Today I finish up my review of The Fashion of Fiction, starting with one of my favorites, Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell.
If you aren’t familiar with Cranford, a word of warning – there is no real plot. The chapters are like stories all based around the primarily female inhabitants of the village of Cranford. It’s a terribly old-fashioned place, struggling to come to grips with the modern age.
On the left is a circa 1837-1841 cotton print gown with matching capelet. On the right is a circa 1820s wrapper, or a robe we would call it today. The cap (circa 1830s) was an important accessory for the ladies of Cranford. A new gown might be too costly to consider, but a new cap was attainable for even the poorest resident.
Accessories were often made at home, especially if the object could be knit or crocheted. This selection of nineteenth century accessories could have been made by any accomplished needleworker.
It was said that the last gigot sleeve (fashionable in the early 1930s) was seen in Cranford. It were this dress, I can see why the wearer was reluctant to give it up. Under the big sleeves are sleeve plumpers, which were usually attached to a woman’s corset, and which were necessary to maintain the puffiness of the gigot. The bonnet is an early nineteenth century calash, which folded like the cover of a calash carriage.
And look at her feet.
Over her silk slippers, our model is wearing pattens, which elevated the wearer’s feet out of the dirt and mud of the streets.
I read Madame Bovary my freshman year in college, and I’ll admit I was much too young (or, perhaps, immature) to understand Emma Bovary. I haven’t been able to convince myself to revisit it, though someday maybe I will.
On the right is a wedding gown of the type Emma would have worn on her wedding day in the early 1840s. The dress actually belonged to Mary Winchester Cunningham, who married in 1843. The veil was worn by bride Sophia Raburg Hall, a few years earlier.
I was happy to see two riding habits on display. This one dates a bit later than the dating of the book, the 1860s. I love how they has all the accouterments – the boots, the hat, and especially, the gauntlets.
Not to give the plot away or anything, but Emma Bovary spent a good deal of her time in her luxurious wrappers, entertaining her lover.
Probably the best represented of the novels presented was Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence. The book was written in 1920, but takes place in New York in the 1870s.
The brown dress above represents one of the minor characters, Janey Archer, the spinster sister of the male protagonist, Newland Archer. Age of Innocence has three young women characters, all of whom represent the limitations placed on them by the rules of society. Janey’s unmarried and unhappy state is reflected in her somber color choices, and her increasingly ill-fitting dresses.
Newland Archer was betrothed to the perfect society bride, May Welland. May often wore white, a symbol of her cool nature. This stunning gown was the circa 1880 wedding dress of Amy D’Arcy Wilson. Her marriage was a failure, but the dress, a smashing success.
The third young woman in the novel, is “the other woman”, May’s cousin Ellen. Even before they marry, Newland falls for the red-wearing and exciting Ellen, who is, inconveniently, already married.
This stunning embroidered dress dates to around 1880, and was worn by Maria Duvall Stockett.
And finally, here are fashions that represent The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and taking place in the summer of 1922. Hollywood has usually set the story a bit later, and so we’ve come to expect knee-length “flapper” dresses, but what the Fashion Archives and Museum gave us is much closer to the true setting. The summer dresses worn by Daisy, Jordan, and toddler Pammy would have been similar to what is shown here, though the one with blue might be a tad old-fashioned.
If you know the story, you know the significance of the man’s bathing suit. If you don’t know this, then do yourself a favor and read the book.
There was a nice assortment of evening gowns, again in the style of the early 1920s. I only wish they had Jordan Baker’s golfing ensemble!
I can’t say enough about how well put together this exhibition is. The staff and students involved are to be congratulated on an outstanding job. See it before it closes in April, 2019.