In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Historic Clothing Collection


(Page 1 of 3) Print Version 
Satin dress with tassels, ca. 1920
Satin dress with tassels, ca. 1920Maine Historical Society

The tubular line silhouette returned after the First World War. Two ankle length straight dresses in the MHS collection straddle the war years and early 1920s. The first is a lavender and white striped sailor-collared cotton dress, probably worn by Mrs. Adeline (Bond) Rines or one of her sisters. The second dress is a brown satin, trimmed with gold metallic lace, and two long tasseled tabs that emphasize the vertical design. By 1920, the above ankle length, straight-skirt suits, with slightly dropped waists advertised by stores such as New York’s Altmans would also have been available throughout Maine, but are not yet represented in the collection.

In the 1920s, consumption of rayon, the first chemically made fiber, steadily increased. Initially discovered in the late 1880s, rayon is the product of a chemical process that converts cellulosic (plant) material into long filaments. However, development and manufacture was inconsequential until after WWI. Within three years of the war's end in 1918, large chemical plants in southern states (originally developed for military purposes) were quickly adapted for rayon production. Rayon filament was delivered to textile mills, wound onto cones, ready to thread onto looms and be made into fabrics marketed as artificial silk. The name "rayon" was adopted in the mid-1920s. In 1930, the Androscoggin Mill in Lewiston was equipped with new looms to handle rayon, and became one of the country’s largest rayon fabric manufacturers.

Rayon nightdress, ca. 1928
Rayon nightdress, ca. 1928Maine Historical Society

Inexpensive rayon competed with, and steadily displaced more costly silk, contributing to the decline of the American silk industry. Rayon was manufactured into many kinds of woven fabrics for dresses and lingerie, and fine knits for women’s and men’s underwear. Women with even the most modest pocket books could afford dainty silk-like rayon underwear and nightdresses, as seen in Sears catalogues. An example of rayon intimates in the MHS collection is a lace trimmed pink, silk crepe-like rayon night dress associated with Mrs. Marguerite Waterman Cobb. Perhaps it is preserved in its new, unworn state because it was a gift or the wrong size.