When my mother’s grandmother passed, my mother received a collection of elegant purses. Whenever my mother has a formal event she climbs to the top of her closet and reaches for my great-grandmother’s beaded clutches. My great-grandmother was the first generation on my mother’s father’s side to immigrate to America. She was born in Poland and created a life for herself in Camden, New Jersey. Every time I see the purses I am transported back to the early 1900s and begin to imagine what life was like for my great-grandmother. My great-grandmother was not rich, but she was able to survive and could afford simple luxuries in addition to her basic necessities. One of these such luxuries was her collection of purses. Having this collection of purses was very significant to my great-grandmother because it was one of the most expensive parts of her wardrobe and because they formed a part of her new life in America. For me it is easy to think about fashion, clothing and accessories in its modern context: mass production and fast fashion stores, but the purses allow me to think back to a time when clothing and accessories were all expensive and handmade. Seeing my great-grandmother’s collection of purses helps me imagine what life must have been like in the early 1900s in Camden, New Jersey for a recent immigrant from Eastern Europe. Sometimes my mom and I wear her purses when we go to family functions and each of us are transported back to a different era of our family’s history.
– Sylvia Miller