Chic side of CLU’s ‘first lady’

March 13, 2013 — Features

Items left to CLU by Beyer include two fur coats, mink stoles, a pink Moroccan kaftan with gold metal buttons and loops, and an informal yukata, or variety of kimono.

“Always dressed to the nines,” CLU’s long-serving first employee, Ethel Beyer, regularly donated clothing to help women go out for job interviews, according to former campus pastor Gerry Swanson.

Both that generosity and the sense of style remained in evidence after Beyer’s death last November at the age of 104. She left her estate toward a performing arts building on campus, and, well, just look at the shoulders on that black fur coat.

Since her visit to Beyer’s home to rescue clothing and accessories for the Theatre Arts Department, lecturer Valerie Miller has been getting to know Beyer, whom she never met in person, by way of the “Lady GaGa–esque” longhair coat and other wardrobe highlights.

“She strikes me as a person who was very fashion-forward, someone willing to take a lot of risks with her wardrobe,” said Miller, a theatrical costume specialist who also teaches courses on makeup. “Things that may have been a little avant-garde back in her day are very timely, very trendy right now.”

Along with accessories and two fur coats, Miller retrieved two mink stoles that stare back at you, a pink Moroccan kaftan with gold metal buttons and loops from neck to hem, and an informal yukata, or variety of kimono, that she imagines Beyer used as a dressing gown.

Because Beyer’s “museum-quality” items have historical value and sentimental worth for CLU, Miller won’t be using them in stage productions. She “might consider” loaning a piece or two out for a short time, perhaps to appear in a student film. Miller presides as a kind of lending librarian over a stock of more than 1,000 complete costumes from different eras.

“Students being as they are, and theater being as active and intense as it can be, a lot of clothing, especially vintage clothing, tends to break down. And it would just kill me if any of Ethel’s pieces were destroyed,” she said.

Although Beyer cared about fashion and kept up with trends, she was not one to make big entrances, according to her friend Alan Scott, who was CLU’s registrar for many years. Her sense of style was about elegance and taking care of herself and of things, including eight hats that Miller brought back in their boxes. More often, the department receives “leftovers” as donations – to be sorted with existing bins of fabric, zippers, vintage suits and dresses.

Clothes by no means make the woman, but Beyer’s attention to every article is one reminder of what she brought to CLU in 1957. She “wore out more shoes,” as she remarked, on errands between the ranch house and the chicken coops under renovation. The chicken coops were meant to be temporary, but many years afterward, with a few touches, Swanson said, Beyer could make them “look like executive offices of a Wall Street bank.”