Today in History

Today in History: March 26

In VOGUE

On March 26, 1874, publisher Condé Nast was born. A successful advertising executive for Collier's, he introduced the concept of "class publications" or "lifestyle magazines." While other publishers focused on circulation numbers, Nast targeted groups of readers by income level or common interest. Nast purchased Vogue in 1909 and House and Garden in 1913. In 1914, he introduced Vanity Fair. Each publication explored current trends in fashion, the arts, politics, and entertainment.

Pierre Balmain and Ruth Ford
Portrait of Pierre Balmain and Ruth Ford Making a Dress,
Carl Van Vechten, photographer, November 9, 1947.
Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten

Featured in Vogue during the 1950s, French fashion designer Pierre Balmain was encouraged in his career by American Gertrude Stein.

Miss Della Soper
Miss Della Soper, daughter of postmaster John D. Soper, Soper Post Office, Dakota Territory
John McCarthy, photographer, circa 1900.
The Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920: Photographs from the Fred Hultstrand and F. A. Pazandak Photograph Collections

While few can afford the clothing displayed on the pages of Vogue, Americans traditionally uphold the right to dress as fashionably as possible. In his essay "Are Women Natural Aristocrats?," Thomas Wentworth Higginson recalls a British minister's wife who prescribed plain dress for the "lower classes." He contrasts her view with the American position on personal adornment:

The American clergyman and clergyman's wife who should even "recommend" such a costume to a schoolmistress, church-singer, or Sunday-school girl,-to say nothing of the rest of the "lower orders,"-would soon find themselves without teachers, without pupils, without a choir, and probably without a parish The Sunday bonnet of the Irish damsel is only the symbol of a very proper effort to obtain her share of all social advantages. Long may those ribbons wave!

Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Women and the Alphabet; A Series of Essays, (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and company, 1900), 197-98.
Votes for Women: 1850-1920.

Traditionally, maintaining a stylish appearance is a burden that falls more heavily on women. Writing to her future husband, Alexander Graham Bell, in 1877 Mabel Hubbard jested:

You gentlemen have no idea how much trouble and weariness it costs only to get the material for the dresses you so much admire. I had no idea how much the bright dresses of women relieve our sombre streets. We went down to the part of the city devoted exclusively to the men, where women never come, and such a shabby dull looking affairs the men were. I should think they would get sick of their own society.

Letter from Mabel Hubbard [Bell] to Alexander Graham Bell, April 17, 1877.
The Alexander Graham Bell Papers at the Library of Congress

As Mabel Hubbard noted, in our culture the female tends to be more a colorful dresser than the male. Yet, men hardly ignore the latest styles as these photographs amply demonstrate. The young western dudes pictured below were no doubt proud of their glossy fur coats which made a fashion statement in addition to protecting against frigid North Dakota winters.

Men in Winter Coats
Fred Hultstrand and Unidentified Men in Winter Coats, circa 1910.
The Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920: Photographs from the Fred Hultstrand and F. A. Pazandak Photograph Collections

Latest Style
The Latest Style
William Henry Jackson, photographer, August 1892.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

With his striped suit, winged collar, and hat, this unidentified man represented a turn-of-the-century fashion ideal.

Interviewed by WPA writer W. W. Dixon in 1940, Ella E. Gooding and Alice Buchanan Walker had both positive and negative things to say about the styles of their youth:

The old hoop skirt was before our day, but corsets and bustles were worn. White was the prevailing color for hose, and we wore black shiny slippers with moderately high heels…The hair was worn high on the head, on a chignon. Earrings in the ears and gems in the hair were part of an evening dress…We were partial to the flat, wide-brimmed, leghorn hats. A wreath of flowers encircled the top of the brim and long streamers or bands of ribbon floated from the sides and could be tied under the chin. The winter hats were…trained with ostrich plumes and feathers.

"Alice Buchanan Walker," Winnsboro, South Carolina.
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940

When I arrived to the years of womanhood, the hoop skirt was passing out of style, and the bustle and tight long shirts were the vogue. The style lacked comfort, and the corsets were cruel and suffocating and actually injurious to the spirit and health of women and girls…The women arranged their hair with a chignon and looped it upon the top of the head. Young girls arranged their hair in 'pig tails' down the back and wore bangs over the forehead. The longer a woman's hair, the more she had to be conceited about.

"Ella E. Gooding," Winnsboro, South Carolina.
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940

Wonderful Bustle
Aunt Sally's Wonderful Bustle, 1901.
Early Motion Pictures, 1897-1920

From the Edison Films Catalog: "A sudden gust of wind sweeps Auntie's bonnet from her head, and she, in attempting to regain it, becomes overbalanced and falls over the stone-wall, landing on her bustle. Upon striking she immediately rebounds, disappearing from view. Alighting, she again rebounds and then lands safely beside her badly frightened companion."

To locate additional fashion-related materials:

Panoramic Photograph of Bathing Suit Fashions
Bath Suit Fashion Parade, Seal Beach, California, July 14, 1918.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991