Sue Harmon has a sharp eye for glamour. Her ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s era party dresses are like a catalog of cocktail soirees on the veranda gone by. You can almost hear the music of gold bracelets jangling together as a well-manicured hand makes its way to tuck a wisp of hair.
She may draw her inspiration from old films and the leading ladies of past eras, but Harmon (left) has more than an eye for style. Her real skill is making Fleasters today own their ability to embody the old Gatsby-glam. Go ahead: Try on one of her gowns. You can throw your own ball if you have to.
Before you were a vintage seller, you were a collector. How long did you collect and how did you first become interested in it?
In the late ’80s we lived in Palm Beach; the Kennedys’ house was at the end of our street. Witnessing what people were wearing to the parties was fun and began to catch my interest. One estate sale I went to had over 40 1950s and ’60s cocktail party dresses that were hung up on a rope between two trees. I bought every single one. Ever since then I have been hooked.
Is there a certain era of fashion or a designer you are particularly drawn to?
No particular designer was in my interest, but I was influenced by my favorite film, How to Marry a Millionaire (above), with Marilyn Monroe. The clothes had such character, class and style. This is the era I love to collect. I am trying to keep these clothes moving forward for future generations and to keep the previous owners smiling down on us.
Do you have a certain item in your collection that you’ll never be able to part with?
My husband says he is in charge of my seller’s-remorse department. Years ago I sold my all-time favorite black silk Chinese coat, which was embroidered with major details of a family’s life. Currently I have a set of gold garter hooks, which intrigue me because they must have been worn by “the woman who had everything.”
Many of your pieces come from estate sales. Can you speak to the culture of an estate sale? Is there an “estate sale etiquette” that potential buyers might benefit from knowing about?
One thing to remember when you go to these estate sales is that you are buying someone’s prized possessions. It gives the owner joy to share the history. There will always be something that will catch your eye. And like I tell my kids: NO fighting, NO biting, NO pushing!
You always have a smile on your face at the Flea. What’s your favorite part about working there?
Being a part of the Brooklyn Flea has been a wonderful experience for me. I love the fact that the management and vendors have such positive energy, not to mention the lovely venue.