'Titanic' fashion show in Elizabeth Township explores roles of women


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As the 1800s gave way to the 20th century, women's lives rapidly changed -- and so did their fashions.

Hoping to provide insight into that time, the Elizabeth Township Historical Society will hold a Titanic Era Fashion Luncheon at noon Nov. 9 and 10.

Fashions from the 1890s through the Roaring '20s will be modeled. Along with the clothes, the setting for the luncheon is period-appropriate: the Boston Shoppes on Donner Street in Elizabeth Township was built in 1903, noted the society's publicist, Debbie Popp Gilbert.

The so-called Titanic era is officially the Edwardian period when King Edward VII reigned in England, from 1901 to 1910. But the time line generally extends to the sinking of the RMS Titanic in April 1912.

The period was one of great transition for women, and revolutionary clothing changes reflect that, Mrs. Gilbert said. From the constricting fashions of the late Victorian era of 1837-1901, clothing became more conducive to women's changing duties and increasing leisure activities.

"Women became more active, and the corsets started disappearing," she said.

At the turn of the 20th century, women felt clothing should be both comfortable and healthy.

"It was almost a movement like the Right to Vote movement, in that it really started to rev up," Mrs. Gilbert said.

Industrialization made fashions more readily available as fabrics became mass-produced rather than handmade, and retail patterns became available, she said.

Norma Werner, who oversees the society's clothing collection and its maintenance, said those attending the luncheon should not to expect to see lavish fashions like those in the 1997 blockbuster movie "Titanic." The clothing will be more similar to fashions worn by women who lived here around the turn of the century.

"Common people had Sunday clothes but had no fancy ball gowns, not in this area," Mrs. Werner said.

The pieces selected for the show emphasize the changes women were experiencing. A bathing suit with long bloomers and a ruffled cap reflects women's increasing focus on leisure activities.

A 1911 wedding dress features simple lines but a long train. The dress, Mrs. Gilbert said, is woolen and would have been used in a winter wedding. Small white slippers complete the look.

"I love the wedding shoes. They're maybe my favorite piece because they were just worn for that day and are so delicate," she said.

A brown velvet gown, cotton lace dresses and a wrap maternity dress will be on display.

During the luncheon, society president Brenda Hoffman will model a floral cap from 1916-18 and a skirt typical of the time.

Mrs. Gilbert will sport a blue suit adorned with french embroidery knots, true to the era, made by Mrs. Werner of Elizabeth Township.

The Titanic-era fashions come from the society's larger clothing collection. All of the pieces -- from wedding gowns to uniforms -- have been donated and range from the 1780s through the 1970s.

"I cut it off at the 1970s because I'm still wearing some of those," Mrs. Werner said with a laugh.

Funds from the luncheon will benefit both the society and what Mrs. Hoffman called a "mammoth" project: the restoration of a 1790-1810 log home on a 1.3-acre plot in Greenock.

The endeavor is costly, Mrs. Hoffman said, and the society wants to fund it "through historic events instead of a hoagie sale."

Though hesitant to put an exact price on the project, she said an early estimate would be between $75,000 and $100,000, adding that the society has collected about $25,000 for the restoration.

Several historians have called the two-story house with a basement "a gem," Mrs. Gilbert said, adding that while the house itself is a piece of history, the logs it is made of were about 250 years old when the home was built.

Restoring the home in an accurate way is vital to the society, Mrs. Gilbert said, and its members are approaching the cabin restoration project much like a doctor would a patient, in that they want to do no harm.

"There are many lessons you can learn from the past, and that's why we want to restore the log cabin," she said.

Tickets for the Saturday luncheon, $25, are still available. Reservations: 412-751-4580 by Friday.

neigh_east - neigh_south

Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1316. Twitter: @LexiBelc. First Published November 1, 2012 9:00 AM


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