Silk was incredibly important around the turn of the century for many reasons. It was first cultivated and produced in China in the Neolithic period and later spread to Japan. The process of extracting silk from the silkworms is referred to as sericulture. You can read more about sericulture, silk history, and the Silk Road here and here.
While silk was produced in many other countries during this time, this post series will concentrate on Japanese and American silk production, as the two were intertwined and offered a rare opportunity for interaction. This first post of the 2-part series will discuss silk manufacture in Japan at the turn of the century, and the important role of women in the industry.
What is silk in its most basic form? A great description by Chris Heidenrich of the National Museum of American History says,”Silk is the filament a silkworm produces for its cocoon. The filament is finer than a human hair—it takes 10 filaments to make one thread. A pound of silk takes 3,000 cocoons.”
Synthetic fibers were not yet widely available in this period prior to WWI, although early experimentation had begun. There was still a heavy reliance on actual silk fibers for a luxurious looking material. Silk was very important in terms of its beauty in fabric and a skilled labor force required to produce it.
The industrial revolution caused the production of silk to change but the labor involved still required more skill than wool or cotton fabric production. Major centers of silk fiber, silk fabric and silk trim production in the late 1800s and early 1900s were found in France and Italy in Europe; in China and Japan in Asia; and the United States did its fair share of silk production as well along the East Coast and in the South.
As to raw silk, Japan was producing over half of the world’s silk at the turn of the century and Asia reasserted its dominance in this market. Japanese women below ca. 1910, are reeling silk in small skeins and appear in their kimono robes with their hair kept long in the traditional manner.
As the weather warms in the U.S. where this post is written, it means more time for the outdoors and even an open-top car. Of course, if we were living in the early 1900s, most cars (or horse-less carriages) would have existed without a roof. Just as riding in a carriage or on a horse required certain clothing items, the earliest automobile models were open-topped and the exposure to the elements while driving created the need for specific driving clothing and accessories — or “motoring” clothing, as it was often called at the time.
By about 1920, most cars were manufactured as a full enclosure that was more protective from the elements, but prior to this time in the early 1900s, clothing with greater protection was needed. What’s interesting about this exposed-rider period is the high degree of functionality needed to contend with the elements of the road and how ladies could still meet these needs in a way that was stylish. The examples of headgear, gloves, and coats for women below are from 1907-1919, during which cars became more widely available but most models still closely resembled an open carriage.
The illustration on the cover of The Lady of the Blue Motor (1907) shows examples of these stylish but practical elements combined:
Head and Eye-wear:
Motoring hats for women typically had a wide brim, were tied under the chin, and often had a face veil covering that went over the hat. Many times ladies would wear their usual daywear hats but with a motoring veil to cover it. The wide brim was fashionable in the early Edwardian era, but also offered greater covering from the sun and/or rain. The tie across the top of the hat and under the chin was usually a sheer woven chiffon-type fabric, made of a water-proofed silk and/or cotton. It was easy to see through but also secured the hat to the head while moving at full speed. Also made of a sheer fabric was the face veil. This allowed for visibility while protecting the wearer’s face from any dust or dirt kicked up from the road. Similarly to the veil, sometimes glasses or goggles were added to further protect the driver, especially if the car did not have a windshield like the one below.
This example below is more of a make-shift veil from 1910. It looks like a veil over her hat is tied under her chin, and another is wrapped across her mouth as a face mask. She is also wearing motor goggles. Undoubtedly some form of eye protection would have been necessary for a long drive in this car as there is no front shield to block the dirt from the road.
This print example shows a more delicate type of motoring veil with a sheer dotted net from 1910. To zoom in, go Here.
For a full coverage veil, the Autaro veil from 1910 below offered a solution that “solves the motor veil problem.” Perhaps suggesting it solved the problem of veils that did not cover enough of the wearer or stayed securely fastened while driving.
This illustration from 1905 (for the year 1906) provides a clearer example of how the motor veil was often tied over the top of the hat and around the neck for security.
Eleanor Blevins was one of the well-known early female drivers, and this picture shows Blevins in 1905. She was an actress who also enjoyed racing cars and drove a Stutz Weightman Special, which was equipped to better handle high speeds. This is a good image of the googles women may have worn while on the road. Less necessary for most leisurely drives, but more likely used for a longer time spent on the road, and certainly for a race car driver like Blevins. The cap would have been more specific to a road race.
With your hands exposed to the rays of the sun, precipitation, wind, and cold, a covering for your hands would be needed for a long drive. Note that above, Blevins also wears fur gloves which would have kept her hands warm in a colder, high-speed race.
While the example below showcases a lot of driving style elements from 1911, the leather gloves are prominently shown gripping the wheel. The sturdy leather would have been a good material for protection and still stylish.
This photo below shows another famous female racer, Camille du Gast of France in 1904. We see her clutching her leather driving gloves in her hand here. She also wears what appears to be a leather double breasted duster coat and a feminine, dotted veil over her racing cap.
Imagine a long drive in an open car along a dirt road – you would be covered in dust! Dusters, were originally made for horseback riding, typically of a lighter material that were full length with a slit up the back, but easily adapted to riding in an open vehicle. Car coats or motor coats were typically made of leather, suede or a heavy wool like tweed or broadcloth, and usually had a wide collar or notched lapel. Car coats were more broad in scope in terms of construction and could reach from below the knee to the floor. In either case, duster and car/motor coats offered full-body protection from any debris and dust that might fly up from the road. They typically buttoned up the front and could be single or double breasted, and reached below the knees. Although there are no examples included here, it is also important to note that leggings and foot protectors were often worn underneath the coat.
The car coat below is made of suede with a fur collar, because “nobody minds a little extra warmth if it’s becoming,” as seen in Picture-Play magazine in Sept. 1919.
A stylish woman here is portrayed wearing a matching motoring set with a car coat in an eye-catching red ca. 1909. This ensemble would have been very fashionable, but also practical in terms of its full coverage. Even in this idealized image, notice the loose cut of the sleeves which would have allowed for more movement.
As opposed to the stylized example above, this photo of race car driver Eleanor Blevins in 1915 below shows the dirt on her duster post-drive. This must have been a cold day as we can see she is wearing fur gloves (like the prior photo above) and a fur collar on her coat underneath the duster. She also sports googles and a cap for head and face protection, and gaiters over her shoes. The cap would have been better suited to racing versus an everyday or touring drive. The material of this coat is likely a water-proof cotton.
One last example of the classic car coat is shown here from 1903. This coat is double breasted with a notched lapel and wide cut sleeves.
It’s interesting to see ensembles from the turn of the century that were specific to driving. It would not occur to us today to wear something specific to driving in order to enter a car. In looking at the open construction of the cars from the early 1900s, it seems necessary to have had a protective covering from the dirt on the road and the exposure to the elements. Of course, fashionable examples were available even for the most practical of garments and the industry was probably glad to supply a new niche in the motoring dress market. I hope you’ll think of these car ensembles next time you hit the road!
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Today marks the end of Black History Month 2021 and in celebration, FFF is highlighting Mary Eliza Church Terrell, an incredible Black American woman. Terrell was central figure in the movement to end lynching, desegregation, and promote women’s suffrage. She was an educator, activist, journalist, and a leader among civil rights groups for African Americans and women alike. She accomplished all of this while also looking very stylish in her portraits throughout the years. This post will chronicle some of her career highlights and examine what she wore in images between 1880-1930.
Mary “Mollie” Eliza Church Terrell (1863-1954)
1863 – Mary Eliza Church, later to become Mary Terrell, was born in Memphis, Tennessee and grew up during the Reconstruction Era after the American Civil War. Her parents were freed slaves with both Black and white racial ancestry. They were considered members of the Memphis “Black elite,” and were quite well-to-do. Her father was referred to as the South’s first Black millionaire (though I have not been able to confirm whether or not he was the first). Her mother, Louisa Ayres, owned a hair salon and is believed to be one of the first African American women to do so. This was a notable success as there were few such female entrepreneurs at all during this time. To see photos of Mary Terrell’s early life go here to Oberlin College’s Brief Biography of her life.
As a person of Black and white racial ancestry, Terrell identified as Black but her features were viewed as more ambiguous by society at large. In her autobiography, A Colored Woman In A White World , she noted that the ambiguity of her ancestry sometimes aided in her social mobility at college, and undoubtedly, later as a leader in some predominantly white civil rights groups which may have otherwise prevented or greatly restricted Black women from entry. However, she certainly still endured racism, prejudice, and inequality throughout her life. Some sources say Terrell’s entrepreneurial mother encouraged her to attend college, an unlikely path for most women of the 1880s, and she thrived as a student though she endured prejudice at Oberlin.
1884 – Terrell graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in classics through the “gentleman’s path.” This meant she spent four years in college as opposed to the usual two for women. She graduated alongside Anna Julia Cooper and Ida Gibbs Hunt, two other important African American scholars, and later activists. These were some of the few Black women to have ever earned such a degree in the United States at this time.
Below are photographs of Anna Cooper in 1892 (left) and Ida Hunt in 1884 (right). While there’s not as much of her dress visible in the photo of Hunt on the right, the high, puffed shoulders on Cooper’s dress at left are telling of the 1890s style.
1885 – Terrell began teaching modern languages at Wilberforce University. This was a historically Black college. She later began assistant teaching at the M Street School in the Latin Department.
1888 – Terrell earned her Masters degree, also from Oberlin, in Education. Fellow graduate Anna Julia Cooper also earned her Masters, and the two were the first Black women to earn this degree. She also studied in Europe during this time and became fluent in German, French, and Italian.
A page from Terrell’s journal in French is written here in 1888. She was a scholar of languages which must have aided her in future speeches and writings. Here she writes about keeping a journal in French in the hopes of improving her French in the process.
1891 – At the age of 28, Mary married Robert Terrell, a lawyer who also taught at the M Street school. In doing so she was forced to resign from teaching there. Oberlin College offered her a registrar position, which would have made her the first Black woman to accept such a role, but she declined.
1892 – Along with fellow alumna Anna Julia Cooper, and Evelyn Shaw, Ida B. Wells, Helen Appo Cook, Charlotte Forten Grimké, and Mary Jane Patterson, Terrell helped to form the Colored Women’s League of Washington, D.C. This was a service-oriented group meant to improve the lives of Black Americans. She was also elected the first woman president of the Bethel Literary and Historical Society.
In this same year, Thomas Moss, a friend of Terrell’s, was lynched by a white mob in Memphis because his business was seen as competition to local white business. This horrific incident fueled her activism, particularity towards anti-lynching.
1893 – Around this time Terrell met suffragists Susan B. Anthony, Lucrettia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton through the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Terrell was active in suffragist circles of white women that many other Black women were excluded from. Terrell was able to bring light to African American issues of inequality and disenfranchisement to these predominantly white groups of suffragists.
1895 – Terrell became the superintendent of the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School (formerly known as the M Street School), and she was the first woman to obtain this position.
1896 – The Colored Women’s League merged with the Federation of Afro-American Women in 1896 to form the National Association of Colored Women. Terrell was voted the NACW’s first president. Their goal was to unite Black women across the United States and to improve living conditions for Black women and children.
1898 – Terrell delivered her memorable speech, “The Progress of Colored Women,” at the biennial National American Woman Suffrage Association session. The speech was met with much acclaim and she became a sort of Black ambassador for the NAWSA. Below is an illustration of Terrell on a 1898 pamphlet from this address address delivered at the Columbia Theater. Notice her high, curled bangs, loose bun, and high collar. This would have been consistent with the styles of the late 1890s. Terrell’s daughter Phillis was also born this year, named for the poet Phillis Wheatley.
Terrell was a suffragist who aided fellow Black suffragists in forming their own groups across the country, after being sidelined by white suffragist circles. She worked tirelessly to end desegregation, lynching, and Jim Crow laws as the 20th century progressed. Education was also paramount to Terrell and she became the first Black woman to serve on the Board of Education of Washington, D.C.
This 1901 photograph above shows Mary Terrell with her daughter Phillis. The high collar and pintuck details on Terrell’s bodice were typical of the early 1900s.
1901 – Robert Terrell was appointed by President William Howard Taft as a judge to the District of Columbia Municipal Court. This helped solidify the Terrell’s higher standing in society.
1904 – Terrell’s work, “Lynching from a Negro’s Point of View,” was published. She began writing as a way to promote activism and equality, while revealing the truths of current inequalities. As a board member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) she also spoke on behalf of the WILPF at the International Women’s Congress in Berlin in 1904. Terrell was the only Black woman to attend and gave an impressive speech in French, followed by English, and an address in German, and received a standing ovation.
1909 – Terrell and Ida B. Wells were the only two women invited to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s first meeting and she became a founder.
This portrait of Mary Terrell was likely taken about 1905. Here she emulates the height of style in a lingerie dress. Consisting of a high neckline, half sleeves, and lacy, light layers, these dresses were popular as a warm weather morning or afternoon dress that emulated 18th century chemise gowns. These dresses were ubiquitous in the Western world in the early 1900s.
1913-1914 – Terrell helped create the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. An African American sorority dedicated to serving the African American community. It is currently the largest African American Greek-lettered sorority.
This photograph of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom conference held in Zurich in 1919, features Mary Terrell (8th from left in the back row). She spoke at this conference, as she had at the prior 1904 conference. She was a board member of the WILPF, a very rare position for a Black woman to hold at this time within the organization. In 1919 her speech focused on issues of colonialism, but she also addressed issues of inequality within the league itself. The woman in this photo are similarly dressed with skirts that are still about floor length, practical separates (long jacket, blouse, and skirt), and the waist seam either at the natural waist or just slightly lower.
In this photograph of Terrell she wears beaded fringe evening wear. The half sleeves and high collar are still in keeping with the style for a more mature woman of the 19-teens, as she would have been about mid-50s in this portrait. The elaborate decoration at the neckline and on the bodice speak to high-end elegance of the end of the Edwardian era. She wears a very similar gown in the portrait below – possibly a full length image of this gown, although the collar appears less decorated.
Terrell continued her work as an activist as the century progressed, though perhaps her most notable achievements were made around the turn of the century.
This image below is from a handbill on a speech given on March 18, 1926. This style of dress is a stark contrast to Terrell’s earlier looks. The drastic change of the 1920s style can be seen here in the sleeveless bodice, dropped waist, and simplicity in the panels as opposed to her earlier dresses. This is likely an evening dress as there is still a bit of decoration in the side hanging bauble accent, embellished bodice fabric, rich (likely) silk skirt, and long hanging pendant necklace, as well as being sleeveless.
Mary Terrell was an ardent activist for equality, and especially desegregation, up until her death in 1954. At the age of 80 Terrell could still be seen on the picket lines for change. Some of her last civil rights acts were participating in boycotts and sit-ins in the early 1950s in order to end discrimination of restaurants and public places. Terrell lived to see the court rule the segregation of eating places in Washington, D.C. unconstitutional in 1953. While her stylish mode of dress changed dramatically throughout her life, her ideals and passion for equality did not. Terrell sets the bar high as a woman of style and activism until the end of her life. We can all be thankful for her commitment to positive change as a central figure in securing rights for Black Americans and for women’s suffrage.
This month, FFF is exploring cameos in fashion during the FFF era, 1880-1930. Cameos existed long before 1880 (like the ancient example below) and persisted after 1930, but 1880 follows the sharp decline of cameos in fashion, just after their apex in the mid-19th century, and carves an interesting slice of cameo history.
A cameo is a form of glyptography, or bas-relief, carving, which historically features landscapes, portraits, and mythological figures cut into a variety of materials, but most often into glass, hardstones, and shells. Cameo artworks were crafted to create two layers on one piece of material, the top of which protruded from its background, creating a multi-dimensional artwork. These detailed reliefs were often used to adorn pieces of jewelry, such as brooches, necklaces, bracelets, and rings.
The three-dimensionality of cameos, which are usually quite tiny, is attained through intensely concentrated work at close range. Cameos were, and still are, especially prized when the artist manipulated the strata of the stone in relation to the design, exploring the stone’s depths to enhance its visual impact. This was often achieved by playing a pale layer against a dark ground, achieving a strong contrast. Gradually, depending on the complexity of the stone itself, more bands of color were engaged in the design, sometimes even prompting the inclusion of hints of landscape.
Cameos were made from a wide variety of materials and ultimately became a status symbol, as most jewelry items did throughout the ages, but their origins date back to antiquity. In Draper’s essay “Cameo Appearances,” part of the Met Museum’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays, he explains “about the fifth century B.C., the Greeks introduced stones engraved in projected relief—the antecedents of cameos.” The first true cameos appeared around roughly 300 B.C.E. Further examples of ancient cameos can be found here in the Met Museum’s collection of Roman cameo glass, and throughout history in the Met Museum’s collection like the pendant from the 16th century below. Note that gemstones cameos typically had a higher value than glass cameos.
Cameos have waxed and waned in popularity since their origin but reached the height of their popularity in the middle of the 19th century. This is especially true as relates to fashion, like the elaborate set below from the mid-19th cen! The 1800s was a period that revived many ancient and prior forms of art and dress throughout its decades, cameos being no exception. Draper explained that for cameos, the popularity of Neoclassicism and the Roman arts brought the carved jewelry both to its height and then its sudden diminished appeal after about 1860 when Neoclassicism lost its hold on the arts.
So by the 1880s, the popularity of cameo jewelry had declined but it was certainly still worn. The cameos themselves were cut from a wide variety of stone and shell. Due to the Neoclassical influence in the 19th century, the cameo depictions were often scenes from mythology. However, it could also be commemorative portrait. In the the example from 1870 below, the head of the Prince of Wales has been set into the cameo.
In the late 19th-early 20th century, cameos were most often worn as a brooch at the center of the neck like the women in the images shown below, but could also have been worn as part of a necklace, earrings, rings, bracelet, or tiara. These two portraits were panted/photographed around the same time period and are similar in many ways, but the differences I find most interesting. The woman on the left has a more romantic appeal to her. Notice her neckline is lower, she is a little more youthful, and her shoulder slope and wrinkling of the material she wear suggests a more relaxed appearance. She too wears a brooch but it hangs a little lower. The woman on the right is Judge Mary Margaret Bartleme, and she fittingly appears more serious. The high neckline of her lace collar suggests an overlap of Victorian rigidness into the early 1900s. Her brooch is placed higher up on her collar. This seems to suit the seriousness of her work. As a brief synopsis, she was a social reformer and made many firsts as a woman in the judicial system, most notably as the first female judge in Illinois (you can read more about her accomplishments here). In her case, I think the brooch against her high lace collar underscores an accessibility to luxury items and the rigidity of the prior decade, as this style aligns more with the 1890s and early 1900s.
Cameos could also be used in other aspects of fashion outside of jewelry as well. Some examples here show cameo decorated buttons. These were made in Italy in ca. 1880:
Similarly, these button examples are also from Italy ca. 1880, and feature cut stone encircled by metal. Note that many cameos of the Western world in the 19th century were imported from cameo-makers in Italy.
Unfortunately, as the 19th century progressed cameos continued to decline. Another reason for the decline, in addition to the change away from Neoclassical style, is noted in the book Cameos Old and New. Anne Miller wrote that in the 19th century:
“Cameo collecting remained very popular, until scandals and charges of fakes and forgeries discredited many nineteenth-century carvers and engravers. The reproduction of cameos and intaglios caused interest in cameo collecting as an art to decline further. But there was an upsurge in their use in jewelry.”
Miller, Anna M. and Diana Jarrett. Cameos Old and New. 4th ed. Woodstock, VT: Gemstone Press, 2009, p. 364
Presumably, the upsurge Miller referred to took place in the mid-19th century, and then as the Neoclassical style became less popular the prior scandals added to an even sharper fall in popularity. However, the cameo persisted as a form of adornment into the 20th century!
As a later example, the cameo brooch (lower right) below is found in an advertisement from L. W. Sweet & Co. among other jewelry items for women in Picture-Play Magazine. The caption right below the brooch reads: “Genuine cameo brooch in hand-engraved solid gold bezel. $8.” Cameos were certainly still purchased and worn, though less frequently as the 1900s progressed.
In another advertisement from the following year, J. M. Lyon & Co. advertised a cameo brooch in Photoplay Magazine in 1920. Its caption reads: “Cornelian cameo brooch. $25.00.” Cornelian is a type of shell commonly used for cameos that ranges from orange to pink hues.
In the 1920s it was still possible to find cameos as an example of jewelry worn as a fashionable item, rather than an inherited heirloom or commemorative item, but it was rare. In this image below, actress May McAvoy is described as having “cameolike” beauty herself. She is shown wearing a large cameo brooch at her neck, a cameo studded bracelet, and matching cameo ring in the lowest image on the page.
Cameos did not reclaim the fashionable height they once had in the 1860s and were worn less and less frequently as the 20th century continued. Much farther past the FFF timeline, around the 1970s, many mass produced imitations were made as cheaper costume jewelry instead of the true cut stone and shell. However, there are still beautiful examples of cameos today, if increasingly hard to find. As an enduring example of wearable art that dates back to ancient times, we can still appreciate the desirability of a delicate carved image in stone or shell.
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Cold is sweeping the Northeast United States where this blogger is located, and it calls to mind past garments for bundling up. This post will compare coats from 1880-1930 and examine the way styles changed throughout these years.
As outerwear progressed, the decoration became progressively simpler and the construction more streamlined. The coats usually reflected the gown or dress styles of the period, for instance, in the 1880s accommodating for the bustle skirt gown, or paralleling the rising dress hemlines of the 1920s.
The 1880s was a period in which the bustle skirt made a comeback. This meant a large hump at the back of the skirt that needed to be accounted for when wearing a coat. Notice these coats that are hemmed very high in the back. This was done to accommodate for a bustle derriere!