Thursday, March 27, 2014

"My Party Dress:" Mrs. Eddy Visits the House of Pingat, 1878

This sumptuous Victorian silk brocade and silk satin dinner dress by the House of Pingat was purchased in Paris by Mrs. Augustus Newland Eddy (Abbie Louise Spencer, 1850-1909) while traveling with her father in 1878. According to the donor’s family, Mrs. Eddy wore this dress for a portrait painted by G.P.A. Healy. One can only imagine how she felt being painted wearing such a grand dress! (From the Chicago History Museum Collections, more here)

In addition to the survival of her dress, we can also glean something of her knowledge of French haute couture based on entries in her travel log or daybook. Indeed, she referred to this as her “party dress.” Her account also indicates a substantial amount of time was spent shopping not only for herself but others, including Chicagoan Mrs. Marshall Field.
September 13: Arrived in Paris at noon…. Ordered Dell’s [Mrs. Arthur Caton] black dress and Arthur’s suit. 
September 14: To Pingat. Ordered Mrs. F’s dress [Mrs. Marshall Field], Dell’s cloak and mine. To Grange & Majantus. Ordered my bronze dress.  
          September 16: Ordered Dell’s blue dress.
September 17: Ordered my party dress. Bought corsets, shoes…

A photo of Mrs. Eddy with her husband and son, wearing her Pingat dress survives, in addition to the Healy painting.

As noted by the Chicago Historical Museum: Abbie was "the wife of Augustus Newland Eddy, a manufacturer and merchant who later became a member of the Chicago Stock Exchange, she enjoyed traveling abroad and after 1900 made annual trips to Europe. Mrs. Eddy favored French fashions and became highly knowledgeable about the dressmakers and shops in Paris. In addition to her donations of European couture, the Chicago History Museum has many of Mrs. Eddy’s journals and scrapbooks which speak of her visits to Europe’s leading houses of couture. Eventually, many of her friends turned to her for advice on where to shop while in Europe, and Mrs. Eddy would often suggest the houses of Worth, Pingat, Virot, and Doucet."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Perfect New England Pairing: Printed Gown and Quilted Petticoat, 1760s+

Exhibit highlights "From the Elegant to the Everyday: 200 Years of Fashion in Northern New England" at the Saco Museum
Gown, 1770-1790
probably Portsmouth, NH
printed cotton, linen
Warner House Association, Gift of Charles Sherburne Penhallow

When this gown was made, printed cotton fabric was considered a luxury and
was highly fashionable-only a fine silk would have been more costly and
desirable.  The printed design was achieved using a separate wooden block
engraved with the pattern for each color.  During the 18th century, there
was no workable solid green dye-the only way to make green was to print blue
on top of yellow.  If you look closely, you can see where the two colors did
not line up exactly in the printing process, and a bit of the blue or yellow
is visible along the edges of some of the motifs.  The original petticoat
for this gown may have been either of the same printed fabric, or of a
contrasting solid color like this quilted example.

Quilted petticoat, 1760-1800
England or New England
silk quilted to a worsted backing, woolen batting, linen waistband
Warner House Association

Quilted petticoats were available ready-made in the 18th century, although
women did make their own at home as well.  The product of professional
quilting shops in England, many local milliners would have stocked them for
their clientele.  The silk exterior made them fashionable garments, but the
wool batting and backing made them warm, which was particularly appealing
during cold New England winters.  They first became stylish in England in
the mid-18th century, but women in chilly climates continued to wear them
into the early 19th century.  This petticoat is quilted in a pattern of a
meandering floral vine.

Guest Blogger, Tara Vose Raiselis
Museum Director & Exhibit Curator
Dyer Library/Saco Museum

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Revolutionary War Patriot Samuel Cutts and His 1780s Suit

A fine, trim suit worn by Revolutionary war patriot, Samuel Cutts (1726-1801) c. 1780s, will be on view at the Saco Museum, Saco, Maine, from 14 March – 6 May 2014. The narrow cut of the blue silk coat with matching buttons reveals an elaborate silk brocade waistcoat beneath, sporting tiny brass buttons. The fabric for the coat was most likely English but cut and tailored in New England/New Hampshire, while the vest was probably pieced together from a kit. The slim cut of the breeches underscore that this was not the garb of a man involved in physical labor. The ensemble emphasized a lean silhouette with shallow pockets or artificial flaps, all serving to eliminate bulk. There are no coat skirts or extraneous material.

His later ensemble on view at Saco, provides valuable contrast to the suit in which he is depicted two decades earlier (c. 1763) in a painting by Joseph Blackburn at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One would not surmise that Cutts would “become something of a hero among local radicals” just a decade hence. [1]
Cutts, of Portsmouth's Committee on Safety, greeted Paul Revere at the conclusion of what is frequently considered his “other” ride at Stoodley’s Tavern in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Revere’s ride on 13th December 1774 along the Boston Post Road was cold, icy and dark. Occurring months before his more legendary ride on April 18, 1775  Revere road to warn the citizens of New Hampshire of a potential British troop landing. With a tad more aggression, Revere's "Portsmouth Alarm" could well have ignited an earlier start to the American Revolution. The ensuing raid on Fort William and Mary by the seacoast area militia, is still considered by many as the initial strike of the battle for independence.
As noted by Revolutionary War authority J.L. Bell “ If we want to spotlight the moment when the political conflict in New England turned military, then we might want to look at the shots fired at Fort William & Mary at New Castle near Portsmouth in December 1774. Nobody was killed there, but that confrontation got closer to being fatal than the Salem raid [referring to what is popularly known as Leslie’s Retreat].” [2]

The suit is on loan from Strawbery Banke Museum ( The mannequin was created by Astrida Schaeffer of Schaeffer Arts (

[1] For detailed account of the Portsmouth Alarm, see Thomas F. Kehr

[2] For more on the American Revolution and pivotal moments, see J.L. Bell

For an overview, see

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Single Shoe by Georgian Cordwainer James Davis, c. 1760s

This c. 1760s white silk shoe is labeled James Davis, Shoe Maker, near Aldgate, London. Numerous elegant examples of Georgian shoes by James Davis alone, and in partnership with Thomas Ridout, are found in North American collections including those at the Royal Ontario Museum, the Peabody Essex Museum, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, The Warner House, Historic Deerfield and Strawbery Banke Museum. The images here are all from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession #1976.96.1

This particular shoe may have been a wedding shoe. It reflects the transition from the earlier Rococo to the Neoclassical. The smooth silk provides the perfect ground for bright floral flourishes at key visual points – toe and heel. Measuring 9 inches (22.9 com) from heel to toe, they would be roughly equivalent to a women’s size 6.5 (USA), 4.5 (UK) or 37 (EUR) today. In other words, these could be worn today. When I look at the shoe, I imagine the pair as they were originally, but a close look will reveal a fragile state: in several places, the silk is abraded and shattered, and threads are unraveling. If you look closely at the downturned tongue in the third image, you will note many small pinholes resulting from the use of buckles.

 James Davis and Thomas Ridout, affixed labels to their shoes by the mid-18th century. The label notes that the shop location was near Aldgate, located within the heart of the Ward of the Cordwainer. Indeed, Ridout and Davis were probably at the height of their production, when, in 1763, the late Medieval Aldgate was taken down.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Exhibit: From the Elegant to the Everyday: 200 Years of Fashion in Northern New England

Please join us for the opening of  
From the Elegant to the Everyday: 200 Years of Fashion in Northern New England
 14 March 2014, 5:30

Curated by Saco Museum Director, Tara Vose Raiselis, the garments and accessories are drawn from the collection of the Saco Museum
as well as other institutions in Maine and New Hampshire. 

An exhibition of over 50 costumes will focus on the clothing worn by the inhabitants of northern New England from the 18th through the 20th centuries. It will include not only examples of "best" dress, but also items of everyday clothing. Fashionable attire was not confined to just special occasion garments or the clothing of the elite; even ordinary clothes reflected the current style of their day. In addition to outerwear such as 18th-century cloaks, ladies' gowns of the 19th century, and 20th-century men's suits and military uniforms, there were be a wide variety of accessories on view as well.

For more

Thursday, February 27, 2014

"Wedded Bliss:" An 1801 Wedding in Salem, Massachusetts

Federal architecture and Neoclassical fashion - an ideal combination. Miss Sally Peirce (1780-1835) wore this Empire-style gown, of a fine cotton voile, apparently brought back from India by her fiancé, Mr. George Nichols (1778-1865). In 1801, she wed Mr. Nichols in the room in which the dress was displayed. The parlor of her childhood home, it was updated in the latest Adamesque style by Salem's Federal architect extraordinaire, Samuel McIntire, for the wedding ceremony. This vignette is from the 2008 exhibition "Wedded Bliss" at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. 

George wrote: "…the ceremony took place on the 22nd of November, 1801, on Sunday evening. We were married by Rev. Dr. Hopkins, in my Father Peirce's great eastern room, which was finished and furnished only a short time before." [1] 

Photography by Jim Steinhart, 2011

The Peirce-Nichols House is part of the Peabody Essex Museum's extensive holdings of noteworthy historic buildings. Most likely designed by Samuel McIntire (c. 1784), he updated the east parlor in the Adam style by 1801.

 [1] See "The Peirce-Nichols House" Historic House Booklet Number Four, by Gerald W.R. Ward, Essex Institute Publications, 1976.

For more on the architecture at the Peabody Essex Museum, see

For more on Samuel McIntire, see Samuel McIntire: Carving an American Style, Dean Lahikainen, Peabody Essex Museum, 2007

For more on Sally Peirce & related textiles, see Painted With Thread: The Art of American Embroidery, Paula Bradstreet Richter, Peabody Essex Museum, 2000

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lord Clapham’s Justacorps and a Marlburian Uniform

Lord and Lady Clapham, London, circa 1700

Looking for an example of a Marlburian uniform I came across this happy looking couple from circa 1700.  Known as Lord and Lady Clapham, they reside in the collection of the V&A and are, I am sure, well known inhabitants of South Kensington.  Never met them until now, but happy to make their acquaintance.  Dolls normally leave me cold, whereas dioramas captivate me, odd since both essentially represent life in miniature, but that’s the mind for you. However, this couple enchanted me lock, stock and barrel.  The description from the V&A notes that these belonged to the Cockerell family who were related to Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) through his grandniece who married into the Cockerell family of Clapham (south London).  The dolls were named the ‘Lord’ and ‘Lady’ after the family’s resident town.  Dolls of this age are rare enough, as is the clothing for either a doll or a person, so this is a rare artifact indeed.

Lord Clapham, the wee man and his clothing

Lord Clapham’s justacorps immediately caught my eye. The flare of the wee man’s coat is dramatic. In part this may be due to the flattening of the fabric over time and the exaggerated pressed bell-shape that results, but also due to the circumference, which displays the stylistic difference between the beginning and end of the 18th century.  This early 18th century justacorps has a lush fullness that is the antithesis of the shadbelly silhouette of the 1790s.  Men must have moved differently in this part of the century, or rather clothing moved differently on them. Perhaps it can be likened to the shimmy of a woman’s fringe tiered dress from the 1920s, which encapsulates a style, a period, and a way of moving through space. I look at this coat and the term swagger comes to mind, the self-possessed not the pompous definition of the word.  It illuminates that moment of confidence that propelled the 18th century out of the turbulence and political quagmire of the 17th century and into the enlightenment, inquiry and reason that become the hallmarks of the 18th century.  To my eye there is a raw exuberance in this period’s clothing, which disappears with the studied elegance of its fin de siècle cousin. 
Conceptually, they are of the same family, but the stylistic refinement of the later leaves me a bit cold.  It is a personal conceit and I can understand the fascination with the end of the 18th century, but perhaps I am too much of a Whig at heart to surrender to the opposition.  

As this started with a quest for an example of a Marlburian justacorps I need to be mindful of the military aspect of this period with the triumph of Marlborough and the allied armies. England entered the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714) as a realm fearful of French and Spanish Continental domination, but finished it as a united kingdom of England and Scotland triumphant on the European battlefield.  This engraving by Jean Dubosc, created after a painting by Louis Leguerre, of the battle of Taniers (currently Malplaquet) (1709) shows how voluminous justacorps could be.  The pleating of the coat skirts displays a kilt-like density. This color version done later is easier to read than the black and white original, at least for my purposes and close-ups follow.

The Battle of Taniers, after Dubosc, Robert Wilson

Close-up center

Close-up right of log

Lord Clapham's justacorps interior view

While only a vestige of the full scale rendition, Lord Clapham’s justacorps and vest with their tight but closable tubular torsos and voluminous skirts are indicative of the of the stiffened coat skirt that waxes and wanes for the next fifty years.  Was the use by men of coat skirt stiffeners a martial fashion response to this triumphant military decade? Was the reintroduction of side padding by women at this time a nod to martial influenced fashion?   Questions for another time I think.

Jeffrey Hopper is an author, editor and the Manager of the Warner House, in Portsmouth, NH.