Friday, April 4, 2014

"Millinery Through Time" Conference: Day Three

Day Three of the "Millinery Through Time" conference maintained the trend of impressive and inspiring presentations.  Paper after paper, lecture after lecture continued to introduce some pretty incredible research.  The range of topics alone was staggering, and I only wish it could have lasted another day (or two or five) because there was just so much good stuff to soak up in such a short amount of time!

The talks before lunch spanned topics that included everything from early American shoe-makers' labels to an overview of the popular fashion for turbans at the turn of the nineteenth century.  The morning saw two stand-out moments for me, however, the first of which was Mela Hoyt-Heydon's consideration of the use of artificial flowers in eighteenth-century millinery.  As fascinating as that is, what really made her talk so prodigiously awesome was that she then proceeded not only to discuss how these flowers were made in the period, but also how those historical methods can be reproduced today.  I think the entire auditorium was just in awe, and I left fully motivated to go forth and make flowers in abundance!  This made me (and probably everyone else who hadn't signed up!) really, really wish I'd elected to do Mela's velvet flower workshop scheduled for the following day... ;-)

The other notable paper from the morning was CW apprentice Abby Cox's exploration of the westward "expansion" of the millinery and dress-making trades at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Using information culled from city directories, she literally mapped the growth and change of the fashion trades in a completely novel way.  Her approach was intriguing and highly original, using physical landscapes and spatial readings to document how "millinery" and "the milliner" evolved, simultaneously expanding and contracting her business to meet shifting socio-economic and fashion trends.

After lunch, we continued our chronological movement forward into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Samantha McCarty (of Couture Courtesan) presented an inquiry into a long-overlooked and under-researched area of Civil War-era clothing: mourning millinery and accessories.  As the "visible signs of sorrow," mourning collars, cuffs, and bonnets, specific fabrics and colors all occupied a broad (and lucrative) spectrum of the fashion industry.  In an age when clothing was "read" and interpreted as an outward expression of an individual's place in society, tiny details like those distinguished by Samantha spoke volumes.  She's hinted that there's a mountain of additional research left to pursue, and I know I, for one, am most eager to hear more!

Then it was on to the final panels on the conference schedule.  From a study of the life and career of a single, enterprising milliner in turn-of-the-century Newfoundland, to a consideration of the millinery trade in Ontario, to a glamorous overview of the distinctive, defining style of American millinery in the years surrounding WWII, to a first-hand glimpse into the career of modern-day milliner-artist Ignatius Creegan, each of the speakers that contributed to the concluding afternoon helped to round out the incredible range of scholarly contributions on millinery and fashion history that we'd experienced over the course of the two previous days.  I sincerely hope that it won't take another sixty years before we get the opportunity to do this again!  If this conference confirmed anything for me, it's the sheer wealth of untapped information left to be uncovered in the study of historical fashion.

Many thanks to all who contributed their knowledge, skills, and time to make this conference such a rare and special treat!

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