Costume & Culture Exhibition

 
2020 Excerpts from the docent notes by gallery

April 29

Brooks Brothers Gallery

 

May 6

The Gatsby Era

 

May 13

American Dress to the 1850s

 

May 20

American Dress 1860 to the 1910s

 

May 27

The Shirtwaist

 

June 3

Sports and Uniforms

June 10

Yachting Attire

 

June 17

The Boudoir

 

June 24

A Century of Wedding Dresses

April 29, 2020

Brooks Brothers Gallery

 

An excerpt from the docent tour:

We begin in the early 1800s, when New York City was a flourishing hub. Immigrants had arrived from various countries, and here on Cow Neck, the Dutch and the English were the predominant settlers. They, as all groups, brought their culture and their clothing with them.

 

All during the 1800s our port of New York City bustled with ships delivering a variety of imports and talented craftsmen. The ships that arrived were also filled with sailors who frequented the hundreds of shops in New York City. There were shops that sold goods of all types, from household needs to clothing stores. The early department stores included Lord & Taylor (1826) and Arnold Constable (1825).

 

The elite men’s clothing store of both domestic and imported goods was Brooks Brothers, founded in 1818, now the oldest surviving clothing store in our country. The founder was 45 year old Henry Sands Brooks, son of a doctor. He set up shop at the corner of Cherry and Catharine Streets, near the East River with all of its seamen, with a reported $17,000 investment. Cherry Street was already known as the street of the first White House, where President Washington lived from 1789 to 1790.

 

“Records of the house show that Henry broke with tradition on almost every score when he pioneered in the clothing trade. Bolts of fabrics were available for selection for made-to-order clothing, and ready-made clothing was stacked on tables and was hung at the open windows.

There was one custom of the times that Henry followed religiously. Whenever an able seaman purchased an outfit, Brooks, like all other clothing merchants, would reach behind the counter and offer him a deep draught of rum on the house.​"

Check out the Brooks Brothers Gallery 360-Panotour here!

 

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May 6: The Gatsby Era

The Gatsby Era

An excerpt from the docent tour:

"The Great Gatsby" (2013) movie, with costumes made by Brooks Brothers, clearly showed that the 1920s were very different times. World War I had just ended and people wanted to celebrate. The 1920s saw Prohibition enacted and speakeasies appeared in basements and back rooms. The Women’s Suffrage Movement that started after the Civil War finally saw fruition. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed in 1920 and women now had the right to vote. It was the Jazz Age. Opulent luxury and a privileged lifestyle flourished on Long Island’s Gold Coast. It was the Gilded Age for art and culture.

 

”Displayed are two costumes from the award-winning film, a formalwear ensemble that would have been right at home at one of Jay Gatsby’s famous lavish parties, and a more casual day outfit, appropriate for tea at Daisy’s house in the fictional East Egg...also known as Sands Point.”  - Brooks Brothers

 

Our dresses are intricately beaded in elaborate patterns, or laced, fringed, or fur-lined. Women of the day cut off their long hair and “bobbed” it close to the chin. They started wearing cloche hats, fitted to the head. The Roaring ‘20s were complete with “flappers,” and silent screen star Clara Bow was the epitome of the new era. These free-spirited flappers smoked and drank, and danced and drove. They wore rouge and lipstick, and hemlines scandalously went above the knee in 1926!

 

Coco Chanel’s baubly costume jewelry was extremely popular. She started the trend with a pair of pearl earrings, one white and one black. The Japanese had recently invented the process of cultured-pearls which were affordable to many, unlike the natural pearls available only to the very wealthy. Art Deco style and a fun “anything goes” attitude reigned.            

 

Our sideboard is set up as a bar. Despite it being Prohibition, liquor was served in homes and at parties by many. Numerous cocktails were concocted at this time to cover up the harsh taste of the bathtub gin. We have a bar menu out showing a few of the many new cocktails being offered.

 

The Roaring Twenties tragically ended with the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, along with banks, Wall Street, factories, and the way of life as we knew it. Investors lost $16 billion. 14 million people lost their jobs. The Great Depression saw hunger and devastation everywhere. No longer was the flippant manner of the Roaring ‘20s possible.

The 1920s were undoubtedly a new era of fashion. Next week we’ll begin to take a look at how this Roaring ‘20s flapper style evolved.

Check out the 360-Panotour here

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May 13

American Dress to the 1850s

 

An excerpt from the docent tour:

The American Revolution (1765-1783) halted trade which directly affected our clothing. All trade with Britain stopped, and other countries were coerced to discontinue trade with us as well. 

This meant that when men went to war, their wives or mothers had to sew their jackets, shirts, and breeches, and knit their stockings, hats, and gloves. They wove their blankets and made their candles and their soap for washing clothes. They packed up food, and some of them followed their husbands with pots and pans, and babies, to cook along the way.  Soldiers were forced to wear their clothing until it turned to rags, and as their shoes were worn through they bound their bloody feet. 

We began to hand sew all our clothing from fabric either recycled repeatedly or processed from flax, cotton, and wool. Our country focused on independence and frugality. Items normally purchased were no longer affordable. It is reported that at this time a pair of ladies gloves cost $7, and a yard of gauze, $24. This is equivalent to over $500 today. 

America did not have silk at hand, but cotton became a big industry. Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1793 produced in one day what a person could clean in one year.

Cotton was grown in the southern states where many southern slaves were taken out of the tobacco fields and put to work carding, spinning and weaving. But slavery actually grew as cotton planting became profitable. Processing took place in mills in New England, giving tens of thousands of people work. By 1840 we were producing over 60% of the world’s cotton.

Historically, both American and English women watched the style of the French. The French Revolution (1789-99) caused the French women to stop wearing 5’ wide panniers (side-bustles), corsets, and their close to 2’ high hair. By the end of the 1700s, women wore Empire-style dresses in a Greek Classical style. War simplified fashion.

In the early 1800s a more fitted bodice was introduced by using “gores”, panels of fabric sewn together – using less fabric without gathers or pleats. Women’s waistlines reached their tiniest  with very wide skirts. By the 1830s dresses became corseted with puffed leg-of-mutton or “gigot” sleeves. Our gold dress with gigot sleeves was also designed to be 8” off the ground, a style unusual for its time that didn’t last long.

 

Sewing machines, invented by Elias Howe in 1846, and upgraded with a foot treadle by Isaac Singer in the 1850s, revolutionized the fashion industry. A button-hole machine followed. Dress makers and tailors jumped on these novelties, followed by many women. A sewing machine was costly at $70, but by 1871 half a million sewing machines were produced annually. 

Mme. Demorest developed paper dress patterns in 1859, and later opened a fashion shop, selling millions of patterns. They were so popular that in 1863 Ebenezer Butterick began competing with her. 

Chemically produced dyes for cloth allowed material to become more colorful. This was a major breakthrough, as previously, for example, one had to boil black walnuts to get brown dye. To get blue dye, one had to boil indigo in a pot of urine, let it sit for weeks, and add yeast. Not only did the process stink, but the material smelled after washing. 

Dress patterns allowed all women to make a garment of the same style, regardless of class. Outfits in stores or fashion magazines, or on other women, were easily copied. The differences now became the quality of tailoring and the selection of fabric and trimmings.
 

Check out the American Dress to the 1850s

360° Panotour here!

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May 20

American Dress 1860 to the 1910s

An excerpt from the docent tour:

By the 1850s skirts were at their widest. In this exhibition, we were unable to display the skirts at their fullest as they wouldn’t have all fit in the room. Their size prevented women from sitting in carriages – on long trips they had to sit on the floor. They could barely walk two abreast in town, and you can imagine what happened when it was breezy. 

 

The Civil War (1861-65) changed everything. The North blockaded ships carrying goods into the Southern ports. The sale of cotton virtually stopped, both at Southern production and Northern processing. Clothing had to be recycled, repurposed and repaired. Southern women couldn’t find clothing, certainly not affordable clothing, anywhere. Women were making hats out of cornhusks and straw and decorating them with dried flowers. And most of us remember Scarlett O’Hara wearing a beautiful dress made from her family’s green velvet draperies.

 

Women during the Civil War, women on both sides, had to maintain life when the men went off to fight. There were farms and plantations and businesses to run. And then many of these women had to keep working after the war, when the men never came home and the slaves and servants were gone. They couldn’t be milking the cows and chopping the wood with hoops on. 

 

The big skirts had to go.

 

But there was a glitch in this design simplification after about a decade. Why? The aftermath of war. The Reconstruction Period after the Civil War led to all things feminine and elaborate. 

By the end of the following decade the skirt’s fullness got pushed to the rear as a bustle. Decorative shirring was made easy with a sewing machine. Evening dresses could have 70 yards of trimmings.  New synthetic dyes, first invented in 1856, introduced a variety of colors to the wardrobe palette. Women bedecked themselves in jewelry and they curled their hair. Delicacy was an admired trait and make up was not acceptable. 

Parasols kept a complexion pale in accordance with fashion’s decree, and it was safer than following the trend of ingesting chalk or arsenic for a wan appearance. This fashionable accessory, made with all types of fabrics and materials, then was made smaller in size to be used dramatically. 

Elite stores had been located on Broadway. Now, beautiful homes and townhouses were being built on Fifth Avenue, the new chic spot all the way up to Central Park. The very wealthy women wanted to be dressed by Paris, and either sailed over to shop or went to the new Parisian showrooms popping up in New York City. Europeans sent over all the latest styles, some dressed onto dolls, and those fashions were adapted to the American way of life.

 

Women that worked in their home or outside of the house were unable to maneuver in many of the most outré fashions, however, and required less restrictive clothing to allow them to move about more freely. Again, clothing became more simplified for working. Subsequently women followed this path to a style of dress that granted them an ease of movement that suited all. 

 

The 1890s dresses of the Edwardian era were hourglass in shape. Tiny waists and flared skirts prevailed. The Gibson Girl was born: an illustration of a natural looking woman with shirtwaist and skirt, and hair piled on her head under a boater. This “natural” look was achieved by the use of very tight monobosom corsets which forced women into an s-shape. The pale complexion so desired earlier in the century was now replaced by a healthy glow. 

 

After the turn of the century clothing had a more tailored look, and towards 1920 a softer look prevailed. 

Check out the 360-Panotour here

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May 27

The Shirtwaist

An excerpt from the docent tour:

 

A cultural revolution was now underway. New time-saving machines and opportunities allowed housework and chores to get done more quickly. No more hand beating batter for 45 minutes or dragging the rugs outside to be beaten. In the 1870s electricity was introduced in industry. The White House got electric lights in 1891, and other homes began to follow. Safer elevators brought the rise of skyscrapers.

Accordingly, women left their homes more frequently: to work, school, museums, recitals, for social causes, to travel, and play sports. Women were working in a number of professions, as teachers, in shops, in factories, with new job opportunities, as secretaries that “typed” (typewriter 1868) and as “telephone operators” (telephone 1876). Suitable outfits were required.

 

The shirtwaist, introduced in the 1890s, was the answer. Dresses and suits continued to be worn into the 1900s, but the shirtwaist and skirt became the unofficial day uniform. American women loved its easy care, retailers were thrilled and began to export them to Europe, where the couturiers were very displeased. American fashion designers began to garner more interest and the American fashion industry took a giant step forward.  

 

Shirtwaist production leapfrogged and by 1900 there were over 450 shirtwaist factories. The NYC garment factories employed tens of thousands of people. European immigrants were poor and starving for work, and would work for any pay, under any conditions. The factories required workers, even children, to work into the night, 7 days a week, with no bathroom breaks other than at a quick mealtime, and then with only one or two bathrooms available for hundreds. They were charged from their measly pay for their needles and thread and electricity. They were locked into cramped quarters and were frisked at the end of the day to prevent thievery. Factory workers perished from accidents and fires in these rampant sweatshops.

Union sympathizers had a hard time getting the factory workers organized with the polyglot of languages but they did it. The factory worker’s strike lasted through the winter from November 1909 to February 1910 with over 20,000 people involved. The women persevered despite their great need for an income to feed their families, but they were mostly ignored by the general public. The factory owners hired thugs to beat the women and had them arrested. Financier J.P. Morgan’s daughter Anne took notice of their plight and enlisted Alva Vanderbilt Belmont to come to their aid. These elite socialites made a difference. The police were not about to arrest them. 

 

Legislation for improved safety conditions was finally enacted, but it didn’t translate to better working conditions for many. In 1911, at the Triangle Waist Co. on Washington Place, which actually had improved conditions, fire broke out. 146 workers were locked in, mostly immigrant Jewish and Italian women. They either perished in the fire or jumped to their death, many afire. A temporary morgue was set up at the East River. People came to identify the dead; thousands came to pay their respects. Large protests were waged and people streamed into the streets. 

Several years after the Triangle fire, WWI broke out. The European fashion industry was hit hard when men went off to fight. American designers gained more stature during this time and when the war ended they were at the forefront of the industry. 

 

Women’s lives changed during WWI as they began to take on responsibility for everything the men gone to war had previously done. Women’s attire of shirtwaist and skirt became the daytime attire for women of all classes. Even wealthy women of leisure were donning well-designed tailor-made separate suits for their daytime attire. Silk was utilized, as wool was much needed for military uniforms and was no longer an option. Corsets went by the wayside, as the 8,000 tons of steel used in corsets now went to ammunitions production.  
 

Check out the 360-Panotour here

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June 3

Sports and Uniforms

An excerpt from the docent tour:

By the turn-of-the-century young women were enjoying participating in sports without being frowned upon. They were beginning to wear different styles for various activities. America’s mass production of clothing allowed our country to pave the way in active-wear design.

Automobile-driving outfits appeared in the 1890s for the new cars beginning to appear. Mass production of cars in 1900 led to several million cars by the end of the decade. Think of all the new automobile outfits required – oftentimes dusters for men and women, with women wearing ties, gloves and hats draped with chiffon veils to keep off the dust and mud. By the late teens a portable windshield was even devised to fit over a woman’s head as the cars had none. Waterproof fabrics were often used for the full, long coats. 

 

Baseball uniforms appeared in the 1870s, and soon looked much like they do today with their close-fitting knickers and shirt, and visored cap. Baseball mitts or gloves were not used in the early years, but stockings were: the “Cincinnati Red Stockings” was our first professional team. New games of basketball, volleyball, and figure skating were being devised for the first time.

 

In the late 1800s, women rode bicycles and played croquet and tennis. They walked and skated and did calisthenics. Regular street clothes without bustles and with higher hemlines were often worn for some of the sports, particularly cycling. 

 

Women went bathing at the beach, now at the same beaches men went to. Swim suit style was evolving. During the first half of the 1800s women wore weighty woolen bathing dresses with corsets underneath. Some ladies even weighted their hems so their skirts would not float up. 

 

In the 1860s 3-5 minutes spent in the seawater was deemed long enough for any health benefit according to physicians. But fortunately, late in the 1800s, scientists learned more about the cause of diseases, so bathing was able to take its place as a favored recreation. Now tunics with knee pants, stockings and mob caps were worn. And by the 1920s, swim suits were “tank suits” – a belted tank top and shorts worn with silk stockings and boots. Some beaches had patrols with measuring tapes to ensure a swimsuit could not be more than 6” above the knee. 

 

Bicycle riding became very popular, but long skirts that could get easily caught in the wheels were dangerous, so hemlines began to rise. Tandem bicycles brought even more controversy. Some said the woman should sit in front for the view; others said but then she would have to steer and that was too difficult for a woman. Doctors advised women to remove their corsets when riding, so perturbed corset manufacturers responded with “bicycle” corsets. Bloomers, originally causing controversy in the mid-1800s, made a new appearance. 

 

In 1896 the Olympics were reintroduced and women could not participate. They competed unofficially in tennis, golf and archery, and those sports became official for the 1908 games. Women’s figure skating had been added as an event in 1904, but the U.S. Committee would only allow women to participate in sports where they wore long skirts.

 

In war, all resources go to the military. Fabric usage was reduced in WWII, so bathing suits grew smaller. One tiny two piece suit was named after our South Pacific military site, Bikini Atoll. 

 

The use of leather, metal, rubber, and nylon was also reduced. Styles changed and limited hose, girdles, zippers and shoes. It all went into the production of uniforms, boots, military vehicles, and parachutes. Uniforms for women proudly joining the armed services became a booming business – they were required for nurses, Red Cross volunteers, and military jobs.

Check out the 360-Panotour here

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June 10

Yachting Attire

 

 

 

 

June 17

The Boudoir

 

 

 

 

June 24

A Century of Wedding Dresses

 
 

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COW NECK PENINSULA HISTORICAL SOCIETY

336 Port Washington Blvd., Port Washington, New York 11050
www.cowneck.org         516.365.9074          info@cowneck.org

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