Clothing Packed away in Mourning

My thesis research was necessarily narrow-minded, as I have a tendency to over-research and I'm sure that I've missed out on some excellent pertinent information because I was too busy poring over the roots of the American middle class in the eighteenth century, wondering if I should take the time to read Marx?

So I also missed--but am glad, for my brain's sake--some really great literature on single-owner collections, like my collection of my great-great-grandmother's clothing from the 1890s, because they were from a different time period or geographic area.

Like this book I've just ILL'd, A Family of Fashion: The Messels: Six Generations of Dress, by Amy de la Haye, Lou Taylor and Eleanor Thompson.  All three have done really exceptional work in this field, and I'm sure many of you have come across their names here and there.  Ms. Taylor is an especial favorite of mine, a material culture maven, and basically made it okay for me to just be interested in Things and go from there.

This collection is really amazing, six generations of fashionable English clothing saved thanks to four houses' worth of storage area as well as an investment in clothing as personality, family and art.  I am not terribly far in yet, but I wanted to share an interesting tidbit about their comparative sources.

Maud Messel c1905. ©The Messel Collection at Nymans Gardens, The National Trust.

Most large "wardrobe" collections are given to museums as gifts from the still-living donors.  Often it is high-fashion from famous and fabulous women and/or designers, because museums are not interested in my thrift-store not-a-celebrity stuff.  Although it will be interesting to see, as we collect more and more clothing from various sources, if someone (probably still famous)'s thrift store items will be accessioned?  Anyways, that's a totally different conversation.

(Photograph of Maud Messel, date unknown, probably c. 1900-1905. From here, with lots of information and archival photography.)

Some wardrobes have been saved because of the tragic death of the person who owned and wore the clothing.  If you're familiar with Janet Arnold or have been to Uppsala Cathedral, you probably know about the Sture murders, a wealthy Swedish father and his two sons murdered because of a "disagreement" with the government.  And if you're familiar with me, you know that my great-great-grandmother died at age 31 in 1898, and her large collection of her clothing was put away in mourning.  I want to say that they were passed down, but they were really just...kept.  Out of a sense of value of the pieces, of course, but also because a LOT of things were kept.  Lucky me, I say!

 (Great-great-grandmother Marie Anna and g-g-grandfather Jacob Mock, Nantasket Beach, 1892. Family collection. Unfortunately, we haven't found that dress yet...but we do have more than 80 other items, plus boxes yet to be looked through, so...)

But in the comparative collections section of this book, they note the collection of Mrs. Katherine Sophia Farebrother, who packed away her own clothing in 1914 when she went into mourning for her husband.  I guess I had never considered that?  She never wore the clothing again.  Such serious mourning for the twentieth century!

Katherine Farebrother dress
(One of Mrs. Farebrother's outfits, from here.  It's the only picture on the website, unfortunately, but an interesting read if you are interested in wardrobe collections!)

It would be an interesting comparison to my collection if it weren't so different in geography; it's the first collection I've heard of from a similar time period (this is 1900-1914) and similar middle-class background.  How exciting to find new sources!  And to find new ways to think about "clothing packed away in mourning."