We continue our virtual tour of the Styling an American Family exhibition with a casual evening at home in the fall of 1910.
At the north end of the living room, gathered around the hearth, are four young women involved in recreation for a very casual evening at home, wearing shirtwaists and walking skirts, the representative casual outfit of the Progressive Era.
The term ‘waist’ refers to the part of the garment from the waist up (now called a bodice). One could have evening waists, day waists, or in this case a ‘waist’ styled after a man’s dress shirt and referred to as a ‘Shirtwaist’. They were mass-produced and could be as inexpensive as fifty cents, were easy to wear with a separate colored walking skirt and easily laundered. The shirtwaist could be worn with a skirt for morning and afternoon wear and was appropriate for staying home. With the addition of a jacket to match the skirt, this outfit was appropriate for shopping, running errands and casual visiting. Skirts worn with shirtwaists were called walking skirts because they were ankle length, making it unnecessary to hold the skirt up when walking, as one would do with a formal, floor-length skirt.
The trend toward shirtwaists and skirts took off in the 1890’s when this simple, functional outfit became the standard for young working women. Jobs as shop and office clerks, typewriters (later called typists) and telephone operators required freedom of movement and clothing that was easy to care for.
The Living Room scene we are looking at today is set with games and books of the period. Card games like whist, gin rummy and bridge were hugely popular, board games were becoming more popular and reading was a primary diversion for free time. Needlework, knitting and crocheting were all popular functional pastimes.
Seated on Mr. Stickley’s one-of-a-kind, high-back, leather settle (c. 1902) a young girl has put down her knitting and picked up Louisa May Alcott’s Under the Lilacs (1878). She wears a white cotton long sleeved shirtwaist blouse with separate starched collar and a black wool walking skirt, c. 1910.
Popular books of 1909-10 included Anne of Avonlea (sequel to Anne of Green Gables) by L.M. Montgomery; Ethan Fromme, by Edith Wharton; Howards End, by E.M. Forster; The Golden Bowl, by Henry James; Three Lives, by Gertrude Stein; The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke; Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (the prequel to Peter and Wendy, now known as Peter Pan) by J.M. Barrie; The Emerald City of Oz (book #5 in the series), by L. Frank Baum and The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, by Beatrix Potter.
In front of the fireplace, we interrupt a friendly game of cards. A young woman in a white embroidered shirtwaist blouse and taupe wool walking skirt (c. 1910) helps up her friend, who wears a white cotton long sleeved shirtwaist blouse and red wool jumper with soutache trim, c. 1910.
To the right of the fireplace, by the c.1903 oak fall-front ladies desk, a young woman takes a break from writing letters with a hammered copper Craftsman Workshops desk set. She is wearing a white cotton shirtwaist blouse with blue couching and a black silk taffeta walking skirt, c. 1910.
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.