Goodbye to Something Old, Hello to Something New
Gazette Article by: Ellie Carlson, Curator of Costumes
Appeared in the Gazette: Spring/Summer 2009
On March 11 Curator Katie Macica and I removed a 1908 dress from the “I Do, I Do” exhibit and replaced it with a dress from 1928. The earlier dress, worn by Frieda Rydell, is made of a very fragile material known to textile historians as shattering silk.
Although the dress looks fine on the outside, the underlayers of the garment are made of silk that was woven with metals to give it more body. This practice was employed from just before the Civil War until well into the 20th century. The metals made the silk heavier; at the time it was in fact called weighted silk. The sad consequence of this practice, however, is that the crystals which form when the metal oxidizes have razor sharp edges. These sharp edges slice the delicate silk fibres and the fabric literally shatters.
Garments made of shattering silk contain the seeds of their own destruction. As yet, no one has discovered a way to reverse the process or to repair the damage since it takes place on a microscopic level. The underdress that supports Frieda’s gown is made of shattering silk and the staff knew Jessie Hosmer Brown’s 1928 wedding dress at the time of installation that the dress should not be displayed for the entire exhibit run. A replacement dress that fit within the same chronological era was waiting in the wings, so to speak, and is now on display.
The “new” dress was worn by Jessie McLaren Hosmer when she married H. Templeton Brown at St. Chrysostom’s Church in Chicago in 1928. Jessie was a popular Chicago debutante and Templeton was from St. Joseph, Missouri and had graduated from Yale University and Harvard Law School. They began theirmarried life in Missouri and later moved to Chicago, where Templeton became a name partner at Mayer Brown. The couple moved to Winnetka in 1942 and lived at 1010 Hubbard Place, raising a daughter, Jessie, and a son, H. Templeton, Jr.
Jessie’s dress is described in her wedding announcement as being “parchment satin with a tight bodice and a full skirt.” These details told us that while appearing to be a formless gown, falling from the shoulder loosely, the dress actually should fit snugly on the mannequin. In the photograph of her wedding ensemble published
in the Chicago Daily Tribune, the skirt hangs just below the knee.
In all things it does, the staff of the Winnetka Historical Society strives to care for all of the objects in its trust. Choosing to limit the display time of a fragile object is just one of the many ways we do this.