Friday, October 21, 2016

Breathtaking Bespoke Boots, c. 1890s

Oh my! I have written about these bodacious boots before (Here), but last week had the opportunity to view them in person as part of the “Fashion Victims” exhibition at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, on view through January 2017. (
Note the sculptured heel; soft velvet pile paired with the smooth, gold leather
While they are visually arresting in published photos, seeing them up close was a very different experience. The level of artisanry, the luxury of the materials and the whimsy found in the overall design, is exceptional.
As noted by the Curator, Elizabeth Semmelhack, the gold kid leather appliqué and velvet are 'erotically charged' and they resemble a stockinged leg. Even a glimpse beneath a skirt would have been tantalizing. They are most likely of Swedish or German make, from c.1890s.

One wonders if these bespoke boots were ordered by a specific client or were perhaps ‘show off’ piece meant for display at an exposition.  In any event, they are truly stunning. I hope you enjoy the photos I captured during my visit.

All photographs by Kimberly Alexander; courtesy of the Bata Shoe Museum

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Pocketbook For Benjamin Stuart, 1763

This vibrant crewel pocketbook was made for Benjamin Stuart of Boston and is dated 1763. It is held in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society ( The pocketbook features a brightly hued pastoral view with vining flowers, bird, and goats. Several large blossoms catch the eye. The wool thread is worked on linen, and features a dazzling interior, lined with silk. The wool threads have remained vivid, as has the yellow-gold silk lining (the silk is possibly from China.)

While the owner is known, the maker is anonymous. Items such as this were often made by young women for their fathers, beloveds, or for themselves. As noted by MHS Curator, Anne Bentley, the large size of the pocketbook was fashioned to accommodate old tenor currency.

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Light-Weight Wedding Corset by the Hummingbird True Fit Co.

One of the many items on exhibit for “I Do, I Do: Seacoast Brides Say Yes” is a light-weight wedding/trousseau corset by 'Hummingbird True Fit Co.' It is of stiffened cotton with steel boning. Worn in the late 19th or early 20th century, it was painstakingly repaired by a member of the Newmarket Historical Society board.

The wedding corset in the collection most likely belonged to Martha Julia Elliott. Martha was born July 26, 1899 in Yonkers, N.Y., and died in Newmarket on October 22, 1982. Her glamorous lace wedding dress and ivory wool going away suit survive as well.
Another example of this type of light weight corset, manufactured by the same company, was sold at Augusta Auctions and extant examples are in museum collections such as the Metropolitan Museum.

With today’s interest in waist training – often associated with work out sessions at the gym --you can still purchase a similar corset.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

An Exceptional Embroidered Silk Waistcoat Worn by Lt. Gov. William Tailer, 1720s-1730s

Lieutenant Governor William Tailer’s Embroidered Silk Waistcoat (by 1730)

As part of my research fellowship at the Massachussetts Historical Society, I spent time examining two waistcoats in the collection – one owned by Andrew Oliver and the other by William Tailer. Lt. Gov. 
William Tailer's stunning embroidered waistcoat with metallic thread and spangles, c. 1720-1730, is housed in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.  Born into the wealthy Stoughton family, he served as Lt. Gov. of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. Tailer died in 1731/32. He was the father of Rebecca Tailer (Byles) whose 1747 wedding dress is also preserved at the MHS, along with family papers, letters and copy books, adding to the rich documentation available for this merchant elite Boston-based family.

The embroidery is on a heavy white/off white silk and is complex, with naturalistic rococo floral motifs, including some lovely shading of the leaves and flowers. Most likely from England or from France, inspection reveals the garment was altered - let-out- in the sides and along the neck/shoulders to accommodate Tailer’s increasing girth. The alterations were skillfully done and would not have been visible under his coat. 

The waistcoat features actual pockets (rather than ornamental pocket flaps). The buttons are backed by gold foil and feature metallic thread over a wood core. The buttonholes are meticulously finished, also with gold thread.
The waistcoat is in fine condition and I will share more as my research progresses.

Thank you to Curator Anne Bentley for her assistance and for sharing her knowledge.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A Victorian Favorite: Special Occasion Shoes by Viault-Este, Paris

Such pretties -- a wedding shoe and a dancing slipper of silk, satin, ribbons, lace, and leather, c. 1860. They were manufactured by Viault-Este, a prolific mid-19th century French shoe concern. 
Note the wear marks on the footbed.
They joined with London-based Thierry, and greatly expanded their exports, during the 1850s. Their labeled, special occasion ladies shoes are found in dozens of American collections. With an elegant, stylish appeal, they were a go-to shoe for middle to upper middle class Victorian women. A knock on heel kept costs down and the ability to personalize them made them attractive to customers.
These two shoes (one each of a pair) were worn in New England by Sarah Dutton (Leverett) Tuttle (b. 1835.) The wedding shoes feature a delicate ribbon and lace rosette, while the dancing shoe is accented with a cheerful pink silk bow.

The shoes are in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society ( Acc. # 0836.01-.02

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Abigail Adams and Her Dimity Pocket, late 18th Century

I look forward to beginning my tenure as the Andrew Oliver Research Fellow for 2016-2017 at the Massachusetts Historical Society ( in August.  Recently, while on site mapping out my research strategy with the curator, Anne Bentley, I was fortunate to take a bit of a detour and view an accessory associated with Abigail Adams (1744-1818), the second First Lady of the United States. [1
The MHS has a pieced dimity pocket, which belonged to her in the late 18th century. The pocket is 14 inches long and comprised of eight pieces of dimity. 
According to family tradition, she may have used the pocket into the early 19th. The maker is unknown. Cotton tapes serve as ties. It is its very simplicity and functionality which renders the piece so striking. There is no excess, nothing which is not needed for its intended use. [2]

According to Eighteen Maxims of Neatness and Order, written by Theresa Tidy in 1819, the essentials for a pocket include:
It is also expedient to carry about you a purse, a thimble, a pincushion, a pencil, a knife and a pair of scissors, which will not only be an inexpressible source of comfort and independence, by removing the necessity of borrowing, but will secure the privilege of not lending these indispensable articles. [3]

My project “Reading Textiles as Text: An Examination of Pre-1750s Survivals at MHS” will set the experiences of fashion, consumerism and consumption within a cosmopolitan Atlantic world that carried the elegant fancies of fashionable London to the gentility of provincial British America. The garments and textiles housed at the MHS offer insights into the ongoing debate over the process of Anglicization in pre-Revolutionary America. I will share information as the research unfolds.

1.    For the Adams papers, see:

2.    For additional information on the pocket, see:

3.    For information on pockets, see:

My thanks to Curator, Anne Bentley, for her ongoing assistance with MHS textiles.