Seattle Stories

Seattle Stories: Finishing School

Once upon a time, when I was 21, I went to Finishing School. I really did. Two evenings a week, after work I attended Carolyn Hansen Fashion College. My classes included fencing, acting, makeup, runway modeling, marketing, photography shoots, location shoots, and since this was 1975, posture, deportment and how-to-be-a-lady classes.

Carolyn Hansen’s school aimed for a well-rounded set of skills, all very pertinent to the era. The fencing classes were excellent; the idea was to teach us how to move with both grace and deliberate intent. Personally, I just liked poking people with a sword.

I had the best time ever, and all those taller models-to-be were not the least bit snarky towards the 5′ 2″ miniature person hanging out with them. Here’s the only surviving picture I have from back then, from a black and white photo shoot which followed a lesson on how to wear makeup for black and white photography. My hairstyle is the result of a giggly classmate twirling finger-twists all over my head and pinning them into place. Wacky but fun! The original photo is a tiny tattered proof, just an inch by two inches. It was a mess, but I had it digitally restored as best as could be done. At the time I weighed 95 pounds. That’s hard to imagine now.

Carolyn Hansen’s was right next door to I. Magnin. It was traditional for the short girl and her tall future-famous friends to window-dream over the luxury designer dresses we couldn’t afford, before going our separate ways for the evening.

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Lori Alden Holuta lives between the cornfields of Mid-Michigan, where she grows vegetables and herbs when she’s not writing, editing, or playing games with a cat named Chives.


  • Diana Malcolm

    I attended Carolyn Hansen Fashion College in early 1977. I still climb stairs and get in a car the way I was taught! I learned to pick out clothes, paint my nails, skin care, etc. I remember the instructor wore the cutest espadrilles shoes! I would drive to downtown, circle the block looking for free parking, attend night class, go out into Seattle and night and drive home to Gig Harbor. At age 17. Seems incredible today

    • Lori Alden Holuta

      Wow! I admire your commitment to put up with that commute! For me, I was working full-time just a few blocks north of downtown Seattle. I’d take a bus to Frederick and Nelson and walk the short way to the school. After class, I’d continue on the bus up Capitol Hill, where I had an apartment. Lots of my daily little habits even today started from my Carolyn Hansen training.

  • Pauline

    Hi Lori,

    I was just trying to figure out what happened to that school. I went to the school in Bellevue I think it was a couple of nights a week. with every once in a while going to the Seattle location. We learned about fashion and colors, runway makeup and we exercised. I had dreams about becoming a fashion designer. I was pretty good at sewing in those days even though my sewing machine came from Goodwill. The sewing machine had a wheel on one side that you had to manually turn to make it go. In fact, when everyone was sewing an apron in junior high, I was sewing a shirt, with a yoke gathered sleeves and crisp cuffs. I think going to Carolyn Hansen improved my confidence. It made me feel seen after my parents divorce. I think it was around 1979. Now I’m going to read your book reviews.

    • Lori Alden Holuta

      I love hearing from others who attended Carolyn Hansen! I was there a few years before you, and yes, it was two nights a week – Tuesday and Thursday as I recall. My main goal was to a) have fun and b) put a little polish on my clumsy bumpkin self. I accomplished my goals. I loved the fencing class, and the acting class with it’s improvisational exercises helped me get over my shyness. At 5’2″ I had to explain, often, to other students that they’d have no threat of competition from me for modeling gigs. πŸ™‚ I’m happy you found value in the school too.

  • Carol Shaffer

    Hi Lori!

    I too, went to Carolyn Hansen Fashion College from 1976-77. I still have photos from the photo shoot that we did where we dressed up in old fashioned dresses! And I have my diploma as well, but best of all, some great memories.

    This is too funny–the way I came across your post. I was looking in my recipe box to figure out something different to cook for dinner today, and on the back side of a piece of paper was a recipe for Deep Fried Prawns and some sort of pork dish (I can tell from my handwriting it is from “yesteryear”)–lol. When I flipped the page over, I found a printout of an 8 week mini-program for Basic Personal Development, that mirrors just what we did at Carolyn Hansen’s. But the header on this paper says, “Patricia Stevens Modeling & Personal Development”. Then I looked at the address…”614 Pine Street, Seattle WA 98101″–so I googled that, and I couldn’t find any reference to the address, but I found your post showing I. Magnin next door, and I googled “I Magnin Seattle address”, and found that it was located at 601 Pine Street, and that you went to Carolyn Hansen’s too!

    Anyway, I think Patricia Stevens was not the same address as Carolyn Hansen’s, but it was in the vicinity. What I really thought was interesting was the list of classes in the mini-program…they are just what I recall we covered in our Basic Personal Development classes.

    I don’t know if you know this too, but Carolyn Hansen eventually went to prison for mail fraud. I don’t know what she was selling through the mail, but she got caught. I found this out from a lady that worked on the management staff named “Bonnie”, that I ran into years later when she was working at Nordstrom Bellevue. When my mother and I signed me up for the college, we were sold on the idea that they would become accredited, and I could transfer my credits to a formal college Like U of WA or Bellevue College. What a farce–that never came to fruition.

    Still, the experience was a lot of fun, and I have some great memories and stories to share if you’re ever bored and want someone to reminisce with. I don’t mind a phonecall–my number is (425) 943-0568. Or you can just email…if you email me, I can share my photos and this mini-program with you for fun.

    I’m so bored here in Bellevue…I live alone and we have had smoke keeping us inside due to a fire east of Monroe. It’s going to be in the upper 70’s today, but I can’t go outside as the air is rated “unhealthy”. I feel like I’m in prison in my own home! But I’m ok. I’ll go shopping and cook for fun.

    This is probably too much for you–you don’t even know me. But if you care to reply, feel free. And if not, well, I hope you enjoyed this message.

    Carol πŸ™‚

    • Lori Alden Holuta

      Carol, I am DELIGHTED to see your reply to one of my ‘Seattle Stories’! I honestly didn’t think they’d be of interest to anyone but myself. I’ve been trying to put down my memories of living in Seattle from 1971-1991 so that they aren’t lost to the mists of time and mind. I get terribly homesick, and recalling my adventures makes me feel better, and is fun, too. I’m hoping to find the time to write a full memoir and publish it one of these days. I’d LOVE to see any photos or paperwork you care to share with me! I no longer have my gigantic three-ring binder we all carried with us everywhere, so I have to rely on my memory. I’ll shoot you an email in a bit as well, and we can continue chattering that way, all right?

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