2 women on stage presenting vintage 1950s dresses.
Speaker Sue McLain discusses 1950s fashion alongside a dress model. Photo courtesy of SheriLynne Hansen, Humanities Nebraska.

Women’s fashion is constantly evolving. Certain pieces, such as ‘90’s mom jeans, come in and out of style. 

Vintage garment collector Susan McClain, (better known as Sue), said she has loved clothing, accessories and glamour ever since she was a little girl. 

“I used to play dress-up in my mom’s closet,” McClain said. “She had the most wonderful, vintage items.”

McClain, originally from York, said she had the urge to open a vintage clothing museum and shop for people with the same passion for fashion as her.

The Victorian museum and store, Yesterday’s Lady, opened in 1991 in Beatrice, where McClain currently lives.

“When I first started collecting, and my collection was growing, my house was just not big enough,” she said. “We needed a place for my clothes.”

McClain and her husband then started to look for a place where her vintage collection could be displayed to the public. 

“My husband and I had an old 1887 Victorian building restored. It used to be a drug store, and it became my shop,” McClain said.

The shop, Yesterday’s Lady, is filled will hundreds of vintage items dating back from 1870 to the 1990s. 

Besides being a collector, McClain is also a well-known public speaker and travels the Midwest, such as Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, and the region, doing programs and discussing the importance of the history of fashion. 

Some of her favorite decades to present and discuss are the 1950s and 1960s. McClain said she feels that 1950s fashion resonates with her own personal style. She has always been inspired by iconic style figures like Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy.

“One of my favorite shows is Chautauqua. Last summer I got the chance to put on a fashion show, all 50s themed, in Ashland, Nebraska,” McClain said. “I got to work with a high school cheer team and they were my models. It was fun to work with models of all different ages.”

McClain’s vintage collection consists of beachwear, lingerie, evening wear and ball gowns.

“It is so important to incorporate the younger generations, and let them model for me, so they can appreciate the history of the clothes,” McClain said. 

Mary Yager, the director of programming at Humanities Nebraska, discovered McClain’s speaking talents and asked her to become a permanent speaker for HN in 2003.

“At HN, our speaker’s bureau consisted of many political presenters, poets, and writers, but no one who knew about vintage clothes, as Sue does,” Yager said.

Yager has been working with McClain ever since and helped her present to more than 400 audiences reaching tens of thousands of Nebraskans.

“Sue brings the history of fashion to life with a narrative accompanied by her collection of vintage clothes from the 1840s to the 1970s. She educates and entertains audiences with stories of the relationship between societal history and clothing styles and designs with examples from each decade,” Yager said.

Working alongside Yager is the director of communications at HN, SheriLynne Hansen. Hansen is the one who films McClain at her shows and posts on social media promoting the various programs.

“We try to showcase a stunning photo and pair it with a little-known fact from Sue that makes people want to learn more,” Hansen said.

Despite having a passion for photography and video editing, Hansen explained how attending the programs in person and appreciating the clothing is really why she enjoys attending the events.

“Photos really don’t do justice to the clothing,” Hansen said. “There are so many intricacies that are best appreciated in person. The hard part for me is not joining the audience in ooohing and awwing over the clothing instead of setting up a good shot.”

With the help of HN, the many fans of vintage clothes in Nebraska, and attendees visiting Yesterday’s Lady on a daily basis, McClain can do what she loves to do, talk about history through iconic clothing items. 

Yesterday’s Lady is located at 113 N Fifth St. in Beatrice. The shop/museum is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.