Thursday, March 30, 2017

130 Years of Fashion at Henry Ford Museum

Yesterday was a beautiful spring day in Michigan.  I met my girlfriend at 10:00 a.m. at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn to view the exhibit 130 years of Fashion and Lives of an Entrepreneurial Family.  The family was the successful upper-middle-class Hamilton Roddis family.

Because I love history I couldn't wait to get home to read up on the Roddis family.

I discovered Catherine Prindle married Hamilton Roddis and they had six children.  They lived in a large beautiful home in Marshfield, Wisconsin where Hamilton was President of Roddis Veneer Company [a lumber company] founded by his father Wm. Roddis in 1897.

Below is the Roddis three-story Dutch Colonial revival style home built in 1914.

The last of the six children to live in the house until her death was Augusta.  She was born in the house in 1916, and passed away there in 2011 at age 94.  Many of the dresses on display were Augusta's - she was definitely a fashion diva.  Fortunately, she felt garments provided a lens to the past, and saved the beautiful garments in the exhibit.


Following Augusta's death, her niece, Jane Bradbury, who studied textiles in college, knew her aunt had carefully stored some dresses in the attic, and wanted to document what she thought was a small collection.  When she opened the attic door, she  found a treasure trove of historical garments that dated to the years before the Civil War.  No one - not even family heirs knew the garments existed.  There were over 300 pieces of clothing from every decade starting from 1900 and a few exquisite dresses from 1856 and 1880.

They were in pristine condition, with accessories such as hat, shoes, and gloves, along with receipts from where they were purchased, and events where they were worn.

[The attic]

Jane collaborated with Edward Maeder, a renowned dress historian, and after five years of meticulous research and detailed photos they wrote the book, American Style & Spirit: The Fashions and Lives of the Roddis Family.  It was published by V & A [Victoria and Albert Museum], London in 2016.  There are also adorable paper dolls by Paper Studio Press called Augusta Dresses Up.

Jane donated the majority of the collection to The Henry Ford Museum.   They divided a 60-piece collection into 10 categories filled with vintage attire ranging from everyday to elegant evening dresses.  Follow along on the exhibit with do have your cup of tea, right? ;-)

The oldest dress in the collection was a silk gauze rose pattern print that Jane Prindle Colton [Mrs. Catherine Prindle Roddis' aunt] may have worn to her marriage in 1856.  The rust colored chiffon, silk crepe de chine dress belonged to Hamilton Roddis' sister, Frances.  It is dated 1917.  Frances and Catherine attended college together and she introduced her to Hamiltom [her brother].  It was love at first sight!

Augusta wore the black and white stripped evening gown designed by Gladys Parker in 1934. It was a favorite of hers during her college years at Northwestern University.  The dress on the right belonged to Augusta's sister, Catherine [named after their mother]. The description said: Afternoon Dress from about 1929. "Pickie" as she was nicknamed, could have worn this semi-formal dress to a garden party or Afternoon Tea.

Catherine Prindle's cotton net organza wedding gown to Hamilton Roddis in 1908, and Augusta's sister, Mary's wedding gown in 1929.

Ellen, the youngest of the Roddis children, eloped during World War II and wore the green suit.

Mrs. Catherine Roddis was a talented seamstress and during the depression years made two outfits for her daughter Augusta - the 1938 blue rayon crepe Evening Gown, and the 1934 rayon Day Dress with shirred beaver trim and metal belt.

The 1952 Hollywood inspired, wool gabardine suit was worn by Mrs. Catherine Roddis.  The Day Dress from 1914 was worn by Mrs. Sara Denton Roddis, Hamilton's mother.  It was purchased at Marshall Field & Co.  Many of the family clothes were bought at Marshall Field & Co. or Carson Pirie Scott.

The 1943 hat was worn by Mrs. Catherine Roddis and came from Marshall Field & Co.  It was made of fur felt, silk velvet, and feathers.  The 1950 wool gabardine dress with jacket was also worn by Mrs. Catherine Roddis, and was purchased at Saks Fifth Avenue.

The bronze leather shoes, worn by Mrs. Catherine Roddis, are from 1905-1910 and were from Carson Pirie Scott & Co. in Chicago, Illinois.  One sign said "Dressing up, complete with hat and gloves, as well as lunch in the store's tea room."   "The Perfect Outfit" - Augusta wrote her sister, Ellen, "I shot my wad on one outfit, but I still think it was worth it...I finally got the suit dress that I liked so well in the advertisement in Vogue.  The wool suit with silk braided trim was designed by Gunther Jaeckel.  It was purchased at Russeks on Fifth Ave. in NYC. The silk velvet hat was from Blum's in Chicago.  [Augusta worked for a time in New York City.]

The 1932 evening dress Augusta wore as Prom Queen of the Junior Prom.  The rayon crepe gown cost$19.95 [about $320 today], no small sum during the Depression.   Augusta had the chance to be photographed by Kay Carrington -  Broadway actress with ties to Hollywood. She chose a favorite 1932 evening gown for the portrait - a silk taffeta with a plunging back and large butterfly-shaped bow.  It was a "hand-me-down" from her older sister "Pickie".  

1972 green linen dress with crepe scarf, worn by Augusta, was made by Daniel Brooks and purchased at Frances Heffernan, in Winnetka, Illinois.  The 1953 rayon taffeta, braid and embroidered dress was worn by Mrs. Catherine Roddis and purchased at Roy H. Bjorkman in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  For having six children, look at the tiny waistline!

1955-1958 silk/satin Evening Gown worn by Augusta purchased at Blum's North in Chicago, Illinois. 1958 silk Afternoon or Cocktail Dress with jacket from Ruth McCulloch's in Hubbard Woods, Illinois.

1964 wool boucle suit worn by Augusta.  It was made by Davidow and purchased at Ruth McCulloch's. 1952 linen and embroidery Day Dress worn by Augusta purchased at Ruth McCulloch's. 

I'll stop today's post at this point, and conclude fashions from the exhibit tomorrow.  There were a few men's suits in the exhibit, and while I did photograph them, I won't be including them in my posts.  I thought it was interesting that the exhibit didn't include any ladies' handbags.  As fashion conscious as Augusta and her mother were, I'm sure they had a purse to go with all their outfits.  Coats weren't a part of the exhibit either except for two evening coats which will be in tomorrow's post.


  1. Wow! This is really fascinating! Can't wait to see more.

  2. What a treasure trove was in that attic! I'm glad it has been documented and I'm sure it was amazing to see this portion of it in person.


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