, Gloucester, MA

August 15, 2013

Velvet vests to satin sashes

200 years of fashion on display in Rockport

By Times Staff
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — ROCKPORT — A man’s vest studded with beads. A sash proclaiming “Votes for Women.” A three-piece wedding suit worn by a bride in 1879.

These are just some of the items featured in the exhibition “In Style: Two Centuries of Cape Ann Fashion,” featuring vintage clothing from the collection of the Sandy Bay Historical Society. The exhibit is at the Rockport Community House, Broadway, today through Sunday, Aug. 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The $5 donation for admission also includes entrance to the Sandy Bay Historical Society just a block away at 40 King St.. The society will be displaying, in addition to the usual exhibits, Gladys Speck Harrison’s 1920s dancing gown and rhinestone accessories and her sash proclaiming “Votes for Women.” Harrison was both a flapper and a feminist, marching in Washington in 1919 for women’s right to vote.

“Once we saw what was in our closets and trunks, we realized these gowns were crying out to be seen. We couldn’t just pack them away in archival boxes without first having a show,” explained Sarah Clark, director of collections for the museum. Clark and co-organizer, Susan Marr, set to work last fall choosing the garments for the show.

“We’ve tried to make a representative choice of eras and types — from the everyday dresses to wedding gowns. These are the dresses that each woman couldn’t bear to part with and tucked away for posterity. Some, like the party gowns, for obvious reasons, others for reasons we can only guess at. For instance, the two stylish walking suits from the 1900s when skirts were still ankle length but were fuller, making walking as exercise possible, unlike the earlier dresses in which women could only take small steps. I wonder if they were kept because they celebrated the joy of being able to walk freely,” Clark said.

Trends to greater freedom are also reflected in the few men’s clothes in the exhibit. Suit jackets became shorter, losing their tails except in formal wear. Two wedding vests show that men too indulged in fancy clothes on festive occasions, including one from the 19th century that has a raised design in cream velvet.

White wedding dresses became popular after Queen Victoria’s wedding, but throughout the 19th century many women preferred a wedding dress that could be worn again.

“We have a lovely blue plaid gown worn by Ellen Gott Burt in 1859 that obviously was worn frequently as you can see the delicate stitches that repaired a tear.” Clark noted. “Sometimes we can’t be certain whether the white dresses were for weddings or graduations for which white was customary.”

If you go What: "In Style: Two Centuries of Cape Ann Fashion," an exhibition. When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today through Sunday, Aug. 18. Where: Rockport Community House, 58 Broadway, and Sandy Bay Historical Society, 40 King St., Rockport. How much: $5 suggested donation.