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).

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