Category Archives: Museums

Charles Sheeler: Fashion, Photography, and Sculptural Form at the James A. Michener Art Museum

Worth, Evening Coat, 1924, cherry red voided velvet and ermine. Museum of the City of New York. Gift of Mrs. Paul Pennoyer, 1982. 82.34.

I can remember the first fashion exhibition I saw, probably around 1995.  At that time very few museums were staging exhibitions dedicated purely to fashion, and one pretty much had to go to New York or London to see historical dress shows. But by the mid 1990s, museums that had collections of clothing started realizing that fashion attracted viewers, and so now we are living in a time when many museums treat us to all sorts of fashion-based exhibitions.

That first exhibition I saw was on shoes. It was, simply put, a room lined with shelves on which all sorts of old shoes were displayed, along with short descriptions and dates. I can’t help but think of how far museums have traveled in the twenty-five or so years since I was first thrilled to see a room dedicated to shoes.

Today, while some major institutions are still hung up on proving fashion is art, others are putting on exhibitions that show the larger relationship between fashion and art. Several years ago the Andy Warhol Museum put together a fantastic show highlighting the relationship between the artist and designer Halston. Currently at the Brooklyn Museum, one can explore the style of artist Georgia O’Keefe. And at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA, visitors are currently being treated to the role of fashion in the career of American Modernist painter and photographer, Charles Sheeler.

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), Criss-Crossed Conveyers, River Rouge Plant, Ford Motor Company, 1927. Black and white print. 9 ¼ x 7 3/8 in. From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Until I got an interesting email from friend and fellow blogger Mod Betty, I had no idea there was a connection between Sheeler and fashion. I knew him as a painter and photographer of the industrial. But Mod Betty had been to the preview for Charles Sheeler: Fashion, Photography, and Sculptural Form and she knew I’d be interested in it.

As Sheeler was working to establish himself as a painter and photographer, he took a job as photographer at Condé  Nast, the publisher of Vogue and Vanity Fair.  Between 1926 and 1931 he photographed society women and actresses wearing the latest fashions.  The question is, how did this work, which he disliked, influence his other art? Can one see a connection between the fashion Sheeler photographed and his later work?

I found several Sheeler photos in the July 1, 1926 issue of Vogue. These early fashion works by Sheeler seem to be similar to other fashion photography of the day.  But as time went on, Sheeler developed a style that was more in keeping with his other work.

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), Bobbe Arnst, Vanity Fair, July 1, 1928. © Condé Nast.

This 1928 photo of Bobbe Arnst has an almost sculptural feel.  Sheeler was as interested in the geometry present in this picture of a woman and her dress as he was in his photograph of a Ford industrial complex seen above. It was a feature of his work that continued through the years.

Worth, Evening Dress, 1924-27, ivory satin, silver metallic machine-made lace, mine-cut brilliants. Museum of the City of New York. Gift of Mr. Robert Winthrop, 1986. 86.60.38.

There is also the intriguing idea that the designs of 1920s fashions with their geometric motifs also influenced Sheeler’s work. To show this, clothing was borrowed from other museums and was placed in context with Sheeler’s photographs and enlargements of details in his work. In the exhibition, the Worth dress above is placed before a backdrop of an enlarged section of a Sheeler painting.  To see how effective this is, Mod Betty has posted some of her photos of the exhibition on Flickr.

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), Helen Menken, Vanity Fair, October 1, 1931. © Condé Nast.

The exhibition also shows some dresses with photographs that show similar styles.  Sheeler took the above photo in 1931.  The designer of the dress is unknown.

Gilbert Adrian for MGM Studios, Evening gown, 1931, silk, velvet, and metal. Gift of Mrs. Thomas E. Burns Jr., The Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University. Image courtesy of the Drexel Digital Museum Project. Photograph by Dave Gehosky.

But a similar dress is on view, this one designed by Adrian in 1931, worn by Greta Garbo in Inspiration.

Another interesting aspect of Sheeler’s career was that, for a short time in the early 1930s, he designed knit fabrics for William Heller, a New York textile company.  The museum did not include a photo of the textile designs in their press kit, but you can see examples on Mod Betty’s flickr page. They are geometrical in nature, and one can see echoes of the designs in paintings made years later.

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), Barn Abstraction, 1946, tempera on paperboard, 21 ½ x 28 3/8 inches. Collection of Joseph P. Carroll and Dr. Roberta Carroll, Courtesy Forum Gallery, New York.

Unfortunately I’m not going to be in the Doylesville area this summer, but I do hope some of you will be and can take in what looks to be a fantastic show. And thanks to Mod Betty, I have two exhibition passes to give away to someone who will use them.  So if you are in the Doylesville or Philadelphia area, or will be traveling there before July 9 when the exhibition closes, please email me at thevintagetraveler@gmail.com before April 6, 2017.  If more than one person can use the passes, I’ll put the names in a hat and do a drawing.

Thanks so much to Mod Betty for sharing the exhibition, and for the passes.  And thanks to curator Kirsten Jensen at the James A. Michener Art Museum for bringing this important aspect of Sheeler’s career to light.

 

5 Comments

Filed under Museums

Designed for Drama at Biltmore, Part II

Continuing on with my latest visit to Biltmore Estate, the next costume is from The House of Mirth.  It’s especially fitting that a film based on a work of novelist Edith Wharton be included, as Wharton was a friend of the Vanderbilts, and actually visited Biltmore in 1902 and again in 1905.  For Christmas in 1905, Wharton gave George Vanderbilt a signed copy of The House of Mirth.

The suit above was worn by Gillian Anderson in the 2000 film version of the book.  I like how the shoes are peeking out from the slightly shortened walking suit.  The view in the mirror is a nice touch as well.

I did not see Sleepy Hollow, mainly because I just could not imagine Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane.  His plain black suit is on the left, while the prosperous Baltus Van Tassel costume is on the right.

These two costumes were also worn in Sleepy Hollow, but not by a featured actress.  Background characters wore these, and my guess is that they were not originally made for Sleepy Hollow, but for another film.  Recycling of costumes saves time and money, and is still a common practice.

This tweed suit was worn by Jude Law in the role of Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

This ensemble was worn by Rachel McAdams in Sherlock Holmes.  It looks like a cape, but is actually a weirdly constructed coat-like garment with very deep sleeves.  It was much richer and more interesting in person.

George Vanderbilt was a great lover of books, and in his library are all the great books of his time.  Henry James was another favorite, and he too visited Biltmore in 1905.  The next few costumes are from the 1996 adaptation of The Portrait of a Lady.  Nicole Kidman as Isabel Archer wore the above dress.

Another thing to notice about this exhibition is how well the garments coordinate with each room.  I’m sure a lot of time was put into the decision of where to place which garments, as the dresses seem to be made for their surroundings.

I have not seen the 2011 version of Jane Eyre, mainly because I’m not a fan of the story.  But, I thought the costumes were very well done.  Above is a dress worn by Mia Wasikowska who played Jane.

We expect to see costumes by the main characters, but those worn by the supporting cast are also interesting.  On the left is Judi Dench’s costume as Mrs. Fairfax, and on the right is what Sophie Ward wore to portray Lady Ingram.

The last film featured is the 2012 version of Anna Karinina starring Keira Knightly.  Of all the movies shown, I found these costumes to be the most confusing.   Someone might want to help me out with the timeline of the story, but I thought it was set in the 1870s, the period in which it was written.  But the clothes ranged from full out crinolines of the early 1860s to the bustled and trained dressed one might expect from a mid 1870s setting.

The white dress above was worn by Alicia Vikander as Kitty, and the suit and coat was worn by Matthew MacFadyen as Vronsky.

Sorry about the terrible quality of this photo, but I had to use it as example.  The crinoline has deflated, with the fullness of the dresses all at the back.  I just could not wrap my mind around the differences in styles represented.

I really enjoyed Designed for Drama.  The Biltmore Company really does work hard to make sure all the aesthetics are covered.  What you can’t see are all the terrific floral arrangements which add to the overall experience.  It’s such a grand house, and a glimpse into a lifestyle that most can’t even imagine.

8 Comments

Filed under Museums

Designed for Drama at the Biltmore Estate

For the third spring in a row, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville is presenting a costume display in the Vanderbilt mansion.  As before, the exhibition is planned and presented by Cosprop, a British costume shop, well-known for their work in “costume dramas.”  And while this is not, strictly speaking, fashion history, it does give an excellent look at how fashions of the past are portrayed in film.

As before, I went to the Biltmore with friend Liza of Better Dresses Vintage, and this time we were joined by Suzanne of Vintage Runway, and Cornelia of Cornelia Powell Weddings.   I can’t say enough about how enlightening it is to attend events like this one with people who share an interest in fashion history.  I learn as much from my friends as I do from the exhibition.

We went on the opening day of the exhibition, and were happy that it was on a weekday, and not the more crowded weekend.  Before the show opened, Biltmore had placed five (that we located, at least) costumes in the public areas of the estate, not in the house proper.  I really do not know if they will be/have been moved into the house, so I’ll give a hint as where to find those not actually in the house.

The first costume was the one above, worn by Carey Mulligan in Far from the Madding Crowd. It is in the visitor’s center.  Like all the costumes not actually in Biltmore House, this one is encased in a protective glass cage.  That makes for very poor photo taking, but the actual viewing experience is much better than my photos might suggest.

One thing I wish the production would add to the information given is when the story was supposed to have taken place.  Of course, we can dig deep into that old literary education and come up with rough dates, and we can also use the styles of the clothing, but in order to check for authenticity of style, knowing exactly when would be a big help.

Far from the Madding Crowd was published in 1874, but that does not mean the movie was set in that year.  From looking at many historical drama costumes, I’ve learned that the late 19th century is often loosely interpreted as far as fashion goes.  Above, another costume worn by Mulligan in the role of Bathsheba Everdene.

These costumes are from Finding Neverland, the story of author Sir JM Barrie, played by Johnny Depp, and his relationship with a woman (Kate Winslet) whose children inspired his character Peter Pan.

The movie was set in the last days of the nineteenth century, and the early twentieth century.  This dress was worn by actress Radha Mitchell, who played Barrie’s wife in the film.

You’d never know, but these are costumes from an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.  This 1996 version was set sometime in the late nineteenth century, but I just could not see these dresses as actually being the style of any particular era.  They were worn by Helena Bonham Carter and Imogen Stubbs.

There were several beautiful dresses designed by John Bright of Cosprop for the 2000 version of Henry James’ The Golden Bowl.

This story was set in the very early days of the twentieth century, and the gowns for it look the most at home within Biltmore House, which was finished in 1895.

This suit was worn by Kate Beckinsale in the role of Maggie Verver.

Well, this was a delightful moment!  Mr. Darcy meets Miss Elizabeth Bennett, not on the lawn, but in the library.  These costumes were from the 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

This is from another Jane Austen story, Sense and Sensibility,  and was worn in a 1995 version starring Emma Thompson.  This dress was worn by her.

This costume is in the Biltmore Wine Shop, which seems a bit odd, but it was positioned such as to allow a really great look from all sides.

And finally for today, this costume was worn by Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane, a story not written by Austen, but rather, about her.  It was based on a book of the same title which speculated on a supposed romance that Austen had.  Anyway, this costume was one of my favorites.  All the decoration on the dress was embroidered (but impossible to photograph) and the fabric was the most scrumptious color (again, un-photograph-able).  This costume is on the second floor of the Village Hotel.

I loved how the plaques showed each costume as it was worn in the each film.  It really does help to see them in action.  Which leads to another observation:  I enjoyed the costumes of the films which I had seen better than the ones I had not seen and had no idea of how the actors portrayed the characters.  But now I’ll have the pleasure of catching up on films not seen.

Tomorrow:  the exciting conclusion of this tour.

9 Comments

Filed under Museums

Embellished at SCAD FASH in Atlanta

Today I have part two of my recent visit to SCAD FASH in Atlanta.  I want to thank Liza for the use of some of her photos.

Embellished is housed in a large room whose walls are covered with glassed-in niches.  All the accessories are behind glass, and as you will see, in a relatively dark space with lights focused on each object.  I’m not a big fan of glass nor of recessed spaces, though it did make for a dramatic presentation.  The viewing did, however, suffer.  And photos were next to impossible, so I’m showing only a few of the highlights.

Many of the objects were arranged in little capsule collections, like the one from the 1920s above.  It does give a good overall idea of the types of accessories used in an era.  But it was hard for the beaded purse and the shoes to compete with that super metal headdress.

As in the case of Threads of History, many of the objects displayed in Embellished came from the collection of Italian collector Raffaello Piraino.  The two hats above are of Italian origin, and both were just lovely.  I thought the embroidery on the pinkish cloche was interesting.  Though 1920s women thought of themselves as being thoroughly modern, motifs of women in old fashioned clothing were very popular.  Here in the States these types of embroideries are quite common, though I’ve never before seen one on a hat.

 

The museum dated the pair of sandals on the left as 1939.  I could definitely see the influence of Salvatore Ferragamo’s 1938 rainbow cork platform creation, but the label in these shoes was “Bruno”.  (I don’t think this was Bruno Magli, even though he first went into shoe making in 1936.  He was in business with his brothers, and from the beginning the business went by Magli.)  It does show how even eighty years ago, and even in wartime, fashion designers tended to copy one another.

As Europe edged toward war in the late 1930s, things like leather went into use by the various militaries, and shoe designers had to be open to new materials, like the snakeskin in the pair of platform sandals on the right.

This pretty straw hat was dated circa 1890s.  It is trimmed with silk fruits and leaves.  The silk ribbons look pristine, and I’m guessing they are replacements.  The part of me that loves construction and the inner workings of fashion wanted to see the interior of the hat.

There were some accessories in the timeline exhibition, and they were well-chosen.  This handbag was paired with a 1950s Lanvin-Castillo coat.  There were no notes on this piece, but it looked like beading on velvet tapestry.

And finally here are the intrepid hunters of fashion knowledge.  That’s me on the left, and the always stylish Liza on the right.

Embellished closes on January 29, 2017, so hurry in to SCAD FASH to see this delightful grouping of accessories.

 

6 Comments

Filed under Museums

Threads of History at SCAD FASH in Atlanta

Enlarge

Last week I traveled to Atlanta to see the latest exhibitions at SCAD FASH.  There were two – Embellished: Adornment through the Ages, and Threads of History: Two Hundred Years of Fashion.  Embellished was all about accessories, while Threads was a timeline, starting with clothing from the late eighteenth century.  I was very happy that SCAD FASH was mounting these two exhibitions on historical dress, as their previous shows have featured primarily modern clothes.

The great majority of the clothes on view are from the collection of Italian collector Raffaello Piraino, which means that most of the clothing is European in origin.  I’ll have more to say about that later on.

The earliest works were men’s and women’s clothes from the 1770s.  The man’s coat is called a habit à la française, and the woman’s dress is a robe à la française.  I am going to be completely honest and say this is not my area of expertise, but I absolutely love the richly embroidered men’s coats and vests of the eighteenth century.  It makes me wonder why men today settle for the blandness of their modern attire.

I saw this exhibition with my friend Liza, who is much more knowledgeable about pre-twentieth century fashion than I am.  But we both thought that the woman’s dress looked a bit odd.  The exhibitions notes did not say, but instead of a stomacher to fill in the bodice, they used that rust-colored fabric.  The same color fabric was used for the petticoat, and it led us to think maybe they were reproductions.

Moving into the nineteenth century, we were presented with this lovely cotton muslin dress.  But again, we thought it looked to be mounted in an unusual manner.  From the back it looks like a lovely early Regency dress.

Can anyone help me figure this out?  I’m pretty sure that those triangular pieces would have gone under the breasts.

These two garments seemed like they just stepped out of a Jane Austen novel.  Both are early 1800s.

I really do love the fashion of the 1830s.  It’s a period that tends to get overlooked, coming between the Regency and the larger crinolines to come in the 1850s and 60s.  My photo does not do justice to these beauties.

Continuing along through time, we come to the age of the crinoline – the 1850s and 60s.  There were some stunning examples on display, with this dress and interesting jacket being a favorite.

Those sleeves!

One thing that made this exhibition so interesting was the addition of custom made sets for the mid to late nineteenth century clothing.  Designed and made by some of the faculty of SCAD, I thought they added a lot to the atmosphere of the clothing.  This was almost like being in a mid-Victorian parlor.

I’m not sure how this photo turned out to be so light, as the exhibition itself was quite dark, at times, distractingly so.  I know that light must be carefully managed when dealing with old textiles, but parts of the exhibition hall were so dark it was hard to make out the details.  Add to that the lights coming through the floor, and it made viewing hard at times.

As I’ve said in the past, one of the strengths of how SCAD FASH manages exhibitions is the ability to arrange the clothing so that it can be viewed from more than one side.  You could see these mid nineteenth century dresses from almost every angle.

The next set of dresses was placed in a Victorian cabinet of curiosities.  With bustles galore, the setting evoked a steampunky mood of fashion meets science.  I loved it, and suggest you go back to the top and enlarge the photo of this entire vignette.

I will repeat, I am a poor student of the high fashion of the Victorian era.  Still, some of the bustles looked so large!

By the nineteenth century fashion magazines spread the latest throughout the Western world, but I am sure there must have been huge regional differences.  All of these 1870s and 1880s dresses came from Palermo, Italy.  Would a grouping from Cincinnati look much different?

The next grouping featured dresses from the 1880s and 1890s.  You can see the famous “leg ‘o mutton” sleeve on the circa 1895 dress on the right.  So handy for dating, that sleeve!

One of my favorite looks was the poorly photographed example that is seated.  It was described as a tea dress, and it has a lot of the hallmarks of the Liberty of London historical dress crowd.  And what would a showing of Victorian dress be without a paisley shawl?

The blue and white dress in the center back was a puzzler to me.  From the exhibition brochure, “Sunday dress with a silk skirt, Prussian blue velvet bodice and a lace appliqued collar, 1880.”  The skirt seems to be an odd shape for 1880.

This dress was dated 1885.  You can still see the bustle, which is beautifully cut and pleated.  And the lace was marvelous.

This dress was stunning in person. made of silk with hand embroidered bodice.  The exhibition notes date it as 1915, but I’m thinking it is a bit earlier, maybe 1908 or so.  Opinions?

In the foreground is one of two House of Worth dresses in the exhibition.  Early twentieth century, with all the bells and whistles one would expect to see in a Belle Époque masterpiece.  This dress is part of the SCAD FASH permanent collection.  The white dress is from about the same time.

A stunning early twentieth century trio, starting with an evening wrap made from silver metallic tulle, embroidered and appliqued with satin.   The middle is a Fortuny Delphos dress in the richest blue imaginable (drat that lighting!).  It is in the SCAD collection.

I loved this late nineteen-teens black lace, beaded dress, especially because of the beaded girdle.

What a marvelous use of color!

There was a line of pretty 1920s frocks, but I found this one to be the most interesting with the matching shawl.

The 1930s were well represented as well, with sleek bias cut gowns.  My favorite, though, was this rayon dress with the Letty Lynton inspired sleeves.  In the background you can get a peek at a late 1940s suit, posed on a staircase, surrounded by her luggage.

And finally, another favorite was this incredible 1950s coat from Lanvin-Castillo.  The color, the buttons, the sleeves!

Threads of History will be on display until March 19, 2017.  Thanks to Liza for letting me use some of her photos.  Next up, some accessories from Embellished.

 

 

10 Comments

Filed under Museums, Road Trip

Thoughts on a Return to USA Production of Textiles

With all the talk about Made in America and bringing jobs back to the US, it is easy to look at the textile and clothing industries through rose-colored glasses.  I was reminded of this yesterday while visiting the Upcountry History Museum in Greenville, SC.  Like many cities in the Carolinas, Greenville was built on the textile industry, and the city really suffered when fabric and clothing makers began closing due to foreign competition starting in the 1970s.

Today, however, the city seems to be doing alright.  There is a downtown that is returning from the brink of emptiness, and they have an arts center, Heritage Green, that is simply amazing.

Are the textile jobs missed?  Yes, I’m sure they are.  Would it be possible to return textile jobs to Greenville?  I have my doubts.  Would people even be willing to work in a textile mill like the ones that closed?  My guess is no.

Along with this weaving machine, the museum had audio to simulate the conditions inside a cotton mill.  The background photo shows the rows and rows of machines, all noisily running to produce the cloth.  People had to yell in order to be hear above the din.

And look closely at the vertical belt that connects the machine to the source of power.  See the wisps of cotton?  Cotton was everywhere in the mill, and workers inhaled a lot of it.  Many became sick with “brown lung.”  My father’s youngest sister died from it.

As time progressed, textile technology improved, something that did not stop when textile jobs first began moving to Mexico and Central America in the 1970s.  My guess is that a textile worker who lost his job in 1985 would not recognize a modern textile plant, with so many of the jobs once done by humans now being done by computers and machines.

And that is the first major obstacle to returning textile production to the US.  Technology has progressed to the point where we don’t have the trained workers in the US who could run a modern textile mill.  We don’t have the machinery, except for these examples found in museums and in rare factories like the White Oak denim plant in Greensboro, NC.  Some sewing factories have even had a hard time finding enough workers who can run an industrial sewing machine.

The museum has this great display on the “stretch-out”.  The stretch-out began in the 1920s, when in an effort to increase profits, doffers, the workers who tended machines and removed ( or “doffed”) bobbins holding the cotton yarn from a spinning frame and replaced them with empty ones, were given more machines to tend.  Slower workers were fired, and the ones remaining had to pick up the slack by tending more machines.

The museum let visitors time themselves at a doffing task, and then see if the time could be improved upon.  If not, then I guess you would be history at that mill.

The president-elect has said that tariffs will be imposed on products imported into the USA as a punitive measure toward those who do not produce in the USA.  I’ve said in the past that this is not such a bad idea, but the truth is, whether tariffs are imposed, or whether firms move to US production, people had better get used to paying more for their clothes and other textile products.

Unfortunately, even in the USA, we have garment workers who make less than the pitiful minimum wage.  Jen recently posted this link to a Department of Labor investigation, and it is eye-opening.  As much as we would like to think that Made in USA insures an ethically-made product, I’m afraid that is just not the reality.

And even if minimum wage is paid, this paragraph from The Fashion Law, tells the story:

The current federal minimum wage, the lowest amount a worker can legally be paid, is $7.25 an hour or about $15,080 per year, before taxes, for an average full time worker. To put that in perspective: The current poverty threshold for a household of one is $11,880.

The bottom line is that there are no easy answers, no easy solutions.  The textile and clothing manufacturing industries have a very long histories of abuses and of circumventing law and human rights.  And when things improve for workers, this industry has a long history of packing up and moving where workers are more desperate for jobs and thus will tolerate less pay and dangerous working conditions.

It gets worse.  I recently posted a link to a company currently making camping clothing in the USA.  As it turns out, that company has ties to a White supremacy group.  Thanks to a reader who looked a bit closer at the company, I was alerted to the problem and quickly took down the link.

Do I want textile production to return to the US?  Of course I do, but I could do without the abuses of the past, and of the industry as it exists today in Asia.  This is just not a simple issue.

I’ll conclude with photos of company store tokens and coupons.

Remember that old Tennessee Ernie Ford song, “Sixteen Tons,” in which he sang, “I owe my soul to the company store”?  It was a common practice for workers to need a cash advance on their meager wages, and the payback was in tokens that could only be spent in the company-owned store.  With a system like this it was impossible to ever rise above the debt.

33 Comments

Filed under Museums, Southern Textiles

Currently Reading – American Style and Spirit

American Style and Spirit: Fashion and Lives of the Roddis Family, 1850 – 1995 is the companion book to an exhibition currently showing at The Henry Ford Museum in Deerborn, Michigan.  Don’t be concerned that you’ve never heard of the Roddis family, as that is part of the point.  The clothing is that of an upper middle class family, and as such is not the couture clothing often featured in fashion exhibitions.

Instead, we are given a look at what many “average” Americans were wearing in the years the book and exhibition cover.  I love this very “slice of life” approach to fashion history.  Several exhibitions and books have been mounted on the wardrobes of the rich and famous (Isis Apfel, Heather Firbank, Anne Bonfoey Taylor) but this close look at the clothing of one extended family is a fresh approach to fashion history.

First, let me give you  a bit of Roddis background.  They lived in Marshfield, Wisconsin, where the family was in the wood veneer and plywood business.  The fortunes of the family mirror those of US history in general, with times being tight during the Great Depression, but booming during WWII and afterward. The family shopped a lot in Chicago, but some of the women were also accomplished dressmakers, and many of the clothes in the collection are home sewn.

The clothes were stored in the attic (actually a large closet) of the Roddis family home, and for years were preserved by Augusta Roddis.  When she died in 2011, the clothes passed to her niece, Jane Bradbury (co-author of the book).  In 2014, Bradbury donated most of the clothes to the Henry Ford Museum.

In addition to the clothing were all the family photographs and many family documents including letters.  Because this documentation still exists, Bradbury and co-author Edward Maeder were able to identify the original wearers of most of the items.  Many are shown in the photos, and some are even described in letters.  It’s a remarkable archive.

Silk chiffon dress with cotton lace, c.1910. From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Photo by Gillian Bostock Ewing. Courtesy of Jane Bradbury.

This dress was worn by Sara Roddis, Augusta’s grandmother.  There are two portraits showing Sara wearing this dress, one circa 1895, in which the dress has the large puffy sleeves of the day.  The sleeves were later altered to the shape you see in the photo.  Sara wore the altered version for a photo taken in 1910.  It’s the inclusion of these photos that makes the book so interesting.

“Cocktail”, a silk taffeta evening dress designed by the newly prominent designer, Gladys Parker, 1934. Photo by Gillian Bostock Ewing From the collections of The Henry Ford Museum. Courtesy of Jane Bradbury

This 1934 dress belonged to Augusta Roddis.  The authors found an advertisement for the dress in the March 10, 1934 New York Times.  It is possible she bought the dress at Best & co., the store in the ad, or she may have gotten it closer to home in another store.  Augusta mentioned in a letter to a sister that she was planning to wear the dress to a ball in 1936, as it was a first date and the young man had not seen the dress before.  Since it cost $36 – quite an extravagance – she wanted to get as much wear as possible from it.

Formal portrait of Augusta by Kay Carrington, 1937. Roddis Family Photo Archive. Courtesy of Jane Bradbury.

This 1937 portrait of Augusta shows her in another favorite gown.  Made in 1932, it originally belonged to an older sister and was handed down to Augusta when she went to Northwestern University.  The dress was made of a creme silk taffeta with a huge magenta velvet bow on the back.  The Roddis women seemed to have a knack for choosing clothing that would remain in style over a period of years.

Rear view (detail) of printed rayon/cotton day dress by Samuel Kass, designed for “Tuya” perfume. From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Photo by Gillian Bostock Ewing. Courtesy of Jane Bradbury

This is another dress belonging to Augusta Roddis.  There is a photograph of her on the Queen Mary in 1949 wearing this dress.

Still Life portraying the Roddis women’s shopping trips. Photo by Doug Mindell. Courtesy of Jane Bradbury.

The book is full of “still life” photographs that feature clothing, accessories, and ephemera from the Roddis collection.  This one shows items from the 1950s.

I am enjoying this book so much, and really wish a trip to Deerborn were in my plans as I’d love to see the exhibition.  I’m hoping it will travel, as this is such a great study of the fashions of one family.  Maybe some other families with similar attics will see this and take steps to keep their collection together for study.  We can hope!

I was sent a pdf copy of the book for review, but I love it so much that I will be purchasing a hard copy.

 

19 Comments

Filed under Currently Reading, Museums