Category Archives: Museums

Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon, at the Titanic in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Of all the unlikely places to see six dresses from early twentieth century designer Lucile, Pigeon Forge is one of the most unlikeliest. But that’s where I did see them, in an exhibit at the Titanic attraction located there. (For those of you in the Midwest, there is also a Titanic in Branson, Missouri, and they too have an exhibit of Lucile dresses this summer.

Lucile opened her dressmaking business, Lucile, Ltd, in 1891. She was a leading designer of the first two decades of the twentieth century and, along with her business in London, opened branches in New York in 1910, Paris in 1911. and Chicago in 1915.

She was known for the lovely tea gowns she designed for her high society and celebrity clients. She herself was a member of this class, having married Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon in 1900. Lady Duff Gordon was probably most associated with dancer Irene Castle, but she also designed for the stage, including “The Merry Widow” in 1907 (which started a trend for the “Merry Widow” hat) and for Ziegfeld’s Follies.

Lucile’s designs had a soft extravagance about them that, after the end of WWI, was out of step with the needs of modern women.  Her London business restructured in 1918, and in 1922 she was no longer a part of the London branch of the business she had founded. Lady Duff Gordon continued working in the US and Paris, with the Paris branch not closing until 1933 .   (Adapted from the biography I wrote for the Vintage Fashion Guild Label Resource)

In 1912, Lucile and Sir Duff Gordon were traveling to New York on the Titanic. They ended up with ten others on a lifeboat meant for forty persons, which caused a bit of animosity toward the designer, and they were even accused of bribing the crew members in the lifeboat to avoid plucking survivors from the water. They were called to testify at the official inquiry into the sinking, and were found to be innocent of the charges.

So with this strong connection between Lucile and the Titanic, it is easy to see why the attraction is displaying some of her designs. Most of them were loaned by Lucile collector Randy Bigham, and one is from the collection of the Fashion History Museum. Three of the dresses are in a re-created first class parlor room, and it is these dresses that are seen to their best advantage. The other three, as seen in my photo above, are in a little room behind glass. This made for tricky viewing.

No photos were allowed, so I’m having to rely on press photos from the attraction. Unfortunately, there is only the one photo of the three dresses above, and so you are just going to have to take my word on the details of each.

Afternoon dress, black velvet, green ribbon, metallic silk flowers. 1909-10  Lucile-London branch  (imported by Wanamaker’s, New York & Philadelphia)

I’ll start with this most unlikely Lucile dress.  Described as a late afternoon gown, the black velvet was a nice change from all the light blue and white of the other dresses.

This has to be the most “Lucile” dress ever, with the soft color, lace bodice, front bow, and short over-shirt. This frock really does tick all the Lucile design boxes.

Summer afternoon dress, white organdy and batiste, blue and white pinstriped silk.  1915  Lucile-New York branch

Here is where I get into some deep photo regret. I loved this day dress so much, and the photo absolutely does not begin to show how special it is. First of all, the stripe that reads as white is actually blue. It is a stunning textile and you can’t even see how sweet the bodice is. The buttons are crochet covered balls, an often seen feature in Edwardian attire.

Fortunately, the other three dresses are better represented in the photographs.

This 1911 wedding dress is in the Fashion History Museum’s collection. It’s a real stunner, with layers of lace and net and gauze, all topped with pearls and beads and handcrafted flowers.

I’m grateful that the Titanic press photos included the close up shots of this dress as it does give you the best view of just how lovely all these dresses are.

That’s the train of this dress on the left. At the exhibit the mirror is set up so as to see the back of this gown, but it is so far away from the viewer that it has little effect. Still, how about that bow!

Evening dress, cream chiffon and satin, beads, silk flower appliques. Formerly owned by Darnell Collection. 1910-1912 (Probably 1911) Lucile-New York branch.

Lovely beading, more constructed flowers, and a pretty blue bow.

And here’s the rear view. The clothes are arranged to give a limited view of the backs of these three dresses.

Wedding gown, ivory silk tulle and satin, gold metallic lace, worn June 22, 1921 by Freida Heinrich on marriage to Robert Bollei.  1921  Lucile-New York branch

This pretty thing was worn by Freida Heinrich in 1921. By that time Lucile was nearing the end of her association with the firm that bore her name.

Again, this dress was much more impressive in person. When viewing the dress, the lace looked to be gold, and Randy Bigham confirmed that the lace is gold even though the photo makes it look silver. No matter, because this dress sparkles.

In this back view you can see the layers and the embroidery a bit better.

In the very scanty exhibition notes, this dress was mis-attributed as belonging to the Fashion History Museum. It is actually in the collection of Randy Bryan Bigham. The mistake is most unfortunate as it makes me question all the visitor notes.

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The blue dress on the far left is a reproduction and you can really tell by comparing it to the fabrics and laces of the originals.

Besides the dresses there was a Lucile hat, a perfume bottle and packaging, and best of all, a 1916 catalog of the adaptations Lucile designed for Sears, Roebuck. I’m pretty sure the catalog was a reproduction because it was out in the open and nobody yelled at me as I stood and looked through it. The designs for Sears were mainly day dresses and suits, and they were quite nice. They were expensive, though. One suit was $49.95, which the inflation calculator tells me would be around $510 in today’s dollar.

I really think that the Titanic people should have combined the Lucile artifacts from both locations so there would have been a better showing. With twelve dresses instead of just six, a fashion lover would feel more like she’d gotten her $29 worth. Yes, it costs $29 to tour the Faux-tanic, and though there are lots of other things to see and interactive stuff to play with, to me all that was secondary. Let’s be honest – this is an attraction, not a museum, though they have done a decent job presenting the artifacts on exhibit.

I think the big lesson here is that there is no comparison between looking at photos of garments and actually seeing them.  In person, the special-ness of Lucile’s work is obvious. You can almost feel the richness of the fabrics, laces, and embroideries. None of this translates in even the best photos.

All photos are provided by the Titanic Museum Attraction in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Please don’t use these photos on other sites, as they do not belong to me.

Update: I switched the dating of two dresses and have now fixed the error.

Randy Bigham has provided me with dating, fabrication, and labeling details which I have added as photo captions. Also from Randy:

“Two things that are just FYIs – Lady Duff Gordon was chief designer for Lucile until she left the house in Aug. 1922; there were issues with assistant designers turning out garments of which she did not approve but this mainly occurred in the last few months before her departure. Also, black was a favorite color with Lucile from early in her career and I speak of that in my book,  Lucile – Her Life by Design.”

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Pierre Cardin: Pursuit of the Future

Currently showing at SCADFASH in Atlanta is Pierre Cardin: Pursuit of the Future. As the title suggests, this exhibition is an exploration of how in the mid 1960s designer Cardin envisioned clothing of the future. As such, it’s not a true retrospective of Cardin’s work, but rather, an intensive look at what he is most known for, aside from all the hundreds of licencing agreements.

Cardin’s career began after WWII, when he worked first for Paquin and Schiaparelli, and then for Christian Dior. His first collection under his own name was released in 1951. This suit from 1957 shows the short-lived sack-back style, but it also shows Cardin’s love of structure and sharp tailoring.

The great majority of the exhibition was concerned with Cardin’s “space age”, or Mod looks. I really think the main point of this exhibition could be summed up with the photo above. These two dresses, both with a similar aesthetic, are forty-five years apart. The dress on the left was made in 1968, and the one on the right, in 2013.

So I spent time in front of each look, trying to determine if the look was from the Sixties, or if it were a modern re-interpretation of Cardin’s vision from the 1960s. Sometimes I was right, but just as often, I was not.

The dress above is from 1966. No problem believing that, right?

But what about these two? Both are from 2017! I have a lot to say about these dresses, but first let me say that the longer dress was one of my favorites, as well as one of Liza’s, with whom I saw the exhibition. We just adored the 1920s vibe of it.

What I found so interesting was that the fiber content of both as labeled as “synthetic”. That really doesn’t tell us a lot. The more modern dresses were mostly labeled this way (though some were made from wool jersey), but the 1960s ones were made from wool. The value to me of an exhibition of this sort is that I gain some insights on that I thought I already knew. In this case, I was struck at how the highly structured wool fabrics Cardin used created a silhouette so similar to the wool or polyester doubleknit fabrics used by the average home sewer in the 1960s.

This dress is from 1968, and is made of wool. The dress is so structured that I’m guessing it was interfaced and interlined, and then lined in another fabric. In 1968 the girls in my school were wearing similarly stiff and shaped dresses, but made, for the most part by our mothers and grandmothers. It was an easy look to imitate with doubleknit (and often with a bonded interlining) fabric.

Cardin was an early adopter of pantsuits for women. The 1966 one here is quite similar to the suits he designed for the Beatles several years earlier. He also incorporated this usage of zippers into his men’s clothing.

In 1969 women were in a quandary over skirt lengths. The midi and the maxi had been introduced, but many were reluctant to give up the mini. Cardin’s solution of long over short was a common one. The shiny bits are vinyl, and being attached to the wool coat and skirt, it must have driven dry cleaners crazy, as it does museum curators today. Many times the vinyl has not held up. Several years ago I was touring the archives of the North Carolina Museum of History with the textiles curator, who was an acquaintance. The museum had just acquisitioned a Cardin dress from this line. The wool was perfect, but the vinyl was sticky and in really bad condition.

The “Carwash” dress dates to 1969. It was widely copied, but I can remember seeing an original Cardin in a thrift store years ago. That one is high on my list of things I regret not buying.

Along the same lines is this tunic from 1970. Getting dressed in this one had to have been an experience.

Cardin did design for men as well as women, but while the women’s clothes of the 1960s look quite normal to us today, his menswear is anything but normal. The vinyl collar of the jumpsuit was modeled after that of a NASA spacesuit, but I’m pretty sure Neil Armstrong did not have a vinyl brief (codpiece?) over his suit. And note how the placement of the zippers is very similar to that on the woman’s suit seen earlier.

The red and black dress is again, wool and vinyl. I really like this 1968 dress and the way the sleeves are made in one with the yoke, but the presence of the vinyl makes it look a bit uncomfortable.

I hope you can tell this is a jumper over a black bodysuit. This is from 1967, and you can see how Cardin used the diamond-on-a-belt shape on the red dress above. I was happy to spot skirts with a similar motif for sale.

This skirt, and another in orange, is made of vinyl and mohair. Photo courtesy of Style & Salvage.

The three colorful dresses in the middle are all from 2015 and 2016, though Augusta Auctions just sold a 1960s version of the pink skirt with the straps that look like the spokes of a wheel.

Note Cardin’s use of circles as a motif, and go back through the photos above to spot more circles.

Even if the show notes had not pointed out Cardin’s love of the circle, any visitor could not help but notice them.

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In a large grouping like this one the circles are even more obvious.

In the center of the exhibition there was an interesting display of Cardin’s evening looks that I thought were beautifully displayed, and shown, I’m guessing to get the point across that Cardin could do more looks than the Mod styles with which he is most associated. The lace and silk dress above is from 1977.

This very Halston-esque gown is from 2017. It is a spectacular little frock!

I loved the set of this exhibition. It was straight out of a 1960s space age fashion show with pods and circles galore.

For the first time that I’ve vivited SCADFASH, instead of a paper guide to the garments, I was loaned an ipad that had had the show notes. I loved this. It was easy to navigate, and best of all, it can be accessed through the SCAD website. So even if you can’t get to Atlanta before the show closes on September 30, 2018, you can browse the guide and see all the looks. I recommend it if you are at all interested in learning and seeing more.

 

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William Ivey Long: Costume Designs 2007 – 2016

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I’m always up for a good surprise, and that’s what I got when visiting The Mint Museum recently. I was going to meet a long-time online friend, Lynn Mally, who writes AmericanAgeFashion, and I hadn’t really thought too much about the exhibitions. I knew they were showing theater costumes from William Ivey Long, but since the show wasn’t “historical” I wasn’t too enthused about seeing it.  I was wrong.

One of my first thoughts about this show is it is a fantastic example of just how much clothing exhibitions have changed from just a few years ago. This is not a bunch of costumes lined up to show how pretty or extraordinary they are. Instead, the visitor is treated to mood boards, sketches, fabric swatches, historical inspirations, and, yes, some pretty spectacular costumes.

Long is best known for his work on Broadway, but he also did the costumes for a famous North Carolina play, The Lost Colony. This drama has been presented during summers since 1937 at Manteo, NC, and as a youngster, Long’s family all worked on the play. In 2007 the theater’s costume shop was destroyed by fire, and William Ivey Long was called on to design new ones.

For each play featured in the exhibition, there were tables set in front of the display to show Long’s design process. One of the first steps is to establish a color palette, which Long does using watercolors.

Using historical references, and in this case, photos of the costumes that were destroyed in the fire, Long made detailed sketches for each character. Swatches of potential fabric choices were obtained, and studied until narrowed down to the ones that would be used to make the costumes.

It’s a bit jarring to see theatrical costumes so close up, as they are designed to be seen at a distance. So close one can see that Queen Elizabeth’s fine gown is not silk and gilt, but polyester and metallic trim. Her strings of pearls are obviously fake. But it is how the costume translates to the audience that counts.

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This costumes are from Little Dancer, a play about artist Edgar Degas, and the girl who inspired his famous sculpture.

Here you see the material that gave further meaning to the costumes. Long’s sketch is surrounded by the material he used to develop each costume.

You can tell that these dresses are representing the 1930s, right? While these are not faithful representations of what women wore in the 1930s, to me it was obvious what period of fashion they represented. These are from On the Twentieth Century.

And here are some of the swatches Long worked with in his design process. I love how he used the plaid, but cut it on the bias.

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These costumes are from an adaptation of Charles Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

This costume was designed for Laverne Cox for her role in the remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I can only imagine how amazing this show was!

Long put thought into the smallest detail, including the accessories for Cox’s role as Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

In 2015, Fox presented Grease Live! with  Julianne Hough and Aaron Tveit in the starring roles. And while it may be hard to image Grease without Travolta, Hough was a superb Sandy. There were several of Long’s costumes on exhibit, including these from the Hand Jive sequence.

A real strength of this exhibition was the use of video to show the costumes as they were seen in the shows.

And here’s Lynn, standing proudly beside the costume we “draped”. Another strength was the hands-on activities like this one. There was also the opportunity to design a costume using a clever set of drawing templates. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get a photo of our efforts.

How do costumes help develop the character on stage? The Mint gives visitors an opportunity to think about how the costumes relate to the character.

My thanks to The Mint for such a beautifully presented exhibition. You can see William Ivey Long: Costume Designs 2007 – 2016 in Charlotte through June 3, 2018.

 

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Early Southern Stitchery at MESDA, Winston-Salem, NC

Last weekend it was my great fortune to attend the MESDA Spring Seminar, Stitching a Southern Identity: Defining Female Culture in the Early South. MESDA is the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, and is located at the southern edge of Old Salem, a Moravian town dating to 1766. The museum is located in a converted Kroger supermarket, and dates to 1965.

I signed up for this seminar on a whim. I’d planned to go to Williamsburg, VA for the Costume Society symposium, but a conflict prevented me from getting to make that trip. So this was a bit of a consolation prize, but as it happens, I’m really glad things turned out this way. I was pushed out of my comfort zone of 20th century clothing, and into a field about which I probably knew less than any of the other participants, at least it seemed that way by the learned conversations going on around me. And I can’t remember ever learning so much in two short days.

As the title suggests, this was all about the manufacture and decoration of textiles, mainly for use in the home. Most of the research presented was on samplers and quilts, but we also saw quite a bit of  other types of embroidery and of weaving. Without a doubt, my favorites were the samplers.

The word sampler tends to pull up an image of a school girl practicing her stitchery, and that’s a valid thought. But what was so surprising to me was the skill these girls exhibited in their work. Because girls tended to not only sign samplers, but also recorded their ages, we can see just how young these stitchers were. Even eight-year-olds were doing embroidery that would put me to shame!

Today samplers are valued not just as charming reminders of past childhoods, but also as historical documents. A girls would often include the names of family members, where she lived, important dates. But what is really interesting is how researchers today can look at a sampler and see so much more than the bare facts. This unusual sampler was stitched by Salley Keais, in 1793 in Washington, NC.

Researcher Marquita Reed was able to piece together a very good family history, just from the names and dates on the sampler and through searches in period newspapers. Her research helped explain the mermaid and the ship as it was found that hers was a family in the shipping business.

Another great sampler is this one by Sarah Hatton McPhail of Norfolk, VA. Other samplers of a very similar composition, including one by Sarah’s sister, were known to have been made in the Norfolk area. This tends to suggest that this was the style taught by the girls’ teacher. The fact that similar samplers were produced in the same school is a big help in identifying samplers, and has even led to the discovery of multiple samplers made under the direction of a particular teacher.

This close-up shows just how skilled Sarah was. She was eight years old at the time.

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This remarkable sampler is part mourning tribute, part family register, and part scrapbook. The stitcher, Mary Ann Colboard, made this sampler in 1821 in Charleston, SC. It is thought that they are mourning the death of Mary Ann’s stepfather. The church is easily recognizable as St. Philips, where Mary Ann was married the year after she completed this work.

We also learned about quilts and other bed coverings. This is part of an album quilt. Each square was made by a different woman, and then put together and quilted by Catherine Palmer, near Charleston in 1848.

The squares were appliqued. Each maker would cut out a design from printed chintz (often combining elements from three of more different prints) and then stitch the new design to a square of cotton. Then it would be assembled and quilted.

Even though this quilt is attributed to Catherine Palmer, it is very possible that she had help in the form of her slaves. Documenting the work of slaves is extremely difficult as their labor was an expected part of the household work and was not often noted. However, careful examination of quilts often reveals that the stitching was done by more than one hand. It stands to reason that these other hands could have been enslaved.

Weaving was another task often carried out by slaves. Again, curators and researchers take what they know about a piece and try to determine whether or not it is possible that the item was made by an enslaved person.

It’s not possible for all the museum’s textile holding to be displayed all the time, but I was really surprised when the curatorial associate opened this cupboard to reveal a trove of handwoven coverlets and blankets.

I was surprised to see a few wallpaper covered bandboxes. For some reason I tend to associate them with the North, maybe because they are so seldom seen for sale here in the South.

Boys of the Powell Family by Samuel Moore Shaver, Knoxville, TN, circa 1850-1869

Just so you won’t get the idea that MESDA is just needlework, here are some details from their great collection of paintings. You will also find furniture, pottery, silverwork, clocks, books, woodwork and architectural elements, and ironwork.

I’ll close with this portrait of Mary Hawksworth Riddell and her daughter, Agnes Riddell. It was painted in the early 1790s by Charles Peale Polk (of the famous Peale family of artists).

I love that this sweet picture includes a basket of needlework.

My thanks to MESDA for such a rewarding experience. You can see more of their collection online.

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Getting Exercise at the Biltmore Estate

One of the things that amazes visitors to Asheville’s Biltmore Estate is the size of it. As a kid of twelve years visiting for the first time, I could not believe that this was the country home for three people. What was not explained back then was that it was home to the George Vanderbilts, but also a “hotel” for their friends, family, and acquaintances. Visitors to the estate were common, and many of the bedrooms were set aside for them.

The house was finished in 1895, and it was located way out in the country outside the very small city of Asheville. For people used to New York and Newport I can imagine that visitors wondered how they would spend the time at the estate. What would they do?

In planning Biltmore, Vanderbilt took this into consideration. He built a large library for the book lovers, and there were walking trails – eventually as far as Mount Pisgah which was fifteen miles away. He also built an indoor recreation area.

The gymnasium had been a popular idea for several years. Doctors and educators had begun to see the importance of exercise as a structured activity. But Vanderbilt’s gym area was not all work. He also had a two lane bowling alley.

It would not have been appropriate for the men and women at Biltmore to go traipsing around the house in their exercise attire and bathing suits, so a line of changing rooms was built between the bowling alleys and the indoor swimming pool.

It’s pretty much impossible to get a photo of the pool that shows it properly. It is in a tiled and vaulted room, with the deck built around three sides. It’s a large space, but feels a bit claustrophobic, as the walls are so close to the pool. If the tilework looks a bit familiar to those of you in New York, that is because it was designed by architect Raphael Guastavino, who worked extensively in New York, and designed many of the early subway stations.

There was once an outdoor swimming pool, which has been filled in.

The gym had some basic exercise equipment like the rowing machine above, but it was mainly an area for free exercise. On the wall you can see a row of “Indian” pins or clubs, which an exerciser used to swing around and build up the arms.

Or one could workout on the parallel bars, or use the wooden dumbbells located on the wall. There are even two showers.

This image is from an 1895 book, Artistic Work and Gymnastic Games by Henry S. Anderson and Stanley Schell. I love the thought of women thus attired in the Biltmore gym.

 

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Exhibition: Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie at Biltmore Estate

For the past four years or so Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC has had a spring costume exhibition. And by costume, I mean movie and television costumes, not historical dress. This year’s exhibition featured the costumes from the 1997 film, Titanic.  I know the movie has a lot of fans, and if you are one, you really need to see this one. You have until May 13, 2018. And I’m showing here fewer than half of the costumes on view, so if this is your thing, you won’t be disappointed.

First I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of the movie, which I’ve seen only once, way back in 1998. I didn’t hate it, but I’m not a fan of tragic endings. Also, I’m not as well-versed in pre-1915 fashion as I’d like to be, so feel free to disagree with any of my observations and opinions. And keep in mind that these are movie costumes, and as such have to portray more than just historical accuracy.

The exhibition started with the above suit, worn by Kate Winslet as Rose Dewitt Bukater as she boarded the Titanic. This is one of my favorites, and it seems to me to be one of the best as far as what a young rich woman would have actually worn in the situation. There is, in fact, a photograph of a very similar suit in a 1912 Les Modes fashion publication, which must have been designer Deborah L. Scott’s inspiration for this suit.

A quick note about accessories: some of the ones you’ll see in my photos are the ones used in the movie, like Rose’s parasol. The gloves, however are different, with the movie ones being short little gauntlets that turned back to reveal a purple lining. It’s a very charming detail, and shows just how much thought was put into the overall look.  Liza of Better Dresses Vintage, who was with me on this visit, thinks the hat is different as well.

Many of the clothes in the exhibition were the ones worn by Winslet, but you also get a good look at those worn by minor characters, including the men. That’s Captain Smith on the right, with the Countess of Rothes. Note the way the skirt drapes into that center piece. A couple of other dresses had the same treatment, which I thought was interesting. I did find a similar dress by Lucile (who was on the Titanic), though that center piece was not so prominent.

This dress was worn by Kathy Bates as Molly Brown (before she became unsinkable). In 1912 the trend was toward a slightly above the natural waist waistline, which is seen here, and in most of the dresses in the exhibition. I thought the skirt looked a bit full to be the height of fashion in 1912. At the time of the sinking, Brown was 44 years old, and photos of her after the sinking show her wearing a skirt with a similar silhouette. And according to photographs, she seemed to be partial to black.

This is another Molly Brown costume. Surely she didn’t wear black all the time, and I could not find if she was in mourning at the time. I think the fullish skirt looks odd.

More black, this time worn by, I think, an extra. I have a few questions. Was there really that much emphasis on the center front of the skirt? Wasn’t 1912 a bit early to be seeing so much black in women’s gowns? Shouldn’t this skirt be slimmer?

This costume was worn by Rosalind Ayers as Lady Duff Gordon (Lucile), so I guess it could be assumed that this is meant to be one of Lucile’s own creations. I did find a similar 1912 Lucile dress, but without the weird skirt detail, and without the train. And also without all the black.

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All these dresses were worn by extras. According to interviews with  Deborah L. Scott, most of the costumes for the main actors were designed and made by her team, but many of the extras wore actual period clothing. They also sourced vintage fabrics and trims and incorporated them into the newly made costumes. These dresses could be made of old fabrics, as they sure looked right to me.

There were two outerwear pieces worn by Frances Fisher as Ruth Dewitt Bukater. One of the strengths of the exhibitions that have been at the Biltmore Estate is the setting. The clothes just looked so right in this Belle Epoque house with all its fanciness.

Others are not so fortunate, having been put in Plexiglas cages placed in the visitors center and the estate hotels. This cape seems to have been made with a combination of new and old materials. In the movie it is seen with the muff and hat seen in the previous photo.

But back to Rose. Again we are faced with quite a bit of black. This was a beautiful dress, though, and it’s no wonder Jack fell for Rose while she was wearing it.

If memory serves me correctly, this dress was worn by Rose in a dream, and was the white version of a black and red one she wore to a dance.

The one dress that was pretty much made just for effect was this one, the dress Rose wore when she and Jack went into the water. It was important for the dress to flow and float attractively.

The day we saw this exhibition was a warm and breezy one, and the staff had opened many of the windows. That allowed a nice breeze in some of the rooms, and gave movement to many of the costumes. This one was especially pretty with the motion. An unexpected result was that the shoes, which were just placed on the floor under the dresses were in full view. With these I could even see the (modern) label!

I know this photo is really bad, but it’s important that I show the context. The wind was blowing back the dress so that the shoes, which were meant to only peek out a tiny bit, were in full ugly view.

Something else that really surprises me about the Biltmore exhibitions is that they have always used the ugly plywood platforms you can see above. A little dark neutral paint would look a lot nicer. I mean, really! Plywood in a Belle Epoque mansion?

One of the great parts of the Biltmore Estate tour is that it includes the downstairs. For the exhibition they placed the clothes of the lower class passengers in a recreation of the dance party scene in the servants area.

This is I suppose, a dressing gown. It was worn by Rose, and a chair where she deposited it. I just can’t see this as a late Edwardian garment, though it does give a nod to the popularity of “Oriental” themes. And the robe itself looks cheap in reality. I am not a fan.

I really think Rose’s clothing should have been a bit lighter, though artists like Coles Phillips did portray young women in black in 1912.

Some of the costumes have been on display before, but I read that this is the largest Titanic costume show yet presented. Now that it has been organized, it might possibly be seen elsewhere in the future.

The lengths we go to in order to get the good photo.

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Women Airforce Service Pilots

Last fall I was on Topsail Island, NC when my fellow museum-loving friend and I stumbled across the Missiles and More Museum.  Despite the unappealing name of the museum, we decided to check it out, and we were so glad we did. To me, the most interesting display was one on the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs. The exhibit was there because nearby Camp Davis was one of the 120 bases that utilized the services of the WASPs.

The WASPs came about in 1943 because there was a shortage of male pilots. Women were recruited in an effort to free up men for combat flying, as the women were to do domestic, noncombat flying only. They ferried planes and military personal from place to place, and they towed targets used in artillery practice.

At Camp Davis the WASPs towed targets behind their planes as they flew over Topsail Island where men were learning how to shoot at a moving target.  It was very dangerous work. Over the two and a half years the WASPs were activated, thirty-eight of them were killed.

 

In order to become a WASP, a woman had to be between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five (later lowered to eighteen and a half), be at least five feet tall, already have had flight training and be an experienced pilot. After the program was announced, over 25,000 women volunteered, but most were not qualified. 1,830 were accepted, with 1,074 actually finishing the training and becoming WASPs.

Probably the most surprising thing I learned was that WASPs were not technically in the military. They had all the training an Army pilot had, wore uniforms, marched, and did daily calisthenics. They were military in everything except name.

It meant that when the WASP was disbanded near the end of the war, the women were not entitled to any recognition or benefits. It was not until 1977 that President Jimmy Carter signed a bill sponsored by Senator Barry Goldwater that the WASP was recognized as a military division.

I love that the WASP had their own mascot, Fifinella. This was a product of the Walt Disney Studios, who supplied quite a few cartoon characters as military mascots.

Today there is a National WASP World War II Museum in Sweetwater, Texas, where most of the WASPs received their training. Friend Lynn at AmericanAgeFashion sent their 2018 calendar to me. It’s full of both vintage photos of the women, and photos of the surviving WASPs today.  This museum is definitely on my list of things I need to see.

In the July 19th issue of 1943, Life magazine did a feature on the Women’s Flying Training Detachment, which a month later became part of the WASP. The cover girl was Shirley Slade of Chicago. (Love her little horse pin!) You can see this feature at Google books. Many of the most commonly seen photos of the WASPs came from this Life article.

If you want to know more about the WASP, I suggest you listen to the two-part episode on Stuff You Missed in History Class.

 

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