Museum Visit - Historic Cherry Hill

Today was my second thesis research visit, this time to the Historic Cherry Hill Collection in Albany.  I found some exciting things!

- A pink taffeta anglaise with petticoat, late 1770s.  It was fairly plain, with some applied scalloped self-fabric trim down the fronts of the skirt and smaller trim at the ends of the sleeves, but what interested me were the en fourreau back.  Instead of the pleats pointing out to the sides, they're aimed at the center back.  I'm not sure I've ever seen that before.  Intriguing!

- An 1820s-1830s corded corset with an interesting construction.  Each side is one piece, with gussets at the bust, and the lower edge ... I'm having a hard time putting it into words.  The corset doesn't come over the hips, but the front is as long as any other corset.  It's rather like a late 16th century-early 17th century pair of bodies.  Singular!

- Best of all, a set of front and back lacing strapless mid-18th century stays.  Sounds ordinary, yes?  But they're made from two layers of unbleached linen with no visible seam allowances.  The pieces in both layers are were put together, and then the seam allowances were turned in and sandwiched between the layers; the pieces were then butted together and overcast, leaving a flat, clean seam.  The front and back pieces were cut with the lacing edges on the fold.  AMAZING!  (They're also not fully-boned - the channels are in groups of two to five.)

There's a constant, ongoing debate over methods of re-enacting: some prefer people to dress their own way, as long as the methods/items are period (downside: if too many people separately use a documented but uncommon piece of clothing, method of fitting, etc., they can give the impression that it was the norm); others prefer people to "portray the common" and consider the number of other re-enactors who dress a particular way, eg. knowing that gowns were more commonly worn than jackets, so not making a jacket if too many of the other women in one's group wear them (downside: if everyone uses the same patterns and goes for the same look, it can feel a bit "cookie-cutter," and then the anomalies are effectively scrubbed out even though they would have existed; also, if the uncommon is being too commonly portrayed, one may never get the chance to try out one's own uncommon garment).  My feelings are somewhere in between.  I think portraying the common is a good thing, and one should keep the common in mind, but the common can be personalized and made one's own without compromising that.  (Unless some particular personalization becomes popular, I guess.)  I wouldn't claim that the features I noticed on the garments I looked at today ought to revolutionize costuming - they're not really the normal way corsets, stays, or anglaises were made.  But they, or variations on them, could be used on occasion to personalize an otherwise common impression.


  1. I'm presuming you're talking about the long thread on 18thCLife about portraying the common?

    I read those emails with interest, and think the people who believe we should all be doing the uncommon should be slapped upside the head.

    First of all, before we do the uncommon, we should be doing the common WELL. Meaning, women should all be in stays, 99% should be in gowns (way less bedgowns), and there should be WAY more quilted petticoats. Like, nearly every woman should at least have one quilted petticoat in her wardrobe, even if she doesn't wear it to every event.

    Second, people should be doing their research! On their garment, on their fabric, on whatever they're doing. Yeah it's fun to dress up but if you're out where the general public is, you better have the knowledge to explain what you're wearing, what you're doing, etc.

    Before we all go to the uncommon, we should be doing the common REALLY f*cking well. And we're not. And if someone wants to do the uncommon, they better have the documentation to prove it!

    This is a big sticking point with me. I'm a newbie and I'm looking to the more experienced people for guidance. And you know what? A lot of experienced reenactors are doing things totally friggin' wrong. There are a bunch of people on that Yahoo group that I just delete when I see them post, because it's just a bunch of bullshit coming out of their mouth, fluffed up with flowery language.

    I could write a whole post on my blog about this.

  2. Ha, okay, yes, I'm referring to that. :D But I've seen it crop up in other places! I think it's one of those debates like first-person vs. third-person that people FEEL VERY STRONGLY ABOUT.

    before we do the uncommon, we should be doing the common WELL

    This x 100. I do sometimes wonder if the people who strongly advocate doing the uncommon are part of groups where the common is more common, and are assuming that everyone else is the same. I'm starting to skip certain topics/posters just out of habit, too. It's just easier.

    What sort of frustrates me in the whole thing is that the "yes, do the uncommon" group always seems to be for such uncommonness. Because I do think sometimes when I go to an event or look at pictures that there's a little too much cookie-cutter, mainly because of bought costumes (which is completely understandable, from the standpoints of both the buyer and the maker), so I'd love to see small uncommonnesses like the garments I saw at the museum - the sorts of things that might happen with home sewers working on their own and coming up with slightly different solutions for fit problems or overworked seamstresses taking a shortcut.

    You should do a whole post on it! It's an interesting thing to talk about.


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