If you’re feeling the need for a little vintage glitz to kick off December, you’re in luck. The Retro Housewife’s Guide to Vintage Christmas will showcase Christmas decor and traditions from the 1950s at the Johnson County Museum’s All-Electric House.
It’s part of a series the museum started last November with frequent speaker Yvonne Svenson. All the previous installments have been virtual, but this one will be exclusively in person at the museum Dec. 7 at 6 p.m.
“A lot of it came from Miss Yvonne,” said Leah Palmer, curator of education for the museum. “She’s really passionate about this topic. She really lives it, and so she’s always itching to do more and share her knowledge with others.”
The first program they did focused on ’50s fashion, hitting on everything from girdles to brooches. Another took advantage of an exhibit of vintage furniture the museum hosted. The Christmas one will be the seventh in the series, Svenson said.
She loves the opportunity to share her fascination with the ’50s, as well as rules of etiquette that aren’t necessarily common knowledge anymore.
“People really aren’t taught how to dress anymore. I gave an example: (If) you wear nicer jewelry, a pin or a brooch, you always wear it on right side. … When you go to shake someone’s hand… they glance at that and directly up at your face,” Svenson said.
When it comes to vintage Christmas traditions, the ’50s represents a huge shift in how people celebrated.
“Christmas decorations took a new route. For the first time, we had artificial trees. It was new; it was modern. We were back from the war, and we had all this money that we could spend on stuff for the first time in our lives,” Svenson said. “I’m talking a lot about the trees, the lights. Everything was over the top. It kind of had a space age-y feel. (It’s) how kitsch really got into Christmas.”
As far as kitsch goes, Palmer’s favorite item currently on display in the All-Electric House is a Christmas cookie jar.
Just like she’ll portray in the program, Svenson celebrates the holidays vintage-style in her own ’50s ranch house in Leawood, right down to baking a ham with pineapple and cherries tacked onto it.
She encourages people to ask if they want to know more about the era or her own retro look.
“I always tell everyone I’m an open book. You can ask me about anything, as long as it’s pretty G-rated,” she said.
In addition to the usual 1950s Christmas decor, the All-Electric House is also playing host to several vintage party outfits from a collection at the Midwest Trust Center at Johnson County Community College. Palmer hopes having those pieces on mannequins in the house will make it feel more like a holiday cocktail party is underway.
“I think people connect to this time period, because it’s just so full of nostalgia. But all that nostalgia is also kind of rooted in this pivotal time in history. … It’s when holiday traditions and celebrations become really fun,” Palmer said.
The museum pre-recorded the previous programs and broadcast them via Facebook, followed by a live question-and-answer session with Svenson. Because the exhibit area doesn’t get great reception, they will not be able to share a livestream version of this Christmas program.
Palmer said they are considering more virtual programs for the future. The next in-person retro program will have a Valentine’s Day theme.
The Retro Housewife’s Guide to Vintage Christmas will be Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. at the Johnson County Museum, 8788 Metcalf Ave. Tickets are $6, and the museum requests that attendees pre-register.