Fashion Factoid: Veronica Lake’s Hair

Known for her ‘peek-a-book’ hairstyle – it became a bit of a problem during World War II: “In the early 1940s, US government officials asked Lake to wear her hair up for the duration of WWII: it seems that too many women working in factories were imitating her famous “peek-a-boo bang” and getting their hair caught in assembly-line machinery.” (Turner Classic Movies)

Here’s a video making the point:

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CSA tour of “Wear to Party” in Ventura, CA

Balenciaga taffeta gown with lace trim, 1955 (Kyoto Costume Institute)

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the Costume Society of America program including a tour of “Wear to Party” at the Museum of Ventura County, as well as the tour of Lotusland with a lecture on Ganna Walska (the Polish opera singer) and the costumes designed for her by Erte.

I’m going to go into too much detail (CSA Members can look forward to a writeup in our Spring 2014 newsletter of the event). However, I do want to share a few photos from the tour of “Wear to Party” – which was fabulous, informative, and fun.

“Wear to Party” is an exhibit focused on the clothing worn while social entertaining in Ventura County, including beach parties, barbeques, dinner dances, and of the prom attended by local residents. Our tour guide was the volunteer curator (and former Smithsonian curator), Shelly Foote – whose knowledge seems endless. My favorites from the exhibit include several 1930s dresses: a garden party dress with a jellyfish print, a black taffeta evening gown with a dramatic back, and a black velvet gown with green beaded sleeves. However, the pink Balenciaga-esque prom dress was also a favorite. See more below.

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Weekend Reading: Smithsonian’s 101 Objects that Made America

Marian Anderson’s Fur Coat (1939)

Just a few days ago the new issue of Smithsonian Magazine landed in my mailbox. The entire issue is dedicated to the 101 objects (out of the 137 million in the Smithsonian’s collection) that are the ‘most important’ in American history and culture (arguably, of course). More than a few objects of clothing and textiles made the cut.

Each is accompanied by a small contextual essay and an illustration (usually a photograph of the actual object, but occasionally illustrations are included).

Neil Armstrong's Space Suit (1969)

Some of the essays are written by surprising people. For example, Martha Stewart penned the essay on the Singer Sewing Machine and Justice Sandra Day O’Conner wrote the essay on her own judges robe.

The essays are available in part or in full online, and grouped by theme: Wild America, Discovery, Voice, Power, Invention, Community, Happiness, America in the World, and Freedom. It’s a good issue and a unique look at the history of the U.S. The weekend’s approach is a good excuse to seek out the issue, sit down and read it (especially those for those with historical leanings).

What articles of clothing would you have included that they left out?

Neil Armstrong’s Space Suit (1969)

Lincoln’s Top Hat (1865)

Marian Anderson’s Fur Coat (1939)

Cesar Chavez’s Jacket (c. 1990)

Justice O’Connor’s Robe (1981)

Lincoln’s Top Hat (1865)

Singer Sewing Machine (1851)

Levi’s Jeans (1873)

Aids Quilt (1987)

Ruby Slippers (1938)

Michael Jordan’s Jersey (1996-97)

Muhammad Ali’s Gloves and Robe (1974)

World War I Gas Mask (1917)

U.S. Olympic Hockey Jersey (1980)

Star Spangled Banner (1814)

 

 

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Books in Brief: “Hollywood Before Glamour: Fashion in American Silent Film”

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If you could see the stack of books on my ‘to do list’ you might run for the hills, but you also might sit down for a good long read. There are some great reviews ahead – so keep an eye out. First up is Hollywood Before Glamour: Fashion in American Silent Film by Michelle Tolini Finamore. Released earlier this year, it has been on my to do list the longest, and here are some brief notes about it’s contents.

Nearly 300 compact pages of academic scholarship cover the 1900s through the 1930s in 6 thematic essays (plus an introduction). Not surprisingly, much of the work discusses Lady Duff Gordon (or Lucile), and also includes an entire chapter on the designer Peggy Hamilton.

It also includes discussions of American Fashion design on film during World War I, and the rise of the ‘specialist’ costume designer (including Adrian, Andre-Ani, Travis Banton, Howard Greer, Iribe, Mitchell Leisen, Max Ree, and Sophie Wachner – though noticeably absent is Natacha Rambova.) Actor’s who provided their own wardrobes for modern films, and the marketing potential that came out of that is also explored. The book is well researched, but is not meant to be a comprehensive study of the era. It remains a helpful resource.

*Anna Moore/Lillian Gish wearing negligee in Way Down East (United Pictures 1920, director D.W. Griffith). Photo by Bain News Service, new York. George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.)

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Did you know there was a textile factory at Sutter’s Fort?

Looms, placed near windows, at the blanket factory of Sutter's Fort
For sale in the store at Sutter's Fort

On a mini-vacation to Sacramento last week, I spent a little while at the Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park. For those unfamiliar, the Swiss immigrant named John Sutter founded the fort in the Sacramento Valley after getting a land grant from the Mexican government in 1939.  Sutter then created a flourishing agricultural empire, and a haven for many immigrants traveling west. More famously, on January 24, 1848,  James Marshall made his customary inspection of the sawmill he was building for John Sutter, and discovered gold that began California’s famous gold rush.

Interestingly, it was the same James Marshall, Sutter’s head carpenter, who made the looms and spinning wheels for the Sutter’s Fort blanket factory. Thousands of sheep were raised near the fort and in the spring, the sheep were sheare, and the wool processed at the Fort. Local Native Americans worked the looms and wheels. The factory was in the same location in 1846 that it is today, and there is much educational programming (mostly for children) related to its history. The Fort also displays hand-knitting and other textile arts throughout its rooms, and the store even has small kits for learning to quilt, spin, weave, and even sew.

 

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Victorian Dress at the Sutter County Museum

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The Community Memorial Museum of Sutter County in Yuba City, CA is holding an exhibition of Victorian gowns from its own collection (Remembrance of Gowns Past on view through November 16). The museum website details:

The Community Memorial Museum of Sutter County is featuring a new exhibit called Remembrance of Gowns Past to display a portion of the Museum’s collection of Victorian era dresses. . . . Accompanying the dresses are photographs of women from the Yuba-Sutter area wearing typical apparel from the second half of the 19th century, with long full skirts and elaborate hats. Admission to the opening event is free. The exhibit will remain through November 16th.

According to Museum Director, Julie Stark, the exhibit includes wedding dresses, day dresses, and maternity dresses that are “accompanied by photographs from the nineteenth century of Yuba-Sutter residents, all dressed in their best clothing for their photo portraits taken at a photographer’s studio in Marysville.” The exhibit also includes a 1960s gown showing Victorian influence and a Steampunk coat referencing duster-style coats of the era. There are about a dozen ensembles in the exhibit, ranging in date from 1860 to 1910 (plus the two twentieth-century pieces).

The museum is located at 1333 Butte House Rd  Yuba City, CA 95993 and is open Wednesday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 4:00 p.m. Admission is free.

*Photos via the Community Memorial Museum of Sutter County.

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Fiber in the North State: Fiber Fusion 2013

Sheep at Fiber Fusion 2013 (Chico, CA)

A few weekends ago I treated myself to a trip to the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico for  Fiber Fusion 2013, an event put on by the Mount Lassen Fiber Guild. So yes, I mostly went because of my obsession with knitting – but much to my surprise, the spinners and weavers nearly out-numbered the knitters. Though I do own a spinning wheel, and even have fleece yet to spin, I’m fairly new at that.

There were sheep, and full fleeces, spinning and weaving displays, lace and tatting displays, as well as an adorable Angora rabbit that almost ended up coming home with me. Participants learned to make rope, what tatting was, and how to dye fabric using natural materials (like avocado pits, oak leaves, and tree bark).

It was a feast for both the eyes and for the hands (unlike most museum exhibits, the exhibitors invite you to touch!). I came home with far too much yarn, a brain full of inspiration, and perhaps even a desire to raise some fiber animals myself. Many of the vendor’s mentioned their plans to go to Lamb Town in Dixon on October 6 – so if you missed Fiber Fusion, or live closer to the SF Bay Area, give Lamb Town a try.

 

 

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Victorian dress at Fort Vancouver and the McLoughlin House

 

Chain-stitch sewing machine at the McLoughlin House
Historic clothing at the McLoughlin House

A few weeks ago, I was one of a lucky few to travel to Oregon City, Oregon and Fort Vancouver, Washington to participate in the Costume Society of America Western Region‘s program on Victorian clothing on the west coast. Along with twenty or so other attendees, the program included a visit to the Fort Vancouver costume shop and the historic home of John McLoughlin (who presided over the Hudson’s Bay Company, and was later known as the ‘father of Oregon’).

At the costume shop, we learned about the process of dressing the volunteer re-enactors who play a large role in making history come alive at the fort-including a look at the reproduction costumes, their trimmings library, and sewing shop.

The Fort has over 700 volunteers and over 100 under the age of 18, due in large part to the Dame School and Young Engage School – a special youth volunteer interpretive program that teaches local youth in hand work and living skills from the 19th century.

Jewelry on display at the McLoughlin house

At the historic McLoughlin House, back in Oregon City, we were able to view of some historic garments from the 1820s-1870s from a private collection, as well as some of the textiles, home-craft tools, and jewelry related to the McLoughlin family – who were known for their skills at embroidery, knitting, and other hand work. I was particularly intrigued by the jewelry in a small display case downstairs – that included a mourning ring.

The tour ended with attendees being invited to learn fish scale embroidery or “Imitation Pearl Work” using scales from Carp (Salmon, it turns out, have scales that are much too small). I spent the better part of an hour nearly one-on-one with the instructor, who told me the details of how she obtained the scales, and researched which were the best to use. It was a fascinating process. According to Erin Gilday, “most surviving fish-scale embroideries, which adorned everything from mantel draperies to lampshades, cushions, scarves, needle books, and purses, were made in England, researchers also have found examples in France, the West Indies, Barbados, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. (Those who want to know more about it should checkout Gilday’s article “Sew Fishy: The Use of Fish Scales in Victorian Embroidery” in the July/August 2012 issue of Piecework Magazine).

Fish Scale Embroideries at the McLoughlin House (This one by Heather Vaughan)

 

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Books in Brief: The Mechanical Smile by Caroline Evans

Many of you will know that I’ve been doing a lot of research into the history of fashion in America. Happily, well-known historian Caroline Evans came out with a book this summer that fills a gap in the available research on early fashion shows. Her book, The Mechanical Smile: Modernism and the First Fashion Shows in France and America, 1900-1929 (Yale, July 2013) actually covers the 1890s through 1929 in both France and the United States, and relies on significant new archival evidence. It not only includes close discussions of early fashion shows, but also their impacts on dance and early cinema.

Twelve chapters divided evenly between discussions of fashion shows and of mannequins (models), this large format, 330 page book is heavily illustrated, and as a good resource should, includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. For my purposes (i.e. American fashion history), Chapter 4: 1900-1917 America was insightful and well-documented.

Lucile's vaudeville version of "Fleurette's Dream at Peronne," 1917. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

As is the premise of Marlis Schweitzer’s book, When Broadway Was the Runway, Evans spends some time discussing the theatrical connections of the first fashion shows in the US, especially the appeal they held for Broadway and Vaudeville producers. This included a two-week show in September 1903 at Madison Square Garden (more of a static convention than what we now think of as a fashion show) which included live fashion shows of French only designs (no American designs). Evans goes onto to describe the first department store shows – which also only showed French designers – including Wanamakers’ Napoleonic themed fashion show in 1908, Poiret’s American tour of Macy’s, Gimbel’s and Wanamakers in 1913, as well as these store’s own shows beginning in 1910. Not surprisingly, Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon), her models, and their New York presence are also well covered (and well illustrated). Here, FIT’s special collection of Lucile related ephemera plays heavily.

The next section of the America chapter explores the rapid spread of fashion shows across the US (and across markets) after these early beginnings. Evnas notes, “From 1910 fashion shows began to be staged twice a year in Los Angeles and San Francisco, collectively organized by the major department stores and called the United Fashion Show.” The chapter goes on to talk about theatricality in American fashion shows: theme’s, dramatic structures, and other elements that American shows used to appeal to buyers and consumers.

Evans’ three year fellowship to research and write the book certainly paid off. Her endnotes alone reveal how much research she did for this project, and the results are drool-worthy. She catches all the details one might need to learn more about a particular nugget in this fact-packed resource. I’ll certainly be using it as a resource for years to come.

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Upcoming Event: Fiber Fusion on September 28

Angora Blizzard with Cormo Wool! (Bungalow Angora Farms)

What is purported to be the largest Fiber and Quilt Show in Northern California will take place on September 28 at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico, CA. Fiber Fusion 2013 will include an array of Northern California-based fiber related artists (plant and animal fibers), and vendors, as well as well as quilters. It looks like a great way for fiber-and-yarn lovers (like me) to get to know where to find locally produced products. I’m especially keep on the Alpaca and Angora vendors… According to the Mount Lassen Fiber Guild, it will include:

Vendors, demonstrations, and hands-on activities as well as FREE door prizes and fabulous raffle baskets for everything fiber – weaving, knitting, spinning, crochet, felting, dyeing, native basketry, fleeces, yarn, books, patterns, connections for instruction and workshops. Vendors and demonstrators include breeders, yarn shops, and fiber artists.

The best part ? It’s free. Participants include:

Pit River Wool Company (McArthur, CA)

Meridian Jacobs (Vacaville, CA)

Menagerie Hill Ranch (Vacaville, CA)

Bungalow Farm Angora (No. California)

Arbuckle Fiber Company (Arbuckle, CA)

For more information, and a complete list of vendors/participants, visit the Mt. Lassen Fiber Guild’s website or Facebook page.

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