten — Part One
November 8, 1988
Persons evincing even the most cursory interest in the American political scene will find themselves agreeing that this presidential season can be termed the autumn of our collective discontent. It was not always thus. Readers of a certain age can remember the headier political struggles of yesteryear, when extra-parliamentary parties crowded the tickets, and the talk around town, rather than merely decrying the desultory task of holding one’s nose and flicking a lever for the lesser of two evils, considered the possibility of settling disputes at the barricades.
But not our task to survey and critique the mainstream candidates as they go prancing around the country deceiving the electorate, obfuscating issues, and engaging in mean-spirited, self-aggrandizing attacks on one another. No, we are here to share with you a world which you may have just about forgotten lately — the world of “third party,” “progressive,” “socialistic” politics and its attendant memorabilia and ephemera. We mean something to the left of the despised “L-word” here — we mean the more than 100 years of working-class organization and struggle, of the fight for equal rights and woman’s suffrage, immortalized in scraps of paper, pamphlets, postcards, buttons, medallions, and the occasional doll or bronze bust.
Although there are many people who maintain an intellectual interest in the hidden history of progressive America, a lot of these types confine their collecting to books on the subject, which they then proceed to read. Undoubtedly a solid knowledge of the subject matter is imperative in the building of your collection (how else you gonna know to buy a convict number 2253 button? How you gonna be ready to grab a Victoria Woodhull carte de visite?). We are not interested here, however, in bibliophilia, but rather in the physical evidence that these social movements actually existed.
There are, given the mass support many of these movements enjoyed, surprising few of these items extant. This is easy to explain. Most people interested in overthrowing the government were poor. Poor people lived in crowded tenements and did not, as a rule, spend their time lovingly storing in scrapbooks or attics the precious souvenirs of their radical youths. (The very same reasons it is so difficult to find a 1910 apron but relatively easy to locate a ball gown apply here.)
Your best bet if you’ve never even seen any of this stuff is to visit a postcard or paper ephemera show, where there is usually something appropriate for sale. Postcards with women’s suffrage themes (“I want to vote, wife won’t let me” depicting a man scrubbing and a gamboling baby) or other lefty motifs usually turn up, though prices at these shows may be discouraging. Dealers specializing in paper ephemera are sure to have something — look through stacks of magazines from November 1917 forward for responses to the Bolshevik Revolution, ranging from the nervous to the hysterical but with a few surprisingly optimistic accounts.
Those with sufficient knowledge to seek out a bargain should look with both eyes at the displays of button and ephemera at general flea markets. Here it is likely that you will know more than the seller and, when locked in battle over a Farmer/Labor pamphlet or William Z. Foster button, you will probably emerge the victor. (We were able to pick up a Robert Emmet “Let no man write my epitaph” commemorative badge for a song because the 19-year-old dealer thought it was just a funny old piece of junk.)
Of course, the more you know, the easier it gets. You may spend a lifetime chasing Knights of Labor, I.W.W., and Lowell strike items without success, but along the way you will surely turn up some fascinating substitutes. Though it’s possible, after years of stalking, to locate a “Votes for Women” bisque statuette or a Eugene Debs convict bust, we dare you to bring us, at whatever price, the circa 1875 Automatic Toy Works suffragette clockwork toy, who, when activated, leans forward in her checkered dress and bonnet and bangs her tiny fist on a miniature rostrum to illustrate her point.
(Next column: The Modern era! The War Years! The ’60s! The Panthers! The New Left!) ■
July 4, 1989
The antiques price guides we read list plenty of souvenirs of suffrage. They mention “Votes for Women” pin-backs, “Mr. Suffer-Yet” cartoon buttons, and Emmeline Pankhurst bronze medals. They tell of 48-card “Votes for Women” games, and suffragette glass candy containers, and geese figurines wearing sandwich signs. Maybe we’re always in the wrong place at the wrong time (something we’ve long suspected), but, not unlike notoriously elusive Wobbly (IWW) material, suffrage stuff always remains in the rarefied world of the memorabilia price lists, never an arm’s length away from us on a bridge table at the flea market.
Let’s face it — we are what used to be called “political” people. When we think about old pamphlets, leaflets, banners, and the like, we twitter with excitement. We can’t think of a whole lot of things we’d rather spend our money on than the ribbons, pennants, and other assorted insignia from the late 19th and early 20th century women’s movement. We even think we have a fair idea of what we’re looking at and for (after all, didn’t we spend years in the academy blathering on about “women’s hidden history”?).
And we truly believe this stuff has got to be out there somewhere! The assiduous collector might begin by hunting through stacks of printed matter at that old standby, the paper ephemera show, where one can usually come up with a magazine or newspaper article at least tangentially related to the subject under discussion. (Suffrage, always a hot topic for editorial page writers, is not difficult to find mention of once you familiarize yourself with the dates involved.) The traveling autograph shows held frequently in midtown hotels are less intimidating than upscale autograph showrooms; and might be able to produce something along the lines of, say, a Victoria Woodhull carte de visite. (Geraldine Ferraro autographs, for those who believe that these constitute a wise investment, are usually available and fairly cheap.) You might also consider visiting one of the frequently held all-postcard shows — bizarre affairs where members of this particular subculture crouch for hours in front of endless rows of boxes flipping and flipping through millions of pieces of cardboard. Ask the dealers if they have any suffrage items and you just might be surprised with a British “I Want My Vote” meowing kitty card or a multicolored “Stumping for Votes.”
Of course, you could ditch the suffrage angle altogether and come up with a unique one-of-a-kind collection documenting the position of women in history. Here the ingenuity and wit of the curator, rather than the vagaries of the market, would hold sway. How about the collection of makeup, starting with an 18th century patch box (spend the money!) through Princess Pat and Mum, right up to Biba (keep looking!) with a little homespun Avon thrown in? Why not a collection of bathing outfits dating from 19th century swimdresses with their stockings and shoes (difficult but not impossible to find) and ending with a Rudi Gernreich topless number? The clever connoisseur, by selecting just the right field and then tracking down the most authoritative examples, can end up building a collection more exciting, more informative, and more scathing in its critique of women’s roles, than the highest, thickest stack of vintage papers and buttons. ■