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Historic Clothing Collection


Post 1910, further simplification was influenced by the dress reform movement’s revival of the short waist bodice, tubular silhouette (last popular in the early 1800s). Visibly appearing less restrictive than earlier fashions, reform dress was, nevertheless, worn with body shaping corsets. From elegant surviving examples, it appears that stylish women everywhere in Maine, from those in the blueberry territory of downeast Cherryfield, to southern Maine paper and silk manufacturing Westbrook, embraced this fashion.

In 1912, Mabel Haskell, the granddaughter of James Haskell, founder of the Haskell Silk Company (Westbrook) was married in a short waist, tubular skirt dress with an asymmetrical overskirt, tasseled detail, and long train made of Haskell satin. Reportedly made by Martha Riley of Cherryfield, two other slim 1910-1914 fashionable dresses are examples of superior dressmaking. For workmanship and style, they rank among the highlights of the collection.

One is an elegant tubular purple wool challis (lightweight wool), softened with an over-skirt effect, and featuring a satin and net-filled V neckline, edged with silk-gilt floral trim. It includes detachable matching net sleeves, tiny taffeta ruffles on cuffs and edges, and decorative motifs on the skirt. One-piece dresses presented dressmakers like Riley with the challenge of devising concealed hook fastening closures, such as that found in the back of this dress.

The other Martha Riley example is a cream-colored wool dress with a similarly tubular two-tiered skirt, high waist, and a yoke with standing collar on a detachable under bodice. A delicate pattern worked in small glass beads on the shoulders, round the neck, sleeve edges, and on the skirt's long straight front panel, are suggestive of decorative details seen in some Wiener Werkstätte design and other Viennese reform dress. Perhaps the patterning was inspired by a magazine illustration.

Two lace dresses, one black and one white, provide further examples of this high waist reform style, which also reflects aspects of the influential French designer Paul Poiret’s work. Esther Johnston McDonald's tube skirted, black lace dinner gown features a short bodice, standing collar and yoke of delicate figured net lace. It also features pleated heavily fringed satin panels, spread over the shoulders, and bands of heavy lace trimming. The center back shoulder panels form a V above four buttons, which attach the skirt to the bodice above the concealed closure.

On the white lace summer dress, a shoulder-wide lace panel covers and hangs over the entire bodice front. The tubular lace skirt is covered with a three- quarter length heavier lace overskirt, with a decorative, deeply tabbed hemline. The sleeves are similarly layered.

Simplification and the tubular silhouette remained fashionable up to the war years (WWI). Versions of garments such as those advertised in the New York store Gimbles' 1915 catalogue, straight tailored skirts, and similarly skirted dresses, some short waisted, could probably be found ready made in Maine stores, but at present, no examples survive in the MHS collection.

Very popular during the 1910-1920 period, there is a selection of variously styled white muslin 'lingerie' dresses in the collection, featuring white embroidery, bands of insertion lace, and other different types of net and lace. Such examples include a whitework embroidered cotton dress, and a two piece muslin dress associated with Gertrude Hodgson. Most outstanding is a ca. 1905 long, body-fitting dress with white crescent embroidery, a three-quarter double skirt from the hips, and long insertion lace sleeves with flounced cuffs.

During the World War I period (1914-1918) the wider, shorter skirts and peplum jackets worn by women in uniform or engaged in war work exerted influence on civilian fashion. While at present there are no examples of such uniforms in the collection, Ruth True's afternoon suit demonstrates the influence. The navy gaberdine suit, albeit with a skirt showing signs of later alterations or updating, reflects the popular peplum jacket style.