VFAST – California-based Facebook Group Brings Vintage Flair to MAAM

It isn’t news that the Covid-19 lockdowns isolated millions of people. Yet for many, this physical isolation encouraged a wave of virtual interaction. From Zoom meetings to chat rooms, people entered an alternate space where they could take a break from the news; vent as much as they liked; maybe make some new friends; listen, learn, laugh and cry; encourage and share. One might liken this to being in a bunker with strangers during a battle. Once the all-clear has sounded, the strangers emerge to find they have formed a lasting camaraderie.

Marylander Debbie Farthing would be familiar with the bunker analogy. After all, as a military wife, the concept of throwing in with strangers is nothing new. But, when Debbie reached out on Facebook during Covid – seeking others who might have an interest in both history and vintage fashion – she was pleasantly surprised to find that such a community already existed in cyberspace.

The name of the group is Vintage Fashion Accessories Show & Tell. VFAST for short – which is how Debbie and other members referred to the coterie when we caught up with them at this year’s Mid-Atlantic Air Museum WWII Weekend. (MAAM)

Not that catching up with various members of the group was all that easy.

“Getting everyone together here is like trying to herd cats,” Debbie explained. “Once the girls get through the admission gate, they all scatter.”

We assumed that cat wrangling was not a skill normally associated with a military wife. Nor is it something one might expect from a museum docent who majored in History.

“The first time I went to college was for accounting, and I was a bookkeeper for a while,” offered Debbie. “After my husband Walt and I moved to Baltimore, I started volunteering with different museums. I got a certificate in museum studies, quit my job, and I went to UMBC. There, I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Public History.

VFAST member Debbie Farthing with husband Walt and VFAST cohort Wendy Carson. (Victoria Golos/Facebook)
Debbie Farthing with husband Walt and VFAST cohort Wendy Carson. (Victoria Golos/Facebook)

“I used to work at the Mount Clare museum house, and I volunteered for the Baltimore Museum of Industry, and the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Now I work for the Gibson Island Historical Society. But my passion for a very long time has been in fashion history. That’s how I got drawn into wearing vintage clothing and going to events like this one at MAAM.

“This particular group that I met online – you know, the fashion accessories group – really spurred my passion during the lockdown. That’s how it is that I’m here with them today. Our founder – Lolita Pearl – lives in California, but she just couldn’t make it to this event.”

Stepping into the shade of an airplane wing, we asked Debbie to talk a bit about a typical VFAST Zoom meeting.

“We started doing zoom meetings on Saturdays, which seemed to work fine for most members. And each meeting has a theme, whether it’s hats or purses or pins or Easter or Christmas. I mean, I think we’re up to Hat Party Number 10 – you know, things like that. We just move around in the meeting like you would do at an actual party. Each person shares something, and whoever wants to chat with me at any particular moment can simply join in.

“We usually start about 5:30 Eastern time and let it run til about nine o’clock at night. That’s enough for a lot of members, but not everybody, so from there, it’s the after party. That’s not so much like the Show & Tell of the regular party. Often, we just chat. I think the latest I’ve ever gone to bed is two o’clock in the morning. It’s a very fun group to be part of, and the core of us make it a point to stay connected.”

That post-lockdown connecting has led members to gather in person a number of times since travel restrictions were lifted. One gathering was here at MAAM last year. Another was in Las Vegas – complete with a visit to the fashion-filled Burlesque Hall of Fame.

“The numbers for these in-person gatherings vary, of course. Right now, we have 14 members who have joined us here at MAAM.

“So it’s about fun and fashion, but during the after-parties, we have also connected on a deeper level,” added Debbie. “Some of us have had grandbabies; a number have had deaths in their family. Other members are dealing with cancer, and we have supported them in any way that we can. We took up a collection for one member and told her to use the money to buy anything that might make her happy. Yes, it’s an internet Show & Tell group, but for many of us it’s so much more than that.”

* * * * *

Californian Andrea Dee and Tennessean Wendy Carson had walked in with Debbie, when we rendezvoused by the entrance gate. A quick photo of the trio, then a glance at the show scheduled, sent everyone off in different directions. We walked with Andrea (or should we say guided her) to an area across the airfield where “General MacArthur” and other dignitaries were about to disembark from a passenger plane.

“Churchill’s” speech, from the boarding stairs of the plane, was perhaps the highlight of this segment.

MAAM WWII Weekend 2024 credit Anthony C. Hayes
Rousing reenactors portrayed Winston Churchill and Douglas MacArthur. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Making our way through the Marine Corps encampment, and skirting a Salvation Army display, Andrea and I continued the conversation.

“I was telling my husband that, when I walked through the gates here at MAAM, I felt like I was home. That I was with people who understood why I was dressing up and that I understood why they were doing this and preserving History.

“That just felt like home to me.

“Everybody you’ll meet in this group kind of entered VFAST from a different perspective,” noted Andrea. “Mine happened to have been through music, because I got my degree in music when I was young. I enjoyed modern music, but I listened to jazz, classical, and popular 20s, 30s and 40s recordings while I was pursuing my degree – and it stuck with me.

“So for Debbie, it was fashion; for me, it was music. Wendy loves fashion, too, and Angie was really into architecture. Oh!, I just got a text from Angie saying she’ll meet us at the yellow bi-planes. Let’s go!”

And with that, we were off, purposefully walking – not towards the area where I knew yellow bi-planes would be sitting – but rather the military armor display near the main hangar.

“UGH! I can’t believe you just let me lead you in the wrong direction,” exclaimed Andrea. “And you didn’t say a word. You’re such a gentleman!”

Of course, once we turned around and walked a hundred yards in the other direction, we found a brightly costumed Angie patiently waiting on a bench near the yellow bi-planes.

MAAM WWII Weekend 2024 credit Anthony C. Hayes
Now THIS is a yellow bi-plane. (credit Anthony C. Hayes)

* * * * *

Angie Dawson – a former LA-based journalist, who is presently employed as a living history docent at the famous Hearst Castle in San Simeon – is another group member who traveled to MAAM all the way from California. Not surprisingly, several aspects of Angie’s involvement with VFAST mirror both Andrea and Debbie’s membership in the group.

“I started searching for a group on Facebook during lockdown, because I couldn’t go back up to Hearst Castle to participate in living history. I mean, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I gonna do?’ So I started looking up various vintage groups, because I wanted to educate myself as well as have fun.

“It wasn’t easy to get into VFAST. Our founder really vets anyone who wants to join, plus at some point, the site got hacked and Lolita had to basically start all over again. It took a few notes back and forth with her before I was finally invited to join.”

We asked Angie if it was worth the wait?

“It was! I’ve learned so much!

“On average, we have anywhere from 8 to 20 people show up during the zooms. It just all depends on what’s going on for everybody that week, but there’s a core of us of about 15 to 20 who are almost always at a Zoom meeting. Everybody brings something different to the group. For a while, I was the Queen of Poshmark, which is to say, I’m the queen of bad influence.

“I love Poshmark, and I was fixated on that site for a long time because we were in lockdown. But now that we’ve been able to go outside, I always talk about estate sales and flea markets. I’ve learned a lot from this group, and I always have a notebook at hand. I’m constantly taking notes, and the others joke about it, saying, ‘You really need to copy this and give us all a copy.’ Or they’ll say I’m their secretary, or whatever. But it’s really those notes, with brand names or certain pieces of accessories, that have helped me grow in this hobby. I guess in our own way, we’re helping to preserve this vintage history for future generations.

“And it’s not just about women’s wear!

“We also have a gentleman in the group, and he’s extremely knowledgeable about jewelry. He has been a costume jewelry dealer and collector for decades. I came in not knowing much about jewelry, because my costume jewelry collection only had a few pieces. Now, I’ve probably got a couple of hundred pieces, and it’s all through this group’s advice and influence. We educate each other, and that’s what I mean, when I say everybody brings something to the group.”

Including lunch?

VFAST member Angie Dawson: MAAM WWII Weekend 2024 credit Anthony C. Hayes
Angie Dawson proudly shows off her vintage lunchbox. (credit Anthony C. Hayes)

(Angie laughing) “This is our first time traveling here to MAAM and the first time dressing up in WWII fashion. Since we planned on doing a Rosie the Riveter theme today, I started looking for an old-school steel lunch box. I couldn’t find one in California, but when I got here, we went shopping. My husband Brad looked around and said, ‘There are some lunch pills over there.’ I walked over to that bin, and this was sitting right on top with my name on it. And I said, ‘Oh, it’s meant to be!’”

Scrolling through her phone, Angie briefly launched into her own Show & Tell.

“Although it’s not era appropriate, I also got this really great bag. Somebody took an Air Force uniform and created a purse out of it; took all the pockets made into a long strap bag for me to carry. You can see the patch work on the outside. Really, really fantastic.”

With a reenacted battle at the French Village about to begin, Debbie, Andrea, Angie and I settled in for view. Sadly, Wendy was nowhere to be found. We guessed at that moment that she was somewhere across the field, watching the war in the Pacific.

Thirty explosion-filled minutes later, this reporter decided to call it a day.

Angie offered in parting, “I love being in this group, because these are very confident women who know what they want. They know what they like. They’re very strong, and they can stand up for themselves.”

Andrea interjected, “Because your most important accessory is self confidence. You wear that with pride.”

© Copyright 2024 Baltimore Post-Examiner. All Rights Reserved

4 thoughts on “VFAST – California-based Facebook Group Brings Vintage Flair to MAAM

  • June 18, 2024 at 5:05 PM

    Another great article. Thank you very much. It’s always a pleasure working with professionals.
    David and Christina Brown
    Media Coordinators
    World War Two Weekend

  • June 17, 2024 at 11:00 AM

    What a wonderful article! Thank you for covering not just the the reenactment but telling the story of our dearly loved vintage fashion group too! Sorry I couldn’t be there this time but it’s on my calendar for next year as it is already for many VFAST ladies!

  • June 16, 2024 at 3:08 PM

    What a great article! I’m one of the VFAST California contingent who, unfortunately, was unable to travel to MAAM this year, but reading your vivid descriptions of the events & my VFAST sisters was the next best thing to being there. Bravo!

  • June 16, 2024 at 1:17 PM

    Thank you Tony! I’m so happy to have met you and I enjoyed reading this story! Angie


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