Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dressing for Tea: 1890-1920

If only I loved history in high school as much as I do now, we would have saved ourselves a lot of trouble.

I recently attended a presentation at a local library entitled: DRESSING FOR TEA: 1890 - 1920 - The Clothing and Customs. This program was presented by the Costume Resource Center at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site in Buffalo, NY.

Short history lesson: President McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo, NY on September 14, 1901. Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt was vice president. He came to Buffalo to be sworn into office, hence The Buffalo Museum. This event took place in the Ansley Wilcox House, which today houses the museum.

The costume resource center is part of the museum. The presenters brought with them what a well to do woman would wear to tea in that 30 year span. In that time frame many events took place that had great historical import. Queen Victoria died, King Edward took the British throne, the Boar War was taking place in Africa where British colonialism was contested and independence was the prize, British women won the right to vote and WW I was taking place on European soil. These events greatly affected life in the U.S.

The 1890's woman wore what would be considered today a huge amount of clothing. The presenters had a mannequin dressed for the occasion. She wore the cinnamon colored dress, a fedora hat, pale colored kid leather gloves, shoes, stockings, and carried a matching purse. This is what the audience saw. But underneath, she had many more layers.

The presenters undressed her, layer by layer. They explained what each piece was and it's purpose. The dress was silk. At this time in history, you either had a silk dress, a cotton one or a wool one. A dressmaker would have made the dress for you. The dress was partly machine sewn and partly hand sewn. (the sewing machine had been invented in 1850). You could not just go to a store a purchase one. The dressmaker would have made your purse as well. The cinnamon dress was two pieces, the skirt and the top were separate and matching. Very detailed, leg o' mutton sleeves, tucks, matching lace at the neck. That removed, we saw the white cotton, lace trimmed petticoat. Each and every one of these garments closed with buttons. No zippers, no velcro. She wore a white, button front, lace trimmed, fitted camisole tucked into her petticoat. Under that she had on a corset, drawers and stockings.

The stockings were cotton or silk at this time. Later, in wartime, silk could not be had. The garment called "drawers" was so named because one would draw them up over one leg, then draw them up over the other - thus "drawers". They ONLY covered legs. They were woven white cotton and lace trimmed, of course. note: the only knitted garment was hosiery. When I say, the drawers only covered legs, I am saying there was no crotch or behind in this garment. It was all open. They looked much like an apron with legs. note: with all this clothing on, a visit to the bathroom could possibly be a very tense situation - having "drawers" that facilitated this event, I'm sure was very much appreciated.

The corset laced up in the back. The front had hooks and eyes. It was a very rigid garment, meant to give an hour glass figure. The rigidity was provided by whalebone or metal stays. This garment was not laundered often because of its construction. Many women wore a very thin garment under it to keep it reasonably clean. Garters were attached to the bottom edges of the corset to hold up the stockings.

Then the lovely miss put on her shoes, her gloves, her hat and carried her purse. Now she was ready to go to tea.

She would have been invited to this tea by hand written invitation.

The tradition of afternoon tea came about in the 1840's because lunch was skimpy. People were hungry again in the late afternoon. Not dinnertime yet, they needed a cup of tea with bread and butter. Therefore, tea time.

One of the items in her purse would have been smelling salts. Wearing those corsets prevented one from ever taking a deep breath. Much fainting was the result. The corset also, over time, changed the contours of a woman's torso. Her rib cage and her pelvis were squeezed together. This too, caused unhealthy respiration, as well as many miscarriages and deformed births.

When this part of the presentation concluded, the presenters then dressed another mannequin from the inside out. She has the white dress on. You will note her crocheted purse. It is called a "reticule". Any purse with a drawstring was called a reticule. You may also notice her hat. The crown of the 1890's hats were very large to accommodate big hair. The women saved all the hair in her comb and hair brush in a small container. When she had a goodly amount, she would wrap that hair in a net. Then used it to give her hairstyle extra height for pompadours and Gibson girl up do's. Hence, hats with large crowns.

It was also during this time that women wore bustles which were created with yet another undergarment. This one, all wires and tape. The dresses were all longer in the back in order to accommodate the bustle. The figure gained by this look was called "the powder pigeon". Women looked much like a walking pigeon wagging its behind.

As history played on, women became more and more emancipated and their clothing reflected this. By the 1920's, the flapper girl had cut her hair into a bob style. She wore very few undergarments, no corsets, shapeless dresses that had lots of swing to them.

Closed up undies began to appear in the 1920's. In the 20's, a bandeau could be had to wear under the teddie but it had no shaping. Stockings were held up by garters. A cloche was the hat style, pulled down over the bob hair do.

The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site looks like a lovely destination for a girlz day out........

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Part II of Girlz Day Out

Part II of GIRLZ DAY OUT was a tour of the LeRoy (NY) Historical Society Museum.

Most towns have a historical museum. My own town does. I love to learn about the history of the early days and beginnings of towns, villages and cities across the U.S.

On our GIRLZ DAY OUT, after touring the Jell-o Museum, we visited the LeRoy Historical Museum which was on the same property as the Jell-o Museum, separated only by a garden.

Since my favorite thing in the whole world is discovering old, unused, discarded household items, rescuing them, repurposing them into something useful and beautiful and "current", I was in my glory in this house which was the museum. The high ceilings, the extravagant woodwork, the wavy glass of the windows, the broad porches, the nooks and crannies.......................ohhhhhhhhh (swooning)

There were two docents there who made sure we didn't miss a thing. The home had a center entrance with a huge reception area with seating, paintings of ancestors, hat and umbrella rack, library table. To the left was a room that housed the "land office", full of surveyer's tools, roll top desk, many glass enclosed bookshelves, maps of settlement divisions. And to the right of the entrance hall was a parlor, with music room behind that.

It was in the parlor that we discovered that this house once was part of a seminary for women. In one of the nooks between the parlor and the music room was a historical display from Ingham University. The first exclusively women's university established in the U.S. Founded in 1835 as the LeRoy Female Seminary, chartered by the N.Y. State Board of Regents in 1852 as Ingham Collegiate Institute. The thing that struck me as most sweetly sentimental was a tiny class ring. Not a big showy ring like today's class rings but a dainty gold filigreed, pearl centered ring. Many of the women who matriculated at Ingham went on to make their mark on history. One, Sarah Frances Whiting founded the physics department and established the astronomical observatory at Wellesley College.

There were two kitchens in the museum. One, a 1930's kitchen and the other, an 1830's kitchen. That hundred year span produced astronmical advances in kitchen technology. The housewives went from scrubbing laundry in a wash tub with her hands to an electric wringer washing machine. From making meals in the fireplace over a wood fire to preparing meals on a gas powered stove. From having no refrigeration to an electric refrigerator, from candlelight to electric light, from personal visits and letters to a telephone.............

100 years before - 1830

All in all, GIRLZ DAY OUT was a totally precious day filled with beautiful memories.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Girlz Day Out

Girlz Day Out is something that a couple friends and myself do every so often. Sometimes it's just a lunch date. Other times it's a long distance adventure. We don't have a set time to do this like once a month or every other month. Just whenever we're in the mood. This past Saturday was the day. We had planned a visit to a thrift shop in a YWCA in a town about 30 miles west of here. This shop is a fund raiser for the local domestic violence ministry. My friends and I all found items we couldn't live without. Of course it helped that the black and red plaid wool jacket I bought was $2.50 and the voile pink and black floral big shirt I liked was $3.00. My friends also bought jackets and blouses. It happened also to be a beautiful, sunshiny day. Our next stop was the Jello-o museum. Though this is relatively close to us (30 miles) but none of us had ever been there. The museum is a small unassuming building but the history of Jell-o is magnificent. We had a guided tour by a Jell-o expert who led us into the museum, bid us to sit down on a bench, like school children, while he regaled us with Jell-o history.
The product had a very difficult birth. The first couple owners could not make it a commercial success. The company was sold a couple times for very small amounts - like 35.00 one time and 450.00 another time. Finally it became the property of a gentleman with VISION. The year was 1899 and most American housewives had never heard of a jelled dessert. Also - just add water - was a totally new concept to them. Many did not have refrigeration but did have methods for cooling (like ice) and Ice Boxes, springhouses, etc. A MARKETING STRATEGY was initiated. The Jell-o executive hired and trained a sales crew, dressed them in business attire, provided transportaion for them to go on the road with samples. His directions to his salesmen: give the product away for free. Visit every home. At one, give a packet of Jell-o. At the next, give away a recipe book.
He paid sales calls to the grocers and encouraged them to stock Jell-O on their shelves. Then it went viral. And the rest is history. The museum had advertising campaigns to show us. Large original oil paintings which were reproduced in newspapers and magazines. By the time radio and television arrived on the scene, all the biggest celebrities got in on the Jell-O buzz. Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Kate Smith, Lucille Ball plugged Jell-O on their programs. Bill Cosby was Jell-O spokesman for thirty years.
The early packaging was designed by the the Kewpie Doll founder. Therefore, it was very Kewpie Doll-ish. See picture above. Jell-O has a long and industrious history with many, many products following the original jelled dessert. Next came Jell-O pudding, then both instant Jell-O and pudding, then sugarless, pudding pops, jigglers and, the latest - Jell-O shots (made like a jiggler but with vodka instead of water) (for adults only). We thoroughly enjoyed our jaunt to Jell-O Land but we were only at the half-way mark on our Girlz Day Out. The Town's Historical Museum was our next stop. That will be the subject of next weeks blog.

Monday, August 6, 2012

What Are Little Girls Made Of ?

Sugar and spice and everything nice. That's what little girls are made of. Nursery rhyme - Unknown author. This is a DIY tutorial for a cute little embellished photo of your favorite l'il moppet. First: take a photo of the child preferably with her arms outstretched. This is so that you can attach her long skirt around her torso and have her arms and hands exposed. Print the photo on card stock.
Then carefully cut out the picture like you would a paper doll. I ran this cut out paper doll through my embossing machine. But you can also cover both sides of the photo with clear contact. You'll need to cut around that as well.
I taped a 6" long popsicle stick to the doll back to keep it stable. Using the double stick red line industrial tape.
Prepare the base. I used a 2" wooden circle from the craft store. I glued an old fashioned clothespin upside down onto the middle of the circle with wood glue. Let it dry overnight. Paint the entire stand black. Let it dry well.
Prepare the skirt. I used a folded in half vintage hankie for the skirt. Just use your imagination for your skirt fabric. (tulle, ribbon, purchase pre-made ruffle from the craft store, etc.) I gathered my hankie. You may have to gather fabric. If you use wired ribbon, just pull the wire to gather. If you buy a snippet of pre-gathered eyelet lace from the fabric store, you're home free.
I attached the skirt to the doll by wrapping the red line tape above the waist (empire style)all around both front and back of doll. Then I pressed my skirt onto the tape. I left my skirt open in the front because my vintage hankie had handmade lace all around four sides of the hankie. With my skirt in place I wrapped a narrow ribbon around her waist to finish it off.
Now you're ready to place your paper doll into the stand. I put a bit of wood glue on the bottom of the stabilizing popsicle stick before I slid the doll into the stand because I wanted her to stand high enough to accommodate her long skirt.