This past February the producers for the NBC pilot "Frontier" ordered a significant amount of 19th Century clothing from a Montana woman, Elaine Bridge. The filming is taking place currently on location in Australia. The Corvallis resident sewed four buckskin coats, seven buckskin pants, belts, shirts and 16 aprons as well as other miscellaneous items for the producers.
At a picnic table outside in the spring sunshine Elaine shared her story. Elaine's story and style are so similar to pioneer diaries that give a glimpse into real authentic women that persevered against the odds.
The book More Than Petticoats, about remarkable Montana women, by Gayle C. Shirley could also contain Elaine's story and pioneer spirit. "There are unwritten chapters in the history of every new settlement, which no pen will ever write, but could they be written, they would tell of many heroines as well as heroes, women as brave and deserving of credit as those who landed from the Mayflower. They have had much to do in "winning the west," and a higher civilization has always followed closely in the footsteps of the woman pioneer." - Lucia Darling Park 1839-1905.
"I was born in Chicago, but it never felt like home to me. I was born in the wrong century and the wrong place and I knew it." she admitted. Elaine is a devoted wife to her loving husband Loren Bridge. The couple resides in the Bitterroot Valley. Elaine feels blessed with her second chance at life and love. Her eyes light up when she speaks about her husband. "Loren encourages me, supports me and wants me to be everything God wants me to be," Elaine acknowledges "I'm flying. He is like the wind under my wings," she continued.
Their home includes modern conveniences, electronic technology and 11 different sewing machines that operate around their 19th Century clothing business- but they both look like characters from the old west. They prefer dressing in turn of the century style clothing from 1800-1899. The Bridges were married on October 22, 2005 in historic period clothing. Elaine wore a Civil War era jacket and skirt of burgundy moiré trimmed with black Venice lace and braided gimp. Loren wore a pinstriped frock coat and trousers with a white standup collar shirt, vest and burgundy cravat tie and black stovepipe boots.
Elaine Christine (Panos) Bridge is quick to say, "to God be the glory" when telling her story. She and Loren share a deep faith in God. She was born in 1951 and is a first generation American on her paternal side. Her paternal relatives escaped and then immigrated from Hlomo, Albania, near Greece, after the war. On her mother's side, she is a second generation Greek American. "I'm very proud of the fact my family came here and made it "their" country.”
Elaine was raised behind Andy's Shoe Repair on Fulteron Ave. in Chicago. She lived in a small apartment behind the family business. Elaine has fond memories of her grandparents Andrew and Daisy Chresaidos. Elaine explained that making a pattern and sewing shoes is very similar to sewing clothing from a pattern.
Elaine's maternal grandmother, Daisy, raised her from the time she was 17 months until she was 9 years old. She remembers sitting on her grandfather’s knee and being told, "You can be anything you want to be, you are an American," she recalls. Elaine remembers how that statement gave her the confidence to study, learn and prepare to do something with her life. Grandmother Daisy was later diagnosed with Multiple Scoliosis and Elaine was removed from her home to live with her biological mother. Under difficult circumstances young Elaine grew.
Elaine said, "I come from hardy stock," when you hold onto God and don't quit you will prosper. Elaine strives to be a Proverbs 31 woman. "She (Proverbs 31 woman) sewed, was a business woman but also kept her household clothed in fine garments and in order."
Elaine was a bright child- so bright that she taught herself to sew at a young age and skipped the fourth grade. By age eight she remembers picking up a needle. When Elaine was 11, her mother purchased a sewing machine that came with six free lessons. After two lessons her mother was frustrated with sewing. She insisted Elaine take the remaining four lessons. "I am completely self taught. I see a pile of fabric and see the garment," she finished. "I made all my own clothes," Elaine explained. The first piece Elaine sold was a christening gown for $100 when she was 13 years old. Her launch for the rest of her life came through her first job at the Common Wealth Edison after graduating high school. CWE was an electric company where she was an Accounting Clerk at age 17 years old. Her love and passion for sewing continued on the side.
Fast forward to the mid-1970s and Elaine, raised in Chicago, ends up in living on the Wyoming prairie with three small children and no running water or electricity. How did this happen? Two weeks after her 18th birthday Elaine was married. Her entire paycheck was placed in savings for the purchase of property in Wyoming her first husband found. Whatever Elaine made sewing on the side was her spending money.
Elaine settled outside of Greybull, Wyoming with her husband, young son James Arthur and pregnant with her second child, David Andrew. She was a country girl at heart. However, she had no modern conveniences like running water or electricity in her home.
"I had fewer conveniences than the characters on Little House on the Prairie, " she commented, comparing how the Ingalls family had a well pump on their homestead. Elaine hauled water daily in five-gallon containers from town. Greybull was an eight mile round trip. She hauled water for a year with a little child, an eight-month-old baby and while expecting her third son Daniel Thomas. The daily water commute lasted over a year, near the hub of the Big Horn basin at 3600 feet high dessert altitude.
Elaine credits her three sons for launching her sewing business. She gained experience by sewing their clothing from infancy through their youth. "I sewed all of my family’s clothing, traded sewing for fresh vegetables and kept sewing on the side for money," she mentioned. The Proverbs 31 woman again gained significance in her life. Like the Biblical character, Elaine clothed her family
In 1989, Elaine suffered a broken neck in a roller over car accident. Miraculously she survived having broken C6 in three places on Halloween morning. She remembers hitting the only black ice in the state of Wyoming. "That was the beginning of a change," she recalled.
In 1991, Elaine decided to open a shop in Greybull, WY. Her first shop, Wyoming Classics, was filled with a variety of merchandise selling decorated t-shirts and crafts. She rented the space for $250 per month, which was in front of a Taxidermy business. "It smelled," Elaine commented.
However, her seamstress ability created the avenue for her present day period clothing business Bridge Over Time & Wyoming Classics. "I love history," she said and her love of history can be found across the world on garments worn by people from all walks of life. Catering to this niche market began after creating a special gown for one of her clients. The bride was marrying a Buffalo Bill actor and wanted a historical dress designed. The wedding took place at the Wilma Hotel in Cody, Wyoming with 3,000 guests in attendance.
Twenty years after Elaine started her business Bridge Over Time & Wyoming Classics, a piece of her hand-sewn clothing ended up in the NBC property department in California. Each item she creates includes a custom label hand sewn into the garment. Today, whether her clients desire an entire wardrobe or just one specialty item, Elaine can create it and sew it tailored to their body frame. Her clientele is from all walks of life and includes actors and actresses from Hollywood to the New York Metropolitan Opera stage.
"The most rewarding job I ever did…a client whose granddaughter with Down’s Syndrome needed an outfit for the National Special Olympics banquet," Elaine shared. The pair had come to her store looking for a cowgirl outfit to go along with the cowboy themed party. When the granddaughter tried on her tailor made outfit she spun around and said, "Grama, I'm so beautiful. I'm a cowgirl." Elaine acknowledged it was probably the first time the girl used the expression about her beauty.
Another young lady with Cerebral Palsy took sewing lessons from Elaine for nine years. Elaine would sew alongside the young lady operating the foot pedal of the machine. The special needs youth would say, "more more or less less" when she needed Elaine to operate the pedal. The young lady went on to model in her wheelchair in the State 4-H competition and won.
Then there was an Autistic student who insisted that the store mannequins, aka “dummies,” be called “smarties.” The Autistic student felt it hurt the mannequin’s feelings to be insulted as dummies, explained Elaine. The school caseworker/special ed teacher had tried every placement manageable in Greybull prior to Elaine's store. The Autism characteristics were ever present, including the lack of eye contact and stinted verbal communication and fear of heights and strangers. The student exceeded her caseworker's expectations and bloomed under Elaine’s kindness and direction. They discovered this student was a sorter. At first she had her sort the 500 threads in Wyoming Classics, then ribbons and other notions "We all learned something from the student," Elaine referenced of herself and staff. During the three years the student was present in her store she became more verbal. One day the student said, "I'm dressing Mary now. She is going to teach school," referencing the mannequin she was outfitting in a pioneer dress. The student named each of the "smarties" after Little House on the Prairie characters and she started talking to the customers when they came in to shop.
Figuring out a pattern for material is Elaine's gift. She now feels she has a pattern for her own life, which she adores. In addition she is gifted with using the special talent that each person has inside them. "I really just like to help the people I am working with reach their full potential. Loren says I am a people builder," Elaine states.
Her pioneer spirit comes alive when she makes the turn of the century clothing. " I still want to be that Proverbs 31 woman who sews and has a business and takes care of the needs of her family as I always wanted to be.... that is really the overall motivation I have and the single solid thread that runs through my whole life.”