Peg Rider retains lifetime of elegance, traditions

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A velvet dress from the 1870s is modeled by owner Peg Rider, 97, of near Sharptown. The reproduction hat was made by her friend, Gloria Howard of Salisbury. (Brice Stump Photo)

There is a party going on in Peg Rider’s closet.

When she opens the door, there is a celebration, a party, a literal fashion show of history on parade.

Inside are vintage dresses of the past, the showstoppers of her youth, including her prom dress from 1935.

Looking far younger than her 97 years, Rider has choice outfits that have turned heads and made statements for almost 150 years.

There are exquisite dresses of silk, chiffon, corded cotton and velvet.

They hold a special magic, because, Rider said, just putting them on is a heavenly experience. “They make me feel pretty,” she said, as let a width of silk slide elegantly, slowly, through her slender fingers.

Rider, who lives near Sharptown, has become a living legend for always appearing fashionable and fastidiously attired, whether working in the garden, entertaining guests or when making her weekly grocery shopping errands.

Her collection of vintage clothing, which started electing decades ago, is icing on the cake when she appears at social functions or while participating in annual antique car show events or putting on the Ritz for guests at historical society shows.

They are now works of art, from the flapper girl dress with thousands of tiny glass beads — tipping the scales at 10 pounds — to the most intricate, delicately crocheted embellishments of a Civil War-era cotton wedding dress to a 1950s Poodle Skirt and top.

As for the dress that was worn to her Hurlock High School prom in 1935, the 118-pound woman with the 22-inch waist still slips comfortably into the Size 4 garment.

At her 75th high school reunion she wore the dress to the surprise of disbelieving classmates.

Fashion was important to her, even as a teenager earning 10 cents an hour at a tomato cannery.

“That would buy a lot of stuff back then,” she said. “Shoes, for example, were $1.50 a pair. I remember when my mother bought a pair for $3.50.

“Everybody thought she had lost her mind because they were so expensive. She got them and wore them forever.”

Throughout the years, Rider has valued the clothes of her youth that would costs thousands of dollars to replicate.

“When I was a child Flapper dresses were the rage,” she said. “When I was growing up in Choptank, my neighbor, Inez Wright, was dressed up in high heels and a  straight Flapper dress. Her family had the only sidewalk in town and she loved walking up and down the sidewalk, flipping that dress. She was the most stylish lady in town.

“My, she was sassy.”

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Peg Rider of Sharptown, left, and Gloria Howard of Salisbury hold a special authentic 1920s beaded Flapper dress. Thousands of glass beads, strung by hand, add 10 pounds to the iconic dress which Howard has repaired. (Brice Stump Photo)

 Chief seamstress

“Without her, these dresses would never look as good as they do,” Rider said, as she hugged Gloria Howard of Salisbury, a longtime friend.

That’s because Howard was the chief seamstress with the former Hess Apparel in Salisbury, for almost 30 years.

They met in the 1970s through the Hess store, and over the years Howard has kept the vintage clothing collection in top shape. Jean Forbes of Rockawalkin also assisted in dress repairs.

“Some of these things would have looked like ‘perfect junk,’ but, because of Gloria, I have beautiful clothes because of her. Once I had a mouse eat my tablecloth and she patched that too, fabulous work.” Both share a love for the luxurious, classy dresses of yesteryear.

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One memory dear to their hearts is the day they worked together to buy a wedding dress that came through the family of Gov. J. Millard Tawes of Crisfield.

Gloria had modeled the Civil War-era dress at a First Baptist Church fashion show in Crisfield. It was owned by Ethel Tawes who agreed to sell the corded cotton dress. “I loved the dress,” Rider said of the 1865 garment. “That was my first vintage dress. It is a size four and Gloria said I had a tiny waist (22 inches)  and should model it. So I have over the years.”

Maybe her waist gets a little larger, up to 24 inches every now and then, but Rider is miffed that she has shrunk by about 3 inches over the years, from 5 feet 2 1/2 inches.

Yet, at 118 pounds, she still weighs about the same as she did when she married the late Homer Rider when she was 24, in 1940.

As for the wedding dress, she has modeled it at a variety of functions including a show sponsored by the Eastern Shore Region Antique Car Club. She has been a member since 1971 and the wedding dress is as much a hit at these events as is the Model T 1926 car and turquoise and cream 1957 Chevy Bel Air that she and her companion, Herman Fletcher, still exhibit today.

She has found fashion gold in used clothing stores, like the former Lacy’s in Easton, estate sales and through dealers knowing what she likes to collect.

She now has 14 vintage dresses, and has made notation in a book about the history and features of each piece. “I’m too old to continue buying, but I certainly love the dresses I have.”

“One wedding dress, probably from the late 1800s, I found wadded up in a brown paper bag at an auction in Denton, and the dress was as brown as the bag. It had a slip with it. I got both for about 50 cents.

“When I got it home, I put it down in Ivory flakes and let it soak for a week and we got this pretty white adorable wedding dress,” she said.

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A reproduction high waist silk pink on pink dress was made for Peg Rider by her friend, Gloria Howard of Salisbury. Howard, a former Hess Apparel seamstress of almost 30 years, works with Rider to repair and restore period garments. (Brice Stump Photo)

 Perfect accessories

Period dress requires period purses and matching jewelry, parasols and gloves for the complete and convincing ensemble. Special hats, in keeping with the period of each dress, are created by Howard.

The look is complete with a professional manicure.

As for the “special under garments” that could be worn under vintage dresses, Rider said she isn’t going to wear, for example, corsets or folding wire derriere bustles.

Rider has a special hair-style she’s favored for the past 25 years that she constantly maintains to always match the period dresses and her personality.

“I wear a bun,” she said of the blond, white, cream-colored hair, “and it all my own hair. When I put it down it reaches below my waist. It’s long. My hairdresser bugs me, wanting me to wear it down.

“I said, ‘Honey, there’s no way this 98 year-old woman is wearing  her hair hanging down her back. It’s down when you are young, up when you are old.”

Like clockwork, Rider, herself a former hair dresser, strictly  adheres to her weekly three-hour hair styling appointments. “She makes my hair look really pretty because she braids it up the back.”

Like her dresses, Rider wants everything to be “just right” for an authentic, elegant look.

Like so many other women, Rider, soon to be 98, is at a loss for an abundance of closet space.

“I live in a 120-year-old house with small closets, so I took a bedroom and put closets in it.”

When they two traveled extensively to antique auto club car shows, Rider had a specially built rack installed in their Model T car trailer just for transporting her dresses.

“I don’t wear these as often as I did, but I still dress up several times a year. Years ago, at one show, I changed 17 times and changing onto vintage clothing isn’t like putting on new things. They require great care putting on and taking off. It’s really a physical ordeal.”

Over the years she modeled at the Eastern Shore Region Antique Auto Club, Wicomico County Town and Country Garden Club events and West Side Historical Society programs, and served as a hostess at Poplar Hill Mansion in Salisbury.

She has found a lifestyle in yesterday’s dresses, There are day dresses, wedding gowns, Flapper dresses, a white lawn tea gown and formal wear. In the collection is a mourning dress, a travel dress, and dresses accented with ruffles and pointed lace edging and come-along collars and a 1910 Chinese silk shawl.

“People want to borrow these outfits, but no one is borrowing my clothes,” she said. “No way. I have one, a very fragile pink tissue silk dress, that I wouldn’t dare sit down in, but it looks pretty on.”

In the collection are garments with handkerchief and watch pockets, dresses accented with glass beads, fashioned large flowers, some garments with high waists, low waists, one with leg of mutton sleeves and two dresses fashioned from velvet.

“She feels and looks like a million dollars when she puts these dresses on,” Howard said with a gentle smile.

“And I just love it, too. They make me feel pretty. Doing all this takes time, effort and money, but I’m worth it,” Rider said with soft laughter.

Contact Brice Stump at myshorehistory@gmail.com.

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A reproduction high waist silk pink on pink dress was made for Peg Rider by her friend, Gloria Howard of Salisbury. Howard, a former Hess Apparel seamstress of almost 30 years, works with Rider to repair and restore period garments. (Brice Stump Photo)

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