Saturday, January 26, 2013

Babs & Her Friends: 1953 Glamour Girls Dancing Dolls

I recently came across this 1953 Glamour Girls Paper Dancing Dolls book at a flea market in near perfect condition. It has been waiting on my desk, patiently, for a post. Published by the Merrill Company of Chicago (“Fine Books for Children”), this is one of a myriad of paper doll books produced by the company and many others, including editions featuring Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth.

Girls could select Elizabeth Taylor or even Lucy (from 1964, Lucille Ball) paper doll book. A fashion time capsule, the publications were available at a reasonable cost and stoked the imagination of a glamorous life of stage and screen. Certainly, paper doll books and collections instilled a visual language of what constituted “glamour” and physical beauty in the pre - Barbie era (launched March 9, 1959 and created by Ruth Handler.)  The combinations of costumes available, as illustrated in the book, were somewhat scanty: the undergarments for example, consisted of lacy tap panties, black bras with gloves and heels. Some of the ensembles were similar to ones my grandmother wore - such as the mink stole which well dressed ladies wore even to shop at the A& P outside of Washington DC, into the 1960s; while others, such as Babs proto “I dream of Jeannie” harem costume, were nothing if not exotic. While the shoes were not strictly speaking stilettos, they certainly gave a knowing nod to the footwear first known as “stiletto daggers” in the 1930s and popularized during the 1940s by designer Andre Perugia (1893-1977). Long diaphanous robes, feather "fascinators,” fruit-topped hats and creative bags were available to accessorize your doll. Babs is my personal favorite - with her trim figure, rosy cheeks and slightly startled, doe-eyed gaze - the designer gave her a choice wardrobe from which to select many ensembles throughout the day

The paper doll genre is one with which I am unfamiliar. During my childhood, my sisters and I preferred 3-D dolls like Madame Alexander, Dawn, and Chrissy. It was not surprising to learn that paper dolls were first manufactured in the early years of the 19th century in the UK.  What DID surprise me was that paper doll collections continue to be created today - frequently as political party “collectibles.” It had never occurred to me that there were Michelle Obama papers dolls -- though her stunning fashion selections certainly warrant the attention. Dover Reprints has a produced a series which is of interest to the costume and fashion historian.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Harris Tweed and a Tail of Vents

By Jeff Hopper
Guest Blogger

It’s odd but I’ve been thinking about tweed for the last couple of years and suddenly it seems to back in the style.  There are many tweeds, but Harris Tweed through their long history and grasp of market identity,, is the fabric that stands out in my mind.  Harris Tweed is one of those rare fabrics with its own panache, which continues to challenge designers irrespective of the fashion trends surrounding it.

My appreciation of Harris Tweed began in my early teens with a cap; one of those flat caps that were as ubiquitous to me then as base ball caps are now.  I remember the salesman showed me how to fold the cap in half and tuck the brim under the back of the cap so it could fit it in a jacket pocket, then in one graceful motion how to release it, snap it in the air, and place it on my head.  Some lessons once learned are never forgotten and that day the adult air of insouciance was priceless.  

There is nothing charming about Harris Tweed, but it is a beautiful fabric all its own.  It is rough, stiff, and often colored like peat and heather—a very organic fabric.  The fabric reminds me of that moment when land meets water.  Even the herringbone weave of the tweed nods to the sea with its repetitive wavelike pattern.  Tweed is rough country fabric not in tune with the current soft synthetic apparel predominating the market.  This is a personal bias, but to me, unlike modern fabrics, tweed grows with you.  Many Harris Tweed jackets outlast the original owner and go to a used clothing store, just as they are coming into their own.  That is the beauty and failing of tweed, it tends to grow with you and does come into its own until it is time to move on.  I firmly believe that tweed should be worn for ten years before it is ready to be really worn, if that makes any sense.
Courtesy, “A Hume Country Clothing Image”  

Recently I bought a used Harris Tweed jacket that was from the 1970s, a new Harris Tweed scarf, and a book on Harris Tweed—nothing like excess.  Today I will write about the jacket, which was purchased because it was in the green family (there seems to be a dearth of green tweeds, at least for the moment) and it has a double vent.  Actually now might be a good time to look at vents which is the other reason I purchased this jacket.

Men’s jackets either have a single vent down the middle of the back, a double vent with a vent on either side of the back, or no vents.  When purchasing a jacket in the US, the styling breakdown is roughly, a single vent--primarily American, a double vent--primarily British, and no vents--primarily European tailoring.  This is a rough guide and there are variations within each of these tailoring traditions.  The important part in all of this for me is that for whatever reasons, a jacket with a double vent lies flat on my backside and a single vent has the tendency to pucker and flare.  This was true when I was young and as thin as a rail and now with weight gain and age.  Double vents are increasingly hard to find in the US, at least when I sporadically go looking for a jacket.  There is  considerable lore about the vents, but it all  usually falls back on seats, saddles and horseback riding.  The conventional wisdom is that a single vent allows the jacket to fall to either side of the saddle and the back of the horse.  A double vent falls over the saddle and covers the back of it.  I’m not a great horseman, but I have ridden with both types of venting and oddly enough they both work.  The venting styles are old enough that there are undoubtedly  more reasons than these such as the military influence on clothing or original use--did a jacket worn for many hours every day perform better with one cut over another.

With that in mind, a short diversion--a number of years ago I wore an 1870s riding coat and breeches to a Victorian Christmas party. Everyone had to come in some sort of costume from the period.  I stumbled on a private fashion collection whose owner wanted people to wear and enjoy the original garments, but that story is for another day.  What I can say is that the jacket had a single vent with  swallow tails, and it was tailored so that while I could hold the reins correctly for  English style riding, I could not lift my arms much above the elbow without tearing the garment. Additionally, the seams and darts were constructed to make me sit bolt upright.  The coat was constructed to make the wearer move in a proscribed and very stilted manner;  in essence the male version of the the female stay.  I spoke to a female friend that night who had borrowed a dress with whale bone stays and we both agreed that the only comfortable way to sit was on the front edge of a chair,  slouching was inconceivable as was any grand gesture. The clothing controlled us far more than we controlled it While I am sure the whalebone stays were more uncomfortable, I will never forget how uncomfortable seams could make a garment.  So did this make the single vent perform better on horseback?  I’ll never know the answer to that, but I can tell you a single vent in this constricted jacket made it easier to lift the swallow tails of the jacket and sit on the edge of the chairs. That simple garment made me realize that even if we wear the same general shapes today, the initial tailoring behind them may have shifted so much over the years that what we are left with may have little to do with the original construction and intent.

This 1810s hunting coat, or shadbelly coat, or swallow tail coat is in the collection of the V & A Museum. I do not have a photo of the 1870s coat I wore. However, it was similar to this in its silhouette, please note  the thin tubular sleeves. The major difference was that the 1870s version was single breasted with a row of 4 or 5 buttons, a form of which is shown in the next illustration.  (As a note, the use of a red hunting coat by a member of a hunt has its own etiquette, here the illustration of the coat is for form not color.)

These coats from 1900-30 are also in the V&A collection and  help to show the look of a single breasted jacket and how the sleeves appear to be fuller and shorter, yet they are all considered hunting coats.  As I look at this photo if the middle coat was modified slightly with longer tails and a tighter fitting torso then it would look more like the coat from the 1870s.

So back to the jacket, I’m happy to have a Harris Tweed jacket back in the clothes closet. Like a blazer it is a staple in some wardrobes, casual, but comfortable enough to go just about anywhere; in fact its iconic enough to worn with aplomb by some individuals everywhere, and that after all is the essence of style. 

Guest blogger Jeff Hopper, Museum and Conservation Consultant, holds an MA in Museum Studies from Harvard University (2012). This is the second in a series on men's wear and textiles.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Balance & Beauty: Georgian Design in New England

A short visual inspiration piece created for the Historic Deerfield 
Fall Forum, November 2011.

"Balance & Beauty: Georgian Design in America"

Saturday, January 19, 2013

"Chints, Plain Ginghams, Lawn..": 1770s Textile Advertisements

Continuing to delve into the archives for primary resource course materials, the author came across these three newspaper advertisements from Portsmouth, NH (USA) shops. They make fine exploration into textiles available (primarily from London vessels - "Just imported from London") in the years leading up to the American Revolution. One thing that perhaps stands out for the modern reader is the sheer number of textile choices available for purchase.

Portsmouth is a seacoast community and shares much maritime history and patterns of trade with Boston, Salem and Newburyport. The Butler ad can be dated to c. 1770, the year that John Noyes of Bow, NH died. The settlement of the estate 
follows Butler's announcement.

"Tabby brocade," 
c. mid 1700s
Courtesy, Cleveland Museum of Art (left)

Textile samples including chintz and gingham, mentioned in the ads. (below)

Monday, January 14, 2013

"I My Needle Ply with Skill": Maine Schoolgirl Needlework

Guest Blogger:
Tara Vose Raiselis
Saco Museum Director

If you are interested in samplers, textiles, and the education of young women during the  Federal period, you will want to visit "I My Needle Ply with Skill": Maine Schoolgirl Needlework of the Federal Era.  On view from January12 through March 2, 2013, the exhibition will also showcase contemporary needlework by the Southern Maine Chapter of the Embroiders' Guild of America.  Over one hundred samplers and other embroideries as well as related items are on view, drawn from the collections of the Dyer Library/Saco Museum as well as other public and private collections in Maine and beyond. The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with an essay by Dyer Library/Saco Museum Executive Director Leslie Rounds.

"I My Needle Ply with Skill" focuses on the complex and lovely needlework created in Maine by schoolgirls of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. At a time when advanced academic opportunities for young women were limited, private academies—often run by women—offered training not only in academic subjects, but also in the fancy sewing skills that were of critical importance to future homemakers of the Federal era. While many of these schools were well established in southern New England states by the late 18th century, Maine developed private academies somewhat later.  As these local academies grew and flourished, new styles of samplers and needlework evolved that were unique to Maine.  The exhibit explores that evolution and offers a glimpse of a period of blossoming female creativity and accomplishment that transcended the societal limitations on women of the era.

Among my favorite pieces is one by Olive Ann Parker (1827-1904), probably worked in Eliot, Maine at an unknown school. It is a pleasing, well-designed family register sampler created in 1840 when she was 13.  The sampler is worked in silk thread on linen, with cross, satin, outline, and straight stitches, and a green silk bow at the bottom. The colors are still quite bright after 175 years.  The piece measures 18.5”x 19.5” and is from our collection.  Olive's sampler includes baskets of flowers, which are common on southern Maine samplers, but otherwise it is not particularly similar to other needlework from the region.  Olive must have stitched the decorative elements first, since she ran out of room when she added her verse that begins. "Jesus permit thy gracious name to stand…."—one of the most common verses on Maine samplers.  Olive was the daughter of Eliot farmer Abel and Lucy Tetherly Parker.  The family seems to have been very close, and the 1860 Federal Census records Abel and Lucy living on their farm with all four of their adult offspring:  Rufus, 41, a farmer; William, 35, a farmer; Olive, 32 a tailoress: and Nathaniel, 26, also a farmer.  By 1870, both Abel and Lucy had died, but Olive and Nathaniel were still living together and William was right next door.  In 1893, Olive married her other next-door-neighbor, John Garland, a widower and Civil War veteran who was several years younger than she was.  Olive died October 27, 1904 and is buried in Eliot.

In addition to widespread community interest, we were especially pleased to receive support from New York-based Coby Foundation, the only foundation in the country to focus on grants to support the fashion and textile fields and support "exhibits and educational programs that combine excellent scholarship and effective interpretation" and the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Maine Humanities Council is a private non-profit organization affiliated with the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The exhibit runs from January 12 through March 2, 2013.

Tara Vose Raiselis is the Saco Museum Director. Prior to coming to Saco, she was Curator and Collections Manager at Strawbery Banke Museum.  This will be the first of several posts on historic textiles and garments by Tara.

Related Exhibition Programs Include:

Sat., January 12:
Embroiders Guild of America “Stitch In.” 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. All Ages.

Fri. January 18:
"Samplers, Then and Now" with Portsmouth Historical Society (NH) curator Sandra Rux. 6:30 p.m., Free

Fri., January 25:
Gallery Talk with “I My Needle Ply With Skill” curator Leslie Rounds. 6:30 p.m. Free.

Fri., February 15:
“American Samplers: Little Masterpieces 1620-1840” with Henry Callan. 6:30 p.m. Free.

Thurs., February 21:
“Stitching for Beginners and Beyond.” 11 a.m. Free for families.

Dyer Library/Saco Museum Information:  The Dyer Library and Saco Museum are located at 371 Main Street (Route 1) in historic downtown Saco, Maine.  Free parking. Museum is handicapped accessible.  Museum Hours and Admission beginning June 1: Tues, Wed, Thurs 12 – 4 pm; Friday 12 – 8 pm (FREE from 4 – 8 pm); Saturday 10 am – 4 pm; and Sunday 12 – 4 pm (June-December only).  Regular admission: Adults $5; Seniors & Students $3; Children (7 – 18) $2; Children 6 and under, no charge.  Admission is ALWAYS FREE to DL/SM Card holders and their guests. Group tour rate available for groups of 8 or more.  Group tours must be scheduled in advance. For additional information, please call 283-3861, ext. 114 or visit
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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Raw Data: 1790 Price List for Boots & Shoes, Philadelphia

In preparing primary source documents for my upcoming course in Museum Studies and Material Culture (History Department, University of New Hampshire, Durham, USA), I return to key documents relating to American cordwaining. The price list is significant as a published, public document, which provides a useful baseline for comparative pricing in urban communities vs. rural communities, seacoast vs. inland, and so on. Note also that the broadside refers to the "Master Cordwainers," suggestive of its roots in the British guild and apprenticeship system.

The document has been published in numerous historical imprint volumes.
1790 Child's Shoes Made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Worn by Mary Locksley.

Dark green leather, bound with ecru linen ribbon; Lined with light brown plain weave linen; medium brown leather soles 6 x 2 inches (15.2 x 5.1 cm)

Courtesy, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Reflection: The Wedding of George and Martha Washington, January 6, 1759

"I retain an unalterable affection for you which neither time or distance can change."

George Washington to Martha Washington, June 23, 1775.


So much has been written on this first of first couples, that even tackling the bibliography is intimidating. A look at the clothing of George and Martha Washington and what it represented for them as individuals and as a couple is, however, is within in this writer's comfort zone. And there is enough primary source material available for a reader to begin their own journey or start afresh. I hope you find this post both informative and useful.
Portrait of Martha Dandridge Custis by John Wollaston, 1757, two years before she married George Washington.
It will come as no surprise that after the death of her wealthy first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, in 1757, the 25 year old widow, Martha, assumed substantial new responsibilities for managing not only the domestic aspect of her household (including the care of young children) but also the administration of the entire estate, which included her late husband's extensive business operations. Her business savvy and diplomatic acumen certainly stood her in good stead in her future life as President George Washington's wife and partner and yet, until recently, has been little remarked upon. As befitted a woman of position and responsibility, she needed to dress appropriately but stylishly. Therefore, in addition to negotiating commodity sales, such as tobacco, she ordered from England the most fashionable silks, jewelry, footwear, and so on. According to several sources, including those at  Mount Vernon, many of the goods were shipped by Cary and Company of London, including expensive textiles, such as silk. Of particular note, the name of  the Mantuamaker John Scherberg, has come down to us. Scherberg was known for handling the richly prized Spitalfields silks. It is also of interest that George Washington began to use the Cary firm for his own business interests, no doubt an effective method for consolidating the earnings and purchases of two estates through one trading house. (1)

After what has been oft observed as a very brief courtship, George Washington and Martha Custis were married on 6 January 1759.
According to Charlotte Chamberlain of New Kent County, Virginia to Lady Frances Shelbourne of London, England: 

"....The greatest social event that has ever taken place in our colony, occurred some three months ago, being the wedding of our mutual friend Mrs. Dandridge’s daughter, Mrs. Martha Custis to Colonel George Washington. The wedding was a splendid affair, conducted after the old English style that prevailed among wealthy planters. Military and civil officers with their wives graced the occasion. Ladies appeared in the costliest brocades, laces, and jewels which the old world could provide. The bride was arrayed in the height of English fashion, her wealth of charms a fit accompaniment to the manly beauty of the bridegroom, who stood six feet three inches in his shoes. The tallest and handsomest man of the Old Dominion. Colonel Washington is the hero of our new country, his heroic deeds for his country, his patriotism, perseverance, quick discernment, and military skill shown during the war with the French and Indians has been marvelous for such a young man, he being now hut twenty-eight years of age. I know you have heard his name often mentioned in England, and will be interested in him so [I] will tell you more particularly of the life of this young man to whim we give a kind of hero worship...." 2

Martha would have appeared much as she does in the Wollaston portrait above. Her wedding dress was of gold damask (some have called it a yellow brocade as well), trimmed with lace, and beneath her gown she wore a white silk petticoat with silver threads. Her unlabeled, London made shoes were purple satin and trimmed in silver metallic lace and the spangles popular at the time. Reportedly, she wore pearls in her hair.
Installation at Mount Vernon

Martha Washington's  London Wedding Shoes
Courtesy, Mount Vernon
Her groom wore a blue suit with a white satin waistcoat and blue buckles on his shoes, according to historian Ruth Ashby. With Martha at about 5 feet tall (although reaching to at least 5'2" in her heels) and George about 6'3" --the pair must have been striking indeed - her gold dress to his blue suit; white petticoat to his white satin waistcoat, her sparkly spangled shoes to his bright buckles. Small wonder that it was considered the "The greatest social event that has ever taken place in our colony...
George Washington wore a size 13 shoe..Miniature Replica of George Washington's dress shoe - George Washington imported his black leather dress shoes from England. Interchangeable buckles of silver, brass or paste decorated men's shoes at that time. This miniature dress shoe features a brass buckle replicated from one of George Washington's own, found in the Mount Vernon collection. His dress shoe and buckle, from
Mount Vernon
After spending their honeymoon or wedding trip in Williamsburg, Virginia, they newlyweds soon parted company as the General returned to his duties. However, this quote, from less than a year of marriage, reveals that George Washington was extremely pleased with his bride and their relationship when he writes:
"Fort Cumberland, July 20, 1758: We have begun our march to the Ohio. A courier is starting for Williamsburg, and I embrace the opportunity to send a few words to one whose life is now inseparable from mine. Since that happy hour when we made our pledges to each other, my thoughts have been continually going to you as to another Self. That All-powerful Providence may keep us both in safety is the prayer of your faithful and ever affectionate friend, G. Washington." (3)
1.This site is extremely useful in understanding dower rights, inheritance rights and so on especially in the cases of remarriage.

2. There are a number of questions surrounding the source, provenance and accuracy of this letter. A full account is made in the attached link:

3. Warton, Anne Hollingsworth, Martha Washington, 37 (1897).

There are an abundance of print and online sources available for further research. 

The blog below provides an excellent visual compendium of portraits of Martha Washington:

www.Mount has posted a wide range of collections items and cataloging research on its web site. Also especially good for educators in building lesson plans.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Raw Data: 1802 Salem Gazette, Textile Advertisements for January 8th

Salem Gazette, Friday, January 8th 1802
Published Tuesdays and Fridays by Thomas C. Cushing

Back cover of bound volume for 1802 Salem Gazette
Collection of the author. Purchased at NorthEast Auctions.

Textile auction advertisements:

William Lang (1750-1821), Essex Street, Salem, MA. While there are a number of interesting items in this ad, note first: "A good chance for those who have cash" and second, in the 2nd paragraph "second hand clothing" is specifically listed. Lang had 12 children and his eldest son, William Lang, junior,  opened or ran another part of the family auction business from neighboring Front Street. The younger Lang appeared to handle more in the way of household furnishings including china, ceramics, serving vessels and so on.

Also in this issue, "Extra Long Kid Gloves...Fashionable coloured Silks..." sold at the shop of Benjamin Dodge, also on Essex Street. These were no doubt similar to the ones shown in this 1802 fashion illustration or these silk, satin and spangled early 19th century French gloves from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.