Category: Fashion History

The Hat-Pin : Fashionably Dangerous

While hat-pins are no longer considered a necessary finishing touch on our ensembles today, for women in the 19th century, and until the popularity of the close-fitting cloche hats of the 1920s, they certainly were!

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Hat-Pin Girl by Charles Dana Gibson, ca. 1905, Public domain

Hat styles changed continuously, reaching their most dramatic proportions in the early Edwardian era, around 1910. The hat-pins this post concerns are those shaped like a long needle. This would have pierced the back or side of the hat material (like a needle threaded through fabric), grabbed the hair of the wearer underneath for stability, and then pierced through the hat again with the middle of the pin covered by the hat material. This simple method secured the hat to the wearer’s head and left both ends of the pin exposed, which provided an opportunity for embellishment.

1200px-Hat_Pin_(France),_ca._1910_(CH_18396131)
A high-fashion hat-pin and its box by Cartier. Platinum, sapphires, diamonds, 1910, France, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum / Public domain

A hat-pin could be a luxurious finishing touch or an innocuous practical measure, but they could even be used as a weapon in a pinch! More like a needle than a knife, hat pins could still inflict damage if necessary. There are actually accounts of hat-pins used as a weapon and it was alluded to in many films and stories.

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Seersucker History

Seersucker History

There’s been a heat wave moving across the Eastern U. S. this week which inspired this month’s post on a fabric that was designed for scorching weather. Feeling hot? Try some seersucker.

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Closeup of seersucker. Peteski1 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

This fabric is undoubtedly more often associated with men but after finding a seersucker woman’s bodice in the MET’s collection I was curious to learn more. There are almost no examples of seersucker in women’s wear prior to 1940. Why is that?

Suit, cotton, American
Seersucker women’s jacket from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection. American, ca. 1881, cotton, 1983.44.2a, b, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/84116.

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Elizabeth Keckley: White House Dressmaker and First Lady Confidante

Elizabeth Keckley: White House Dressmaker and First Lady Confidante

This month’s post reflects the pursuit of highlighting more stories from forward femmes of color going forward on FFF. The post will focus on an important African-American female from the 19th century, Elizabeth Keckley (1818-1907), though much of her story takes place a little earlier than the usual FFF timeline. Keckley was a former slave who ultimately became primary dressmaker and dear friend to Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln, a confidante to Mary and the wives of politicians she dressed, as well as an activist. Against all odds, and being born into a nightmare of slavery, Keckley became a self-supporting dressmaker to some of Washington’s most influential women. As if that doesn’t already sound incredible enough, just wait to read more of the amazing details of Keckley’s life and her contributions to American society!

Elizabeth Keckley
Portrait from her memoir, Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, ca. 1868

Fortunately for historians, Keckley’s memoir Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, provides a great deal of information on her life. Unfortunately for Keckley, the memoir would ultimately drive a wedge between herself and her friend, former First Lady Mary Lincoln, upon its publication in 1868. The focus of this post is on Keckley’s contributions to fashion and her relationship with Mary Lincoln, but links are provided throughout the post for further reading on other details of Keckley’s life.

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Staying Home: 6 Fashion History Experiences from the Couch

Staying Home: 6 Fashion History Experiences from the Couch

For those looking to add some fashion history to their week after working hours (beyond shows and period films) here are some wonderful free options! As most of the United States is still under strict stay-at-home orders, as well as many other parts of the world, hopefully these virtual experiences can act as a stand-in for actual visits to museums, libraries, or other institutions for the time being.

Delivered straight to your laptop or smart device, this wide range of offerings will provide a way to engage with history from the safety of your home:


1. FIT’s Fashion History Timeline

Fashion History Timeline
screenshot by FFF, https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/, 2020

Peruse the Fashion History Timeline on the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Website: https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/

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Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse; Exhibit Highlights

The Museum at FIT recently opened Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse on February 11 (open until April 18, 2020), curated by Patricia Mears, and features a variety of stunning ballet and ballet-inspired ensembles. The highlights in this post will focus on the items on view that fall within 1880-1930.

Dance has always been a wonderful way to evoke emotional and expression through movement. Those movements, of course, accentuated by the costumes the ballerinas wore. While ballet is seen as one of the ultimate feminine art forms, the physique and training requires a toughness that parallels the athleticism of any professional athlete along with a theatrical component. Costume can set the mood of the scene and create an allure. The Museum notes, “So profound was ballet’s impact that it asserted influence on many fields of creativity, one of the most important being fashion.” For many years, ballerinas’ costumes reflected current fashion, with beautiful feminine imagery, but had little impact on other realms of creativity.

Ballerina Fashions Modern Muse

This post will highlight objects from the exhibit up until the 1930s. The Museum notes that the 1930s were the era of the turning point in which “balletomania” took over, largely due to the influx of Russian dancers on the stage, and ballet became an influence for couturiers rather than just reflecting current styles (but acknowledging the decline of the ballerina as muse beginning in the 1980s).

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