Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lily Belle-its all in the details!

More shots of Lily Belle

Lily Belle's Going Away Dress and Train

This sumptuous dress needs no introduction- the design and details say it all. Enjoy the details of this fabulous going away dress. Layered elegance and more than a bit of simmering sensuality. We are currently conducting research on Lily Belle Folsom Ayres and will share what we learn about this newlywed.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Visit to Tracy Theatre Originals and the Tuck Museum

Strawbery Banke Museum staff and friends were recently invited by Ann Carnaby, owner of Tracy Theatre Orignals (; and Betty Moore, executive director of the Tuck Museum, for a behind the scene visit. This was a very special afternoon for exploring elements of costume design in relation to historic costumes, contemporary design and, at the Tuck Museum, examining close connections between area fashion choices.

Ann is also designing a very special piece for "Thread: The Story of New England Fashion" but hush, hush is the word on that!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Black and White Photo Shoot

Responding to a recent request for sponsorship information, Chief Curator, Dr. Kimberly Alexander pulled together an impromptu fashion shoot at the gallery of Blue Tree. Thank you to Brian Smestad for his good nature and fabulous photos and Associate Curator, Tara Vose; Curatorial Intern, Bridget Swift and Summer Intern, Alexa Price for their humor! Here are a few shots to preview. And now you know some of the members of the Thread team from Strawbery Banke Museum!

Top to bottom:
Tara in black & gray long dress from Twice a Lady
Tara and Alexa, in vintage Edwardian whites
Kimberly in ruffled White House Black Market dress
Kimberly and Bridget in black and white polka dots from Twice a Lady

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Men's Gear- Coming Soon!

We are currently developing a dossier of images of historic men's garments designed to inspire! There will be more to come later in the week, but we wanted to share a few teasers now. This stunning image by photographer Ellen McDermott and styled by creative partner, Bridget Sciales, was taken at the carpentry shed at Strawbery Banke Museum on August 7, 2011. The men's vests pictured range in materials from wool, cotton, cashmere and linen, with a variety of buttons. The striking printed cotton vest, with neoclassical design is of Revolutionary War vintage. While they may appear simple and similar to the modern eye, a contemporary would have recognized the difference in expense of materials, cut, detail and ornament, especially the buttons.

Ellen has captured, with these historic garments, a look that is nonetheless timeless and appeals to the modern sensibility, much as it would in a contemporary men's wear catalog. And the vest remains a practical, functional wardrobe item for many men today.

Photography, courtesy Ellen McDermott
Styling, Bridget Sciales
Set up, Jeff Hopper and Bridget Swift

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Curatorial intern, Alexa Price

This summer Strawbery Banke welcomes Alexa Price as a curatorial intern. Alexa is a junior at the University of New Hampshire, where she studies 18th and 19th-century history. She also has a background in collections work, having held summer jobs and volunteer positions working with historical documents and object archives, both at UNH and the Exeter Historical Society.

Alexa is helping the Collections staff in preparing for next summer’s upcoming exhibit, “Thread: The Story of New England Fashion”, as well as doing current work for “Fitz John Porter: Hero or Coward?”

In addition to working with collections, Alexa has experience in historical sewing and has made clothing for Revolutionary War reenactments, as well as other eras. This summer she will be putting her experience to work for Strawbery Banke, creating children’s Civil War clothing for Strawbery Banke's Discovery Center. Children visiting the Fitz John Porter exhibit will have the chance to wear scaled-down versions of the Union Army uniforms, including military-issue shirts, sack coats, and trousers. There will also be canvas haversacks to complete the outfits. For practicality, the coats and trousers will be made from linen and canvas instead of wool, also allowing children to imagine what it would have been like wearing even heavier coats in the summer.

See more about the clothing here:

Below are some examples of Alexa's previous work:

Day dresses and hats c. 1780

1947 swing dancing dress

1880-inspired prom gown

Monday, August 1, 2011

Strawbery Banke's 1930s swimsuit - an exercise in vanity sizing

With the heat blazing on the seacoast, our readers have likely been heading to the beach to celebrate the summer! In keeping with our favorite summer traditions, we at Strawbery Banke have brought our classic early swimsuit out of storage to share with you. This one-piece suit from the glamorous 1930s features a low v-back, button closure and a tie belt, with a short skirt hiding the leg openings. Although early swimwear was often made from heavy worsted wool, this example makes use of an early lightweight synthetic fabric - much more like one expects of a modern swimsuit! Although much more modest than today's swimwear, this suit has a playful charm and printed design that still has the appeal of a cute and flirty sundress.

What puzzled us about the suit was that it was recorded as being a "size 40", but measures 28" in the waist and 34" across the bust, with stretch factor allowing for a somewhat larger size. Even accounting for the stretch, this is not what we would now expect from something labeled "size 40", so we needed to do some research about clothing sizes in the past.
As it turns out, vanity sizing has come a long way in pinning smaller numbers on clothing of the same literal size. According to Alaina Zulli of, sizing in the 1930s was just as complicated, if not more so, than today. In the 1920s, Zulli explains, women's clothing was divided into misses' and ladies' (or women's), and sometimes juniors (for teenagers). Misses were generally sized by age, called "14 years", "16 years", etc., and were based on a generalized notion of the dimensions that the average young woman would have. Women's sizes were based on the bust measurement, and numbered accordingly; but in a confusing conflict of manufacturers, some smaller bust measurements were also labeled as "misses". (For example, a "32 misses" would not be intended specifically for a 32-year-old woman, but for a woman with a 32" bust, and was therefore the same as a size 32 women's.)

An advertisement for swimwear in the 1930s, showing the fashionable silhouette of the suits when worn. Note the different sizes for women's and junior misses' suits.

By the 1930s, vanity sizing started to affect misses sizes. Alaina Zulli points out that advertisements stopped using the basis of age for misses' sizing, allowing for smaller size numbers to be added in the future, while the nominal size (14, for example) would become literally larger. The advertisement above includes a swimsuit for "junior misses", intended for teenagers and slender women. Notice that a misses size 16 is intended for a 34" bust, which equates to a modern junior size 5, or women's sizes 2-6.
While misses sizes experienced some changes, women's sizes in the 1930s remained generally the same as before, being measured by the bust size. The advertisement above sold suits for bust measurements of up to 40 or 42".

In the 1930s, the most common women's sizes ran from 32-44" bust. Today these sizes equate evenly to misses sizes 2-20. Alaina Zulli attributes the beginning of vanity sizing to the fact that if a misses size 14 was equal to a woman's size 32, as was the case in the 1930s, women would much rather buy the size 14. By the 1940s, she says, "women's" became less common, and the nominal sizes of misses clothing became literally larger over time. Sizing was re-defined on a scale that made a size 14 for a 32" bust, size 16 for a 34" bust, and so on. However, manufacturers knew that women would want to feel smaller, and over time pushed each size number up to a larger measurement, changing 14 to a 34" bust, then 35", and so on, until now equating to 39". This of course made it necessary to introduce smaller size numbers so that the 32"-busted woman would have something to wear - thus as vanity sizing continued to work companies introduced the size 8, then size 6, 4, 2, and most recently 0.

With all of this in mind, the best explanation for Strawbery Banke's swimsuit is that it was intended for a 40" bust measurement, and the fabric has more stretch factor than we had accounted for! Otherwise, the manufacturer's sizes may have run small, which was as much a problem in the 1930s as it is today. In any case, we may say for certain that if you are a woman who has had trouble finding the perfect size, you are not alone - women over generations have had the same experience since ready-to-wear clothing became popular!

ModCloth sells a 1930s-inspired swimsuit, but with the characteristic waist belt placed somewhat lower in keeping with modern trends. One other difference - this suit only comes in the four standard sizes of small, medium, large, and extra-large!

To read more about vanity sizing over the course of the 20th century, see this website from Alaina Zulli: