For Sale: 10,000+ Historic Clothing & Textiles

When the email announcing this sale arrived in my inbox late last week, I wished, just for a moment, that I had better access to the East Coast and it’s glorious auction houses. What is it about Massachusetts? It seems that more historic clothing is stored in warehouses there, than in just about anywhere. “More than 10,000 fashion and textile objects will be sold in this whirlwind, two-day sale” in Sturbridge, Massachusetts on May 10 and May 11. Preview the catalog here: August Auctions.

These objects are newly deaccessioned from major institutions such as The Brooklyn Museum (NY), Smith College Costume Collection (MA), The Chrysler Museum of Art (VA), The Goodwill Historic Costume Collection (OH), The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (CA) and others. It of course brings up questions of donor intention, as well as the quality, condition and importance of the objects themselves (See my post on Worn Through on Issues in Dress Collecting: Deaccessioning).

That said, the sale will apparently include a large selection of coveted designer names, and historical clothing from the likes of Worth, Doucet, Paquin, Chanel, Norell, Cashin, Givency, and Dior as well as:

1000 Victorian & Edwardian garments, American & European designer clothing, lingerie & whites, corsets, military uniforms, lots of gents clothes including the 18th C embroidered clothes pictured, paisley & export shawls, collarless shirts, boxes of collars & cuffs and other accessories, costume jewelry, French swatch books, Asian garments/textiles, 17th-20th C. lace & silk brocades & embroideries, ladies’ 18th C through 1980 garments, including many designer & couture, ladies’ sporting clothing, [and] huge accessory lots.

If anyone is willing to report back from the sale – I’d love to hear what your thoughts are.

*Images via Augusta Auctions

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Motherhood: Donna Reed & The Shirtwaist Dress

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.

-This has been an excerpt from my 2009 article on the Shirtwaist Dress, published in the Journal of 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).

Sources:

Vaughan, Heather A. “Icon: Tracing the History of the Shirtwaist Dress” Journal of American Culture, Vol 32, Issue 1 (March 2009) pp 29-37.

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.

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Yarn Bombs, Knitting and Gender

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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…

*Image via Berkeleyside

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Natacha (Rambova) in the News

Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times brought with it a mention of Natacha Rambova – the woman who’s fashion and costume design career I’ve been researching for the last eight years. It always thrills me to come upon new (or not-so-new research). Times reporter, Chris Erskine, took a road trip to Crown Point, Indiana where Natacha Rambova and Rudolph Valentino were married.

(Lake County Courthouse, in the county seat of Crown Point, Ind., is where silent star Rudolph Valentino was wed. Via the Los Angeles Times)

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Familiar Territory

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.

~Heather

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