Category: Fashion History

Historic Speaker Series: Clothing and Textiles of the Meadowlands 1890-1915

Historic Speaker Series: Clothing and Textiles of the Meadowlands 1890-1915

This month, I gave a talk on Zoom as part of the Meadowlands Museum‘s Historic Speaker Series! This talk covered information from the 2018 exhibit at the Museum, A Stitch in Time: Clothing & Textiles of the Meadowlands,1890 to 1915.

A few highlights from the talk are shown in this month’s post for anyone who was not able to tune in virtually covering! The focus of the highlights is on bleacheries, silk production, and embroidery of the Meadowlands region.

The exhibit, and subsequent talk, is meant to emphasize the power and peak of the textile industry in Northern New Jersey during this period. While most might think of New York City as dominating the garment industry, Northern New Jersey’s silk production and embroidery work were unparalleled in the country at this time. NYC may have dominated the garment trade in terms of completing and selling finished garments, but Northern NJ was a giant in wool and silk fabric production, mechanized embroidery work, and played a significant role in other areas of textile and notion production. The exhibit and talk also bring to light some beautiful garments from the Museum’s collection and how these would have fit into the larger fashion picture, in terms of silhouette and style.

A close-up of the embroidery on this lingerie dress – discussed later in the post

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Threatening Style: Clothing Laws and Enforcement from 1880-1930

Threatening Style: Clothing Laws and Enforcement from 1880-1930

This month’s post follows suit from last month’s The Hat-Pin: Fashionably Dangerous. Below are laws and arrests as related to the hat-pin and other fashion items considered morally corrupt, impeding, or dangerous to society….

1 Shorten and Cap those Hat-Pins

Kantluze Hat Pin, “Cannot Injure Scalp, Ornamental Tops,” From @nypl digital collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-fe48-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

As the hat-pin became a formidable preventionary tactic from lecherous men, some long hat-pins became worrisome to the public for the potential damage they could inflict. Cities began enacting laws that would regulate the size of the hat-pins to prevent more serious damage. Check out some of the laws that were passed, most of which are noted in the book, The Hatpin Menace[1]:

  • March 1910 – Chicago passed a law that banned any hat-pin longer than 9 inches.[2]
  • April 3, 1913 – A New Jersey law stated that any hatpin which could inflict a laceration upon another person needed to be covered with a protective tip. Any violators would be fined between $5-$25.
  • April 12, 1913 – In Massachusetts, a law went into effect that made it illegal to wear a hat-pin that extended ½” beyond the hat being worn, unless the end of the hat-pin was covered with a protective tip
Photographed in Tallahassee, Florida between 1885 and 1910, Alvan S. Harper (1847-1911), No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

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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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