“My father’s brother fought in the pacific during WWII. He stayed in the Philippines after war and married a widow with two children. They never had children together. He worked for CAL and every 7 years they would travel around the world and that always included a stop to see us. When they visited in 1969, I was living at home and planning a wedding. My fiance was in Vietnam and their visit was a bright spot in a very bleak year. Since they would be not be back in the states the following year, I shared all of the weeding plans . I had not purchased a dress but I had a picture. It was a plain white A-line with a simple veil. Aunt Gloria said that she would take the picture back to the Philippines and have the dress made. I was thrilled. When the dress arrived in Rochester many months later, I was stunned. This was not the dress in the picture and it was not me. It is lovely dress but… I found a cap and veil to match and I have never been tempted to dress in pearls and sequence since. I am sure Aunt Gloria thought I was too thin to wear a plain A-line dress. She added sleeves, raised the neckline, the satin panels and beading added dimension. It was a lovely gesture.”
[1890, by Madame J. Baer] Black silk bodice elaborately ruffled and trimmed, owned by Amanda Sjolund Warnell. Bodice very elaborate, center front opening ”double front ” black silk over net over silk inner lining (center front opening edged with black cotton trim repeated at sleeve cuffs and neckline; sleeves are elaborate gathered leg-o-mutton 3/4 length with pleated ruching at mid-arm. Cummerbund waist, mandarin collar with same trim as center bodice and cuffs; inner half-lining of ivory silk. Embroidered gold label inside reads ” G. Baer, 1200 Geary St. San Francisco” A hand-sewn inked label that reads ”Robertson.”
Those in attendance were treated to a lecture by Jo Ann Stabb, who conducted an assessment of this collection of over 100 artifacts in 2002-3 for the California State Parks. Several pieces from the collection were on display at the Sonoma Developmental Center, including some lovely theater coats, evening shoes, a lace blouse and an evening dress. The lecture highlighted Charmian’s independent spirit and outgoing nature, and drew links between her wardrobe and the larger fashion world of each era.
Many of the garments in her collection draw strong correlations with the House of Lucille and with Paul Poiret- though it’s not likely that she purchased items from these makers. Jack London’s mother was an accomplished seamstress, as was Charmian herself.
At various times Charmian’s style was inspired by the Aesthetic Movement and Art Nouveau (especially during her bohemian days in Berkeley and Oakland), and often by her travels abroad with Jack (including trips to Hawaii and the tropics, where she would don Mother Hubbard style dresses and Kimono’s). Japanese, African and other ethnic influences can certainly be found in extant photos and clothing pieces in the collection. Not surprisingly, she had a love of fur – especially trimming hats and garments (reminiscent of Lucille).
The incredibly informative and well attended lecture was followed by lunch and a visit to the Jack London State Historic Park to see the House of Happy Walls (where Charmian’s closets were on view). Park Rangers were on hand to answer our questions, and a park volunteer played music on Charmian London’s piano – much to the delight of the visitors. (For more of my photos from this event, see the gallery at the end)
What made this event all the more bittersweet was the news that came out last Friday: that the Jack London State Historic Park is one of many on a proposed list of park closures due to a $22 million California general fund budget cut. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, those closures are expected to begin in September and have already been approved by the California Legislature.
It will be the first time in California’s history, including during the Great Depression, that state parks have closed because of budget cuts and parks that remain open also will have reduced services.”
What isn’t obvious to many, is that some of these parks also house historic collections of costumes and textiles (as well as other artifacts) – and access to these collections would also be diminished. Along with Jack London SP, and close to my heart, the Fisher Hanlon House (a historic home in Benicia Capitol State Historic Park) has a costume collection and would also be closed.
Benicia is my hometown, and my first experience with a historic costume collection was at the Fisher Hanlon House. According to one parks employee “Parks that do end up being closed will be in a caretaker status, and the collections will still be preserved.” While officials weren’t able to confirm which parks had historic costume and textile collections, they indicated that the Governor’s Mansion and Leland Stanford Mansion both include displays of historic dress. Upon further research, it seems that the Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park also has historic costume, and is scheduled to close in September (For a complete list of California collections housing historic costumes and textiles, see Clothing And Textile Collections in the United States: A Csa Guide).
Now if you want to do something to help preserve these collections that are important to California’s History, I’d advise a donation:
It’s not often that I get to work on fashion related books at my day job,* though it does happen occasionally. I have several coming down the line, so you might hear about them from time to time.
Accompanying an exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco (opening today), Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories by Wanda M. Corn and Tirza True Latimer includes a detailed look on Steins creation of her public persona and the role fashion played in her identity.
According to the authors, “Stein and Toklas had perfected their late-life look by the time they met [Cecil] Beaton in the mid-thirties. From the very beginning of their friendship, the two women shared an interest in dressing distinctively.”
The New York Times Style Magazine recently provided an excerpt of the chapter titled “Dress” which chronicles both Gertrude Stein’s and Alice B. Tklas relationships with their appearance and with ‘fashion’ in general.
As girls they spent time at dressmakers, shoemakers, and milliners, where they acquired day dresses and casual shoes for home life; heels, suits, hats, and gloves for the public sphere; and gowns for special evening events. . . . Alice’s hats, a friend wrote, “were all in perfect condition, kept in their original pretty boxes from the most famous milliners. She had superb examples of inlaid feather work by Paul Poiret, huge black-and-gold birds of paradise. . . .
Happily, the exhibition includes vests, pins and other articles worn by Stein, and the book includes photographs and famous artwork featuring Stein’s image. I’ll be attending the opening this evening, and if I can, will post some additional photos.
A whole host of museum and literary events are planned in collaboration with this exhibit, including a UC Extension Course, lectures on Stein’s ties to queer and artist cultures, among many others. Full details can be found here. After the exhibition closes at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, on Sept 6, it will travel to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. where it will run from Oct 14 through Jan 22, 2012.
In the mid to late 1950s television began to reinforce the shirtwaist as a mother’s uniform on family comedy TV shows such as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, Make Room for Daddy, and later, The Donna Reed Show. These shows reinforced the idea that a responsible or “good” woman [or mother] is well put together at all times, and that her place was in the home. [i] With the advent and prevalence of television, women were shown doing housework in the most perfect of ensembles, including Dior inspired shirtwaists, with high heels, and pearls. Early television shows, such as The Honeymooners had been slightly more realistic and less idealistic than later shows such as Leave it to Beaver, I Love Lucy, and The Donna Reed Show.
In addition, the later 1950s saw a dramatic shift in terms of influence as television began to outweigh all other media types. Television Historian Mary Ellen Zuckerman explains that, “by the mid-fifties it was clear that television could attract larger audiences than any of the older media, even with the cut-rate subscriptions increasingly offered by magazines” (203).
Television characters affected how women felt about themselves and their capabilities, both in terms of motherhood as well as in terms of appearance.[ii] In 1959, Donna Reed was given an award for her character on The Donna Reed Show from the founders of Mothers Day (The American Mother’s Committee), reinforcing the notion that women should be mothers who strive for perfection (Chapman; Fane 107). William Roberts, who created the characters for The Donna Reed Show described her character as “wife, mother, companion, booster, nurse, housekeeper, cook, laundress, gardener, bookkeeper, clubwoman, choir singer, PTA officer, Scout leader, and at the same time effervescent, immaculate, and pretty” (Fultz 118). Moreover, her character and unrealistic perfection helped to solidify the shirtwaist dress as an icon of female perfection for American Culture.
[i] Of “the goodwife “Her setting was the home and she was seldom seen outside it. Her uniform was the apron and later, the housedress” (Meehan 34).
[ii] “Titles such as ‘Do You Make These Beauty Blunders?’” suggested just how close women could be to making mistakes and did little to alleviate the anxieties about personal appearance that were also being fostered by films, and later, television” (Walker 193).
Chapman, Priscilla. “Donna Reed Wins citation for Television Family Show.” New York Herald Tribune 20 May 1959.
Fane, Xenia Flyer. “Television Image of the Father: A Comparison of the Father Image Held by Home Economics Teachers with the Image Perceived by High School Students on Commercial Television.” Diss. New York U, 1965.
Fultz, Jay. In Search of Donna Reed. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1998.
Meehan, Diana M. Ladies of the Evening: Women Characters of Prime-time Television. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1983.
Walker, Nancy A. Shaping Our Mothers’ World: American Women’s Magazines. Jackson: U P of Mississippi, 2000.
Zuckerman, Mary Ellen. A History of Popular Women’s Magazines in the United States, 1792-1995. Westport: Greenwood P, 1998.
A friend recently drew my attention to the 80 feet of new yarn in downtown Berkeley – suggesting that I was the culprit. I was not, but ever since reading The Culture of Knitting by Joanne Turney I’ve become fascinated with this particular iteration of street art / graffiti. Bansky’s Exit Through the Gift Shop was the first time I thought remotely about graffiti as art, but it wasn’t until I watched the trailer below that I began to think of yarn or knit bombs as a gendered pursuit – though I have to wonder about showing images of mothers ‘yarn-bombing’ with children in tow. This potential film brings up a number of questions for me: Does it have the same level of danger associated with it? Are there substantial legal troubles? Do businesses like it better than ‘traditional graffiti’ (now there’s an odd turn of phrase)? Do people consider it art, or merely decorative ?
I do hope that Sarah Gonzalez gets to make and release her documentary, I’d be curious to see the artists profiled and find out of they have the same legal troubles that standard graffiti artists face. In the Bay Area at least, it seems that knitted street art has more staying power and less of a stigma. It seems somehow more egalitarian, and that anyone (or any knitter) could participate. Does that also mean that the artists are less respected? How do male graffiti artists perceive this format – and will it eventually loose its cache once a museum does an exhibition of yarn bombs? I’m curious to see where this goes…
Many of you will be familiar with my work on @WornThrough, where I have written articles on fashion history and managed the book review section for the past four years.
Branching into my own territory, I hope to be able to share a little more of my own interests and research with you directly. I’m looking forward to your comments and reactions, and hope you’ll enjoy this new adventure.