State College Magazine Article: Modern Mod

Here’s an article I wrote for the State College Magazine in January 2012.

Even if you enjoy technical writing, it’s good practice to mix it up a bit and write for different audiences. You’ll see the tone and voice for this piece are very different from ones used for a peer-reviewed journal.

Tone in writing comes from the choice of words (usage) and the way the sentences are structured (syntax). Voice in writing comes from your unique personality and the way you communicate. Have you ever read a text from your mom and you could tell it was her even if you didn’t see her name associated with it on your phone? That’s because as a reader, there’s a sound to the language, and you recognized the sound of your mother’s communication style.

Tone and voice together create style. Style is used to engage your readers and give you credibility as the writer. As you read this piece, look for specific ways the style fits the audience.

Modern Mod

         It’s a new year, but the hot trend isn’t about the future–it’s about the past. The buzzword is “vintage” and all things old are new again. 

            In lots of ways, vintage is American. Making a sow’s ear into a silk purse reflects good, old-fashioned American ingenuity. The economic downturn has given us a renewed interest in making do, even if our greater resourcefulness is born out of necessity. And who doesn’t feel like a champion of individualism and self-expression when scoring a one-of-a-kind item?

            Vintage is also modern. It’s a form of recycling and a way of being green.

            And, it connects us to our past and to those we loved who may not be with us anymore. We feel comfort in the nostalgia.

            Our TV-centric culture reflects this trend too. Flip on the remote and you’re likely to find dapper Don Draper, the quintessential ’60’s man of “Mad Men,” or a buxom beauty as a stewardess on the new Pan Am period drama. Even old shows are new again–with the remake of “Hawaii Five-O,” “book ’em, Danno,” is back.

            Our local experts agree the vintage fever Hollywood contrived is happening in Happy Valley too, particularly with the decades of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. From fashion, to home décor, and the gamut of all things old that are new again, we’ll give you the Centre County scoop.

            Shelley Banker, owner of The Rag and Bone, a vintage clothing store in State College, shares her insight on the historical influences on fashions of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Patricia Gordon, owner of Riley on Main, a home décor and design service business, provides advice for incorporating period pieces into your home. And Rog Snyder, owner of Apple Hill Antiques, gives his perspective on the art of the deal.

            We begin the new year with a fresh look at old-fashioned food, events, etiquette, fashion, home décor, and all that’s old is new again. Get ready to connect to your past and celebrate your groovy future.

Old Fashioned

         “I don’t really have to explain the concept of vintage so much anymore,” says Shelley Banker, the owner of The Rag and Bone, a vintage clothing boutique in State College. “When I started, I did. Now most people know.”

            In 1993, fresh out of Penn State with a degree in advertising, Shelley Banker took a road trip to Atlanta looking for employment. “Along the way I was hitting thrift stores for clothing because I liked the creative process of finding unique clothing with a past. I also liked the romance and the thrill of the search,” Banker recalls.

            She ended up with a car full of inventory, and a significant stride toward a workable business plan. “I   noticed many southern college towns had successful vintage clothing stores, so I decided if I didn’t like the job in Atlanta, I’d use my purchases to open a vintage clothing store in State College.”

            This was the beginning of The Rag and Bone, currently on Calder Way. According to Banker, “vintage clothing is anything from the 1920s to 1980s that is still wearable. Clothing older than this is considered antique, and may be collected, but it’s not wearable.” She laughs. “And, although I sometimes get requests for ’90s clothing, it’s not far enough away from today to be ‘seasoned’ yet.” She tells these customers to give it time.

            She also has noticed a particular interest in clothing from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. “I think there are many reasons, but partly because of economic necessity. With vintage, you can have quality and a good price.” 

            Banker views fashion as a walking history of our country. She points out that in the ’50s the restrictions from World War II were gone, and women were leaving their factory jobs as the men returned from the war and took back the positions. Femininity returned and womanly shapes were accentuated with nipped waists. Fabric was more plentiful than it had been during the war when rationing was in effect, so women wore fuller skirts and men strutted proudly in their fat ties and wide-legged suit pants. In comparison to today’s clothing, most fashion was uber-formal, as casual Fridays didn’t exist yet.

            The ’60s, from Banker’s perspective, are the most fascinating fashion decade because they came in one way and exited in another. In the early ’60s, Jackie Kennedy’s classic style with its two-piece suits, pill box hats, and gloves, was emulated by American women. By the end of the ’60s, with social turmoil from the civil rights and feminist movements and the Vietnam War, fashion was about breaking conventions: shocking hot pants, white go-go boots, super mini-skirts, fishnet stockings, bold patterns and psychedelic colors. For men, clothing items became narrower: ties, suit lapels, and pant legs went skinny. Options for less formal wear coincided with the rise in denim. The clean shaven man and the well-coiffed woman gave way to purposeful slovenliness with the introduction of the hippie culture.

            By the ’70s, fashion was a slave to convenience as more women entered the work force. Clothing was marketed based on how easy the fabric was to care for. Synthetics, such as Dacron polyester and permanent press promised carefree living to the working woman.

            More options for women opened up with the acceptance of the pantsuit for work attire too. The big fashion story of the ’70s was for men, reports Banker. “Men, longing for a comfortable suit for after-hours, discovered the leisure suit. Some were made in non-traditional colors too; I think I have some in my store in powder blue and bright yellow.”

            The appeal to vintage clothing is the connection to the past, but it’s also about making sure valuable pieces of history don’t get tossed out. One of Banker’s favorite stories is about the time she purchased two garbage bags full of “the most exquisite, handmade gowns from the ’30s and ’40s with beads and lace and incredible workmanship.”   

            A man stopped in on a whim because he had cleaned out his deceased aunt’s closet. “I bought everything in both bags,” Banker says. “The man went away happy, but I was happier because I not only got money for them, I made sure one-by-one each of the gowns were adopted and went to loving homes.”

Old Home 

       “Everything recycles, especially styles,” says Patricia Gordon, owner of Riley on Main, a home décor store on the historic diamond in Boalsburg. In addition to operating her store, Patricia and her design team offer interior design services for commercial and residential projects. She’s been buying and selling vintage and antique furnishings since 1988.

            “Right now, there’s a tremendous interest in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, in home décor. People who are between 20 to 40 years old didn’t grow up with these looks and are intrigued by them. Those who are older than 40 tell me, ‘I remember my family or my parents had that, so there’s nostalgia about these time periods too.”

            According to Gordon, home decor in the 80s was opulent with bows and lots of fringe. The trend today is completely against this look, which also corresponds particularly well with these decades. “Today’s look in home décor is much less fussy, with simple lines and an interest in ‘green’ design.” She noticed this trend at last year’s High Point Market, a large furniture exhibition in North Carolina she attends regularly.

            “Furniture makers are offering lines that reflect and revive earlier styles from influential designers such as Charles and Ray Eames and Milo Baughman,” Gordon says. Thayer Coggin, a leading contemporary furniture manufacturer, who was associated with Baughman, is still producing many Baughman lines through his company, despite his death in 2003.

            Baughman pieces are so popular that earlier this year when Gordon learned there was an authentic upholstered piece available at a Centre County auction, she sent one of her design assistants to bid up to $1,000 on it. Little did she know that a dealer from Philadelphia would show up prepared to bid $8,000. He took the piece home.

            Even if you can’t afford an original, Gordon recommends using some of the new remakes sold by many modern furniture manufacturers. The remakes use the same lines as the originals and are usually more affordable. They’re often more comfortable because improvements have been made in fill and framing materials.

            Another obstacle to overcome when incorporating decade pieces into your home is not to overdo the look. She suggests avoiding doing a whole room with pieces from any one period. “This just makes a home look like Epcot or a Hollywood set. It’s too contrived. Instead, try pulling in, say a remake of an egg chair or Saarinen table to give a room vividness and character.” She also recommends grouping items “to tell a story, but don’t tell the same story a hundred times throughout your house. Be mindful of scale to give balance and drama too.”

            To recognize the decades in furnishings, Gordon suggests thinking about the 50s as a time of bold curves and playful fabrics. “It was the fruits, flowers and animals decade. Mohair and leather were popular too, especially in high-end furnishings. Gold, chrome, plastic, glass and other metals were combined in ways previously not used.”

            By the 60s, there was an interest in more natural, earth-friendly fabrics and the lines were more geometric. “It was a period of rebelliousness,” and according to Gordon, “This is reflected in home décor with large contrasts. On one hand, there’s the classic look of Pierre Cardin and on the other, there’s the whole drug culture with bubble lamps and lava stones.”

            With the 70s, international influence dominated home decor. Globalization gave middle America Pier 1 and access to exotic furnishings from faraway places previously available to only those who traveled widely. The Bohemian look, with cotton Indian prints, bamboo shades, and hand carved wood pieces, was in vogue. “Repurposing was born too,” says Patricia. “Large cable spools were turned into tables, used wine bottles became candlesticks, and milk crates were all purpose.”

            Many combinations from each of the decades can be mixed together. “It can be great self-expression of your personal history and taste,” she says as she pauses thoughtfully, and then adds with emphasis, “but remember even eclectic has harmony when it’s done well.”

Treasure Hunter

          “After all these spoofy university-types go home, I’ll teach you how to properly evaluate an antique,” Rog Snyder, owner of Apple Hill Antiques, recalls being told by his mentor, Lester Zettle.

            In the early ’60s, Lester Zettle was a well-known antiques dealer in Spring Mills who converted the corncrib and chicken coop on the family farm into his “showroom.” At the time, Rog Snyder was a recent Penn State graduate living with his wife, Jan, in a modest apartment on East Nittany Avenue for $55 a month.

            The Snyders had already received their first antique, as a wedding present. “My grandfather was an antique dealer back when antique dealers were strange people,” Snyder says. “[He] told me he was ‘thinking about getting me a cupboard for a present.’ He said he’d pay half, $75, and I could pay half. We drove his behemoth 1949 Lincoln to go pick it up, and as we were in the car returning with the high-back dry sink, he told Jan to lean over and give him a kiss. She did, and he said, ‘Now we’re even. That kiss was worth $75.'”

            Over the years, as the Snyders furbished their home, they took lots of trips to Spring Mills, where they befriended Zettle. “He liked us,” Snyder recalls. “That day when the spoofy people left, he got me down on all fours, and we looked underneath a piece to understand the hand workmanship. Over time, he taught me how to feel the technique of manufacturing with my hands, and to examine the hardware–nails, and screws–which were all made by hand back then. I learned that the top of anything isn’t where the proof of age is. The real proof is underneath.”

            Although Snyder’s day job was as an engineer at the Materials Research Laboratory on campus, he continued to learn about antiques through books and travels. “Jan and I liked to upgrade, so I’d buy a walnut drop leaf table for $10, refurbish it, and sell it for a hundred.”

            He also found himself addicted to “the quest of the treasure.” If you listen to those in the antique and vintage business for any time, it’s easy to see this common thread to their stories. It may start out innocently. A good find–and then a spectacular find–and then they’re hooked, forever searching for the next amazing find.

            One of Snyder’s most memorable finds was by happenstance. He and Jan were early for a wedding, so they headed into an antique shop. Jan was milling about in another aisle, when Rog spotted a treasure. He reached down to a shelf and carefully pulled toward him a cobalt blue salt dip, a tiny glass bowl–about 2 ½ inches in diameter–used prior to salt shakers on dinner tables. Turning the dip over, he saw Boston and Pittsburgh stamped in the middle, an indication it was authentic Boston and Sandwich Glass. He ran his schooled fingers over the mold, and tinged it to hear the characteristic sound of lead crystal. He paid $8.10 and sold it for $400.

        These days you’ll find Snyder retired from the university and giving appraisals, lectures, and sometimes even impromptu lessons to visitors of Apple Hill Antiques. “It’s the teacher in me,” he confesses. His avuncular manner and depth of knowledge about antiques helps him oversee over 50 antique dealers all in business at Apple Hill. He’s happy to report greater interest in antiques and vintage these days, particularly with respect to the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. “Those chrome and Formica tables from the ’50s,” he says, “can’t get them fast enough!

       “The popularity of antiques and vintage is partly because there’s a comfort level for customers with having things they remember their grandmothers or mothers had. There’s an interest in recycling and not wasting because of economic necessity. It’s made this business grow.”


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