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Everyday Through the Years Collection

When we look to the past and think about what people were wearing, we tend to get caught up in the high fashions of the day, the fashions of the elite. The question remains, then, what did the average person wear everyday? While everyday fashions emulated the popular fashions of the day, they were much simpler and generally more practical for manual labor or working around the house. Most working-class and farm families could not afford to continually replace their wardrobe, so they wore their garments until they were completely worn out. Instead of throwing out last year’s shirt, they would mend it. Also, children would be children, so they typically were not always dressed in their best. Children would have play clothes which were made to take a beating. They often got stained and had to be frequently washed. Much of the clothing worn around the home was made at home. Women had access to many scraps of fabric. Being frugal, they would commonly turn their scraps of fabric into quilts.

Everyday Through the Years exhibit

Item: Man's Vest and Pants
Date: 1840s
Accession #: 718ab
Donor: Robert Howard

Men's everyday dress during the 1840s consisted of a shirt, trousers and vest along with work boots and hat. The vest and pants displayed here show the technology available to make clothing as well as the styles of the time.

The pants are handsewn of handwoven fabric, but the cotton yarns were industrially manufactured and likely sold through a general store. The pants were made in a bridge-front style with deep pockets built into the side openings. The vest was made of a damask weave too complicated for home looms, so the fabric was probably made in a factory near America's east coast. Both the pants and vest were hand-constructed since home sewing machines were not available until the very late 1840s. The vest has curved, inserted pockets useful for holding a pocket watch and tobacco pouch, commonly used by men during the 19th century.

Men's jacket & vest from 1840s

Item: Discharge Print Dress
Date: Ca. 1895
Accession #: 2006.14.1ab
Donor: Unknown

This black, cotton dress displays the fashionable, leg-of-mutton sleeves that were the rage between 1895 and 1896. The waist, what the bodice was once called, fits close to the body at the front but was pleated below the natural waistline at the back to accommodate a small pillow bustle. The buttons are merely decorative since the waist is closed with hooks and eyes.

The fabric is a discharge print that was created by applying bleach to a black-dyed fabric then washing it as soon as the desired motif was clear.

Dresses like this could have been used as house dresses. However, the very fashionable silhouette and details such as buttons and the need for a bustle indicate that it may have functioned as a "best" dress for a woman of limited means.

black Leg-of-mutton sleeve dress

Item: Checked Work Dress
Date: Ca. 1910
Accession #: 2006.11.15a
Donor: Pat Timberlake

Item: Checked Apron
Date: Ca. Early 20th Century
Accession #: 850
Donor: Unknown

Sewing, cooking, raising a granddaughter and attending church and town functions summed up the life of Mary Louise Elizabeth Dickinson, one of the first settlers in the town of Eureka, Kansas and the owner of this dress. She was born in Bedford, New Hampshire in 1851. Sixteen years later, in Olney, Illinois, she married 26 year old Civil War veteran Charles Reich who was ready to settle down and have a family. In 1871, they moved to Eureka, Kansas.

Keeping house and living in a small town kept Mary very busy and she did not have time to be a fashion plate. Rather, she sewed her own simple clothing, perhaps noticing the changing silhouettes and making slight alterations such as raising the waistline and adding a pretty lace collar.

Mary Dickinson's dress

Item: Yellow Shirt
Date: Ca. 1920s
Accession #: 1987.42.93
Donor: Howard Marshall

Item: Denim & Elastic Braces
Date: Ca. Early 20th Century
Accession #: 1988.12.21
Donor: Glauser

Item: Wool Trousers
Date: Ca. Early 20th Century
Accession #: 1970.0.4
Donor: Unknown

Item: Cotton House dress
Date: Ca. 1926
Accession #: 1991.00.2
Donor: Unknown

1920s men & women's dress

In the 1920s, women's fashions changed in a shocking manner since more of women's bodies were revealed than ever before. Part of fashion change was a shift from a look of maturity to fascination with youth.

Although a booming stock market left an image of a care-free life, not everything was going so well. Many rural families found the 1920s to be difficult since there were years of poor crops, culminating with a drought in 1924-1925. Rural women did not have access to glamorous New York fashions but their simple cotton house dresses reflected fashion trends of the time.

Rural men also saw the importance of being economical. Work shirts were mended, buttons were replaced, and tears patched. Also, workers were less formal. In the 19th century, men wore vests over their shirts to be considered decently dressed. By the 1920s, society accepted the loss of the vest among working men, exposing their suspenders and shirt.

Item: Grandmother’s Flower Garden Quilt
Date: Ca. Early 1930s
Accession #: 2006.2.4
Donor: Martha Bowen

Quilts were made for two primary reasons: for decorative purposes and as utilitarian objects. These quilts were often made of scraps of fabric, collected after making clothing, that were pieced into a pattern of the quilter's choosing, then quilted and bound. This quilt was meant to be used. One tell-tale sign is that the backing is made from feed or flour sacks.

quilt with flower pattern

Cotton sacks were being made for feed, flour and other items as early as 1858 by the Bemis Company, Inc. of St. Louis. Many a frugal housewife recycled the cloth bags into clothing, towels, quilt backing and other items. Feed sack manufacturers began to acknowledge how women reused the bags and made the bags aesthetically pleasing. In fact, printed feed sacks were available by the mid 1920s; however, their popularity rose in the 1930s when the Percy Kent Bag Company of Kansas City began promoting printed sacks. The back of this quilt was made using several feed sacks. One of the feed sacks is printed with the label "Manufactured by the National Oats Company, East St. Louis, Ill." It also contains a partially legible flour sack from a Kansas company.

Item: Cotton Housedress
Date: Ca. 1942
Accession #: 1991.32.0
Donor: Howard Wilson

Item: Floral Apron
Date: Ca. Mid-20th Century
Accession #: 1991.25.3
Donor: Howard Wilson

Item: Rayon Shirt
Date: Ca. 1947
Accession #: 1626
Donor: Mary Fisher

Item: Leather Belt
Date: Ca. Mid-20th Century
Accession #: 1990.22.6
Donor: Howard Marshall

Item: Overalls
Installation Garments

1940s man & woman's dress

There was little change in fashion occurring shortly after the outbreak of WWII that lead to rationing apparel as well as other goods. L-85 restrictions made everyday clothing simpler and encouraged the use of man-made fibers.

Housedresses, like this one, were typically worn by housewives as they did their daily chores. These dresses could be purchased from catalogs such as Montgomery Ward or Sears or made at home. This one is an example of a homesewn dress that may have been made of feed or flour sacks. The apron, likely made of flour sacks protected the dress, reducing the labor of washing clothing.

Men's work clothes consisted of jeans and button-front shirts for labor-intensive occupations. The shirt was made of rayon, one of the commonly used man-made fibers used during World War II. Overalls, now called jeans, were considered work clothing and not appropriate for other activities.

Item: Green Felt Hat
Date: Ca. 1940
Accession #: 1996.4.1
Donor: Gladus Weinberg

Item: Beige Felt Hat
Date: Ca. 1935
Accession #: 1968.00.4
Donor: Unknown

Item: Cloche w/Black Braid Trim
Date: Ca. 1920s
Accession #: 2328
Donor: Ann Edwards Manson

Item: Cloche of Black Velvet
Date: Ca. 1920s
Accession #: 1993.15.1
Donor: Howard Marshall

Item: Cloche of Beige Straw
Date: Ca. 1920s
Accession #: 1991.41.8
Donor: Doris Happel

display of hats from 1920s-1940s

These hats span the period from the 1920s through the 1940s. The three on the right are cloches that were the iconic styles of the twenties. Cloche hats had a basic bell contour with bulbous crowns and, if worn correctly, could add inches to the height of the wearer.

Hats such as these were not part of everyday dress but were accessories women used when they participated in out-of-the-home activities. They were often sold in general stores as well as millineries and department stores.

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