Friday, August 4, 2017

Two Views of the Same Georgian Shoes, c. 1730-40s

I have long been enamored of these cheerful, chipper shoes, housed in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. They are visually pleasing with a balanced design. These linen canvas shoes are embroidered with colored wools in cross stitch and tent stitch, and feature a short heel and latchets (or straps) for buckles to fasten them. From Great Britain, c. 1730s-40s; the wearer and maker are unknown.
As I prepare to curate an exhibit at in 2018, I have been thinking a good deal about photography and presentation of costume over time. I find both the V&A and the Metropolitan Museum good sites for such exploration as they have been documenting their collections over an extended period of time. I will be returning to this theme over the next 18 months, but thought you might enjoy considering your response to these two photographs of the same shoes. Does the photographic style change or influence your response? Do you have a preference between an artistically photographed vision and the more documentary style? Note the wear apparent at the heel and the toe; the turned up, pointed toe; the white rand, and the straps for buckles are much more visible in the second photo. There is drama associated with the single shoe which appears suspended in a beautiful blue backdrop, and with its saturated color, may appeal to contemporary audiences. Both images convey different features and qualities – some which may appeal more to one audience over another.  Taken together, the differing photos provide a fuller portrait.

For more, see the Victoria and Albert Museum:…/O74390/pair-of-shoes-unknown/

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Embellishments in Victorian Fashion: Exhibition, Saco Museum

On view at the Saco Museum, Saco, Maine 
May 13 - August 27, 2017

Sumptuous fabrics, vibrant colors and textures, masses of elaborate trims - all are defining elements of fashionable Victorian women's clothing. Nineteenth-century designers had very definite ideas of what constituted beauty, and these concepts had a widespread impact on art and design. Embellishments in Victorian Fashion focuses on how nineteenth-century aesthetics influenced women's clothing design and construction.  A variety of Victorian design concepts are examined in detail, including self-trim, color and texture contrasts, ruching, pleating, ribbon work, and asymmetry.

Curator Astrida Schaeffer notes: “This is a greatly expanded exhibition from the original Embellishments show, exploring the nine design building blocks with garments from five institutions. For most of the clothes, this is a rare opportunity to be seen by the public, and having them together in this way not only showcases their beauty, but gives the elements of their design a context. In a way, the exhibition is a giant scavenger hunt — is that piping there? Look at that texture contrast! The wonderful techniques and the textures, fabrics, and colors offer an inspiration for anyone interested in fashion and design.”

The exhibition features fifty garments from five institutions in Maine and New Hampshire: the Saco Museum, the Irma Bowen Textile Collection of the University of New Hampshire, the Portsmouth Historical Society, Strawbery Banke Museum, and the Woodman Institute of Dover, New Hampshire. 
 Astrida Schaeffer has been making reproduction historical clothing since 1986 and museum mannequins since 1998. Her recent book, Embellishments: Constructing Victorian Detail, focused on the UNH Irma Bowen collection and has received high praise. Astrida holds a Master of Arts in History from the University of New Hampshire with a focus on material culture and museum studies, and was assistant director at the UNH Museum of Art for ten years, where she was responsible for collections care, exhibition installation, and object preparation. She trained in mannequin production at the Textile Conservation Center in Lowell, MA and with the Northern States Conservation Center.

How Victorians Got So Fancy
Friday, August 18, 6:00 p.m. 

How Victorians Got So Fancy will be the final program in our Embellishments in Victorian Fashion summer exhibit. In this program, guest curator Astrida Schaeffer will focus on the silvery grey 1870s day dress made and owned by Celestia Freeman of Somersworth, New Hampshire. Freeman was the wife of a mill overseer who likely saw this dress as a way of marking her status in the new community she moved to with her husband. Schaeffer will use Freeman's well preserved dress to explore the development of the sewing machine, the importance of pre-made patterns, and the effects of the fashion magazine industry. 

For more about Astrida Schaeffer and Schaeffer Arts, see:

For details about the exhibition and the Saco Museum, see:

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Lecture: "'For the heat is beyond your conception:' Dressing for the Heat in the Eighteenth Century"

On Thursday, July 13, join Neal Hurst, Associate Curator, Costumes and Textiles, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for an illustrated lecture, entitled  "'For the heat is beyond your conception:' Dressing for the Heat in the Eighteenth Century"

Held at Historic Deerfield Community Center. Free.
Sponsored by Bank of America
For additional information, see:

Image: Natural cotton breeches, Tazewell, 1770-1810
Origin: America, Virginia
Waist: 37 3/4" to 41" OL: 29" Inseam: 17" Selvage width of textile: 13 3/4"
Cream tabby weave cotton, lined with tabby linen.
@Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Museum Purchase, Acc. No. 1991-563

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Versatility of a Victorian Farm Wife’s Wedding or Best Dress

 The Newmarket Historical Society, Newmarket, NH held an exhibition of wedding dresses from New England, housed in the collection of the Society. The exhibition was on view from June-August 2016. Most of the wedding dresses were modest, and many were sewn by family members (well into the 1970s)—mothers, sisters, aunts.

Among what we consider the traditional wedding finery, were two “best” dresses –most likely worn for the respective bride’s weddings—one by the mother and the other by her daughter.  Both married farmers. [[1]]

The mother was Phoebe Marie Prime, who married Benjamin Philo Downs, January 25th 1843 in South Britain, CT.  She died at an early age, probably of consumption. Her daughter, Emma Marie Downs, was raised by her aunt and guardian. Anticipating disapproval from her aunt, Emma and her husband to be, David Chester Platt, ran away to get married. They married on December 28th, 1874 in New York, and ultimately resided in her hometown, South Britain, CT. The ending, however, is a happy one. At a later point, her guardian felt it was prudent to save face in the town and gave the newlyweds a very large reception.

Emma’s “best” dress is extant. Clearly well-worn, her cotton print dress dates from the last quarter 19th century.  The dress features a fitted, integral bodice. Adjustable interior ties at the waist may indicate that the dress was also designed to serve as maternity wear.

In addition to her ‘best’ dress, a simple blue and white checked cotton gown survives from the late 19th century, and so does one of her husband’s waistcoats. Both garments exhibit straight forward practicality, and modest materials, with little if any additional embellishments. They are clearly well 
worn and functional.

[1] The dresses are in the collection of the Tarbox family, on loan to the Newmarket Historical Society

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Fashionable Folks: What New Englanders Wore, 1830s-1920s

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit 'What New Englanders Wore, 1830s-1920s'  on view at The Colonel Paul Wentworth House Rollinsford, New Hampshire Curated by Julia Roberts.

The Col. Paul House is a great destination spot for a Sunday ramble around New Hampshire. The house and the exhibit are open Sundays 1-4 through October 8th 2017.  For details, see