Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Favorite Old Thing of the Week (??)

So I think I started the Favorite Old Thing post and then did maybe two weeks hence the question marks in the title sooo let's try this again, shall we?

One of the greatest tools that I've found on the internet for studying historical objects is the online archives that museums work tirelessly to photograph and publish online for the world to see. I can't wait for the Chicago History Museum to launch their own archive of objects because that collection deserves to be seen on a world wide basis. One of the existing online collections that I continually return to for examples of historical dress, however, is the Metropolitan Museum of Art's. Currently, the Met has 341,940 objects at our disposable to browse through or to conduct a specified search. I was browsing through the collection in research of my last post on the Charles James exhibit when I came across this gorgeous sweater.

The Met dates this sweater at 1895. The clues that point to this date are the leg-o-mutton style sleeves, which came into popularity in 1890, and the intended use of this type of sweater, which would have been for sportswear. It may be hard to believe that a woman would have played tennis in an ensemble like this with our Under Armor and barely there Nike outfits that the Mrs. Williams's play in today, but it is true that this sweater would have been considered "casual wear" in 1895. The state of its condition is really remarkable and makes pieces like this very rare in museum collections because its intended use would have allowed for wear and tear and made it an unsuitable piece to be donated.

Prior to the rise of women playing sports it was considered dangerous for women to participate in rigorous physical activity because her energy needed to be conserved for "childbearing and rearing." As a young woman who played college basketball, it is unfathomable to think that women had to be restricted to "calisthenics, dancing, walking, and horseback riding" for exercise. Thankfully, by 1900, even the fashion world had begun to approve of sports for women:
"But aside from the team spirit there are wonderful physical advantages in basket-ball. Of all the team games that men play, for many long years not one was available for the women's colleges... Basket-ball, however, was available from the first, and it was not many months after its invention in 1892 that it was welcomed in all of the women's gymnasiums...The fascination of the game attracted the girls to the gymnasiums, and they took this exercise willingly and even eagerly when chest-weights, dumbbells, and rowing-machines seemed a drudge. The excitement of play, too, permitted them more exercise with less fatigue, the advantage of which is apparent."
-- J. Parmly Paret, Harper's Bazaar, October 20, 1900

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