'Downton Abbey'-themed fashion show at Harrison library focuses on women's lives
Retired librarian and Plum historian Jean Kanouff began collecting vintage women's fashions after her grandmother gave her some treasured family clothing.
“My grandmother nurtured this love of vintage clothes,” Kanouff says. “I have over 150 pieces now that I have collected, and they are prized possessions.”
That love will translate into the “Downton Abbey Fashion Show” on Feb. 28 at the Community Library of Allegheny Valley in Natrona Heights, where the focus will be on fashions from the 1900s through the 1930s.
Kanouff purchased her oldest piece — a Civil War-era dress — while vacationing in Maryland. In addition to the family heirlooms, she has collected accessories. She travels around the Pittsburgh area hosting her fashion show.
"‘Downton Abbey' is so popular right now, and people watch the show for the plotline but also for the fashions,” Kanouff says. “The show really showcases how people had to dress, from the corsets to changing their clothes for dinner.”
Women's fashions have evolved from corsets to cropped dresses. As seen on “Downton Abbey,” those wardrobe revolutions echoed women's changing roles, activities and rights.
Guests at Kanouff's fashion show will see four models, each wearing a dress representing a particular decade. Kanouff also dresses in period attire, usually a dress from the 1920s, because “they are so much fun to wear,” she says. All dresses and accessories are from her private collection.
“I like to tell ‘her-story,'” Kanouff says. “I try and interject pieces of history from the women's point of view.”
Getting dressed in the early 1900s required help.
“A woman could not lace up her corset by herself and needed assistance,” Kanouff says. “I don't wear a corset, by the way. I have to draw the line there.”
Carly Dibas, 24, will model in the show but hasn't watched a single episode of the hit show. “I am curious now, though, and will have to watch,” she says.
“I remember looking through my grandma's closet when I was a child and seeing all of her lacy and elegant tops,” says Dibas of Squirrel Hill. “The elegance of vintage clothing is striking, and I would love to incorporate some pieces into my own wardrobe.”
Lisa Schoon of Greenfield is addicted to watching “Downton.”
“I am very interested in history and love to transport myself back in time,” Schoon says. “I will be modeling in the show, so I can't wait to see what I am wearing. I will have to present myself like I am a part of the English estate of Downton Abbey. It is amazing to me watching the show and seeing the standards of dress and how they have changed in 100 years.”
Caitlyn Bauer, adult-programming specialist at the Allegheny Valley library, is always looking for unique events.
“Jean uses her vast collection of vintage clothes as a springboard to talk about women's history,” Bauer says. “She speaks about how, back in history, men's lives took place in the public sphere and women's lives took place in the domestic sphere.”
At the show, Kanouff will present for 45 minutes and then take questions from the audience.
With events such as this, Bauer is hoping to increase offerings at the library.
“Libraries are more than just books, but we are really a learning space and a community space,” she says.
Bauer tried on a sheer, black dress with white flowers from Kanouff's collection during preliminary fittings recently at the library.
“I noticed wearing vintage clothing changed my posture and the way I carried myself,” Bauer says. “It's nothing like pulling on jeans and a T-shirt like we do today.”
Joyce Hanz is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.