Party Like It's 1949

"I don't want it to look like a costume," the young woman says uneasily. She is trying on a salmon-pink 1960s dress with matching jacket--think Jackie Kennedy--at Linda Bowman's Legacy Antiques and Vintage Clothing on Larchmere Boulevard. "You don't think it's too vintage to wear to a wedding?"
"It's a classic," Bowman assures her. "It's tailored, and the fabric is good. If you really want to kill 'em, get some creamy gloves, some pearls--it's easy to find pearls for a couple of bucks."

Legacy Antiques, which occupies two floors of a spacious old frame house, represents the upper tier of the city's growing vintage-apparel marketplace. Bowman bought the house eight years ago as her home--she inhabits the art-deco-appointed third-floor suite--and as her shop. For the first few years, she sold mostly antique furniture, then switched to clothing two years ago. "What I like about the clothes is they're so personal," she says. "People come back and tell me what a great time they had in the outfit they bought. At the buying end, I get the stories of 'This was my mom's, my aunt's'--a little bit of history."

Bowman is a blend of shrewd businesswoman and chummy best friend. "Isn't that gorgeous?" she raves, fingering a blue 1940s suit jacket. "Isn't that outta sight? For the tailoring, and the quality of the fabrics that are still wearable, I like the '40s. The shapes, the detailing--everything is so inventive, even though it was a little rigid. But then, I like Dior's New Look [of 1947]--it was really feminine, but not very friendly to 90 percent of the bodies on the planet." She laughs heartily.

After graduating from Cleveland's Cooper School of Art in the early '70s, Bowman, now 51, worked as a graphic designer, then drifted into health-care marketing, the last two years enduring a job she loathed to save enough money to open her shop.

On the cusp of the millennium, vintage styles of the '40s and '50s--pearls, platinum, cashmere twinsets--are back. Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, and other couture designers are frequently spotted trawling flea markets in Paris, London, and Manhattan. Even in Cleveland-come-lately, mall mannequins model women's fitted jackets and men's three-button suits, and retro-styled eyewear is de rigueur. "Vintage styles are being copied all the time," Bowman observes. "Now this," she says, pulling a man's fur-collared balmacaan from the rack, "would be in the J. Peterman catalog for 800 bucks."

In every corner of the store, Bowman's aesthetic flair is evident. Burnished oak display cases house heirloom handbags, hats, shoes, gloves, compacts, and jewelry. A perfectly preserved steamer trunk holds cashmere sweaters on its tiny wooden hangers. A delicate Edwardian silk bridal gown is displayed alongside photographs of the original wedding party.

Bowman buys most of her pieces from individuals (some of whom sell on consignment), estate sales, and clothing exhibitions. By Cleveland standards, some of Legacy's prices are high--a green tweed Halle Bros. suit is $80, a Bonwit Teller jacket $75, while similar garments at Suite Lorain sell for $34 and $28. Bowman said she has her eye on a clientele "whose dream is to shop only at Saks."

Sometimes, Bowman notes ruefully, parting with treasures is a peculiarly sweet sorrow. "I sold a chatelaine purse last year [a Victorian bag with ornamental clasps to hold trinkets], and the lady was thrilled," she recounts. "Then I thought, Linda, you shouldn't have sold that damn purse! I was having seller's remorse. Because I really do like a lot of this stuff."

--Pamela Zoslov

Legacy Antiques, 12502 Larchmere Blvd., Cleveland, is open Wednesday through Saturday noon to 5, Sunday 1 to 5. Call 216-229-0578 for information.

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