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Posts by Paula Baxter

Hudson's Legacy

No, I'm not referring to Henry Hudson and his quadricentennial of "discovering" Manhattan and the river that's named after him. I'm speaking of Alice Hudson, Chief of the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, who retires this week after a long and glorious career at NYPL. She's someone who impacted many lives, leaving behind a shining legacy that will continue to glow for years.

I'll particularly miss Alice's wry humor. I still chuckle when I recall her telling me that she first wanted to title 

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A Glamorous Fashion Revolution

“The finest clothing made is a person’s skin, but, of course, society demands something more than this.” Mark Twain (1835-1910)

I like to see the end of the nineteenth century as a marvelous revolution in dress. The signs aren’t completely evident. We do have some stiff, high-collared Edwardian conventions to get through. Perhaps I can make an analogy with July. We celebrate Old Glory on the fourth and head off for the beach. New waves are coming and we want to be in position to catch them.

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Original Steampunk

The retro fashion for Steampunk has been well covered by other bloggers. Steampunk extends to more than clothes, and includes novels, films, music, and accessories. A tribute to the age of steam which culminated in sleeker industrial designs by the 1890s, I think of Steampunk as a mix of Sherlock Holmes, narrow-gauge railways, the Wild, Wild West television series, and the lovely lady pictured 

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Fallen Women

Bold hussies would get their comeuppance, predicted the morally offended critics of a society growing too racy for comfort. How dare they talk about a “New Woman,” ready to take part in every aspect of society? Such ideas were on a par with the fashion for progress in all things technological and scientific. Social change had come and left its mark. The outward signs of this, however, were still not apparent to all. Indeed, many considered the 1890s a time of uncertainty.

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Bicycle Breakthrough

A real fashion breakthrough occurs in the late nineteenth century with the notion of specific costumes for sports. As early as 1888, advertisements show models of “bicycle-gowns.” This would lead to the adoption of bloomers and divided, or bifurcated, skirts. Modesty and seemliness were deplored in vain. Why, that pernicious bicycle would even bring about a man and woman riding in tandem! How tame does costume of this era seem today when compared to our lycra and spandex sports outfits. Yet the revolutionary nature of this small first step toward sports 

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At The Beach

What a short stretch of time before bathing can become swimming! The social mores that prevent women from disrobing or showing their bodies will slowly be overcome by the end of the 1880s. Since the Enlightenment, women were permitted to wear flowing, concealing robes if they wanted to take a dip in the sea, or even a spa pool. The concept of a bathing suit was far from what we know today. In the 1880s, a woman might wear a slightly more relaxed form of dress, but dressed she remained. Contrast such clothing with the adoption of a 

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Artistic Endeavor

“I would venture to warn against too great intimacy with artists as it is very seductive and a little dangerous.” Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, 1819-1901

Women attempted to break through barriers in the arts as well. The Royal Academy of Art in London allowed women to sit in on certain art classes. Where once they could have only aspired to decorative arts—and the Victorian era is full of such efforts—women now sought painting, sculpture, and architectural training 

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Time for Reflection

When would the first flowering of feminism become important for women? Sometimes it would be passed from mother to daughter, a generational questioning that quietly put down roots. In other cases, strong individuals emerged, whose devotion to the arts or social causes ignited feminine interest. Despite the frivolous silhouette of the bustle, women were increasingly caring about more than their clothes.

Historic revivals of dress styles, including a vogue for medieval and Renaissance garment details, would culminate in the 

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Room To Move/Creative Nonfiction Workshop

Women were moving from crinolines to bustles as the 1870s began. One small revolution of sorts crept into what women wore. Clothing became modified to allow women some greater freedom to participate in sports. The 1870s saw more women taking up tennis, golfing, roller skating, and hiking. Skirts were shortened a little without raising shouts of immorality. Trousers, however, were still beyond the pale.

Garments for basketball, bicycling, and swimming were just a few 

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Looking to the Future

“The Queen is most anxious to enlist every one who can speak of or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of “Women’s Rights”, with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propriety.” Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, 1819-1901

I find the pictures for this post rather meaningful in light of the opinion expressed above. Throughout the nineteenth century, men were finding their own social accommodation to dress, while women were weighed down with the 

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Open Spaces

The California Gold Rush of 1848, among other things, created significant changes to occupational dress for men. When enterprising supplier Levi Strauss brought heavy duty canvas cloth for tents to miners, he heard their complaints about the need for durable work pants. The birth of denim fabric and its subsequent usage was a major step in the evolution of sturdy men’s wear.  

The western 

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Perpetual Mourning

“His purity was too great, his aspiration too high for this poor, miserable world! His great soul is now only enjoying that for which it was worthy!”

— Queen Victoria after her husband’s death

Victoria was breathlessly in love with her husband, Prince Albert, the Germanic butt of modern-day tobacco can jokes. She was known to describe him as “my all in all.” A sober, conscientious prince, Albert composed formal diplomatic correspondence even on his death bed. Victoria’s grief was boundless when he 

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Mourning Becomes Her

Because I’m going to a funeral at the end of this week, I thought I’d take a look at the nineteenth century’s special affection for mourning dress. Black mourning survived over the centuries in various forms. It took the mid-nineteenth century, however, to give the fashion for mourning an added fillip. The Victorian era is awash with ornaments and details affiliated with mourning, from jet and onyx jewelry to lacy veils and black tippets. Women, of course, carried the particular

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Civil War Blues

Fashion held an uneasy place in the war years of the North-South conflict in America. The Union and Confederate armies, uninterested in flashy uniforms, chose practical wear, while women remained ensconced in thick petticoats and triangular-shaped gowns. Some fashion textbooks call this the “crinoline period”. Hoops, or the cage crinoline, made women’s dresses billow as they did, and also made mobility more problematic.

Since the North controlled ports and shipping, and therefore received 

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Military Trim Mid-Century

 Masculine tailoring had always been affected in some degree by military uniforms. In the 1850s, an important element crept into this form of dress: increased comfort. Such an impulse would be more than revolutionary—it would be downright inspirational.

Against such practicality, the occasional flare-up of dandyism had no traction. In fact, the onus was now on the would-be dandy to prove his character wasn’t in question. 

The term “Broadway Brummell” or “Bowery Brummell” 

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Fashion Across the Atlantic

Americans still kept a close eye on fashion in Europe. Fashion periodicals found their way to those who could afford them, or appeared in circulating libraries. Later, Godey’s Ladies Book would offer homegrown interpretations of the latest fashions. Waistcoats for men changed in cut according to what was seen in newspapers from abroad. The stovepipe hat began its popular run. In fact, the 1840s mark a turning point in the fortunes of men’s jackets.

At the same time, America’s more egalitarian society meant 

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A Woman's Rights

Perhaps the truly telling factor in women's lives in the 1830s was how little civil rights they possessed. The women of the later Enlightenment years were more brazen in their demands for personal and legal freedoms. Even the French Revolution had done nothing real for women's liberty. Someone like the late Mary Wollstonecraft would be derided in this century' all her thoughtful writings now criticized in terms of her dubious morality.

Her daughter, the future Mary 

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Feminine Display

Fashions of the Napoleonic era for women had been dashing. However, larger social forces were at work that now placed a disapproving stamp on this look. While the daintily-shod foot could still peep out from under voluminous skirts, necklines rose and the feminine figure was concealed beneath jaunty collars, puffed sleeves, and other additions.

Another indicator can be seen in the hats - frothy and a harbinger of mroe to come during this century. Rackety King George IV was long dead, and his old sea dog brother would sit 

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Clothes Make the Man

The 1830s were a time when men’s clothing was affected by the tug and pull of Brummell’s austere dandy elegance and the more ornate flair of D’Orsay’s early dandyism. Men in general didn’t think of themselves as dandies, but the philosophy of men’s dress was heading for an identity crisis. Tailors still reigned supreme at this time, but fashion cycles made for conflicting modes of wear. Men were more and more inclined to move away from the frills and furbelows of earlier phases of 

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