Tag Archives: Clothing

The Fabric of Friendship

Back to my Salem singlewomen shopkeepers and businesswomen: they continue to be my favorite subjects among these #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts. Socialites, authors and artists: too easy! I came across one of the most stunning nineteenth-century photographs I have ever seen: of Miss Eliza P. Punchard, dressed formally in black bombazine, in front of Ann. R. Bray’s dry goods store at 76 Federal Street circa 1875. The picture was taken by the very accomplished Salem photographer Edwin Peabody, and it is in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, although you will never find it on the PEM’s impenetrable and unhelpful website: I make most of my PEM discoveries through old publications of either of its founding institutions, the Peabody Museum and the Essex Institute. In this case, the photograph was published in Museum Collections of the Essex Institute, published in 1978. It may seem like an old-fashioned way to access a museum’s collections in 2020, but believe me, such publications are your best bet for now.

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This photograph is so compelling, so sharp, so curious! Miss Punchard is not posing formally, yet she looks very formal! Her cheekbones! A literal window into a shop full of fabrics! I want to see more of the sign! So what’s the story?

Miss Eliza P. Punchard and Miss Ann R. Bray worked together in the dry goods business but they were not business partners: the former was always listed as clerk in the census and directory records while the latter was clearly the shopowner. They were, however, friends and perhaps life partners: after leaving bequests to a score of nieces and nephews in her native Gloucester, Miss Bray left the bulk of her estate, and her shop, to Miss Punchard in her 1875 will: I can only assume that this photograph marks Miss Punchard’s succession to the well-established Bray business: and is she wearing mourning? Miss Bray’s will implies that they were very close but I can’t presume anything more than that—although again, they lived together and alone (except for a succession of servant girls, several from Maine and several from Ireland) for more than three decades: every time they needed a new servant Miss Bray advertised for help in “a household of two”. Following Miss Bray’s death in 1875, Miss Punchard ran the shop until her retirement in 1886; she died three years later. And that was the end of a seemingly-successful woman-owned business in Salem, one of many: I am sure I am just scratching the surface with these posts. The Bray business had a long run, from around 1821 at least, when Miss Bray began advertising her services as a tailoress in Salem: not a seamstress mind you, but a tailoress. The “trimmings”took over and she moved into dry goods dealing from a variety of Federal Street locales: ending up at #76.

Bray Salem Gazette 1821 (2) Best

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Bray Goods SR June 24 1848 (2)

Bray black and whiteAdvertisements in the Salem Gazette and Register, 1821-1853: Cambric and Bombazine dresses from MoMu: Fashion Museum Antwerp and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Miss Bray was an enthusiastic advertiser in the Salem Gazette, Register and Observer and even the Wizard of South Danvers (now Peabody) and her stock got larger and more exotic as her business expanded: she offered gingham from the beginning to the end (and you can see it in the photograph of Miss Punchard) but added many other fabrics and frills from the 1840s on. I’m familiar with lots of things (merino, tartan, worsted, muslin and linen), but clueless about others: what in the world are “Russian Diapers” and “Circassian Bombazettes”? From some fashion historian crowdsourcing, I did learn that “Quaker Skirts” were a lightweight hoop, and Miss Bray offered other hoops as well, including the “Watch Spring” and “Bon Ton” varieties, and all manner of petticoats, including the popular Balmoral Skirt inspired by Queen Victoria. BUT there is definitely a patriotic shift during the Civil War: towards simpler fabrics, manufactured domestically. Mourning wear, unfortunately, was always in demand.After the war Miss Bray returned to her vast array of fabrics and accessories, and even included pianofortes in her stock! Just brief glimpses into two women’s lives in Salem: their public roles are somewhat revealed while their private world remains just so.

Bray Collage

Bray Goods July 24 1862 (3)

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Bray EndSalem Register, January & July 1862; South Peabody Wizard, January 1869; Newburyport Daily Herald, November 1886.


The Unveiling of Salem Women

A big transition here from New Deal Salem to Governor Endicott’s Salem but I am joyfully skittering back to the early modern era for #SalemSuffrageSaturday after spending too much time in the twentieth century for the #Salemtogether project of the last month or so! It’s dificult to uncover seventeenth-century women—both in Europe and in the New World: you generally need a flashpoint. Obviously the Salem Witch Trials was a HUGE flashpoint which created a window through which we can see several women closer up at the close of the seventeenth century, but earlier on, there’s not a lot to go on. So a debate about the veiling of women in the 1630s is an opportunity to examine perceptions of women—in a very general sense. Likely at the instigation (or at the very least the encouragement) of Governor John Endicott, often characterized as a “hot-headed” Puritan and certainly a strident separatist, the Reverend Samuel Skelton, the first minister of Salem’s First Church, ordered women to wear veils to church in 1630, “under penalty of non-communion, urging the same as a matter of duty and absolute necessity”. Under the remainder of Skelton’s tenure, and through the short term of his successor Roger Williams, this was the policy, and it was a controversial one, drawing the very public disagreement of the prominent Reverend John Cotton of Boston, who saw veils as more ceremonial than scriptural and demeaning to women in a more representative Reformed perspective.

pixlrThe MEN: pro-veil John Endicott and anti-veil John Cotton.

I have to back up a bit chronologically and go back to England to put this issue in its proper context: Endicott’s point of view is confusing to me as it is actually CONTRARY to that of the Puritans back home, who identified veils with the traditional “churching” ceremony in which new mothers were “purified” through a ritualistic return to the Church. There was no scriptural reference to this ceremony, so Puritans rejected it. But on the other hand, there WAS a very key scriptural justification for women wearing veils in church, from the Apostle himself, St. Paul: “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a woman ought to wear a veil on her head, for the sake of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:710). So this was a paradox, between tradition, custom, and the Bible—which of course can be interpreted in alternative ways—leading to debate along the spectrum of English Protestantism from the Elizabethan era to the onset of the English Civil War. In the earlier period, Puritan Thomas Cartwright alleged that the customary wearing of a veil was a Judeo-Catholic invention which should be abolished, while Archbishop of Canterbury John Whitgift responded that this was a trifling matter, which women could decide for themselves: “let the women themselves answer these matters”. He asserted further that the wearing of veils was a civil matter, a custom, rather than a ceremony of the Church. Whitgift’s voice of moderation was echoed later by the Reverend Cotton, who not only engaged in a fierce public debate in Boston over the veiling of women, a debate that was so “enthusiastic” that John Winthrop had to “brake [it] off”, but also traveled to Salem to encourage the unveiling of its women in a sermon which was characterized as both enlightening and immediately effective by William Hubbard in his General History of New England (1680): Taking an occasion to spend a Lordsday at Salem, in his exercise in the forenoon, he by his doctrine so enlightened most of the women in the place, that it unveiled them, so as they appeared in the afternoon without their veils, being convinced that they need not put on veils on any such account as the use of that covering is mentioned in scripture…….[He] let in so much light into their understandings, that they who before thought it a shame to be seen in the public without a veil, were ashamed ever after to be covered with them”. Well, this was quite a moment, especially as Endicott seemed to be advocating for a policy in which women should wear veils “abroad”, meaning in public, rather than just in Church, and another reminder (there are so many!) that you can’t paint “Puritans” with a very broad brush, as is definitely the practice in Salem today.

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Screenshot_20200515-210231_ChromeThe WOMEN: what were they wearing? Well, these are English women rather than Salem women but they are contemporary and this first portrait is one of my very FAVORITES: an anonymous painter and subject, it it titled “A Puritan Lady”, 1638, Berwick Museum & Art Gallery. I think it was back to the “steeple-crowned hat”, if they ever took them off! You tend to see veils for particular occasions and times of life: the second portrait is of Jane Trevor, Lady Myddleton as a WIDOW, so she is wearing a mourning veil. National Trust, Chirk Castle, c. 1670.


Mrs. Crowninshield goes to Washington

A colorful, albeit a bit light, source for women’s history is the collection of letters written home by Mary Boardman Crowninshield (1778-1840), the wife of Benjamin Crowninshield, a congressman and Secretary of the Navy under Presidents Madison and Monroe. On the surface, Mary’s and Benjamin’s marriage looks like a typical Salem mercantile merger, but not so typical was her decision (or maybe it was their decision) to accompany her husband to Washington in the fall of 1815. The letters describing their trip, by carriage and steamship, and residence in Washington over the next few months were published by Mrs. Crowninshield’s great-grandson, Francis Boardman Crowninshield, in 1905, and they yield some interesting insights into the Washington social scene in the immediate aftermath of the British occupation of the city and burning of the White House in general, and what everyone was wearing (most prominently First Lady Dolley Madison) in particular.

Mary Crowninshield

Mrs. Crowninshield was clearly an observant and detail-oriented woman, but her lengthy descriptions of the dress of the women whom she encountered really stand out in comparison with her briefer assessments of events or her surroundings. Almost as soon as she arrives in Washington, she calls on Mrs. Madison in the Octagon House, where she takes note of the blue damask curtains and finds the First Lady dressed in a white cambric gown, buttoned all the way up in front, a little strip of work along the button-holes, but ruffled around the bottom. A peach-bloom-colored silk scarf with a rich border over her shoulders by her sleeves. She had on a spencer of satin in the same color, and likewise a turban of velour gauze, all of peach bloom. She looked very well indeed. You can’t expect Mrs. Crowninshield to get excited about the architecture: she hailed from Samuel McIntire’s Salem! But one would like to see some mention of the rebuilding of Washington, the slaves who lived in the Octagon House along with the Madisons, maybe a bit of politics: but no, it’s really all about who wore what where and when.

The Octagon Peter Waddell

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20190325_170000Historical artist Peter Waddell’s depiction of the Octagon House in Washington, Mary Boardman’s childhood home on Salem Common, and the Salem house of the Crowninshields, where they entertained President Monroe in 1817, now the Brookhouse Home for Aged Women.

Well, if that’s what she wants to write about let’s go with it; these are her letters after all! She seems to be almost as impressed with the dresses of Mrs. Monroe as Mrs. Madison: the former is “very elegant”, dressed in “very fine muslin lined with pink” on one occasion and  “sky-blue striped velvet” on another, both times with velvet turbans embellished with feathers. Mrs. Crowninshield clearly is intimidated/impressed by all these velvet turbans in Washington: she has insufficient velvet and no feathers at all, and as they are very dear she combs her braided hair as high up as possible and weaves in flowers and ornaments—including a golden butterfly which Mrs. Madison actually admires. There is great concern about trim: Mrs. Crowninshield orders some very nice dresses from a Washington mantua-maker but implores her mother to send some red velvet trim from Salem along with Judge Story—–a Supreme Court Justice—when he makes his way back to Washington! And he does. This seems like the most insightful detail of Mrs. Crowninshield’s letters: imagine a Supreme Court Justice as a clothing courier!

Boardman The-Splendid-Mrs-Madison White House Peter Waddell

7-CaptureOfCityWashington24Aug1814_fullPeter Waddell’s recreation of one of Dolley Madison’s “Wednesday Squeezes” with many turbans and feathers in evidence, White House Historical Association; the capture and burning of Washington in 1814, New York Historical Society. Mrs. Madison continued to be an active hostess in her temporary quarters, which Mrs. Crowninshield tells us all about, but she does not have much to say about the post-war state of Washington.

But back to Dolley Madison, of whom Mrs. Crowninshield has the most to say, as she attended several events over the holidays in December of 1815 and January of 1816 hosted by the First Lady. Mrs. Crowninshield admires everything about Dolley—her demeanor, her apparent kindness, her ability to converse with ease—but above all, her clothes. Either Dolley rescued her famous wardrobe from the burning White House along with George Washington’s portrait or she replenished it with purpose. At a New Year’s Day reception, Mrs. Madison was dressed in a yellow satin embroidered all over with sprigs of butterflies, not two alike in the dress; a narrow border in all colors; made high in the neck; a little cape, long sleeves, and a white bonnet with feathers. That’s quite a close observation. At a Wednesday night levee, Mrs. Madison was adorned in muslin dotted in silver over blue and a beautiful blue turban with feathers. Mrs. Crowninshield noted that I have never seen her look so well and was clearly very pleased that Dolley had remarked that they “thought alike”, as she was dressed in blue as well. The last description of Dolley’s dress refers to a more elaborate dinner party, in which she was dressed in black velvet trimmed with gold [and] a worked lace turban in gold with a lace and gold kind of thing over her shoulders and looked “brilliant” in Mrs. Crowninshield’s worshipful estimation. Not long after this event, Mary Crowninshield returned to Salem, where the Reverend Bentley seems to have visited her immediately, in search of all the Washington gossip as well as her opinions of both the President and the First Lady. In her last letter, to her husband who remained in the capitol, she admits that I think I never shall want to go from home again.

Dolley's Buterfly gown

Dolley Dress 1934

Dolley Madison’s yellow silk “butterfly gown (s)” ? at the Smithsonian: the First Ladies Hall and a 1934 Curt Teich postcard.


Perennial Patterns

There were several Christmas gifts that I gave to people that I wanted for myself–all books. It was very frustrating to me that two of these particular books were shrink-wrapped, so I couldn’t even leaf through them before I wrapped them up! One was even in its own impenetrable (without leaving a trace of attempts at opening) box. On Christmas Day, as soon as I saw my brother-in-law open up a beautiful book by Peter Koepke entitled Patterns. Inside the Design Library I knew I had to have one for myself–and now I do.

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This stunning book is an exploration of a small fraction of the vast collection of The Design Library, a collection which includes seven million samples and fragments of pattern design embellishing fabrics, embroideries, yarns and wallpaper, all stored (appropriately) in a converted fabric mill in Wappingers Falls, New York. The book features a representative sampling of patterns and a very interesting concluding section on how design professionals, including designers at such diverse companies as Calvin Klein, Colefax and Fowler,and Pottery Barn, have used the library for inspiration. This is probably just a coffee-table book for my brother-in-law, who has long worked with textiles, but for me, it’s almost like a beautiful textbook, as each pattern is classified according to four main families of design–Floral, Geometric, Ethnic, and Conversational–and myriad subcategories under these categories. I quickly learned that I’m not crazy about abstract, chaos, exotica, jazzy, jungle, kaleidoscope, or modernist patterns (much less “x-rated” or “yummy”), but I LOVE distressed, gothic, and quotidian ones, and REALLY love feathers and insects. This was not a surprise to me, but I love finding classifications for my preferences.

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From Patterns: Inside the Design Library: French hand-painted feather paper, mid- to late-20th century; French hand-painted insect paper, early 20th century; French distressed woodblock-printed wallpaper, 1770 & “gothic” printed fabric, also from France, late 19th century (these look like the characters in a 17th-century witch trial!).

I also like the patterns labelled “Oberkampf”, after the eighteenth-century textile manufacturing company Oberkampt & Cie, which produced fabrics with a revolutionary “rolling block press”. They seem timeless, somehow, as did several of the samples in the book–patterns that looked old, but were in fact quite modern, and that looked modern, but were in fact rather old. Those old sayings that “nothing is every really new” and “everything comes back again” are not always true, but they often are, a point that was really driven home in the last section of the book, “The Creatives”, in which designers reworked Design Library-sourced patterns for products as diverse as Lulemon leggings, Clinique packaging, and the chartreuse velvet coat which Mrs. Obama wore to accompany the President to Norway to receive his Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

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Eighteenth-century Oberkampf designs from Patterns; the development of  Mrs. Obama’s coat by Francisco Costa, then creative director for Calvin Klein, based on velvets he found in the Design Library. 


Silken Skirts and Open Houses

On at least five occasions over the last century, residents of Chestnut Street opened their wardrobes and their houses, donning period clothing while giving house tours on a succession of “Chestnut Street Days” celebrating the apparel, architecture, and culture of Salem’s golden age. The first Chestnut Street was in 1926, organized to recognize Salem’s Tercentenary, and the last was sometime in the 1970s: I’m not sure precisely when but I’m assuming it must have been around the Bicentennial? I’ve posted on these occasions before, but just the other day a very nice man sent me a photograph of the first Chestnut Street Day which I’d never seen before, so I thought I would do so again: we have lots of new residents on the street who are probably completely unaware of these happenings. I also delved into the press coverage a bit and was amazed by the number of headlines the 1939 and 1947 Chestnut Street Days generated: my title is derived from my favorite, “Heavy Silken Skirts Rustle Again at Salem’s Chestnut St.Day Preview”, from the May 27, 1947 edition of the Boston Globe.

Chestnut Street Day 1947 Boston Globep

This preview was followed up by no less than seven articles in the Globe over the next month, covering every little detail of the organization and occasion of the 1947 Chestnut Street Day:  Luncheon Waitresses Chosen for Chestnut Street Day in Salem (all Misses, for the luncheon at Hamilton Hall, the beneficiary of this particular Chestnut Street Day), Salem’s Beautiful Old Houses to be Open for Chestnut Street Day (30 that year!), It Took Two Months to Ripen the 4th of July Rum Punch in Salem (no aspect of the life of “Old-Time Sea Captains” was left uncovered by either the organizers of the Day or the press), and finally, on the eve of the big day:

Chestnut Street Day June 24 1947 Boston Globe Headline

There was definitely a big emphasis on the “garb”, for both men and women, some of which still resides on the street in storage at Hamilton Hall but most of which was sold a few years ago, as I recall. Historic New England also has some clothing in their collection–and films of Chestnut Street days–from the Phillips family. Every piece of evidence indicates that no detail was spared: clothing, food, furnishings carriages, games, house flags, flowers. These days were huge undertakings, apparently involving everyone of every age on the street: a real community effort and display of pride of place. Here are some images from a succession of Chestnut Street Days, beginning with the great family photo I just received and proceeding up to 1952. I don’t have any 1970s images: I wish someone would fill me in on that particular occasion and send photos!

Chestnut Street Days 1926 Trumball

Chestnut Street Day 1626 Tom Sanders

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Chestnut Street Day 1926: Family photograph courtesy of Jim Trumball;  Tom Sanders and his horses and carriage courtesy Martha Sanders; Felicie Ward Howell, “Salem’s 300th Anniversary, Chestnut Street, June, 1926”, Christie’s.

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Chestnut Streets Days 1939 carriage SSU

Chestnut Street Day 1939 Gibralter Lady SSU

1939: Flyer featuring Samuel Chamberlain’s “Springtime in Salem”; another carriage and team of horses; two ladies buying Salem’s famous Gibralters from Mrs. Mary E. Barker in period dress, Dionne Collections, Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

Chestnut Street Day 1947 Press Coverage

Chestnut Street Day 1952 Ticket

1947 and 1952: One of MANY photographs and stories about the “famous” Chestnut Street Day in the Boston (and even New York) press, and a ticket to the 1952 Day, which featured 25 open houses.

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