27 July 2017

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker's Reform Ensemble

I made this ensemble based on a photograph of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker from 1864 when she visited England and met with Queen Victoria.  Dr. Walker was a dress reformer from a progressive family.  Her father stipulated that she would not wear corsetry as a child, and she continued to eschew it as an adult, instead choosing to join the American Dress Reform movement.  She worked for several years with Dr. Lydia Sayer on The Sibyl, a feminist dress reform newspaper during the 1850s and 60s.  She later rejected conventional feminine clothing entirely and from the 1870s onward wore exclusively men's suits.

My version of this dress is for summer wear.  The textile is a dual-toned cotton (tan warps, teal wefts) with dual-tone silk trimmings.  I drafted the pattern for the dress based on princess-line dressmaker's patterns as well as measurements from an extant 1860s bodice.  The trousers were drafted in a similar manner using measurements from a pair of 19th century men's trousers in my personal collection.

The completion of this ensemble comes close to a year after I became a scholar of 19th and early 20th century dress reform.  I found through my research that dress reformers refused corsetry but were not averse to boning in their dresses.  My dress has six bones to maintain its smoothness over the waist.

In the photographs below I have accessorized the dress for a later date, c.1880s.  The event I was at tended towards the latter part of the 19th century.  Though I am undoubtedly too young to accurately represent dress reformers in the later 19th century, the truth is that lifelong dress reformers lived into the 20th century and adhered to this style of dress until their deaths.  Dress reform was not fashion-averse and photographs show that some dress reformers stayed abreast of fashion trends as long as those trends did not disrupt the core principles of dress reform, that is, health and ease of movement.

In other photographs Mary often wore her hair in tight curls, completely unbound or in a part-updo.  I chose the latter to provide the support my hat requires to be worn properly.

Photo on left by Elisa Libratty, photo on right by Kathy Libratty
Photo by Kathy Libratty

No comments:

Post a Comment