Monday, July 29, 2013

Instruments of Torture? Turn of the Century Corsetry

by Abigail Cucolo
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Corsets and girdles have been used for centuries to mold women’s (and sometimes men’s) figures into the fashionable shape of the times. We recently put two corsets on display as part of an exhibit on undergarments. The desired silhouettes they helped achieve are dramatically different.

During the Victorian period, the fashionable ideal of a “well developed bust, a tapering waist and large hips” resulted in a mature, firmly restricted silhouette. A split-metal busk at the front for dressing convenience and narrow boning that did away with shoulder straps created a curvaceous design. Extending from mid-bosom to lower torso and supported by a steam-set shape that emphasized the hips and raised the bust, the corset pushed the bulk of the flesh up and down creating the fashionable hourglass silhouette.

While wool corsets were worn for warmth, fashion often trumped function as the 1880s saw finer materials dominating corset construction. Sometimes seen as a rebellion against the severe moral attitude and prim exterior of Victorian society, corsets became increasingly embellished and seductive. Colorful, lace-trimmed, embroidered designs in fine silks, lawns, and muslins became the most sought after models.

With the rise of the health and dress reform movements, there was a great amount of controversy surrounding the corset. Advocates for reform protested against the harmful effects of this “instrument of torture.” They believed that the tight lacing crushed the ribcage, displaced and damaged the internal organs, and caused disease. Many argued to go corsetless, but that was seen as particularly indecent by prudish Victorian society, so more flexible, breathable designs with straps to relieve the weight from the waist and hips appeared. They were not as popular, however, and the mainstream corset remained an intricately boned, strapless hourglass.

Corset (1883-1895) from the
Victoria & Albert Museum T.84-1980
During the Bustle period, a new feature was introduced that attempted to bridge the gap between fashion and health- the spoon busk. With a shape that carved the stomach inward then expanded to cup the lower abdomen, this new busk was thought to keep the waist tight without pressing on the internal organs. It became the favorite model by the 1880s; however, its “improved” design did not lessen the harmful effects. Despite complaints by doctors and reformers, corsets became even more tightly laced throughout the 1890s as Victorian fashion made its last and most severe hurrah before the Edwardian period ushered in a new silhouette. 

When the year 1901 arrived, a fresh look was in fashion that contrasted remarkably to the stiff, architectural silhouette of the previous decades. The figure was molded into an elegant, flowing s-curve by the new straight busk corset. Because of its straight front and long line, the bosom was pushed forward while the hips were thrust back, arching the spine and forming the fashionable shape (the forward tilt of a women’s torso could be so severe, that many women used canes or parasols for balance). This new corset was supposed to be more healthful than the late Victorian model. 

Mme. Ines Gaches-Sarraute was a French corsetiere with a degree in medicine who is credited with the creation of the straight busk corset. She believed that the hourglass corset suppressed the bust, while the spoon busk forced the organs downwards. The straight busk, on the other hand, would support the abdomen and relieve the waist and the bosom by beginning below the breasts. In actuality, this corset allowed for even tighter cinching than any corset before and did not offer any support to the chest. The bust line, therefore, was low and emphasized the fashionable pigeon breasted, mono-bosom look of the time.

While the intentions to improve the corset and make it less destructive were respectable, they were misguided. The straight busk corset simply created new problems for the body. That elegant s-curve caused back, breathing, and knee (hyperextension) difficulties, resulting in the most harmful design yet through the fashionable extremes of a tiny waist and forced figure.

Though physically taxing, the corset as it had been known would not disappear in everyday-wear until WWI, after which women would wear more flexible corset like girdles to achieve the fashionable silhouette of the day. Even now we have not escaped the pressure to fit our bodies into a fashionable ideal- internalizing the corset through diet and exercise. And when that doesn’t work- hey, there’s always Spanx! 

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying at one of the Fountainhead Hotels. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fairbanks Golden Days 2013

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

This beautiful hack is made from
birch and cherry wood.
"The bulb is out on your
arm turn signal, sir."
Golden Days is an annual celebration commemorating the early history of Fairbanks and our Gold Rush heritage. It kicks off with a party at Pioneer Park that includes a Show and Shine. We take a museum car to the show each year, although we were a bit delayed on the way there with our 1911 Ford Model T depot hack.

As always, the Show and Shine organized by the Vernon L Nash Antique Car Club was a hit.

For some reason, the traditional wear for many women at Golden Days is a dance hall costume, which to my knowledge was not seen on the streets of early Fairbanks. The "Good Girls" felt the need to show our disdain for the "Good Time Girls," but the men seemed to approve of the latter.

Photo by Kristie Dickerson

The event also featured live music, free food and olde-fashioned games for children...

...and about $40,000 worth of gigantic gold nuggets to admire.

Of course, the highlight of Golden Days is the annual parade. This year Willy drove our 1919 Pierce-Arrow Series 31 touring car, which had the honor of carrying the winners of the Miss WEIO (World Eskimo-Indian Olympics) pageant. A great end to a fine week!

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying at one of the Fountainhead Hotels.  All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Our Very Red Whiting Automobile

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

The 1910 Whiting Model A roadster finally got a little exercise this week. We went over it from end to end in the shop first to make sure all was in order, then took it out for a spin around Wedgewood Resort.

As you can see from these photos, it is a stunning little car. In 1912 Whiting truly became a "little" car after William C. Durant revamped it and renamed it the Little. A year later Durant dropped the Little, combined its best features with a design by Louis Chevrolet, and introduced the Chevrolet Light Six.
We know of only two surviving Whitings, so we are very fortunate to have one in our collection. It really is a fun "little" car with its monocle windshield and racy stance. The only downside to driving it--and many of the other museum cars--is that those white tires need to be cleaned after rolling on the pavement. Where oh where is our premier tire-cleaning docent, Terry??????

These photos were taken on the beautiful grounds of Wedgewood Resort, home to the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, Bear Lodge and the Wedgewood Suites. If you are visiting Fairbanks, please consider supporting the museum by staying at one of our partner hotels.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Beauty and the Bird: Feathers in Fashion Exhibit Opens

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Birds have captivated humans for centuries. We have caged them, decorated our homes with their likeness, and used them for personal adornment, both in imitation and natural form. From the ostrich-plumed helmets of Roman generals to the feathered cloaks of Polynesia, feathers have symbolized wealth, status, and elegance among many cultures. The use of birds and feathers for adornment reached an unsustainable peak during the late Victorian Era, when over five million birds were killed annually to decorate ladies' hats. 

The impact on birds was devastating. The plume trade helped drive some species to extinction and nearly extirpated several others, including Africa’s wild ostrich. In America, snowy egrets and great egrets were killed for their delicate breeding plumes while nesting, leaving their young to die of starvation. Horror over such wholesale destruction of bird populations awakened a conservation ethic the United States and led to the founding of the Audubon Society. 

You can learn more about this "murderous millinery" (including how craftspeople called plumassiers painstakingly prepared the feathers for hats) and about the two women that helped halt this ruthless plume trade in our newest exhibit. Curated by historic fashion consultant Abigail Cucolo, Beauty and the Bird: A Tale of Feathers, Fashion and Our Fowl Obsession features a number of elaborate hats from the museum collection, including one adorned with a rare Bird-of-Paradise. Also on display are vintage art feathers exquisitely crafted by La Maison Lemarié, a plumassier studio founded in 1880 in Paris. There is also a specially decorated hat there for you to try on and have your photograph taken, so bring your camera! The exhibit will be open through March of 2014.

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying at one of the Fountainhead Hotels. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

Visit our YouTube channel for video of this Exhibit!  

Monday, July 1, 2013

On the Road: HCCA Modoc Tour

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

My wife, grandson and I recently escaped Alaska's record heat to take part in the annual Modoc Tour with the Horseless Carriage Club of America. The tour was sponsored by our friends Allan and Beth Schmidt, of Restoration Supply Company. This marked the 26th year for the tour, which was held in Alturas, California. The turnout was great, despite attendance being down a little due to some illness and other situations. At right is a 1913 IHC highwheeler that Allan brought up for us to drive. It ran without a glitch for all the tours. Rain and cold be darned, it kept on going!

Allan drove his 1903 Cadillac, which also ran without a glitch. The weather was a little cool, being 41º F on Wednesday morning and raining on Thursday, but Friday was sunny. Allan outran me in his Cadillac until the last day, when I decided to put the top down on the IHC. Then it was,"Katie bar the door," and the old truck picked up a whole lot of speed. Jack clocked me at 32 mph at one point, and the Cadillac could not stay with me.

Here are a few of the horseless carriages in front of the hotel before the tour began. There was a lot of  prep work to get some of them ready, but with Allan's well-maintained cars there was not much to do other than fill the oilers and  gas tank. We sure did miss seeing the Thurbers and their steam cars, but hope they will make it  next time.

The last day of the tour was the longest and ended at the Flournoy  ranch. It was a wonderful, sunny day and we drove past some great scenery through canyons and along some creeks. We saw a few deer and antelope along the way, plus a lot of old "bone yards" with some interesting looking stuff that I really wanted to peruse. Sigh, maybe next time.....

I love this picture of the the antique cars and vintage motorcycles parked in front of the old brick building. I don't know what will happen to this grand old building, as its only tenant is a used book store, and there probably isn't much chance of other renters moving in. It is truly sad to see the old store fronts closed and these little towns drying up, but at least some folks are hanging in and providing great service to try to keep people coming back.
Of course, one cannot have an old car event without a lot of good food! These folks put out a great spread for us, with barbequed chicken, a tasty salad with all the fixins, and then came out the pies. There must have been at least a dozen kinds, and try as I might, I could not begin to sample them all. It brought back a lot of memories of how the rural farm ladies could really put on a first-class feed with fresh made everything.

Wilma and Marcus had as much fun as I did, as Marcus got to drive the IHC for about 30 miles. Now it's time to begin the drive up the Alcan and head home!