While many of our local residents are familiar with the Ebell of Los Angeles as an historic women’s club…fewer know that the club is also the home of several fascinating collections, including a collection of vintage costumes (including dresses, hats, shoes, handbags, feather boas, Japanese and Chinese-themed items and even harem outfits) that is truly unique.
But the clothing collection took a big step out of the closet this week as the Los Angeles Times took a close-up look at it. According to the Times story, the Ebell’s “treasure trove” of clothing “dates back to the 1800s and includes about 900 pieces such as dresses, hats, handbags and other accessories.”
The collection originated (according to current Ebell President Loyce Braun in an Ebell member bulletin story from 2013) with random occasional donations by club members over the years. “This is a collection of clothing and costumes donated by members from the Club’s very beginning. Its purpose was to inspire and enhance the Ebell’s programs, from club commemorations to pageants and plays,” Braun wrote.
For many years, however, the collection languished and remained unsorted, uncatalogued and uncelebrated. But interest in it has revived over the last couple of decades.
Braun said in the Times story, “The collection was comprehensively inventoried by [Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising] in the late 1990s, which left us with a thorough list.” And a more newly-active Costume Committee at the club has continued the effort to find, care for, and celebrate its various treasures. The collection’s current curator, Ebell member Denise Parga, told the Times that because the Ebell building is so “large and cavernous,” she and other members are still finding new additions, stuffed into long-forgotten bags and closets. One gaucho hat, she told the Times, was found still stuffed with 1950s newspapers to help it hold its shape.
Items from the collection are frequently on display at the Ebell, and the annual Charter Day Lunch in October traditionally features a special selection from the collection. For this year’s event, Braun told the Times, she “…wanted to honor this year’s election, especially because Hillary Clinton made history by being the first female presidential nominee to be backed by a major U.S. political party. So this year’s fashion show highlighted clothes and accessories from the late 1800s and early 1900s, the era of working toward women’s right to vote.”
The Times story also contains a photo gallery, showing several items from the collection,at http://www.latimes.com/fashion/la-ig-ebell-20161111-story.html. If you’d like to see more in person, be sure to look for various items on display when you visit the Ebell for special events. (And if you’d like to actually get involved and help with the Ebell’s costume collection, information about Ebell membership is available at https://ebellofla.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/membership/ )