A fellow was sent to our booth at the Vintage Tulsa Show by a mutual friend; he had something he thought might appeal to a vintage clothing nut. Well....
When he took the piece out of a plastic folder he handled it most carefully; he said it had come from an older lady whose grandfather was a clothing manufacturer in Brooklyn in the late 1800's. She had kept this piece in a drawer for years until he had purchased it recently. He said it was called a beaded bodice and dated from around the 1890's, said that it was worn either as a weskit or under a blouse. That wasn't making a lot of sense....
The lower part of the piece was done in white silk, buttoning down the front, elastic at the waist. The top was done totally in glass beads with a colored motif on the front and back. Ribbon was laced through the top edges, tying in the front and at the shoulders. Beading was even used to attach the top to the silk midriff. His asking price was a bit steep, but Nola kept nodding her head at me over his shoulder so we finally came to terms.
My main concern was the motifs. Being a native Oklahoman I equated the motifs with Native American designs and simply couldn't put the idea together! You can imagine what my husband's reaction was when I showed him what I had bought at VTS...instead of what we had sold!
When Nola and I talked some more, we decided to "try the piece out" on some experts whom she knows in Arkansas. The first person to see it took one look and said "late 1800's" although he, and others, didn't have a clue as to what it was. We agreed that the style of the bodice and the 1890's styles didn't seem to mesh..this was the era of the Gibson Girl, the pouter pidgeon look as it were.
We couldn't visualize it being worn as a weskit; since the typical woman of the era was extremely modest, we couldn't see it being worn underneath as a "see-through" item. It seemed to be styled to be worn over the corset of the era...and that took us into the realm of "maybe!"
Maybe this piece was worn by a saloon or dance hall girl! Maybe this piece might even have been made for (oh, my gosh!) one of the seductive types in a (!!) bordello! That gave rise to a whole new train of thought! That might even explain the colors and style of the motif beadwork, an influence from the old West? No answers, but the story was definitely becoming more exciting!
At the next VTS show they offered an appraisal fair. This piece stumped every one of their experts; no one could give us anything definitive although they loved trying to figure it out!
The happy ending for this lovely unknown came at the same show. We had it displayed in our booth; a delightful woman fell in love with it. It is now in her care and keeping and we're thrilled it's in the hands of someone we know will cherish it. Someday...maybe we'll find the right person who can give us the right story. In the meantime we still like our theory.
Now that's provenance!