Yesterday, I went to visit another collection, this time at the University of Rhode Island. I don’t have thoughts about replicating coats- they didn’t ask me any hard questions about making coats, they just let me work– but I did see a lot of amazing garments.
I’m focused primarily on men’s clothing at the moment, largely because I’m stumbling towards an exhibit or a paper or maybe a better blog post, and because thus far I have not found any examples of women’s garments made from locallly-woven checks or stripes in local collections.*
What I concentrated on at URI were two very lovely examples of the kinds of clothing worn by everyday people in Rhode Island and Southeastern Connecticut, both collected by a woman who lived in the village of Lafayette on the Victory Highway. Mrs Muriel Buckley was born in Exeter, RI in 1884, and started collecting clothing of all kinds in 1900, when she married; by the mid-1950s, she was known as a “one woman historical society,” according to a Providence Journal article, and hosted parties where she and her guests dressed up in the clothes and cooked colonial recipes in early ironware. **
As my late landlady’s husband used to say, “Cut the cackle, let’s eat some grub.”***
Blue and white striped linen fall-front trousers ca. 1830, URI 1967.13.16
These are pretty interesting, with about a dozen patches of various sizes and fabrics. The main fabric is a blue and white stripe linen of 42 threads per inch. The fall-fronts have pockets built into the bearers, with a welt cut on the grain but set on the bias for a snazzy little graphic moment. The button holes appear to be slightly rounded at the ends in a way that siuggests intent and helps confirm the date. The buttons are not all the same design, but are all four-holed bone buttons. The trousers have a 31″ waistband, a 19.5″ rise, and a 26″ inseam.
The other truly fabulous piece I saw was a coat in a blue, white and orange check “Stonington Plaid” ca. 1800, URI 1967.13.17.
This is a double-breasted, self-faced tail coat with self-covered buttons and notch collar lapels, false pocket flaps on coat body and pockets in the tails and left breast. The unlined, folded-back cuffs are tacked to the sleeve and may have been shortened. The overall length at CB is 36″, sleeve length is 25.5″ and the chest is about 34″.
When I opened this coat and looked at the seams, I was struck by the construction method, not because it was different, but because it was so typical. (I also peeked inside two wool broadcloth coats in the cupboard: same construction as the woolen coats I’d seen before.) It;’s nice to see conventions in action, and recognize what you’re seeing.
The collar on this coat has some little anomalies suggesting a less-experienced hand, or perhaps a foray into a new type of collar; judging by the pad stitching, I’m more inclined to guess less experienced hand, though not home manufacture. Someday I’ll track down the South County and eastern CT tailor’s books…
In the meantime, what amazing clothes and fabulous fabrics! The past looks nothing like what we imagine unless we can look past fashion plate elegance to the riot of stripes and checks and prints that must have existed in almost every village and town in Rhode Island.
*With the exception of a pocket at Mystic Seaport and a gown at the Smithsonian: accessory in the first case and very not local in the second case, making in hard to study in a day trip.
**Having palpitations yet? Your heart will really race if I can track down the photos to prove all this. In other news, I know a couple of gentlemen who are currently “one person historical societies.” The collecting instinct in wired into some folks.
***Jack and Harriet: she survived the 1938 Hurricane, and their overweight black-and-white polydactyl cat, Bonnie, followed them around the corner to church every Sunday.