NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

August 23, 2013

Exhibit features high-society fashion from 1900 to 1925

(Continued)

Thus, the exhibit reveals the evolution of styles reflecting a world moving from the frivolity of the Edwardian era through the brutality of World War I to the freedom and rebellion of the Jazz Age. The outfits also signal the bonds of class with the elaborate dresses of well-to-do Peabody matrons contrasted with a maid’s uniform. Also displayed are work clothes, wedding gowns, children’s outfits, hats and the ultimate Victorian secret, underwear.

In the early 20th century, curator Lyn FitzGerald said, “the undergarment shaped the body.” It wasn’t always comfortable, but it could look fabulous. Somewhere beneath all those layers of clothes were women who, at various times, saw their bottoms pushed back and tops pushed forward, fronts transformed into “monobosoms” (“like a rack,” Fitzgerald explains) and “dropped waists” revealing the slinky figure of the flapper.

“We are showing some menswear, too,” Leavell said, including a World War I uniform.

It’s not an accident that clothes once worn in Peabody reflect what’s seen on “Downton Abbey.” Both American and British styles of that era were heavily influenced by fashions developed in Paris, according to the curators.

A lady’s duster, on the other hand, marks technological change; the coverall was worn by those driving newfangled automobiles over dirt roads on the outskirts of Peabody, their horseless carriages barreling past pig farms and forests. As the name indicates, it’s an outfit designed to protect the wearer from all the dust.

In the aftermath of the war, when women were often introduced to what had been strictly men’s work, their styles are decidedly freer, enabling them to play tennis, swim and ride bicycles.

Programs like “Downton Abbey” are admired as much for their settings — including costumes — as the stories they tell. Leavell expects a lot of people would like to know more.

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