12 Facts We Learned from “Dressing Downtown” at the Rosson House Museum

June 17, 2017

The Dressing Downtown exhibit at Heritage Square‘s Rosson House Museum, holds treasures from the past.  In late May, the museum held a fashion history lecture that discussed the clothing styles featured from that era which was Arizona’s Territorial Period from 1863-1912.

In the fashion lecture given by Sherri Starkey, the Dressing Downtown exhibit’s guest curator, guests were shown how fashion changed during that time period and how learning about it helps us connect to an era gone by.

“It helps us looks at our history through a different lens,” Starkey said of why they would have an exhibit on fashion at the Rosson House Museum. “It helps us connect to other people in a more personal way.”

Take a walk through history, Urbanites, as you learn here 12 interesting facts about how fashion has made us who we are today.


1. Queen Victoria was a fashion influencer during her time, according to Starkey, especially for mourning style at funerals, which influenced how we dress and honor those who have passed today.

“When her husband died, she went into such a deep mourning and everybody had to do it just like Victoria,” Starkey said. “And she went all out.”

Queen Victoria


2. The invention of fabric patterns, like Butterick, which were sold in magazines such as Godey’s Lady’s Book and The Delineator, opened the door to fashion for women.

“So, now all of the sudden, women had access to fashion in a way they didn’t really have before,” Starkey said.

Godey’s Lady’s Book, June, 1867 (Photo Source via Accessible Archives)


3. Though there were multiple layers to the dresses that were made around 1874, they were made of cotton gauzes, lightweight silks, and muslin, according to Starkey.

“But they did not make accommodations with the underthings. It was cotton, but they still wore all those pieces because propriety was more important than comfort,” Starkey said. “Comfort didn’t count.”
Photo Source: (not original) by Fripperies and Fobs on Tumblr


4. In the process of trying to create artificial quinine, a chemist “failed miserably” and instead discovered artificial dyes, according to Starkey. His first color was purple, which he called “mauveine.” Starkey added, he was trying (with difficulty) to get the rest of the purple mixture out of the test tube when washing out the failed experiment and then “all of the sudden the lightbulb went off.” The mixture was made from coal tar.

“So, first was purple and all kinds of–a rainbow of colors–came along afterwards. All from messing with coal tar,” Starkey said. “And people loved these bright colors.”

Photo Credit: Augusta Auctions


5. Bustles were large and highly elaborate fashion items. The bustle was at its largest in 1887, according to Starkey, and highlighted a desirable body part for women.

Photo Credit: Godey’s Fashions


6. Tailored suits were firmly established as a style for women by 1900, according to Starkey, and they were seen as masculine.

“They were not your everyday housewife. These were the women who were going, ‘I don’t like being cooped up and I don’t have to do it this way,'” Starkey said. “And as you can imagine, it was not really [a] popular [thing] about them. Men were not happy with them wearing these suits and doing all these things.”

(Photo Credit: Vintage Green Bicycle on Tumblr)


7. The invention of a skirt and blouse separates combination revolutionized fashion in 1898, according to Starkey.

“Now that women are also getting out of the house, women are starting to work, it’s much more practical, because keeping all this kind of clothing clean was tough,” Starkey said. “Doing the laundry was a tough thing because some things you couldn’t wash. So you aired them, you brushed them, you did all these different things, but having a blouse that you could wash made life much nicer…”

Ruby Lane Vintage (The Delineator magazine, 1898 June)


8. By the time Queen Victoria died in 1901 and her son Edward came to the throne, fashion was changing every year, according to Starkey, whereas fashion only changed every ten years in Queen Victoria’s era.

King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in their Coronation robes 9 August 1902 (Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo)


9. Hats were huge and extreme in 1907, according to Starkey, and many used animal and bird parts.

“There were some birds that were nearly wiped out,” Starkey said. “There were birds and populations who were almost decimated because of [people] trying to get feathers for ladies’ hats.” Though on the contrary, there were also groups who were fighting against the use of so many animals at the time, Starkey added.

Photo of actress Lily Elsie as Sonia in the 1907 production of The Merry Widow, Postcard postmarked Oct. 1907 (Photo Credit: Scanned by Wikipedia User Mr. Mulliner)


10. In 1907, motoring attire was a popular fashion, according to Starkey. Since cars were open, clothes had to be protected from the elements.

“They wore dusters to protect their dresses. They already had the big hats, but they’d use these veils to cover  their hats and protect those, to put them over their faces, sometimes they wore goggles…” Starkey said. “But you had to, because it was hard to clean the stuff and some of it was very fragile.”

Wells postcard, copyright 1907 (Photo Credit: Postcardiva Postcard Blog)


11. Fashion designer Paul Poiret introduced some unique styles to fashion around the early 1900’s. Some of those garments were the turban, harem pants, and the hobble skirt, according to Starkey.

Speaking of the hobble skirt, Starkey said, “Some of them were literally a skirt that had like a belt around them down here and they would walk in little baby steps.” [as pictured around ankles in far right photo]

Photo Credit: A la Recherche des Modes Perdues et Oubliées Blog


12. Women wore many layers at once as a part of their everyday outfits in this era, sometimes up to as many as 12 layers. This layering sometimes was the source of death for some women, as death by fire or “hearth death,” according to Starkey, was the second cause of death for women at the time. Since women were wearing so many layers at once, they often wouldn’t notice if one of their skirts was singed or caught fire until it was too late.

Starkey herself as a costumer was at an event where she was in full costume and didn’t notice that a layer of her dress had a small hole burned through it after she had raked coals over an open stone circle fire pit, as in the style of work and dress at the time. Starkey credits the fact that many of her skirt layers were made from cotton for saving her, as artificial fabrics, which are cheaper, can be more tempting for reproduction costumers to purchase due to the price and are also more dangerous under an open flame.

Starkey undresses a mannequin to show 12 garment layers total underneath, a normal part of an everyday outfit back in the 1900’s. (Photo © Urbanite Runway)


The Dressing Downtown exhibit is available for viewing at the Rosson House Museum until October 29. The  Stevens/Haustgen Bungalow in Heritage Square is also currently showing an exhibit called ‘Details’ that features accessories and other pieces from the same timeframe.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *