Byline: Maggie FitzRoy, Shorelines staff writer
Debbie Jones looked as if she had just stepped out of an old photograph. Dressed in an ankle-length white cotton dress with a black belt, wide-brimmed black hat, black shoes and white stockings, she sashayed into the room like a teenager who was ready for her first day of school -- in 1910.
"I'm going to finishing school," she said in a falsetto voice, with a dimpled smile. "It's where mother's sending me. I had to spit out my gum and everything."
Jones, who was getting into character for a recent luncheon tea and historic fashion show, was one of several models wearing antique clothing owned by Mary Jo Linnen of Ponte Vedra Beach.
Linnen, who collects dresses, hats, coats, and all types of clothing and accessories worn between 1860 and 1970, enjoys staging fashion shows to share her collection with others. That day she was presenting a "parade of the decades" pageant at Alanteaks, a Jacksonville Beach antique cottage. The show featured outfits that women wore in 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, 1950, 1960 and 1970 and as Linnen bustled about, she told talked about the clothes the models were wearing and watched proudly as one by one, they entered the tea room.
"Oooh, that's beautiful; what time period is that?" someone in the audience asked as Connie Singer promenaded past in a black satin '50s dress and matching coat.
"Oooh," some of the women said as Minerva Barncastle circled about in a white sequined '20s dress and crushed velvet green fur coat.
"That one doesn't look that old to me," a customer told Alice Gleason, who was twirling the room in a psychedelic orange '60s gown.
"It doesn't look that old to me either," Gleason said, laughing.
Linnen said the enthusiasm, from the models and audience, "is contagious."
"I derive a lot of pleasure from that," she said. "I also enjoy the creativity of putting the outfits together."
Linnen was living in Orchard Park, N.Y., near Buffalo, in the late 1980s when a friend invited her to join an antiques study group. Members were required to write a paper and give a presentation on different subjects, and Linnen chose Victorian clothing.
After doing the research, she "fell in love with the history and the clothing," and became a sought-after expert on the subject. At one meeting she met a woman who collected antique clothes and they teamed up to establish a small "entertainment business" putting on historic fashion shows. Together they scoured estate sales, auctions and antique shops for clothing and accessories.
After several years, her friend moved away and Linnen took over and added to the inventory.
"It was hard work, these clothes have to be well taken care of," said Linnen, who has put on a few shows a year since moving to Ponte Vedra Beach two years ago. "A lot of the older clothes require a lot of work and labor to keep them showable."
Since she collects clothes from different time periods, Linnen has become an expert on how they were made, how they were cared for, where they were worn, when they were worn, and who wore them.
Linnen said many of the outfits she owns were once worn by slim young women who unlike today, didn't go out and buy new clothes if they put on weight. She owns a skirt from the early 1900s that the original owner had let out with pleats and a new waistband. The owner had put on 2 inches at the waist, but was still able to wear the skirt, Linnen said.
In the past people didn't always have closets -- clothes were kept in wardrobes and trunks, Linnen said.
"You didn't have the wardrobe you have today and you took very good care of your clothes," she said. …