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Textile Weekend at Old Sturbridge Village Celebrates the "Everyday Elegance" of 19th-Century Fashion, August 15-16

Includes Special Tour of “Sight Unseen,” an Exhibit Featuring Undergarments, as well as Demonstrations of Ironing, Sewing and Shoe Making
Sturbridge, Mass. —- Even the everyday clothing worn by New England residents in the early 19th century had a certain understated elegance that seems lacking in comparison to today’s fashions. Bonnets, belts, cuffs, collars, combs, tailcoats and top hats were commonplace and gave an air of formality to what was considered regular daywear, as opposed to modern tastes for cut-off jeans, shorts, t-shirts and tank tops. While today comfort is paramount, elegance was the norm in the 19th century.
Historians at Old Sturbridge Village will salute this style with “Everyday Elegance” at the annual Textile Weekend that features special tours, demonstrations and a fashion show on August 15-16.
“Women in the early 1800s wore their bonnets, caps, collars and gloves to embellish their gowns when visiting neighbors,” notes OSV historian Victoria Belisle. “Feathers, flowers and ribbons often adorned the bonnets, and they complemented beautifully embroidered collars and reticules (ladies’ hand bags).” During Textile Weekend, interpreters will offer a guided tour of the special exhibit called Sight Example of a busk, made of bone carved with a whaling scene.
Unseen: Embellished Undergarments of the Early 19th Century, which exposes the normally hidden garments that were also carefully crafted, with an eye for beauty as well as practicality. The detailed needlework that was done to decorate these pieces is thus often under appreciated, until now. In contrast to finely decorated pieces, some garments were heavily altered or repaired in areas that did not show. For example, one of the waistcoats in this exhibit had extra sections added to the back to enlarge it. As a gentleman would wear a tailcoat over the waistcoat in public, the alterations would never be seen. Artifacts displayed in the exhibit include embroidered petticoats, men’s waistcoats, bedtime clothing, and even carved busks–wooden or bone implements that aided women in maintaining a straight posture.
Rural New England women kept up with fashion trends through letters from city dwelling friends and relatives, and used illustrations in fashion magazines like Godey’s Ladies Book for inspiration. Sewing required creativity, but also skill in mathematics and geometry to enlarge and interpret small patterns and diagrams.
Old Sturbridge Village Textile Weekend activities will include tours of the Sight Unseen exhibit and demonstrations of bonnet-making, dress-making, ironing, mending, shoe-making and knitting for the troops. Guests may also make paper doll or soldier crafts. For a complete schedule and details, visit

Textile Weekend at Old Sturbridge Village Celebrates the “Everyday Elegance” of 19th-Century Fashion, August 15-16