#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Fashion

This week’s prompt in Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project is fashion. When I think of that topic with regard to my family tree, two stories come to mind.

J.W. “Billie” Stevens (Photo belonging to Mary Elizabeth “Mollie” Pittman Stevens, now in possession of Zenova Cook Hahn)

After my great-grandfather Billie Stevens left the sawmill, possibly as it scaled back operations, for a time he sold men’s suits.

According to my mother, he received fabric samples to show his customers. They would pick out the material they wanted for their suit, and Billie would take their measurements. He sent that on to the manufacturer or tailor, and the suits were then made to order.

My great-grandmother later used the fabric samples to make a quilt.

My mother was just 2 1/2 years old when Billie died, so she got all this information second-hand, either from her mother or her grandmother.

The 1930 U.S. Census lists Billie’s occupation as laborer, with industry as “odd jobs.” The Florida Census of 1935 also lists him simply as laborer.

The “Jernigan House” (Photo: Escambia Property Appraiser’s Office, 2017)

From my mother, I know that Billie also built several rental houses. Four, she said, were built along Palafox Street. Rent was $15 a month. In 1929, he built what we call the Jernigan House, which, as I write this, still stands, and is still owned by the family. It’s called the Jernigan House because Mrs. Jernigan lived there for many years. I remember visiting her when I was a little girl, in the 1970s. My parents started using it for storage at least 30 years ago.

The word “fashion” also reminded me of something I just recently learned while scanning photos of my mother, Zenova Cook Hahn. She told me that her mother, Willie Stevens Cook, sometimes ordered clothes directly from Hong Kong.

Two-piece suit in shades of grey. Zenova believes this is one of the suits her mother Willie Cook ordered from Hong Kong.

My mother made many of her own clothes. She’s told me that, when she was growing up, Grandma Stevens made clothes for her, and they were always too big. Grandma said she’d grow into them. By the time mom got to high school, she was making her own clothes, so they would fit. She was very thin and weighed, she tells me, just 98 pounds until she got pregnant with me. At that time, stores didn’t tend to stock the small sizes they have now, so they were still too big.

When we looked at this black and white photo, she told me the suit was in shades of grey, and I asked her if she had made it. She told this was a “bought” suit, and she believed it was ordered from Hong Kong.

She didn’t remember exactly how her mother would have gotten the catalog, but she told me Willie ordered several outfits for herself and for Zenova. They sent off their measurements and the suits were made to fit. This would have been in the 1950s. My mother graduated from Pensacola High School in 1954 and married my dad in 1956.

I’ll leave you with one final photo, which I call Dapper Man. This unlabeled cabinet card is from the collection of my great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth “Mollie” Pittman Stevens. The picture was taken outdoors (note the grass) against a backdrop. I feel like it’s probably from between 1880 and 1915. It could be a member of her family or Billie’s. Unless I can find a cousin with the same photo and knows who it is, this dapper gentleman’s name may be lost to history.

Unknown Man (Photo belonging to Mary Elizabeth “Mollie” Pittman Stevens, inherited by Zenova Cook Hahn.)

About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have two cats and a husband.
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1 Response to #52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Fashion

  1. Barb LaFara says:

    How interesting about the suit ordered from Hong Kong. And, I do hope you find out who Dapper Man is, he is quite handsome. Thanks for sharing.

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