The Fashions of Jane Austen

In honor of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s passing on July 18, 1817, the Historic Costume & Textiles Collection installed three dresses in the Thompson Library Special Collections area. Jane Austen lived from 1775 to 1817, a period marked by significant developments in politics, manufacturing and society as a whole. There was a growing interest in ancient Greek culture and ideals of democracy as opposed to monarchy due to the discovery of Herculaneum and Pompeii in the mid-18th century. This, along with the American and French Revolutions, inspired a change in fashion that reflected these new democratic ideals. Women’s dresses transitioned from the stiff artificial silhouettes popular in the French court of Louis XVI, to the light columnar silhouettes of the early 18th century. This style of gown has come to be known as the Empire silhouette, in reference to the French empire and Josephine Bonaparte who popularized this new style. Women’s gowns were primarily made of white cotton or small floral printed cottons. It was believed that the Ancient Greeks wore only white as the statues that had been discovered were white. The statues were white, of course, due to being bleached by the sun over time, but fashion is frequently inspired by idealism rather than realism so the trend for light-colored gowns continued.

Films of Jane Austen’s novels are often the entry point by which people encounter this period of fashion. Interestingly, most film adaptations dress the actors in fashions indicative of the various novel’s dates of publication rather than when the novels were originally written. For example, Pride & Prejudice was published in 1813 but Jane originally began work on the novel in 1796. Additionally, a close analysis of Pride & Prejudice reveals that the events of the novel were more than likely written to have taken place between 1793 and 1795. The 1790’s were a unique period of transition in fashion and it is much easier for a costume designer to create costumes that reflect the latter half of Jane Austen’s life. In fact, the Empire style of gown is now so intrinsically linked with Jane Austen’s characters in the public’s mind that it is almost impossible to separate the two. Three dresses dating from the time of Jane Austen’s life are on display in the Thompson Library and have been paired with first editions of her novels. Jane died on July 18, 1817 and this year marks the 200th anniversary of her passing. This exhibit invites viewers to celebrate one of Britain’s most popular authors whose novels continue to find a fresh set of devotees with each new generation.


“To be in company, nicely dressed herself and seeing others nicely dressed, to sit and smile and look pretty, and say nothing, was enough for the happiness of the present hour.”

                                                                                                ~Emma, 1816

Silk Day Dress
Historic Costume & Textiles Collection
Gift of Friends of the Historic Costume & Textiles Collection

This silk day dress is made from a heavier, stiffer silk that was more common in women’s fashion during the 18th century, but still reflects the new columnar silhouette that had become popular in the late 1790’s. While cotton had become more popular for daywear during this period, wealthier women would still have day dresses made in silk. The character of Emma is one of Jane Austen’s only protagonists that does not have to worry about money. Emma is the only child of a wealthy father and fails to understand, at several points throughout the novel, that financial limitations greatly influence the decisions of those around her.

Austen herself could be described as a member of the “pseudo-gentry”. This class of Georgian society was made up of individuals and families that did not own land but were still gentility “of a sort.” Jane’s father, George Austen, made £1,000 per year at the height of his prosperity, but with a family of eight children this was not a large sum. £500 annually was about the limit at which a family could aspire to gentility. This is the exact sum that the Dashwood women would be forced to live on in Sense and Sensibility. Jane Austen, along with her mother and sister, would find herself in a similar situation after the death of her father in 1805. These three women had to subsist on slightly less than £500. The women were not firmly settled into a permanent location until 1809 when they moved to Chawton House in Hampshire. It was here that Jane was able to settle into a regular routine and devote more time to writing. Between 1811 and her death in 1817, Jane would compose Emma and Persuasion, as well as publish Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma.


“It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how little it is biased by the texture of their muslin, and how unsusceptible of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull, or the jackonet. Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it. Neatness and fashion are enough for the former, and a something of shabbiness or impropriety will be most endearing to the latter.”                                  

Cotton Day Dress
Historic Costume & Textiles Collection
Gift of Friends of the Historic Costume & Textiles Collection

                                          ~Northanger Abbey, 1818

Fashion styles changed rather drastically at the end of the 18th century. The highly artificial and opulent dress of the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette transitioned to that of the Greek-inspired silhouette featured in the day dress displayed here. Unlike its predecessors, this new style of dress falls straight and flat to the floor in front, with fullness being concentrated at the center back. Day dresses were commonly made of very fine cotton muslin. While a simple, plain white was popular, floral patterned or “sprigged” muslins were equally popular. The proliferation of cotton gowns was owed in part to the success of the British East India Company which exported large amounts of cotton to British textile manufacturers.

Jane Austen, having been born in 1775, came of age when this revolution in fashion was taking place. While, she does not go into great detail when describing the clothes of her characters, her humor and wit is often on display when fashion becomes a topic of conversation. One such example is featured here. The above quotation is an aside from Jane when describing Catherine Morland’s anxiety as she tries to decide which gown to wear to a ball later in the evening. Northanger Abbey was itself a satire of the Gothic novel and so it should come as no surprise that various aspects of society are satirized within its pages.


“Now I must look at you, Fanny,” said Edmund, with the kind smile of an affectionate brother, “and tell you how I like you; and as well as I can judge by this light, you look very nicely indeed. What have you got on?”

“The new dress that my uncle was so good as to give me on my cousin’s marriage. I hope it is not too fine; but I thought I ought to wear it as soon as I could, and that I might not have such another opportunity all the winter. I hope you do not think me too fine.” [Fanny]

“A woman can never be too fine while she is all in white. No, I see no finery about you; nothing but what is perfectly proper. Your gown seems very pretty. I like these glossy spots. Has not Miss Crawford a gown something the same?” [Edmund]

~Mansfield Park, 1814

Silk Evening Dress
Historic Costume & Textiles Collection
Gift of the Friends of the Historic Costume & Textiles Collection

Evening gowns such as this would be quite like the one that was worn by Fanny Price to formal dinners or balls in Mansfield Park. For the greater part of Jane Austen’s life, evening dresses were the same tubular silhouette as dresses meant for more informal daywear, the difference being they were made of silk and could have more elaborate trimmings. Neither day nor evening dresses had trains, apart from court gowns, from about 1808 onward. This dress has design elements that put it closer to 1820 than 1810 such as its use of a band at the waist. The decoration in its short puffed sleeves mimic slashing, a design element common in garments from the Medieval period. This movement towards medieval revival would expand and continue as fashions begin to change once again in the beginning of the 1820s.

Jane Austen chose to publish her novels anonymously. The author for each book published during her lifetime was simply noted as “A Lady.” It would not be until the posthumous joint publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion as a four volume set, that the true identity of this “Lady” would be revealed. Northanger Abbey was actually the first manuscript that Austen sold to a publisher. She sold it under the original title, Susan, to London bookseller, Crosby & Co., for £10. Unfortunately, they decided against publishing. Henry Austen, Jane’s brother, bought the manuscript back from the publisher in 1816. Jane revised it, renaming it Catherine, with the intention of publication but passed away in 1817. Henry Austen renamed it Northanger Abbey and arranged for its publication, along with Persuasion, and penned an introduction which publicly identified Jane Austen as the author of this and previous works for the first time. A first edition of this four volume set is displayed here alongside a first edition of Mansfield Park, published May 1814, and Emma, published December 1815.  While Austen’s books went out of print for a short period of time after her death they have rarely been unavailable since.



The Color of Politics


Maps of the United States divided into red for Republican-won states and blue for Democrat-won states are on all television stations’ coverage of presidential campaigns these days. While it seems like this practice has been around forever, its use by news networks is actually fairly recent; first used with the presidential election of 1976.

NBC, the first all-color television network, created an illuminated map behind anchor John Chancellor to illustrate how each state’s electorate was voting. NBC chose red for Jimmy Carter (Democrat), and blue for Gerald Ford (Republican). Early on, blue was chosen for the Republican Party due to its association with the Union army during the Civil War and the fact that blue was associated with many of the conservative parties in Europe and elsewhere. As color broadcasting expanded to the other major TV networks, each news program chose its own color scheme to illustrate voting results. There was no standard among all networks, however. It was not until the highly contested election of 2000 that red states came to refer exclusively to those voting Republican and blue states to those voting Democrat. It has since become a sort of short hand for partisanship. While this color coding of American politics creates a striking visual for election results, it can have unforeseen negative psychological effects.

Conor Seyle and Matthew Newman published results which explore the ramifications of defining America in terms of red and blue states. While red and blue are meant to refer to the distribution of electoral votes between Republican and Democrat, media pundits have begun to use red and blue to refer to a broad set of differences, including membership in different groups and social categories such as religion, urban or rural living, socioeconomic status and regional culture. Seyle and Newman write that, “By showing all red states, and all blue states, as being parts of the same political cultures, the red versus blue map ignores compelling differences in regional values and concerns about issues that may lead different states to vote Democratic or Republican for different reasons.” The question posed is why does this change in labeling from Republican and Democrat to red and blue create problems? The answer is somewhat complex but can be broken down in this way. The definitions of Republican and Democratic have nothing to do with membership in other groups. They are based solely on political opinions. In contrast, red and blue are used to refer to a large set of shared opinions, group memberships and perspectives. Seyle and Newman write, “As such, describing a person or group as red implies information not only about their stance on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and civil liberties but also about their religious memberships, educational backgrounds, and beliefs about the role of America in the world.” The effect of this paradigm is that it encourages people to see political opponents as opponents in all things, thus encouraging a winner takes all approach to public judgement, rather than working together. This often results in a destructive conflict in which people are less willing to incorporate other perspectives and compromise on a happy medium, thus reducing government efficiency and effectiveness. It would, perhaps, be in the best interest of the public for the media to refrain from utilizing the red and blue labels and simply return to referring to each state by the name of the political party who has won the majority of votes.

Working together, we are united in Red, White and Blue.

For more information about the artifacts pictured above, please visit our previous blog post Red, White, Blue and Fabulous


D. Conor Seyle and Matthew L. Newman, “A House Divided?: The Psychology of Red and Blue America,” American Psychologist 61 (2006):571-580.

The Piecing of the American Quilt

“Anyone who works on a quilt, who devotes her time, energy, creativity, and passion to that art, learns to value the work of her hands. And as any quilter will tell you, a quilter’s quilting friends are some of the dearest, most generous, and most supportive people she knows.” ~ Jennifer Chiaverini

This post focuses on the tradition of quilts and, in particular, the  red, white and blue star quilt top featured above. While quilting is not strictly an American past time, quilts are often seen as a quintessential piece of Americana. The red, white and blue quilt top featured in this post was recently rediscovered within our collection and seemed an appropriate item of discovery for Clothes Lines as we celebrate the 4th of July this week.

The origins of quilting and piecing are not specifically known but probably dates from before written history. It can be certain that economy and the need for warmth were major stimuli in the development of these sewing techniques. Multiple layers of fabric sewn together are stronger and warmer than one, and fabric remnants could be pieced together rather than simply discarded. Quilts not only provided warm covers for beds, they also served as covers for drafty doors and windows.

Quilting was an important part of most women’s household duties, particularly in the nineteenth century. Even after industrialization, the needs of the average family for reliable and affordable furnishings kept quilts in demand despite the availability of cheaper ready-made blankets. This was due to the fact that quilts were still economical due to the use of scraps and worn materials and were more decorative than the less expensive ready-made blankets. Of equal importance to the perpetuation of the quilt making tradition was the opportunity to socialize that events like the sewing bee provided.

Addie Community Quilting Bee in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of the Sylva Herald and Joe McClure. Image taken from

Addie Community Quilting Bee in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of the Sylva Herald and Joe McClure. Image taken from

Quilting bees combined the practical with the social. They provided women an opportunity to socialize with one another and exchange everything from recipes and quilting patterns to news and gossip. In some rural communities, the quilting bee may have been one of the only sources of social contact women had with each other. While quilting bees could be held during other times of the year, the majority of quilting bees were held during the winter. This was due to the lack of agricultural work that needed to be completed during the colder winter months. It is important to point out that many hours of work were completed prior to the bee. Women had to assemble the pieces of material, cut them into patterns and assemble them to make the “top”. It was this “top” that was then assembled by the participants in the bee into the completed quilt. Numerous quilts could be completed in a single day during a bee rather than the weeks it may take a woman to complete a single quilt on her own.

During the nineteenth century, it was common for a young girl to complete a baker’s dozen of quilts prior to her engagement. Girl’s pieced various tops together that would be a part of her hope chest for when she would eventually marry. A young woman’s engagement was commonly announced at a quilting bee, at which time the completed quilt tops would be sewn together. The tops were saved for years to be completed upon her engagement due to the fact that the real expense of quilting was wadding and fabric needed to finish the quilt. The thirteenth quilt in a girl’s collection was traditionally a “bride’s quilt.” These were generally all white and stitched with hearts. There was a saying that said, “If a girl has not made a quilt before she was 21, no man will want to marry her.”

OSU HCTC Star of Bethlehem quilt top

OSU HCTC Star of Bethlehem quilt top

The quilt featured in this post is of an unknown origin. There are no identifying documents that correspond with this artifact in the Ohio State collection. Suppositions can be made, however, based on the fabric used in its design. The bulk of the fabric pieces used to create this quilt top appear to date between 1880 and 1910. It is possible that this patriotic color palette was inspired by the centennial of Ohio’s statehood. This would date the quilt top from around 1903. This top features a “Star of Bethlehem” pattern that is unusual in that it does not have concentric circles of similar fabrics circling the center. Stars are a common motif used on quilts and the “Star of Bethlehem” is a particularly important star pattern. In its original form it is a single central star made up of eight points, sometimes measuring as much as eight to nine feet from tip to tip. A star pattern is not easy to execute. Precision is extremely important in the cutting and sewing as any inaccuracy is multiplied as pieces are added. If poorly pieced, the quilt will not lie flat when finished. An intricate star pattern was one way for a woman to show her needlework skills. This example from our collection is not particularly well executed, which may be why is was not assembled into a completed quilt. While this quilt top is beautiful, many of the pieces were cut on the bias and the overall design does not lay flat. This would make its final assembly especially challenging.


Orlofsky, Patsy and Myron. Quilts in America. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974.

Quilting in America. “History of Quilts: an American Folk Art.” Accessed July 1,2016.

National Park Service. “Quilt Discovery Experience.” Accessed July 1,2016.

Disposable Fashion

Exhibit case of paper dresses featured in the Thompson Gallery

Exhibit case of paper dresses featured in the Thompson Gallery

In 1966, the Scott Paper Company introduced two paper dresses to promote its new line of “Color Explosion” paper products. The dresses came in two patterns and were a simple A-line shape that could be cut with scissors to the desired hem length. A customer could send the company $1.25 and receive a dress, along with coupons for Scott’s toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins. The dresses were made of cellulose pulp that was reinforced with a nylon webbing to improve durability and drape. The company was so overwhelmed by orders that it abruptly ended the promotion after just six months. Other manufacturers took up the mantle of paper dress manufacture, however, and the fad continued for the next three years.

Campbell Soup Company created the “Souper Dress” that is printed with a repeat of their popular tomato soup cans. It piggybacked off the success of pop artist Andy Warhol, whose artwork entitled, Campbell’s Soup Cans, debuted years earlier in 1962. The Yellow Pages company also produced a dress in order to promote their phone directory publication. Paper dresses were not limited to corporate advertising, however, as traditional manufacturers, as well as new start-ups, began to produce paper dresses in various prints and patterns.


Textile designer Julie Tomchin remarked to Life magazine in 1966, “After all, who is going to do laundry in space?” The space race of the 1960’s was an important influence on fashion during this decade, particularly in the collections of André Courrèges and Pierre Cardin. People, such as Tomchin, had begun to consider what the future might look like and how people might dress in their new environment. Disposable paper clothing could be the answer. Some paper dresses, such as the one featured in this post that depicts the image of the Mercury Atlas Rocket, directly reference this growing interest in space exploration.

This dress is one in a series of five designed by artist Harry Gordon for London Paper Dresses Ltd. The five poster dress designs included the ‘Mystic Eye Dress’, ‘Giant Rocket Dress’, ‘Rose Dress’, ‘Pussy Cat Dress’ and ‘Hand Dress’. They were released in 1968. The rocket depicted is the Mercury Atlas Rocket. The Mercury missions were the first manned American space flights. The dress also includes a Velcro closure on the shoulder, a direct result of textile innovations related to space travel.



Mars of Asheville (NC) was one of the major manufacturers of paper dresses during their brief period of popularity. Mars of Asheville, claimed to be “The Pioneer in Disposable Fashion.” This post features a cap-sleeved paper dress with multi-colored paisley and floral motifs that was part of their “Waste Basket Boutique” collection. The fabric care labels in these dresses state:

“Do not wash. This material is fire resistant unless washed or dry cleaned. Then it becomes dangerously flammable when dry.”

yellow pages magazine


The Yellow Pages was another “Waste Basket Boutique” dress by Mars of Asheville. It is a yellow/gold non-woven fabric with a collage print design of yellow pages telephone book ads. It was available by sending in your request with “one dollar each including postage.” It, like the others, arrived with care and cut-to-hem instructions, as well as a convenient re-order form.



Most of the dresses in this exhibit are very simple A-line shifts with little to no construction complexity. They are sleeve and collar-less and fasten simply with ties or Velcro. This dress, however, is unusual in that it is fully fashioned with a mandarin collar, long sleeves with cuffs, patch pockets and a back zipper closure.

The fad for paper fashion was ultimately short-lived as concerns about pollution and waste began to emerge. Books, such as Rachel Carson’s, Silent Spring, drew attention to the health risks of pesticides and manufacturing. Subsequently, the interest in fast disposable fashion began to wane and by 1969 most disposable clothing transitioned from articles of fashion to more practical uses, such as disposable sheets and scrubs still used in the medical field today.

A Very Red and Green Scaasi Christmas

In 1997 Arnold Scaasi donated 56 garments to the Historic Costume & Textiles Collection. This was a perfect opportunity to feature a retrospective exhibition of his work which in 1998 became the exhibition, The Joy of Dressing Up.. We also held a fundraiser dinner with him as guest of honor. Scaasi and curator Gayle Strege chose the garments featured in the exhibition together, which included a visit to him and his partner of many years, Parker Ladd, in their town home in Manhattan the summer before the exhibition. The dining room was painted red. A few months ago, Arnold Scaasi passed away on August 4th in New York, and we thought it fitting to celebrate his life and sense of color and opulence during this festive season.

red-scaasi-short-wtrmk Red was Arnold Scaasi’s favorite color and he had several examples in his collections over the years. We  are featuring two of my favorites in the collection. Both were in the exhibition, and the evening gown was also featured in his first book, A Cut Above. The short red lace cocktail dress is from the Summer 1987 season and you can clearly see the overly large shoulder pads of the period. The elongated torso tops a tiered skirt of 11 alternating layers of ruffled lace with sequins and stiff red net.


The strapless evening gown is from the Fall 1992 collection. It is a matelassé fabric with a shiny lurex yarn woven into the floral pattern. The dress itself is narrow, but has a voluminous bustle attached to the rear, reminiscent of some gowns from the 1950s when Scaasi first came on the fashion scene.


1997.17.16-F-crop-wtrmkThe green evening gown of gathered silk taffeta with puffs at the sleeves and neckline, hip and flared hem was in the exhibition and also featured in A Cut Above. 1997.17.3-web-wtrmkIt was part of the Fall 1988 collection.


The green corded lace dress is a complement to the short red lace dress. It too has long sleeves but has an off-the-shoulder V neckline and a longer flared trumpet skirt.

Like the strapless red gown, it was from the Fall 1992 season. One wonders if perhaps Scaasi might have had Christmas on his mind in putting these two together in the same collection.

The Scaasi dresses featured in this post were chosen due to their red and green color which have traditionally been associated with the Christmas season, but just how long have red and green been the “official” colors of Christmas? Turns out, it may be longer than one originally supposes. Long before Christmas began to be celebrated on December 25, various other cultures, such as the Celts, celebrated the winter solstice by decorating hearths and homes with evergreen branches. Evergreens do not die during the winter thus symbolizing the eternal aspect of the divine as well as the approaching longer days and return of spring. Several groups celebrated this return of sun, such as the Roman festival of Saturnalia and the Persian celebration of their sun god, Mithras.

ADAM AND EVE-APPLE-SNAKE+FRAME-9X6With the spread of Christianity throughout Europe some of these earlier traditions were brought into the new Christian celebrations. For example, during the 1300’s the Feast Day of Adam and Eve was celebrated on December 24 with churches putting on productions of “Paradise Plays.” These plays depicted the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from Grace in the Garden of Eden, but also anticipated humankind’s ultimate redemption with the birth of the Redeemer. The play needed an apple to be picked from a tree, of course, and as no ripe apple trees could be found during winter, an apple was hung from a pine tree, which was still green. (Sounds like hanging red ball ornaments on Christmas trees today.)

HollyThis, along with the popularity of holly as an evergreen decoration which has red berries, led to the association of the color red along green with the Christmas holiday. So as you dress up in your cheeriest ensembles this holiday season just remember, that red and green ensemble you’re wearing is a festive nod to fall of humankind from Paradise–and hope for redemption.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

“Over the River and Through the Woods…

…to grandmother’s house we go,” for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays or so the song implies. As the colder winter months approach and we turn to sweaters, boots and cozy nights by the fire, we take a look back at how people kept warm while traveling 100 years ago. Before seat warmers, heat or even windows were standard features on cars, people had to find ways to stay warm while riding to and from their destinations. This could be achieved in a variety of ways from heated bricks to heavy fur coats. One of the most common methods, however, was the carriage blanket. The carriage blanket, also known as a lap robe, was a necessity in the winter. For more information on lap robes and wonderful period photos of advertisements featuring them, check out this blog post from the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum . Our post discusses three such fur blankets that are a part of the Historic Costume & Textiles Collection. It is important to remember that fur was one of the few options people had to stay warm during the winter. Synthetic fibers such as acrylic, polyester, Thinsulate and polar fleece would not be available until years later.

lap robe sleigh photo

c.1915-1920 Sleigh, New Jersey


The fur lap robes worn in open carriages and sleighs, and later automobiles, were often made of durable furs such as bear, or American bison to withstand the wear and tear. Bison was almost hunted to extinction in the 19th century because of its hide. This animal, which provided many staple products used for centuries by inhabitants of the North American plains, was heavily hunted and exported to the British military during the Crimean War (1854-56), and exploited by passengers in railroad cars wantonly shooting bison on the way to California in the 1870s. The buffalo lap robe featured in this post was used in Oklahoma between 1909 and 1912. It belonged to Henry Paul Miller, the son of a farmer, who was born in Galena, Ohio in 1865. Henry engaged in farming as well before graduating from Ohio State University Veterinary College in 1897. He married Emma Pierson in 1891 and had four sons before taking a teaching position with the Agriculture College of Oklahoma in 1909. The family would spend about three years in Oklahoma before Henry was appointed the first County Agricultural agent in Ohio for Portage County in 1913. While riding in their horse-drawn carriage or sleigh, this lap robe would have provided a warm barrier between the Miller family and cold Oklahoma winters.

1917 Chase Car Robe  Advertisement

1917 Chase Car Robe Advertisement

The second featured lap robe is made of brown and white vicuña fur and belonged to Phoebe Apperson Hearst. Vicuña is an animal related to the llama or alpaca and is a much more luxurious fur than bison or bear. Phoebe Hearst was the wife of George Hearst and the mother of publisher William Randolph Hearst. Mrs. Hearst used this lap robe for a number of years, both in her carriage and her Pierce-Arrow automobile, the first of which was manufactured in 1908.

1912 Pierce Arrow

1912 Pierce Arrow

Mrs. Hearst was born in Missouri in 1842 and married George Hearst in 1862. Phoebe and George moved to California after their marriage where George was a successful miner and later senator. George passed away in 1891 at which time Phoebe engaged in numerous philanthropic endeavors which took her to various locations along both coasts. Mrs. Hearst lived to age 77, passing away in 1919.


The third lap robe is made of muskrat and is lined in panné velvet with side by side kangaroo pockets for two passengers to warm their hands. It dates from the late 1910’s to the mid-1920’s, and like the vicuña is much less bulky than the bison. It belonged Martha Kerslake, who was born in England in 1869. She and her husband George moved to Rhode Island in 1904 where George ran a woolen mill. Martha and George became naturalized citizens of the U.S. in 1909. Muskrat was a highly popular and fashionable fur during this time. In addition to lap robes, muffs and stoles were also made of this fur, often with tails dangling off the ends. This lap robe features 40 muskrat tails as a decorative element.

1920s Fur Carriage Boots Gift of Mrs. Charles Hyatt

1920s Fur Carriage Boots
Gift of Mrs. Charles Hyatt

In addition to carriage blankets, travelers could also wear carriage boots. Carriage boots were worn by women in winter over ordinary shoes or slippers as protection against the cold weather. Originally worn in horse-drawn carriages, hence their name, they were also later worn in automobiles. The black carriage boots from our collection have the updated additional weather protection of a rubber sole with the word, “Hood” stamped on the bottom. The Hood Rubber Company of Watertown, Mass. primarily manufactured footwear, providing American, British and French troops in WWI with several models of boots. In August 1929, the company was purchased by the B. F. Goodrich Company of Akron, Ohio, who moved its footwear division to Watertown.


Red, White, Blue and Fabulous

Happy Fourth of July!

In celebration of the Fourth of July, we would like to highlight two ensembles from the collection that feature  the iconic red, white and blue seen everywhere in the US on this date of the country’s anniversary of Independence Day. These three colors are not without meaning. The colors of the flag were chosen to represent particular American ideals. Red symbolizes hardiness and valor while white represents purity and innocence. Finally, blue symbolizes vigilance, perseverance and justice. The first official flag was adopted by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777. The current version of the flag was approved with the addition of Hawaii as the 50th state in 1960. While it is common for Americans to wear the colors of the flag in celebration of Independence Day, it was particularly popular in 1976 as the U.S. celebrated its bicentennial.bicentennial-logo

President Gerald Ford appointed the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission to coordinate events to celebrate the nation’s 200th birthday. The President stated, in his official Bicentennial message, that “for two centuries our Nation has grown, changed and flourished. A diverse people, drawn from all corners of the Earth, have joined together to fulfill the Promise of Democracy… The Bicentennial offers each of us the Opportunity to join with our fellow Citizens in honoring the Past and preparing for the Future in Communities across the Nation.”


Leisure suit, c. 1976

  This suit exemplifies the craze for patriotic fashion during 1976. As America celebrated its 200th anniversary, many people chose to express their patriotism through a marriage of red, white and blue with popular fashion. This leisure suit is a cotton/polyester blend paired with a navy blue polyester shirt, white belt and white/black patent leather loafers. This style was also known as the “Full Cleveland”. The “Full Cleveland” was a man’s leisure suit paired with a white belt and shoes.

1976 Simplicity pattern

1976 Simplicity pattern

  If you preferred to wear a patriotic but historically inaccurate costume for the Bicentennial there were commercial patterns, such as this one from Simplicity, available for the home sewer.

1985 Arnold Scaasi sequined dress

1985 Arnold Scaasi sequined dress

  This strapless sequin dress was produced in 1985 and donated to thecollection by the designer, Arnold Scaasi, himself. While not designed in direct reference to Independence Day, it certainly utilizes the  patriotic color scheme of the U.S. flag. Arnold Scaasi is considered an American designer, and was a favorite of first ladies Barbara and Laura Bush as well as Mamie Eisenhower and Ladybird Johnson. You can’t get more patriotic than that!

Detail of 1985 Arnold Scaasi Dress

Detail of 1985 Arnold Scaasi Dress

  Scaasi’s is an interesting story. His surname would indicate he is perhaps Italian, but Arnold Scaasi was born in Canada and not with that surname. In 1954 Robert Denning, a friend working on the General Motors advertising campaign which featured models wearing gowns designed by Scaasi, told him they had reversed his name in the caption because it had an Italian flavor and Italian fashions were all the rage that year. Look magazine considered him “one of America’s promising young designers” in 1955, and in 1958 he won the Coty American Fashion Critics Award and was compared to Dior. The popularity of his designs in the 1980s stemmed largely from a fashion revival of voluminous 1950s style gowns, a form at which he excelled.

No matter what you choose to wear this weekend, just remember to have fun and be safe celebrating the 4th!

Marlise Schoeny