Costume Accessories from Head to Toe, 1600–1840

Linda Baumgarten, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Tuesday, October 11, 2011Mini-exhibit: 7:15pmLecture: 8:00pm
de Young Museum
Yellow brocaded shoe, Thomas Ridout and James Davis

Yellow brocaded shoe, Thomas Ridout and James Davis, London, England, worn in Maine, 1740-1750, silk brocade, leather, linen and paper; and buckle, possibly ca. 1790, silver, paste stones and steel. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

The Spruce Sportsman, or Beauty the Best Shot

“The Spruce Sportsman, or Beauty the Best Shot,” London, England 1780. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Note the protection of the elaborate hair assemblages of the guest, as well as the servant who is bringing tea equipage to the tea table.

From hats on one’s head to the shoes on one’s feet, clothing accessories were as important in the past as they are today. In between the head and the toes, people wore kerchiefs, shawls, gloves, ruffles, aprons, purses, wallets and jewelry as part of their ensembles. Although accessories serve practical purposes, such as protecting the body from cold, heat or injury, they may also add the latest fashionable touch to an outfit.

Fashion accessories can be used to explore history, from manufacture of the materials, who constructed the accessories and the templates they used to the subliminal and overt messages conveyed by the wearer to friends, family, social peers and subordinates. Some accessories were home-made, while other consumers purchased professionally-constructed items from nearby or abroad. International trade in in raw materials and ready-made accessories from around the world affected what consumers were able to purchase and wear.

Because of accessories’ smaller size and (usually) modest cost, they responded more rapidly to the vicissitudes of fashion than whole-body garments. Current events also influenced the design of certain accessories, especially fans and handkerchiefs, that conveyed messages and sentiments much like today’s t-shirts. Fans and handkerchiefs celebrated famous wartime victories, political events and well-known personalities.

Linda Baumgarten earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in textile-related arts from the University of Wisconsin. She taught at her alma mater before obtaining a master’s degree from the Winterthur program in early American culture. Ms Baumgarten became associate curator, then curator, of textiles for the Valentine Museum in Richmond, Virginia. Since 1978, she has been the curator of textiles and costumes for Colonial Williamsburg. Ms Baumgarten is responsible for Williamsburg’s collections of antique quilts and coverlets, costumes and textiles in the historic houses, the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.

Ms Baumgarten’s publications include What Clothes Reveal, The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America (2002); Costume Close-up, Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790 with John Watson and Florine Carr (1999); and Eighteenth-Century Clothing at Williamsburg (1986). She contributed “Protective Covers for Furniture and Its Contents” to the Chipstone publication, American Furniture (1993). (Linda Baumgarten last spoke to the Forum about “Slipcovers and Drapery in Early America” in November 1993.)

The Magazine Antiques published her articles “Nineteenth Century Children’s Costumes in Tasha Tudor’s Collection” (1998) with Jan Gilliam; “Jefferson’s Clothing” (1993); “Dolls and Doll Clothing at Colonial Williamsburg” (1991); and “Costumes and Textiles in the Collection of Cora Ginsburg” (1988). (Titi Halle spoke to the Forum about “Cora Ginsburg’s Influence as a Pioneer Textile and Costume Dealer” in February, 2003.) Ms Baumgarten also wrote “ ‘Clothes for the People’: Slave Clothing in Early Virginia” for the Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts (1988).

7:15pm mini-exhibit

From head to toe, bring — or wear — hats, wigs, purses, pockets, gloves, shoes and jewelry. It could be cool in October, so throw on a scarf.


Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Enter from Level B1 of the parking garage; pedestrians enter from the concourse side of Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive and down the steps across the street from the museum’s main entrance.