March 31 - December 8, 2000
Dale Valena, Museum Curator
Astrida Schaeffer, Guest Curator
Miss Irma Bowen in class, ca. 1922
See this photo in Digital Collections
Tailored to Teach is the first major exhibition of the Irma Bowen Textile Collection, which was first gathered by Ms. Bowen under the auspices of the Home Economics Department beginning in the 1920s. Over 600 clothes and accessories were donated to the collection by Durham residents and the friends and colleagues of Ms. Bowen. She used them as teaching tools in her classes, both to demonstrate fashion history and to provide hands-on examples of sewing techniques. Now part of the University Museum, the collection has come out of storage to resume its original role — albeit no longer hands-on — as a teaching tool, with highlights selected as prime examples of the craft.
Miss Irma Bowen came to UNH (then called New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts) in 1920 to teach textile classes in the department of Home Economics. She taught classes in the history of fashion and dressmaking technique and offered students a hands-on education in textile fibers. Outside of her academic instruction, Miss Bowen offered practical knowledge to the community through workshops and demonstrations.
During the course of Miss Bowen's tenure, she collected many of the examples of clothing that she used in her classes. Most were donations made by colleagues and families in the community. By the late 1940s the collection numbered over 600 items, including 18th-20th century fashions, children's clothing, and accessories. After Miss Bowen's death in 1947, the Board of Trustees voted to name the collection The Irma Bowen Memorial Collection as a tribute to her dedication as a teacher in the field of textiles.
Quilted Petticoat (left)
Gift of Mrs. Margaret Coe Ninde.
Silk, lined with wool, interlined with flax.
Day Gown (right)
Shot silk with cotton lining.
By the 1870s skirts had become flat in front with all their drape and fullness gathered behind the wearer. In order to make walking easier, the excess fabric was pulled up, and the resulting pouf came to be supported by a variety of pads, springs coils, and assorted inventions known as bustles or tournures. The bustle style lasted until the mid-1870s, and returned to popularity in an even more exaggerated form in the 1880s. This gown, with its separate underskirt and draped knee-length overskirt, is typical of the earlier bustle style.
Made in Paris by the Maison Rouff, this gown is high-style. Yards of net and chiffon, hand-sewn with thousands of spangles and jet beads, are draped over the satin foundation. Worn over a corset that would have given the wearer an 'S' shaped posture, the bodice is nonetheless heavily boned. The sleeves are full at the shoulder, a style which collapsed in Paris by 1896 but which was still a hallmark of fashion when this gown was made.
Wedding Dress (right)
Wool with net and satin ribbon.
Lavish lace and ribbon work sets off this wool wedding gown by Maison Rouff of Paris. The full sleeve of the 1890s had collapsed by the end of the decade into a more fitted form, often made in two parts. The narrow, three-quarter-length undersleeves of this gown, made of delicate silk gauze edged in heavy lace, were too fragile to display and were removed.
Girl's Bonnet (center)
19th century Straw, ribbon, velvet and silk flowers
Girl's Dress (right)
Until about the age of three, all children wore skirts, even boys. But at three, boys graduated to the knickerbocker suit. As with this example, the suit consisted of short trousers gathered or open at the knee, and had a short jacket that fastened at the neck only. By the time he reached ten, a boy would be allowed to wear longer trousers with a jacket tailored along more adult lines.
The period of the bustle for women influenced what girls wore as well. Skirts became flatter in front, with much of the fullness gathered into a bustle in back. Although girls' fashion imitated adult styles, skirt lengths were shorter, coming to just below the knee. The girl wearing this dress would also have had decorated drawers or pantalettes visible beneath the hem.
This invention of 1877 literally combined the chemise and drawers into one garment worn next to the skin.
Made in Paris by the firm of Marie Marcel, this corset hooked up the front and was adjusted by lacing the back. Corsets were a fact of life for 19th-century women. Repeated efforts by reformers to abolish them met largely with resistance.
Bustles came in a wide variety of shapes and styles. The interior support spring of this bustle is now visible, but originally was covered in fabric.
Petticoats such as this one had a dual role: to provide extra support for the drape of the skirt and to protect the modesty of the wearer. It was not intended to be seen or displayed.
Liberty of London was an innovative clothing designer whose style was characterized by beautiful fabrics, quality, and hand-embroidered detailing. This gown, made by Liberty in the first decades of the 20th century, typifies the look. The clean lines of the gown hide a complex interior; constructed in a series of overlapping supporting layers, it fit the body snugly while flowing smoothly from the waist to a moderate train.
Day Dress (right)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Varney.
Silk with appliqued wool trim
This one-piece chemise dress has no fastenings; it would have been slipped on over the head. The waist is slightly low, and the skirt is made of floating panels overlapped sufficiently to cover the wearer, a popular design element for the period. Beginning to leave the boyish cut of the 1920s behind, the cut of this piece looks forward to the bias draping of the 1930s, which outlined and emphasized the figure.
Velvet Toque with Ostrich Plumes (right)
Rust Velvet Cloche (right)
Gift of Mrs. John McNutt
Laced Oxford Shoes (right)
From Rags to Riches
This blue-and-white-striped gown made of homespun flax (linen) was a gift of the Coe Family of Durham and is attributed to Temperence Knight Pickering (1732-1823), whose husband owned and operated Knight’s Ferry, which ran from Dover to Newington, New Hampshire.
“The gown was probably worn over a petticoat. Darned areas just below the high waistline suggest that the wearer pinned an apron over the gown. Multiple patches suggest this dress saw a lot of wear.” (Linda Welters, Newsletter, Costume Society of America, Region 1). Ironically, it is the common nature of this gown that makes it so rare. Everyday clothing such as this was often used, mended, and re-used beyond recognition. That this ordinary gown was somehow spared from the rag-bag makes it truly unique.
Professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich '80G, from Harvard University used the gown to exemplify homespun textiles in a history class, and during a recent textile symposium at UNH, scholars were excited to see this rare example of everyday wear. A photo of the gown illustrates the section on homespun clothing in the three-volume, Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005).