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Making vintage fashionable

Everywhere Ivan Sayers looks he sees a fashion catwalk — especially at pedestrian crossings when he’s behind the wheel of his car. So, be mindful of how dressed up, or dressed down you are.

Everywhere Ivan Sayers looks he sees a fashion catwalk — especially at pedestrian crossings when he’s behind the wheel of his car.

So, be mindful of how dressed up, or dressed down you are.

“As the people pass by, I ask myself, ‘Why is that person wearing horizontal stripes? Why are they wearing six different prints at the same time? That’s fine when you’re 16 and attractive, but when you’re my age, you look like an accident. It’s not right,” he said with a laugh.

In other words, Sayers, 68, rarely turns off his wandering eye when it comes to clothing —but what can you expect from a fashionista who actually owns a pair of shoes once belonging to Canadian suffragette Nellie McClung?

Sayers will be receiving an honourary degree from Richmond’s Kwantlen Polytechnic University at the school’s convocation ceremonies on May 21

Sayers’ interest in style actually began as an interest in history as a teen growing up in Summerland in the south Okanagan.

“My biggest interest when I was little was the past,” he said. “How did we get to where we are now? And what created all of those influences that made the world we live in?”

That’s why he set up a makeshift museum in his parents’ garage when he was 14.

“I had broken typewriters, old sewing machines, old toys, collections of stamps and rocks,” he said. “I set it up and charged admission, 25 cents, that I’d collect from my school friends.”

The overall plan was to become a classical archaeologist — specifically an Egyptologist — so he could delve into one of the oldest civilizations on the globe.

But since money was scarce in his household, the young Sayers knew he’d need to fund school at UBC himself. That led to him selling all of his prized “antiquities,” except for the vintage clothing that was most dear to his heart.

That dedication to fashion stemmed from his parents’ forays into amateur theatre — his mom made the costumes for the local company in Summerland, and both she and his father performed on stage.

So, Sayers paid his way through university waiting tables at the Lady Alexandra floating restaurant beside the Bayshore Hotel in Downtown Vancouver, and trading antiques he’d find in dumps or thrift sales at the local Salvation Army store.

“I’d browse around, find some antique knickknacks here and there, buy them in the morning and sell them in the afternoon. And if I had a good day, I ate. And if I didn’t, I had to make the hamburger buns last an extra day, which kept me thin. I was young and that was an ambition.

“The first year I was at university I lost 28 pounds. It was good. I was young, and vain, to be sure.”

But as his collection of vintage clothes grew, so did Sayers’ knowledge, which eventually landed him a paying job at the Vancouver Museum for 20 years, starting out as a few-days-a-week cataloguing volunteer to eventually curator of history.

Today, Sayers has items from his personal collection on loan to as many as five museums at one time — most of them local. And he acts as a resource to the TV and film industry’s costume designers who are looking to replicate period clothing.

“That tells me I am doing the right thing,” he said. “Because, if you are doing something slightly eccentric, you want approval. If you didn’t want that, you wouldn’t try hard.”

Asked about his favourite piece, Sayers quipped “All dresses are equal before God.”

But he did name a few items crammed in an orderly manner into just about every available space at his east Vancouver home.

A part from Nellie’s shoes, he has a special place for a uniform belonging to the first female bus driver for B.C. Electric during the Second World War.

The pieces he covets the most tell a story about who wore them, he added.

“They look at a dress, and it’s pretty. I tell them the story attached to it and they see the person,” he said. “That’s the real charm.”