Delaware member shows passion for historical and vintage fashion


Karen Jessee


Karen Jessee and Thomas Tear dressed for a performance.

I met Karen Jessee this year at the NFPW conference in Salt Lake City. She was one of our first-time attendees and she immediately fit in. She stayed for the NFPW post-tour to the Moab area and that is when I learned about her passion for women’s historical and vintage fashion and how she performs in two shows for the Delaware Humanities Forum.  Learn more about this unique, unbelievable member from Delaware.

Name: Karen Jessee

City and State:  Wilmington, Delaware

Years a member of NFPW and positions : Events Coordinator for the Delaware Press Association.  I have been a member of  NFPW for a year now and just attended my first conference in Utah.  When people asked what I thought of it, my only response was “More…; more friendly, more professional, more informative and more helpful than I could have ever expected.”  It may be my first; it is surely not my last.

Briefly tell us a little about you.

I was an educator for 30 years; nominated twice for Teacher of the Year and recipient of the NBC National Teacher Award.  Once retired, I began my own business as a professional organizer.  I became a writer on the subject of getting and staying organized for Living Well magazine which led to speaking opportunities and workshops.  I am also a speaker on women’s historical dressing and have two shows with the Delaware Humanities Forum: The Way We Wore: 200 years of the feminine silhouette which covers everything from bustles to bellbottoms, and  Close to the Vest & Under the Skirt: the dresses and dressing of the 1860s lady and gentleman, which I perform with Thomas Tear.  In each case, I connect the dots between women, the history that influenced their fashion, and the clothes that tell their story.

I switched careers because I took the time to make “the list”…the list of what I would and would not do for the next 10 or 15 years of my life after years in the classroom.  I embraced that list and it became prophetic.  I became an organizer because I met a man who was going through a series of disasters and had no time to pull his new home together.  On a whim, I suggested that he should hire me. He loved my work and when he told me I should make this my next career,  I looked up “professional organizing” and discovered that the National Association of Professional Organizers was having a convention in 3 weeks.  I bought the plane ticket, took the courses, crossed a lot of palms with silver and invested the money and time required to reinvent myself.  Make the list.  Know what you will and will not do.  Be open to new ideas and opportunities and be flexible.

If I could have any talent, it would be the ability to sing, to have that crystal clear sound issue forth to give life to music.   I lost much of my hearing in my 30s due to an illness, and lost years of music and whatever voice I had…not that it was ever anything great.   Today, I can croak out a tune with the best of frogs.

I’m pretty happy living in Wilmington; it’s a small, manageable and affordable city where I live close to the opera house, theatres, the art museum, restaurants and a great deal of convenience. There’s an extension of the University of Delaware down the road from me. Philly, New York and Washington are a train ride away.

What book are you currently reading?

I’ve just started the book I won at the silent auction at the NFPW convention!. Thank you to the lovely person who put The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani on the table.  I bid on it because the woman on the cover was wearing a fabulous red dress, but you have introduced me to a new writer.  I’m hoping to read more of her works.  I just finished Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw.

I’m a collector of women’s historical and vintage fashion and accessories. I’ve traveled twice to England for historical fashion study and to participate in the Jane Austen Promenade where thousands of people dress in Regency attire and parade through the streets of Bath England. As one who is the master of the glue gun but not the needle, I was in awe of the many women on the trip who could have been considered professional seamstresses.  Two of the women had their works in museums. I came home with behind-the-scenes photographs of corsets and bustles that became a part of my shows, but that still make me wonder how women wore such things.  Pictured are my 1870s wedding gown and an x-ray of a fully-boned corset.

Being a part of the Delaware Press Association and the NFPW has been the golden opportunity to meet the most remarkable people with the most remarkable stories.  At a recent DPA luncheon, I learned that the man sitting next to me had begun work as a garbage man and was now a celebrated artist.  He was a decorated Vietnam vet and spoke of a myriad of other jobs that afforded him remarkable social connections.  By the end of the lunch I wanted to be his biographer.  I can duplicate that awe in people and their stories at almost every gathering.

You can find Karen on Facebook, but that’s about it.  Here are two websites; the latter is in development: and

She is looking forward to seeing all of you in South Carolina where women in hoops and petticoats abound.

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One Comment on “Delaware member shows passion for historical and vintage fashion”

  1. Gloria Watkins Says:

    Karen sounds like an awesome woman! We are so happy that she is a member of NFPW and I look forward to seeing her in South Carolina in 2014!

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