Category Archives: Road Trip

Random Thoughts on History and the Past

Our recent trip to Pennsylvania included a lot of history, which is the top consideration whenever we plan a trip. I’m lucky that my husband is also interested in the past, as it makes for an agreeable itinerary for both of us.  The primary reason for the trip was so I could attend the regional Costume Society of America symposium in Shippensburg, PA, but when we realized how close Philadelphia was, we decided to add a few days to the trip and visit the city.

Much of what is now referred to as the Old City is owned publicly and is administered by the National Park Service. A large part of this is the Independence Hall complex, seen above. In the center is what was the old Pennsylvania State House, and it was there that the Continental Congress met to discuss and sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and where eleven years later the Constitutional Convention was held.

To the right is Congress Hall, where the Congress of the United States met after the government moved to Philadelphia in 1790, and behind the trees on the left is where the Supreme Court met.  In a building to the right of where I took this photo is where the Liberty Bell is now housed.

I always find the juxtaposition of modern buildings and historical ones interesting. Philadelphia is a modern city, and that is left from colonial and early Federal days is scattered  throughout the Old City. The house in which Dolly Madison lived with her first husband survives, but the house that was George Washington’s Presidential residence does not. You can visit Betsy Ross’s house, but not Ben Franklin’s.

Both Washington’s house and Franklin’s are represented as “ghost houses”, where frames made of white pipes show where the houses would be if they had survived. It’s hard to believe that the President’s residence was torn down, but look at the photo above and you can see the big yard in front of Independence Hall. Years ago this lawn was full of homes and businesses. Washington’s house was located on this lawn.

This is the Thomas Bond House, which now houses an inn, and which is where we stayed. To the left is a parking garage, to the right a paved park, and beyond that, an apartment building. The paved park is the site of the home of William Penn, the founder of the Pennsylvania colony.

It is useful in such a situation to be able to imagine the missing buildings, and to see this house as part of a street of similar ones.

Thankfully, such a street still exists. It’s Elfreth’s Alley, where the houses all date from 1720 to 1830. It is literally in the shadow of  Interstate 95 and is just off a busy modern street, but all that is forgotten when walking this alley. So how did it survive? It became home to poor immigrants, and was rediscovered in 1934 when preservation efforts began. If you look at cities where a lot of old buildings survive, you’ll see that poverty is often the reason.

And while it’s a shame that so much of historic Philadelphia was lost, the real story might be that it is amazing that so much still exists. For comparison, how many pre-1830 buildings are still standing in New York City. The answer is very few.

I found this visit to Colonial Philadelphia to be oddly comforting in our stressful political climate. It was a great reminder that the figures of the past were not perfect beings, but they were still able to create a democracy that has lasted 230 years. They enslaved people, even Franklin (who later argued against slavery). They gave women no say in the proceedings, and when Jefferson wrote “All men are created equal…” he meant all white men.

In a time when we seem to be going backward in our progress as human beings, this serves as a reminder of how far we have come since 1776. It also helps to remember that history, like fashion, is not linear. I think the best example of this is our recent elections. Total control is no longer in the hands of one political philosophy, but is now shared with those of different views. If you study how our Constitution was written, you’ll see that our country has never agreed on every issue, but it is necessary that all voices be heard.

But enough of that – let’s look at signs of fashion history. We spotted this sign just down from the Betsy Ross House, but it is not a hoop skirt factory, but an apartment building. At one time this was an industrial building, but I’m unsure if hoops were ever made there.

When traveling, don’t forget to look up.  This building on Market Street is no longer a seller of trunks and bags, but one can imagine what it must have been like one hundred years ago.

At the site of an old public house, A Man Full of Trouble must have been referring to the hatbox she is carrying.

On the way home we stopped in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, which is most known for the raid of abolitionist John Brown. Again, the National Park Service has a big presence, and it interprets not only the raid, but also the town of Harpers Ferry as it was in the nineteenth century.

I had been wanting to visit Harpers Ferry since college, when one of my professors declared that everyone in the town had one leg a bit shorter than the other from walking on the hilly streets. I actually can’t confirm that is true.

Part of the town is level, and runs along the Shenandoah River. This has been restored to look as the town did in the nineteenth century. Not knowing this, I got all excited when I saw the shop windows full of antique merchandise. As it turned out, it was just an illusion.

Still, it was fun peering into a general mercantile of the time.

The best interpreted store was an actual men’s haberdashery, Philip Frankel & Co.

Due to it being off-season, there were few rangers about to tell about the buildings, but the park has done a decent job of posting information for those willing to take the time to read.

 

 

 

 

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The Fashions of Fiction at Shippensburg University, Part 2

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.

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The Fashions of Fiction at Shippensburg University

One of the highlights of my recent trip was The Fashions of Fiction from Pamela to Gatsby at the Fashion Archives and Museum at Shippensburg University. I’d never been to Shippensburg, but I know of their collection due to an exhibition I attended at the DAR Museum in Washington, DC, a few years. In that show, some of my favorite garments had been loaned from Shippensburg, and I’ve been wanting to visit ever since.

I got my chance when the Costume Society of America Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions planned a symposium at Shippensburg. I’ll be posting more about the symposium, but today is all about FA&M.  As you can see above, the curator, Karin Bohleke, chose seven works of fiction, and then illustrated the characters through the use of the types of clothing they would have worn. This is not a new concept, as it especially pertains to Jane Austin, but the choice and range of the novels was interesting in that it also presented a sort of fashion timeline, with a few gaps.

It was also interesting because not all the characters were rich, and not all were white. I liked that there was a mix of female and male authors. There was not only women’s clothing, but also that of men  and children. It really helped that I had read five of the seven works, and I’ll go ahead and suggest that any of you who might be visiting Shippensburg before this exhibition closes in April, should have read all seven novels.

I had not read Pamela, but there was a short synopsis of each novel, and notes concerning how garments were important to the story.  Pamela had been a lady’s maid, but she inherited finer things when her mistress died. The blue silk gown dates to circa 1750, but was later refashioned. The petticoat was made by Mary Marsh Leggett, and dates a bit later.

Detail of gown and petticoat

Accessories play a big role in Pamela, with pockets standing as a symbol for  concealment. This lovely pocket is wool on linen, circa 1750. The shoes were worn by Hannah Breck for her 1737 wedding in Massachusetts.

This is a housewife from the early nineteenth century. Every lady’s maid would have carried one in her pocket.

Men’s clothes were also important to the story. Pamela finally shows her love for her mistress’s son by sewing a waistcoat for him, this after he tried to impress her with a fancy gold lace waistcoat. This silk with gold embroidery coat was stunning.

Ourika was a young Senegalese woman who had been taken to France and who was educated by a rich family. All’s well until she realizes that as a black woman she has few prospects in the marriage market, regardless of her accomplishments.

The brown gown dates a bit later than the white, circa 1795. It shows the coming fashion associated with the last years of the eighteenth century, and the first ones of the nineteenth.

You can barely see the shoes associated with both dresses, but they too are antique. I hate exhibitions where the accessories are so in one’s face that they overshadow the clothes, but this was an instance where I wished for a little more shoe.

Ourika’s gown is made from silk woven in the famous Spitalfields of London, circa 1770. Can cloth this fine even be woven these days?

I’m guessing there are few among us who have not read Jane Eyre. My big confession is that I really did not care much for the book; even after three readings I’ve not been able to warm to Jane and her Mr. Rochester. But no matter, as the clothes make up for the story.

Left to right:

The white wonderfully embroidered dress (circa 1815) represents the haughty Blanche.  I really wish you could see the purple checked shoes she is wearing.

Mrs. Dent is wearing a black cotton and net gown, in keeping with her more conservative character. Circa 1818. Her embroidered shawl is circa 1805.

Mr. Rochester makes his appearance in his paisley banyan, or dressing gown.

And then there is Jane:

My best dress (the silver-gray one) was soon put on: my sole ornament, the pearl brooch soon assumed. I perceived my sandal was loose; I stopped to tie it, kneeling down for that purpose. I heard the dining-room door unclose; rising hastily I stood face to face with him: it was Mr. Rochester.

Having these snippets of text from the works represented added so much meaning to this exhibition. Note how Jane’s shoe ties are loose.

One of my favorite dresses in the exhibition was this one – a circa 1800 embroidered silk evening gown. How about that purple!  The turban and sleeves are reproduction, but add much to the way the dress is presented.

I’ll finish this tour in my next post, but I have a few words to say about cooperation. Even though the Fashion Archive and Museum has a very large collection, sometimes one needs a bit of help to fill in the gaps. I mentioned earlier that I first saw some of the Shippensburg collection at the DAR Museum. They in turn, have some objects represented in this show, as does the Chester County Historical Society, collector Mary Doering, and the Maryland Historical Society. I think it is great the smaller collections can work together like this so visitors can have such a delightful experience.

Next time, more stories.

 

 

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Shopping with the Vintage Traveler: Atlanta

As any good trip does, my recent visit to Atlanta involved a bit of shopping for old stuff. Just as a good exhibition is a learning experience, so is a bit of browsing antique markets.  So here’s a bit of what I saw, but did not buy.

I’m not too sure about the practicality of a ceramic flask, but I thought the one above was cute, even if the Scottie was a bit pudgy.

I first did a bit of looking in Chamblee, a town that has been overtaken by the urban sprawl of Atlanta. For years the place has marketed itself as a destination for vintage and antique shoppers, and there are still several very good antique stores there. However, I was really dismayed to find two of my old favorites gone, one a victim of gentrification. What used to be an Aladdin’s cave of treasures is now a cafe and a “design center”.  Still, there was more than enough to spend several hours of looking.

You would think that the bathing cap above would have gone into my shopping cart, but I’m afraid it was a victim of age and deterioration. The rubber was brittle and there were bald spots. A real shame, as this one was really great.

I really blew this one. I was so bummed about the store across the street being gone that I had a hard time concentrating on the good stuff. This is just a great pin, with the DC-3 plane and the two parachutes. What was I thinking?

This was rather cute, and I do love the nautical look, but I had to pass due to the amateurish appearance of the design.

Nothing amateurish about this coat, though. The first tip-off that this was a Bonnie Cashin design was her signature stripe used for the lining. Then there are the turn-lock closures, and the leather trim, and it all adds up.

That stripe is often found in Cashin’s work for Coach. This coat was labeled “A Bonnie Cashin, Sills and Co.”

Click to enlarge.

Besides Chamblee, I was able to fit in a quick trip to the monthly Scott Antiques Market. Scott’s has never been my favorite market, as it tends to cater to the decorator rather than the collector. But there are some very good vendors there, and I have found a few treasures over the years. I wasn’t in the market for a handbag, but this seller also had hankies, including a terrific Tammis Keefe that I did buy.

For those of you who were inspired by the Met gala this year, one seller has you covered when it comes to Christian iconography.

Here’s help for the fashion indecisive in the form of a game.

All that was left of this salesman’s kit was the suitcase.

Most of Scott’s is held inside, but there are also spaces for people to set up outdoors. The seller uttered those magic words, “Feel free to dig.” Unfortunately, most of the stuff was from the 1980s and later.

There were vintage bargains to be had. This dress was an incredible $48.

These were framed fashion sketches made for Laura Ashley in 1970. They were really fantastic, and had price tags to match.

The vintage traveler in me wanted these LV suitcases.

I am a real sucker for crazy quilts, and this is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. That spider is the absolute best!

And here is part of the reason I don’t make much of an effort to go to the Scott Market more than every three or four years. The market opens at 9 am, but for the first hour many of the vendors are still not open. And this was on the second day of the show. For someone like me who needs to get on the road to home, this is a big inconvenience. Sellers! If you are at a show to sell, you need to be there so I can your stuff.

 

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Liberty Antiques Festival – Spring 2018

It’s officially flea market season. This weekend was one of my favorites – the Liberty Antiques Festival. It never disappoints and this show was especially good. We have been in a rainy pattern here in the Southeast, and often that means dealers leave the textiles at home, but for some reason they all took the chance on the weather. As it turned out, both days of the show were beautiful, if a little on the cool side.

Despite the presence of clothing, I didn’t find anything I needed for my collection, but I did find shoes and skates and a great little pair of “ski-skates”. So, here’s what I saw that was interesting to me, but I didn’t (for the most part) buy.

I loved this, and could see how handy it would be for sorting all my embroidery thread, but where would I put it?

There was a new dealer who had the most fantastic photos. The ones above and below were all in a group from a news service, and were of the rich and famous. Many, like this one, were identified:

The engagement was announced yesterday of Lady de Clifford and Mr. Arthur Stock, of Glenapp Castle, Ballentrae, Ayrshire. Our photo shows Lady de Clifford with Mr. Arthur Stock at Murren in Switzerland.

This group of photos was a real treasure, and needed to be kept together, so there was no way I could afford the thirty-odd photos that were priced at $20 each. A shame.

This is a chromolithograph of the sort that people collected for their scrapbooks. So pretty, but again common sense whispered that the price was too much.

At first glance this looks like an ordinary shirt. But look at the $2 bill and the spoons, and you can see that this is a miniature salesman’s sample.

Flea market rule #14: Every single box of textiles much be thoroughly examined for hidden treasure.

Without a doubt, this is the best way to display vintage hankies I’ve ever seen. Most dealers just pile them in a little box and one has to stand and flip through the entire stack. This way potential buyers can see at a glance if this seller has any hankies of interest.

What about the Nunn-Bush salesman’s case? And it was surprisingly well-made, with nice leather trim.

I may have shown this little boy’s middy and knickers set before, as I’m pretty sure I had seen it previously. I don’t usually buy children’s clothing, but this was a temptation, as it shows a step in the progression of girls and young woman wearing middys for sports.

This scarf was pretty amazing.

I see a lot of overshot coverlets at shows like this one, but rarely one with light blue and red. Very pretty!

This handbag was tiny and made from cardboard. But look at that Scottie.

Here’s proof that I live on the edge. I took this photo to show in this post, but the more I thought about Peter’s Ski Skates, the more I wondered why I didn’t buy them. I even posted a photo on Instagram, hoping that would be enough, but all the enablers over there told me I should have bought them. By that time I realized a smarter somebody had probably scooped them up, but I got back to the seller’s booth and they were still there. He even gave me a generous discount.

Meet Rosco. Unfortunately, he was not for sale.

The show was a bit smaller than last fall’s show, and two of my favorite sellers were not there. Still, I found some fantastic things for my collections, which I’ll be showing off in the coming days.

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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.

Click to enlarge

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 enslaved workers. Documenting the work of enslaved persons 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 enslaved workers. 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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Traveling

I’ve never much liked flying, and especially since every ounce of glamour has been squeezed out of the experience. I think the last time I felt special on an airplane was in the early 1990s on a Luthansa flight. I’m glad that flying is not the extravagance that it must have been to these travelers in 1940, but it would be great if people tried a little harder to make the experience tolerable for others. To see the worst of it, check out @passengershaming on Instagram.

I’m always happier when I can drive to an event or destination. Tomorrow I’m headed for Cincinnati where the Midwest Region of the Costume Society of American is holding their annual symposium. Two days of fashion history and museum visits really is my idea of heaven on earth!

 

 

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