I'd originally planned to cover each day individually, but now that I've made it through the first entire day (and four great sessions), I've realized that that was a bit too ambitious. Two sessions a blog seems much more manageable. Also please note that the photos will all enlarge to show detail; just double-click on the image.
First up this morning was Linda R. Baumgarten, curator, textiles & costume, Colonial Williamsburg (and author of Costume Close-Up), who offered an overview of the costume accessories exhibition currently on display in CW's DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum.
Several of the stand-out pieces involved white linen. Ladies's accessories of snowy white cotton and linen, especially if beautifully embroidered, were considered a sign of status and rank. Not only could the wearer afford to purchase the finest quality, but she could also afford the skilled servants necessary to keep the linen washed and pressed. Among the most elegant were the sleeve ruffles attached to the sleeves of mid-18th c. gowns. The top left picture shoes how these ruffles were worn, while the middleleft picture shows a ruffle that, while exquisitely embroidered, was never made up. But even after the style for these ruffles had passed, the appreciation for their workmanship remained. Some enterprising lady took a pair of old-fashioned ruffles and adapted them to early 19th c. fashion, lower left, converting them into a collar to fill the low necklines of the new neoclassical styles.
Usually when we think of studying historic dress, we think of garments carefully tucked away and preserved. We don't generally imagine them encased in concretions, sitting at the bottom of an icy river for three centuries. But that has been exactly the scenario faced by the second speaker, Phil Dunning, material culture researcher, Parks Canada, Ottawa, Ontario. In 1690, the ship Elizabeth & Mary sank on its return from an ill-fated English attack on the French Canadian city of Quebec. Most of the ship and its crew vanished, but a small segment of the wreck that settled into a dip in the riverbed was preserved for 300 years until it again surfaced after a winter storm.
While excavating the site and laboriously freeing many of the relics from mineral concretions has taken nearly twenty years (and it's not finished yet), the discoveries have been startling. Not only were the archaeologists able to determine the name of the ship and that the soldiers aboard were militiamen from Dorchester, Massachusetts, but also that they were hardly all the rough-and-tumble backwoods colonial soldiers that are the stereotype for the era.
Instead the wreck revealed fashionable heeled men's shoes, stylish shoe buckles, and heart-shaped silver shirt brooches. While all clothing of linen and cotton had dissolved, that of silk and wool had not, and scraps of fancy knitted stockings, braided garters, and a length of striped silk ribbon from a gentleman's ribbon shoulder or sword knot were retrieved. Such tantalizing clues proved that the Dorchester officers – the most prominent men of their town – continued to dress to reflect their status even when embarking on a military expedition, and brought their fashionable, imported clothing with them. Fascinating!
Top left: Sleeve Ruffle, England or Europe, 1760-1785. Red Bow from Woman's Gown, France, c. 1770, silk & silk chenille. Miniature Portrait of a Member of the Fauquier Family, used as a Bracelet, by John Small (1740-1811), London, England. Middle left: Unmade Ruffle, Europe, 1740-1760, cotton embroidered with linen. Lower left: Cap, Connecticut, c. 1800, cotton embroidered with cotton, cotton and linen lace. Collar made from Sleeve Ruffles, probably England, c. 1770, remade after 1800. Cotton embroidered with cotton. Above all from the collections of Colonial Williamsburg. Bottom right: A few of the pieces excavated from the wreck of the Elizabeth & Mary, including a heeled shoe, buckles, and scraps of clothing.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.