Fashion Comes Alive In Sturbridge At Linda Zukas’ 66th Textile Show

STURBRIDGE, MASS. — For the past 23 years collectors of vintage clothing and antique textiles have flocked to this quaint New England town on select Mondays in May, July and September for the Antique Textile and Vintage Fashion Show and Sale. Universally considered to be a mecca by textilians, Linda Zukas, the originator and promoter, properly claims her show to be the largest and one of the most important vintage textile shows in existence.

Shoppers, collectors and dealers trek from regions that span the globe to be a part of Zukas’ show, which essentially kicks off Brimfield Week, with the most recent event taking place on May 13.

True to form; the halls, ballroom, conference rooms and the large exhibition area of the Sturbridge Host Hotel were once again packed with vendors from as far away as Germany, England and Spain. Dealers from all around the United States — from San Francisco to Bangor — add to the impressive roster of exhibitors.

Also true to form, the line of shoppers waiting to get into the show extended out of the foyer, across a patio, the length of the parking lot, around the side of the building, and turned the corner extending around the backside of it. “It was huge,” stated Zukas, of the line of dealers waiting to get into the show, who later confirmed that it was a record attendance for the event. In the past, people have arrived the night before the show and slept under the portico to secure their place in line, according to the promoters. “I didn’t notice when the first person arrived, but it was pretty early,” stated Zukas’ husband, and right hand man, Arthur Smith.

 Parisians, Brits and Europeans of undeterminable origin were plentiful in the line awaiting opening, the twang of various dialects revealing their identities. So were shoppers from throughout Asia. Of course, a huge contingent of local (American) shoppers were also on hand, coming from as far as Montana, Texas, California, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

“There is a full range of material here,” commented the promoter, “fabric and fashions from the 1600s to the 1960s. “It makes for a very colorful show.”

 “At the very first shows, we had a large contingent of Japanese buyers in attendance. Young kids buying American clothing and taking back to their little shops in Tokyo, said the promoters. “A lot of them are still coming, although they are adults now with very successful shops in New York City, Paris and Japan. It is fun to see their faces at every show.”

A small portion of this show opens for early-early buying beginning around 6 am, as the booths in the hallways are accessible to the public, and there is no admission charged to shop in those confines. Entry to the rest of the show is by paid admission, and this is where things get serious. Early buyers rushed into the large expanses that make up the show floor at 9:30 am and an extreme amount of frenzied activity was witnessed.

To keep the reputation of this show on par with its history, Zukas limits what dealers are allowed to bring. It is a vintage textile and clothing show and that is what had better be in your booth, although she does allow for a percentage of displays to consist of related items. It is quite apparent that Zukas works hard to maintain the quality level of this show, in return, the dealers step up to the plate and bring their best.

Curators from museums are always present in the early morning crowd, stated the manager, including one who made himself known that was representing a museum in Mexico City. Fashion design houses are also always on hand looking for “pieces for inspiration” that they can use to incorporate designs into new lines of clothing and textiles. Interior design decorators flock to the show looking for special large lots of fabrics for upholstery. Serious collectors are on hand looking for extra special specimens. Retailers and representatives from the movie industry are always in the crowd looking for display props.

A college professor of fashion from La Salle University arrived at the show with a group of students, not only to shop the show, but also to study the different periods and styles. All were admitted free as Zukas wants to encourage the younger generations to become involved.

Not only are many of the shoppers young in age, but so are many of the dealers, with management commenting that there were several dealers on the floor that were 20-something kids just starting out in the business. Mary Aubrey Landrum, the youngest exhibitor at 21 years of age, made her way to the show from Memphis, Tenn. Trading under Twisted Vintage, the dealer has been collecting vintage clothing and textiles since the age of 6. Her stand featured a good assortment of footwear from the 1920s through the 1940s, classic men’s vests and a large selection of NOS tableware. Attracting serious attention from her display was a handmade lacework dress.

Ashby, Mass., dealer Martha Perkins brought a boatload of early quilts to the show, along with a wide assortment of Victorian clothing. “I’ve pretty much sold out,” proclaimed the dealer less than two hours after the show had opened to the public.

One new aspect of the show is the infiltration of tribal art and ethnic materials. It began last year with the addition of a couple of new dealers, and this year the representation swelled to seven high-quality tribal art and ethnic dealers. Zukas bunched many of them together in one area of the main room with the dealers forming a “neighborhood” within the larger community.

Apsara Arts of Asia, Long Island City, N.Y., offered a stellar selection of tribal robes and weavings, as did Manhattan dealer Chinalai, New York City where early bedded and printed Asian vests were displayed alongside printed textiles.

Larry McKaughlan, Heller’s Café Inc, Seattle, Wash., had an interesting display that ranged from college frat jackets, including the “Ruff Necks,” to mechanic’s coveralls, motorcycle jackets and boots. Business was brisk at his stand.

The next Sturbridge Vintage Fashion and Textile Show will take place July 8. For further information 207-366-1320, or

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