Often times at the CHS, we write articles, present programs, and give tours based on our collections. Many times these articles, programs, and tours are based on information and items we already know we have in the collection. However, sometimes the topic comes first, and the illustrations come second.
That was the case for me with a recent program presented in conjunction with Jennifer Steadman, Adult Programs Manager. Jenny invited me to lecture on the clothing worn by female travelers in the 19th and early 20th century during a series of lectures she is giving on women travelers at the University of Hartford Presidents’ College. Doing the research for the program was very enlightening as I knew women had specific clothing that was suggested for travel, but had never looked much into what those items looked like.
When it came time to illustrate my lecture with a power point presentation, things became a bit difficult. Many of the items in our collection are given basic catalog records that include things like the date, a basic title, provenance, and basic description. Even full records with detailed descriptions are often broad, describing what the object is and what it looks like, but not always diving in to when or how it may have been used (unless we are lucky enough to get a family story with the item!).
There was one, however, with a note that it may have been Marie Brown’s “going away” outfit after her wedding. Bingo! Although traveling dress of a bride was slightly different than the dress of an average female traveler (often brides could get away with more elaborate trimming), the dress provided a perfect illustration of early traveling costume. The 1870 dress seems to embody the simple nature of travel costume in color (dust colored), minimal trim (only some velvet ribbon and fringe), and style (simple skirt, over skirt, bodice, and matching jacket).
With a little application of my new found knowledge of traveling costumes from all that research, I was actually able to come up with a variety of items in our collection that could reasonably have been used for travel. For instance, this image from a travel photo album shows a group of women wearing one of the most popular travel costumes: jacket and skirt suits worn with shirtwaists.
Shirtwaists are certainly not in short supply in our collection, therefore I was able to pull together a similar look to the ladies in the picture to illustrate this important phase of travel costume that lasted for over 25 years! Even though we do not have many costumes in the collection designated as “traveling costumes,” it was fun to find items that may have been used for travel. I always enjoy the opportunity to take new knowledge and directly apply it to the collections. Not only does it teach me more about our collection, but it also puts the information out there for future individuals looking for “traveling costumes” at CHS.