Shirley Powers: Making History Cool

I’ve always been a little anti-branding. Even in middle school, my philosophy was that, if I’m going to wear a t-shirt that says Esprit or Guess, they should really pay me for advertising.

Then I wound up at the Red Cross, which has a logo that is strangely chic. I find myself wanting to decorate my house with vintage posters, try on the (incredibly teeny) WWII uniforms and even carry one of the stylish army green field bags…in public.

So yeah, you heard it here first — the Red Cross is, uh, cool. Weird, right?

This explains why I was so excited to meet Shirley Powers last week. Shirley’s official title is Volunteer Historian for Memorabilia, which essentially means that she’s responsible for vintage pins, posters, uniforms and more.

Shirley spends time at the Hazel Braugh Record Center & Archives in Lorton, Virginia, in a warehouse that will be closing in the coming year. She’s categorizing memorabilia by “what must be saved, what should be saved, what would be nice to save and what we don’t need to keep.”

When it comes to uniforms, for example, we need to keep everything from WWI and samples of everything from WWII. What’s leftover will be offered to Red Cross chapters around the country and kept by Shirley for a uniform lending closet that she maintains. The 108 costumes used at the recent Red Cross national convention came straight out of this closet.

Shirley has been documenting Red Cross pins since 1984, posters since 1990 and uniforms since 1992 — she’s been a volunteer for almost 34 years. She publishes guides for collectors and runs a website where people can trade or consign pins.

I’ve gone on long enough, but I want to make sure you see these links, if you didn’t click on them above:

Finally, when and if our chapter ever creates our own PSA campaign, you better believe I’ll be looking at these for inspiration. For a retro aficionado like myself, working at the Red Cross is just about as cool as it gets.