A History of the Dolman of Ivory Brocade Silk and Chenille Fringe

A History of the Dolman of Ivory Brocade Silk and Chenille Fringe

Erin Bernard

Miss Rosalie Hassler wore the dolman of ivory brocade silk and chenille fringe on the evening of April 14, 18841 to the Metropolitan Opera Company’s premier of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots at the Academy of Music on Broad Street in Philadelphia, PA.  While the Drexel Historic Costume Collection note cites Miss Hassler to have worn the dolman on March 14, 18842, to a performance by the Metropolitan Opera Company at the Academy of Music, the Academy of Music did not feature such a performance on that date.  However, according the Metropolitan Opera Company’s Archives3 and advertisements discovered in “The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection of Academy of Music programs, playbills, and scrapbooks,”4  the premier of the Metropolitan Opera Company at the Academy of Music in 1884 was on April 14th with a performance of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots.  It seems safe to gather that Rosalie attended the opera exactly one month later than the Drexel Collection has recorded.

The dolman, commonly worn by women to operas as cloaks or mantles, features a “fitted curve”  over a woman’s back, protruding over the bustle.  The sleeves are bell-shaped, reminiscent of modern swing coats.  Made in a variety of fabrics including silk, plush, or fur, dolmans were also trimmed with fringe, fur or even lace.  “In 1884 and 1885 long close-fitting coats of brocade, usually of light-coloured satin or silk ground with a pattern in deep tones of velvet, became the rage.  The fashion was inspired by the girl graduates in the opera Princess Ida produced in 1884.”5  While Miss Hassler’s coat is not long at 35 inches in length, it is an ivory-colored silk dolman with brocade pattern, making this dolman in line with 1884-1885 fashion trends, inspired by an opera to attend the opera.

When considering other dolman jackets of the period found through the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website6, there is a trend in dolmans featuring printed silk fabric with slits in back to rest over the dress bustle.  The fringe on the silk dolmans of the 1880s have a more feathery look than prior dolmans, ranging in fabrics from chenille to silk to fur.  The 1880s dolmans also feature elaborate fringe on the collar area.  The Ivory brocade sets Miss Hassler’s dolman apart from the darker rose-printed ones of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection.   Renowned designer Emile Pingat’s work of the 1882-1887 time period featured ivory, fringe, and in the later of those years, fur.  Arguably, Miss Hassler was quite the fashionista for her time because her dolman is ivory like the fashion-forward Pingat dolman of 1885.7  Miss Hassler’s choice to wear ivory also fits in line with fashion trends for unmarried women to wear light colors.8

726 N. 6th St. in Fall 2012.

Miss Rosalie Hassler came from a Jewish family heavily involved in music within Philadelphia.9  Their father, Henry, brought the family over from Europe in 1842 to Philadelphia, and the family is credited to have lived at a number of city residences by Boyd’s Blue Book including 214 South 8th St.10  and 726 North 6th St., the latter listing including Miss Rosalie Hassler herself.11 The fact that the Hassler residence was included in Boyd’s Blue Book supports the idea that this family was, in some way, known to fellow Philadelphia residents.  After all, Howe’s rationale for including the addresses and names of households in the book was to list “householders from the most prominent streets.”12 

Rosalie’s brother Mark was a music director and orchestra director, including the head of his own “Hassler’s Grand Orchestra” to which people hired and paid for performances at various Philadelphia venues.13  Simon Hassler, also Rosalie’s brother, was a composer and violinist who wrote many orchestral pieces for Philadelphia performances including the “Centennial March” in 1873 as well as assorted works for Cape May, NJ.14

Simon and Mark Hassler are, perhaps, better known than almost any of the musicians of this city.  The reason is evident.  They have lived here and grown up with us.  Simon was born in Bavaria, Germany,  July 25th, 1832, but came here when but ten years of age.  Mark has also been a resident since boyhood.  The father, Henry Hassler, was a musician who emigrated to this country.  His sons received a careful music education, and when still young demonstrated their capabilities.  Simon has written numerous marches, entr’actes, waltzes, polkas, etc. etc.  As a conductor, his ability and popularity have united in his favor.  Mr Hassler has, for some years, directed the orchestra at the Chestnut Street Opera House, and on many a special occasion his baton is wielded over a large crowd of  instrumentalists.  His brother, Mark, has similarly attained distinction.  Miss Harriet Hassler, daughter of the latter, has musical abilities, as shown by her compositions…15

Unfortunately, the search for information on Miss Rosalie Hassler herself has been less than fruitful, but what is known is that she was unmarried at the time she wore the dolman.  Because her brothers were so heavily involved in music society within Philadelphia, it is fair to see why she was at the opera on the evening of April 14th.  According to the Drexel Historic Costume Collection, Mark Hassler was somehow involved with direction of the opera performance16, but he is not featured on advertisements on any of the 1884 playbill files from the Academy of Music Archive at the Historical Society of Philadelphia.17 Considering how active Mark was with his musical work and considering how prolific Simon was as a composer, it seems strange to not have found them on any playbill as a board member, advisor, director, etc.  While Rosalie’s limited historical documentation could arguably be due to her being a female, the lack of notable appointments for the Hassler brothers in Academy concerts begs the question of whether they were excluded due to religious identity.

The Concert Hall of the Academy of Music, view from box seat overlooking audience. According to the Academy Tour, the chandelier includes enough crystals to line the sidewalk from Broad Street to Rittenhouse Square.

As for the Academy of Music itself, there are few things to note.  First of all, it is important to establish how very fashionable the Academy of Music was and is in terms of Philadelphia society.  In the Academy’s early days, it was used for opera, but it was also used for other high profile events such as the civic forum for nominating Ulysses S. Grant to his second term run for President of the United States.18   In 1877, the Academy hosted a high technology concert by playing a concert from New York City over a telephone.  While some patrons cited the concert to be of low quality, the crowd was in awe of the new technology.19  The tradition has continued over the years as newspaper articles continuously report fashionable events at the Academy.  A Philadelphia Bulletin article from 1961 reported on a fashion show and concert ball at the Academy, stating that the event would feature “…a number of attractive Philadelphians showing chic afternoon clothes,” and that “Both events will bring scores of distinguished Philadelphia families to the Locust Street site.”20 According to an article in the Pepper Potpourri in 1982, “The stage door on Locust Street is probably the most interesting entrance in Philadelphia.  Through its antique portals have passed everything and everybody in music, the opera, the ballet, jazz, politics, travel and a thousand other fields which require stage presence.”21

The appearance of the Academy of Music fits its purpose as a grandiose place to connect the arts with social power and fashion.  Architects Napoleon Le Bron and Gustav Runge designed an opera house in the style of the great Baroque music houses of Europe including Italian marble flooring, Grecian columns, crystal chandeliers, golden muses, a grand ballroom dedicated to Mozart, and the acoustics fit to support the human voice in operatic glory.22 As the Academy of Music tour guide impressed about the current beauty of the building, the space would have glimmered a bit more magically with the gas light fixtures of 1884.  It becomes only natural to think of the dolman in this space because it too is a piece of exquisite quality.

The Academy of Music Ballroom is soundproofed so that events may take place during concerts. According to the Academy of Music tour, the ballroom decor was done in the spirit of Versailles in honor of Mozart. The scenes above the doors depict Mozart operas. Like the Academy as a whole, the ballroom has been through a series of restorations.

Considering the advertisements noted in a few Academy of Music programs from 1884, the merchants of Philadelphia were also aware of the Academy’s connection to fashion.  These 1884 advertisements also confirm that the dolman featuring brocade silk and chenille fringe was absolutely in fashion and desirable at the moment Rosalie attended the opera.  For example, at the bottom of one Concert Programme, one short advertisement is featured, “Use Belding Bros. Spool Silk.”23  On a program for “Little Red Riding Hood, Old Bachelor, Butterflies’ Ball” of April 1884, an advertisement for Partridge & Richardson of 17, 19, and 21 North 8th Street covers the entire back side including, “We Started Ahead, Are Still Ahead, and expect to keep Ahead on Ladies’ Dress Trimmings…  Silk and Chenille, Moss, Marabout Fringes  are made in the best styles to match all the Newest Shades of Dress Goods.  Silk and Bead Gimps our own importation.”24

Whether Rosalie purchased this piece readymade or had this piece made for her is uncertain, though similar dark-colored dolman advertisements have been spotted in 1884 catalogs including a dark, similar imported silk dolman priced at $33.00 in John E. Kaughran & Co.’s Illustrated Catalogue, Fall and Winter, 1884-85.25 What is crucial, as more is uncovered about the dolman’s history, is how Rosalie was using this dolman and what its social message would have been.

When considering Phillipe Perrot’s argument that women in the nineteenth century wore clothes to partly express their husband’s social status26 in conjunction with Grant McCracken’s point that clothing can convey social messages left unspoken27, the argument that Rosalie’s dolman was used as her admission ticket to music society, rather than the $6.00 price paid to attend the opera28, emerges.  It also becomes clear that her fashionable dolman was not just representative of her place at the opera, but it was also an expression of her family, specifically the men of her household and her music society-involved brothers.  Understanding that Peter Stallybrass recognized a similar agency in Karl Marx’s overcoat29, the argument about Miss Hassler’s dolman looks to be on the mark.

To end, considering all of the sources reviewed for this paper, here is a historical vignette to portray one way the dolman could have experienced the Academy of Music in 1884.

Miss Rosalie Hassler walked carefully up the stairs to the American Academy of Music in the light of the gas lamps on the brisk April evening, holding tightly to the arm of her brother, Mark.  She peered down at the chenille fringe of her ivory silk dolman and fixed it as she walked through the glass doors to the opera house lobby.  Looking at the program, she noted the role of Urbano would be played by Sofia Scalchi, one of American opera’s best-known female voices.  She gazed around at the fellow guests, noting the gentlemen her father had mentioned to her as potential husbands, all of them Jewish like her.  As she reached her seat, she gazed at the astounding crystal chandelier on the ceiling, gently adjusted her bustle, and sat in the plush red seat.

Notes

1“The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection of Academy of Music programs, playbills, and scrapbooks.” Collection 3150 1857-1972.  Boxes 129-131: Scrapbook [disbound] (1881 – 1887)

2 Judy Patterson. “Unknown 180: 68.5.1,” in the Historic Costume Collection of Drexel University. (accessed September 10, 2012).

3“Metropolitan Opera House Review,” in The New York Times. [Met Performance] CID:2220Martha {5} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/14/1884.        http://archives.metoperafamily.org/archives/frame.htm (accessed September 13, 2012).

4”The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection of Academy of Music programs, playbills, and scrapbooks.”  Collection 3150.

5 Herbert Norris and Curtis Oswald.  “Nineteenth-Century Costume and Fashion.”  238-239. (Toronto, Canada: Dover Publications, Inc. 1998).

6 Coat (Dolman) 1885-1890. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.   http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/80035661?rpp=20&pg=1&ft=dolman&pos=6 (accessed September 16, 2012).

7 Jacket: Emile Pingat.  The Victorian Albert. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O128007/jacket-emile-pingat/                                           (accessed September 16, 2012).

8 Clare Sauro. “Lecture and Discussion,” in Studies in American Material Culture, Temple University. October 15, 2012.

9 Henry Simon Morais.  The Jews of Philadelphia: Their History from the Earliest Settlements to the Present Time.  386-387. Philadelphia, PA: The Levytype Company, 1894.

10 Boyd’s Philadelphia Blue Book. (Philadelphia, PA: C.E. Howe & Company, 1881-1882). 118.

11 Boyd’s Philadelphia Blue Book: A Directory from Selected Streets of Philadelphia and Surroundings. (Philadelphia, PA: C.E. Howe & Company. 1898-1899). 473.

12 Ibid. Prefactory.

13 Mark Hassler. “Hassler’s Orchestra & Serenade Bill to J.H. Martin.”  The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Society Collection.  Janurary 9, 1861.

14 Jacob Schaad, Jr.  “Music has long been part of Cape May’s Appeal,” in  The Shore News. November 2, 2011.

15 Henry Simon Morais.  The Jews of Philadelphia. 386-387.

16 Judy Patterson. “Unknown 180: 68.5.1,” in the Historic Costume Collection of Drexel University.

17 The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection of Academy of Music programs, playbills, and scrapbooks.”  Collection 3150.

18 The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection of Academy of Music programs, playbills, and scrapbooks.”  Collection 3150, Content Summary.

19 Ibid. Content Summary.

20 Alfred Bendiner. “Academy of Music.” Pepper Potpourri, January 1 , 1982.

21 Barbara Brown. “Fashion Scores at the Academy,” in The Evening Bulletin. November 16, 1961.

22 “The Academy of Music Tour.”  The Academy of Music. October 22, 2012.

23”Concert Programme,” in The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection of Academy of Music programs, playbills, and scrapbooks.”  Collection 3150.

24“Little Red Riding Hood Old Bachelor, Butterflies’ Ball,” in The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection of Academy of Music programs, playbills, and scrapbooks.”  Collection 3150.

25 John E. Kaughran & Co. John E. Kaughran & Co.’s Illustrated Catalogue, Fall and Winter, 1884-85, 1884  from the Smithsonian Libraries Image Collection.                 http://www.sil.si.edu/imagegalaxy/imagegalaxy_imageDetail.cfm?id_image=12535               (accessed September 14, 2012).

26 Phillipe Perrot, translated by Richard Bienvenu. “Fashioning the Bourgeoisie: A History of Clothing in the Nineteenth Century.” (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994).

27 Grant McCracken. “Clothing as Language: An Object Lesson in the Study of the Expressive Properties of Material,” in Culture and Consumption (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).

28 “Nilsson and Scalchi in “The Huguenots,”  in the Philadelphia Press. [Met Performance] CID:2410. Les Huguenots {3} Academy of Music, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: April 14, 1884. http://archives.metoperafamily.org/archives/frame.html. (accessed September 13, 2012).

29 Peter Stallybrass. “Marx’s Coat,” in Patricia Spyer, ed., Border Fetishisms: Material Objects in Unstable Spaces (New York: Routledge, 1998).

Bibliography

“The Academy of Music Tour.”  The Academy of Music. 11:30 a.m., 22 October 2012.

Bendiner, Alfred. “Academy of Music,” in Pepper Potpourri, January 1 , 1982.

Brown, Barbara. “Fashion Scores at the Academy,” in The Evening Bulletin. November 16, 1961.

Coat (Dolman) 1885-1890. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/80035661?rpp=20&pg=1&ft=dolman&pos=6 (accessed September 16, 2012).

Coat (Dolman) 1883-1889. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.      http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/80034289?rpp=20&pg=1&ft=dolman&pos=14 (accessed September 16, 2012).

Coat (Dolman) 1885-1889. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/80035808?rpp=20&pg=1&ft=dolman&pos=17 (accessed September 16, 2012).

Coat (Dolman) 1885-1889. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the- collections/80003870?rpp=20&pg=1&ft=dolman&pos=19 (accessed September 16, 2012).

Coat (Dolman) 1880s. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/80034297?rpp=20&pg=2&ft=dolman&pos=22 (accessed September 16, 2012).

Coat (Dolman) 1880s.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art. http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/80035899?rpp=20&pg=2&ft=dolman&pos=28 (accessed September 16, 2012).

Coat (Dolman) 1889. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/80057368?rpp=20&pg=2&ft=dolman&pos=32 (accessed September 16, 2012).

“Concert Programme,” in “The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection of Academy of Music programs, playbills, and scrapbooks.” Collection 3150 1857-1972.  Boxes 129-131: Scrapbook                [disbound] (1881 – 1887).

Deetz, James. In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life. New York, NY: Anchor Books, 1996.

Fleming, E. McLung. “Artifact Study: A Proposed Model,” in Winterthur Portfolio 9, 1974.                 http://www.jstor.org/stable/1180572.

Hassler, Mark. “Hassler’s Orchestra & Serenade Bill to J.H. Martin.”  The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Society Collection.  Janurary 9, 1861.

Jacket: Emile Pingat.  The Victorian Albert.                                        http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O128007/jacket-emile-pingat/                                               (accessed September 16, 2012).

Kaughran, John E. & Co. John E. Kaughran & Co.’s Illustrated Catalogue, Fall and Winter, 1884-85, 1884 from the Smithsonian Libraries Image Collection.                 http://www.sil.si.edu/imagegalaxy/imagegalaxy_imageDetail.cfm?id_image=12535               (accessed September 14, 2012).

“Little Red Riding Hood Old Bachelor, Butterflies’ Ball,” in “The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection of Academy of Music programs, playbills, and scrapbooks.” Collection 3150. 1857-1972.  Boxes 129-131: Scrapbook [disbound] (1881 – 1887)

McKracken, Grant. “Clothing as Language: An Object Lesson in the Study of the Expressive Properties of Material,” in Culture and Consumption (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).

“Metropolitan Opera House Review,” in The New York Times. [Met Performance] CID:2220 Martha {5} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/14/1884.        http://archives.metoperafamily.org/archives/frame.htm (accessed September 13, 2012).

Montgomery, Charles F. “The Connoisseurship of Artifacts.” in Material Culture Studies in America, edited by Thomas Schlereth. Nashville, TN: the American Association for State and Local History,   1982.

Morais, Henry Simon.  The Jews of Philadelphia: Their History from the Earliest Settlements to the Present Time.  Philadelphia, PA: The Levytype Company, 1894.

“Nilsson and Scalchi in “The Huguenots,”  in the Philadelphia Press. [Met Performance] CID:2410Les Huguenots {3} Academy of Music, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 04/14/1884.                 http://archives.metoperafamily.org/archives/frame.htm (accessed September 13, 2012).

Norris, Herbert and Oswald, Curits.  “Nineteenth-Century Costume and Fashion.”  238-239. (Toronto, Canada: Dover Publications, Inc. 1998).

Patterson, Judy. “Unknown 180: 68.5.1,” in the Historic Costume Collection of Drexel University. (accessed September 10, 2012).

Perrot, Phillipe, translated by Richard Bienvenu. “Fashioning the Bourgeoisie: A History of Clothing in the Nineteenth Century.” (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994).

“Philadelphia Composers and Music Publishers: Mark Hassler (1834-1906),” in the University of Pennsylvania’s Special Collections: Keffer Collection of Sheet Music, ca. 1790-1895. http://www.library.upenn.edu/collections/rbm/keffer/hassler.html.                                                    (accessed September 14, 2012).

Prown, Jules David. “Mind in Matter: An Introduction of Material Culture Theory and Method,” in Winterthur Portfolio 17, no. 1, Spring 1982. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1180761.

Rachel. “Emile Pingat,” Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum Blog.                 http://blog.fidmmuseum.org/museum/2009/09/emile-pingat.html (accessed September 16, 2012).

Sauro, Clare. “Lecture and Discussion,” in Studies in American Material Culture, Temple University. October 15, 2012.

Schaad, Jr., Jacob.  “Music has long been part of Cape May’s Appeal.”  The Shore News. November 2, 2011.

Severa, Joan and Horswill, Merrill. “Costume as Material Culture,” in Dress 15, 1989.

Stallybrass, Peter. “Marx’s Coat,” in Patricia Spyer, ed., Border Fetishisms: Material Objects in Unstable Spaces (New York: Routledge, 1998).

Steele, Valerie. “A Museum of Fashion is More Than a Clothes-Bag,” in Fashion Theory 2, 1998: 327-336.

What Coats Can Say.

This week’s readings of “Marx’s Coat” by Peter Stallybrass and “Clothing as Language: An Object Lesson in the Study of the Expressive Properties of Material Culture” by Grant McKracken drive home the point of social significance in objects and raise many meaningful points pertaining to our object research.  “Marx’s Coat” is particularly useful when considering the social agency of the dolman, as it was worn by an unmarried Jewish woman to a high society event.  Arguably, Miss Hassler was using the dolman much like Marx was using his overcoat, overtly as a commodity of warmth, but truly as a ticket of admission.

McKracken heavily discusses the metaphor of clothing as language, eventually concluding this metaphor to be inapplicable because the nature of clothing’s message is so different from the way we write and speak.  In other words, clothing carries different messages than we say to each other; we use our clothing ensembles to speak semiotic cultural and social messages without the innovative communication possible with verbal language.

I do agree that the nature of the message in clothing is different from language specifically in that clothing offers the potential to convey messages we would not say, especially in casual conversation.  Clothing can express standpoints, professional or personal roles, aesthetic preferences, class level, and more.  What I am not sure of is whether McKracken sees clothing at its full potential when he says that there are strict ways of expressing the code of language in a way that prevents innovation.  I think back to the Yellis article and wonder that if the right clothing was paired together, it could in itself be a new and unwritten commentary.  And what about advances in fashion itself?  Are those advancements new statements outside the bounds of the written and spoken word?

Stallybrass presents a really fun material culture study of Marx’s coat, and it offered a lot to me considering my material culture study of the dolman, another “coat” of the nineteenth century.  What was particularly interesting was the fact that Marx’s ability to have his overcoat out of the pawn shop directly contributed to the accessibility of the world around him, including the entry to the British Museum.  Because he could not enter without the overcoat, the coat becomes empowered, offering it the agency to serve as an admission ticket to the museum.  Furthermore, the coat serves as an admission to Marx’s study, research, and writing.  His world and his work were directly impacted by the simple having or not having a coat.  This argument serves me especially well in my research of the dolman because I have thought that Miss Hassler’s dolman was similarly crucial in her acceptance at the Academy of Music.

When considering these pieces together, I found myself pondering the ability to use clothing as language specifically in terms of class.  How does class limit what you can say with your clothes?  It also made me wonder how material culture can serve pawned objects to tell the story of individuals and class as a whole.  McKracken mentioned how “wrinkles” in resold clothing signified the “memories” of the clothes, and that the more wrinkles in an object, the more devalued it became.  I found myself considering the fact that a “more wrinkled” pawned object under study would serve challenging in knowing exactly where it has been.  Is it more useful to consider it as a collective object of the class instead of pinpointing its exact provenance?  Possibly.

Resources

Grant McKracken, “Clothing as Language: An Object Lesson in the Study of the Expressive Properties of Material Culture,” in Culture and Consumption (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).

Peter Stallybrass, “Marx’s Coat,” in Patricia Spyer, ed., Border Fetishisms: Material Objects in Unstable Spaces (New York: Routledge, 1998).

Ken Yellis, “Fred Wilson, PTSD, and Me: Reflections on the History Wars,” Curator: The Museum Journal 52 (October 2009): 333-348.

Long to Short and Back Again: Department Stores and Class in Nineteenth Century Fashion

Diving into Philippe Perrot’s Fashioning the Bourgeoisie: A History of Clothing in the Nineteenth Century was kind of like eating candy.  It was just fun.  Besides that, it was useful in that Perrot’s analysis of fashion is, as Richard Bienvenu puts in the introduction, a retrospective cultural anthropology.  Bienvenu’s desciption of the work as an anthropolgical piece seems accurate because much of Perrot’s overlying ideas of fashion patterns remain in our current culture.

Perrot’s discussion of department stores forced me to reminisce of my days living in New York City when passing by a window display at Bergdorf Goodman during holiday season was a must for its simple aesthetic appeal (and because my NYC partner-in-crime was my sister, a graduate of the textiles and fashion styling program at the Fashion Institute of Technology).  I find it important not to mistake Emile Zola’s depiction of nineteenth century department stores in Paris within Au Bonheur de Dames (The Ladies’ Paradise) for what we imagine today’s Lord & Taylor in a suburban mall.  I think Zola’s department stores were much more, for the day, like something we would find on 5th Avenue… more Henri Bendel than Kohl’s.

Perrot has a lovely explanation of why fashion changes, and I can’t help agreeing with him.  On page 23, he states, “Skirts became short because they had been long; hair grew long because it had been short.  Fashion’s distinguishing values arise from this short-lived rejection of the past and those who stagnate in it.”  As I was contemplating this “long because short” idea, I started perusing the Henri Bendel online catalog to compare items I remembered from the shelves of 2008, and I found exactly what I should have.

The headband below is much like the ones seen on the shelves of Henri Bendel in 2008.

“Blair Waldorf” of the CW’s Gossip Girl, a show about Upper East Side elite drama, donning an over-sized headband in a Fall 2008 episode.

What was once over-sized is now quite tiny:

Henri Bendel Pave Bow Leather Headband, Available Fall 2012

Perrot would say bows grow tiny because they were once over-sized.

Also interesting is Perrot’s notion that mass-produced clothes were a means of liberating the lower classes from buying second hand clothing, essentially that ready-made clothes were to be by the lower classes for the lower classes.  And yet somehow, the mass production of clothes which became a large part of the industrial revolution absolutely imprisoned workers of scarily young ages to dangerous working conditions, ridiculous production expectations, and incredulously exhausting hours.  Free to wear, but chained to produce it.  I find myself wondering, maybe partly in reaction to our readings and partly due to current political events, “Can the lower classes ever really win?”

I can’t help but mention how funny (and interesting) it was to read the chapter on Invisible Clothing.  I guess I’ll just say I am glad I get to wear a shirt and jeans instead of a corset and pantaloons and chemise and petticoat…

In terms of my research on the dolman, Perrot’s book and the Oxford Art Online’s section on “Dress” are both excellent resources on nineteenth century fashion.  I need them.  Secondly, these readings bring up one of my pervasive questions about the production of the dolman: Was it factory made and sold in a department store?  While Miss Hassler had access to New York fashion (she is referenced in New York Times articles attending events and fundraisers for charities) and possibly European, too, it seems possible that she made this purchase at Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia (now Macy’s between 12th-13th Streets on Chestnut Street.).

Finally, Perrot also mentions that fashion in the nineteenth century for a woman was partly an expression of her husband’s social status.  Miss Hassler was firstly, as far as I can tell, single at this time at least.  She was wearing this dolman to an event where her brother was reportedly a music director.  Was the dolman a statement about her family’s status or about her?  I want to argue the dolman is her admission ticket to society, but was her dress choice a piece of her family’s admission ticket as a whole?  Is this also true now?  What factors are at play in this discussion?

Resources

Philippe Perrot, translated by Richard Bienvenu. “Fashioning the Bourgeoisie: A History of Clothing in the Nineteenth Century.” (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994).

“Who made America? John Wanamaker.” (Accessed October 14, 2012). http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/theymadeamerica/whomade/wanamaker_hi.html

“Close of the Hebrew Fair.”  New York Times. December 22, 1895. (Accessed September 18, 2012). http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F10A17FA355911738DDDAB0A94DA415B8585F0D3

Oxford Art Online. http://www.oxfordartonline.com.libproxy.temple.edu/subscriber/article/grove/art/T023637pg8#T023683

Reading Between the Lines: the Complicated “How To” of Object Labels and Curating

This week, we read about exhibiting things from creating storylines and messages to the writing of labels.  I found myself most intrigued by the Ken Yellis article, maybe because it was the most seductive of the pieces, but mostly because it seemed very accurate about the power museums hold in creating transformative experiences.  Yellis’s example of a controversial story through objects is that of the Maryland Historical Society’s exhibit featuring juxtaposed items of a KKK hood in a baby carriage below a photo of an African American woman caring for a White baby.  (I will quickly note here that the Maryland Historical Society created what Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett refers to as a  “cultural fragment in context.”) Arguably, this exhibit tells a subversive story quickly and effectively—if the visitor sees all of these items in the grouping—and thus conveys the ironic atmosphere of  a specific space, place, and time that might not be as effectively told on paper.

Visual spatial clues in exhibits have potential to build that transformative experience, but Yellis also warns that the effect of exhibit choices is not always accepted or beneficial.  Perhaps what is most important in the Yellis message is that we must be prudent in our choices as curators, making storylines exciting and crucial with a careful process imparted to visitors in some way.  I realize here just how cohesive our class must be in the decision-making process of the Drexel Historic Costume exhibit, that our labels’ tone, voice and message will be strongly influenced by our exhibit’s storyline and goal atmosphere, including its order and use of space.

Beverly Serrell focuses on the flow of the exhibit based on the combination of utilizing space, sharing information and offering interpretations on exhibit labels while Alice Parman imparts the importance of creating take home messages through intentional and organized storytelling. Parman explains that we visit museums to fall in love and because just as curious about information in this case as if we were in love with a person.  She states on page 2, “We are hungry for information. We effortlessly absorb and remember every fact, no matter how detailed.”  What seems complicated here is considering Yellis and his urging to tell subversive stories—can we tell controversial stories of the past and still make people to fall in love?  In addition, Kirshenblatt-Gimbett emphasizes the non-neutrality of exhibits, and we are are reminded to be conscious of bias and the arguments we construct in the curating process.  Will bias change the love story?

Serrell dissects choice-making in label writing.  She encourages us to write succinctly the most important story with information that tells us something new or in a new way.  I liked Serrell’s suggestion to offer something special for the reader who “makes it to the end,” because I have had that “Aha!  I’m glad I read the whole label,” moment myself.  Because of my journalism background (Serrell cites newspaper writing as a flawed approach to label writing), I will be careful not to delve into that “something special” from the first line.

It was interesting to read the article on Exhibit Label Awards after reading the Serrell because some of the winners followed Serrell’s rules.  Elizabeth Labor’s “Potbelly Seahorse” from “The Secret Lives of Seahorses” in the Monte Ray Aquarium successfully uses alliteration and humor even in “Bigger is better for Potbelly Pouches,” because a) alliteration is not overused throughout the label and b)the humor is easily understood.  This caption could be considered successful because it reads easily to visitors.  How can we use Serrell’s guidelines to help us pave way for our own visitor-friendly object labels?

While reading the Kirshenblatt-Gimblett piece, I noted the strength that we are exploring our objects both individually, but also as a class.  By looking at these objects in a group, we prevent them from being singular, hopefully avoiding their being classified as artwork and instead, classifying them as active pieces of history.  Here again I think we are confronted with the complication of fashion, because historic costume is arguably art itself, too.  How do we encompass our objects’ significance in both art and the history in the storyline of our exhibit?  How will our exhibit labels aid in the storyline?

 

Resources

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, “Objects of Ethnography,” in Ivan Karp and Steven Lavine, eds., Exhibiting  Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display (Washington: Smithsonian Press, 1991).

“Exhibition in Label Writing Competition 2010,” in MUSEUM. September-October 2010. http://www.aam-us.org

Alice Parman, “Exhibit Makeovers: Do-It-Yourself Exhibit Planning.”

Beverly Serrell, “What Are Interpretive Labels?”, “Types of Labels in Exhibitions”, and “Writing Visitor-Friendly Labels,” in Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach (London: Altamira Press, 1996).

Ken Yellis, “Fred Wilson, PTSD, and Me: Reflections on the History Wars,” Curator: The Museum Journal 52. (October 2009): 333-348.