In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Historic Clothing Collection

1900-1910

Of early 1900s contrasting fashions, one was defined by soft pastel colored, lacy, bloused or pouched bodices, with smooth firmly corseted back thrust hips ("S" bend style), and trained skirts with a flare around the hemline. The alternate fashion, compatible with women's increasing participation in the workforce and outdoor activities, favored a more naturally curved silhouette with plain, sensible skirts (still worn with corsets) and shirt blouses, often with stiff collars and soft floppy bows at the neck.

This second alternate mode is familiar from the "Gibson Girl" images created by artist Charles Dana Gibson (who worked and spent time in Maine), and illustrator Joseph Lyendecker's famous "The Arrow Shirt Man" advertisements, as well as the Saturday Evening Post covers, featuring sporty young women and men wearing shirts. As yet, examples of practical, back pleat, "Gibson Girl" skirts and little in the way of smart shirt blouses are found in the MHS collection. Nor are the dainty blouses (called waists) with standing collars, pin tucking, and lace insert detailing well represented.

Perhaps the "Gibson Girl" look influenced Ella May (Morrill) Clark’s 1901 choice of wedding outfit. Made of camel colored wool, the bodice is constructed with a neat waist-level faux jacket, cream silk front insert, brown velvet standing collar, cuffs, and belt. The long, smooth hipped skirt with two knee level deep box pleats at front and back evoke the style. The most robust Gibson Girl could stride out in this skirt.

Many fashionable silk dresses from this period deteriorate beyond saving because the linings supporting the delicate fabrics fell apart. Linings were often made of less costly weighted silk. Weighting was a treatment that helped reduce the price of silk, but caused it to quickly flake and split. Fortunately, the MHS collection includes a group of early 1900s gowns in very good condition, among them Sarah E. Thomas’ brown printed silk, shown at the left. With its bloused bodice and back thrust hips this dress illustrates what is called the “S” bend silhouette fashionable at that time.

The group includes Mrs. Scrimgeour’s very fine quality turquoise silk pigeon bodice gown with a silk chiffon neckpiece; a white figured silk dress, with a standing collar and spreading cape-like detachable collar of crochet and tape lace, and a tan flowered cream dress with a chiffon yoke, shoulder-wide mock collar, and flounced hem skirt with an inner waist tie labeled "S.E. Thomas, Portland." Two more pouched bodice gowns, one silk and one cotton, feature the almost cape-like lace collars characteristic of the period. One is a combination of crochet and machine lace medallions, and the second a darned filet-type cotton lace.

Detail of McGuire wedding dress
Detail of McGuire wedding dress

Made of sturdy linen, a straight skirted day dress features areas of bold crochet lace embellishing the skirt, the wide sleeve cuffs, inset waistband, and moderately pouched bodice front. Another dress with reduced bodice blousing is made of mulberry colored heavy satin, with a fitted tailored front pleated skirt and no flare, a sign of the straightening silhouette.

Towards the decade's end, the emergence of the one-piece dress simplified the silhouettes, as seen in a modest gold silk satin print dress with horizontally tucked sleeves and black piped detailing, and in Margaret A. McGuire's July 5, 1909 exquisite tussah silk wedding dress, made by the Misses Macdonough of Portland, with neatly fitted pin tucked hips, tucked sleeves and silk cord scrolling at the square neck.