We invite you to take a virtual tour of the Styling an American Family exhibition in this series of blogs that will each address one of the nine vignettes that make up the exhibition. The 1910s were a period of transition and innovation, in both American design and culture, and the fashions of the era were inextricably tied to the social customs that dictated people’s everyday lives so strictly. By looking at the fashions in this exhibition within the context of the Log House we are able to see a more complete history.
Like all of our guided tours, we begin on the front porch, the entryway into the Log House. Here we have a Formal Wedding at a Country Estate in spring of 1911. This scene was inspired by Stickley’s eldest daughter, Barbara, whose wedding to Ben Wiles (who at the time was business manager of The Craftsman magazine) took place on the front porch of the Log House in October of 1911. The home wedding of an upper-middle class businessman’s daughter at his country estate would have been as formal as a church wedding. A country wedding gave the slightest nod toward informality in the choice of decorations, but the choice of dress and flowers was clearly dictated by season and location.
On the porch we see the bride and groom, a bridesmaid, and the bride’s mother all dressed for a formal evening wedding in the spring and preparing to take a formal photograph to commemorate the day. Roses and ferns, like we see here, were the appropriate flower choice for an early summer wedding. Barbara Stickley’s flowers were yellow chrysanthemums, which were appropriate for a fall wedding.
The bride wears a wedding gown of cream silk satin and handmade duchesse lace; c. 1911. Generally the planning of the wedding was the province of the bride’s mother, a “mature” woman, but the bride might be allowed to choose the flowers for her bouquet and possibly her dress. With her mother’s approval, the bride wore a dress of the latest fashion with or without a train, but always with a veil, often with a few orange blossoms gently tucked into it for good measure. Wedding dresses could be white or ivory. The bride wore gloves during the reception and could choose whether or not to wear gloves during the ceremony, as it made ring placement difficult.
The honor of being a bridesmaid or groomsman was offered to family members first, then to friends. Bridesmaids wore formal gowns, but their dresses were not required to match, as is customary today. Gloves and hats or some sort of hair band or hair ornament would have been expected. Here, the bridesmaid wears a formal dress (c. 1911) of seafoam green silk charmeuse and silk chiffon decorated with rayon floss and rayon ribbon embroidery and beaded with glass seed beads and glass pearls. Her hat is tan straw with ivory silk taffeta decoration.
The bride’s mother wore a suit or a formal reception dress at her discretion. Since she was in her own home, it was also her decision whether or not to wear a hat or a hair ornament and gloves. Here, the mother of the bride wears a day suit (c. 1910) of natural linen trimmed with cream chemical lace, and a hat of cream cotton chemical lace, black velvet trim and cream ostrich plumes.
The groom wears a pinstriped, dark wool morning suit from 1909. As with women’s clothing, men’s fashion was dictated by the season and time of day. For example, today’s tuxedo (a black tail-less dinner jacket with contrasting satin or grosgrain lapel, worn with a cummerbund or a waistcoat (vest) and white tie) was standard evening or dinner wear for men and would not have been appropriate for a morning or afternoon wedding.
Wedding gifts were to be delivered to the home of the bride within two weeks before the wedding, allowing for the display of gifts during the reception. When a gift was sent, the sender included their personal visiting card so the bride would know to whom to address a thank you note. Hand-written thank you notes were required to be sent within a month after the wedding date. In a similar fashion to today’s bridal shower traditions, the bride’s mother or maid of honor was tasked with writing a description of each gift on the back of the corresponding visiting card when the gift was received in order to help the bride manage the task.
It was rare to move a wedding reception to another location as we do today and sit-down meals were almost unheard of. Instead, it was customary to provide a buffet of light food and drink appropriate to the time of day. Champagne was a must for toasts as well as general refreshment. Wedding cakes were not elaborate fantasies as they are now. Simply made in white cake with white frosting, the cake was large enough for each guest to have a slice and partake in the new couple’s good fortune.
The honeymoon of a middle class couple generally lasted less than two weeks, as the new husband needed to return to work and his bride was required to set up housekeeping. Upon returning from the honeymoon, it was required for all of the bride’s wedding guests and friends of both sexes to visit her immediately to express joy for the new couple and hear about the honeymoon trip. By contrast, a newly married couple of great wealth typically went on a grand tour of Europe for three months or more.
Styling an American Family: The 1910s at Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Farms is an exhibition of historic fashions from Syracuse University’s Sue Ann Genet Costume Collection. The exhibition consists of 35 mannequins in period dress arranged in 9 environmental vignettes that illustrate some of the emblematic everyday activities and pursuits of an upper middle class American family in the 1910s, giving visitors the unique opportunity to view the human form within Gustav Stickley’s architectural masterpiece.
Etiquette is another name for kind thought. The man who says, “I know nothing about etiquette” does not realize he is saying “I know nothing about courtesy to my fellow beings.” From Correct Social Usage, Volume 1; The True Etiquette, Chapter by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 1906