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Minnesota Dressmakers Resource

Friday, December 16th, 2016

Visually stunning women’s formal wear is a highlight of the MNHS costume collection.   Minnesota Dressmakers:  The Business of Dressmaking is expanded research about costume in the MNHS collection dating between 1880-1920. About 100 garments are identified by the label of the dressmaker’s business sewn into the garment and represent 25 different prominent businesses operating in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Dressmaking by 1900 had become the third most important occupation for women.  These business owners and the seamstresses they hired supplied custom-made fashion to their clients at a time when ready-to-wear was an emerging concept.   Enjoy this new resource   that provides business histories and biographical information on the women engaged in this work.

The research to identify these businesses took on a life of its own as staff, volunteers and interns combed city directories, newspapers, census data, death records, birth records, family papers, photographs, maps, and probate records.  Occasionally, we found family members to interview. We looked at every possible source of information for clues into these women’s lives in order to imagine their relationships as proprietors, workers or clients.

This project was supported by The Bean family grant for business history, the Ken and Nina Rothschild Endowment fund for business history and women’s history, and support from Art and Cultural Heritage Funding.

Linda McShannock, Associate Curator

Minnesota Dressmakers:  The Business of Dressmaking



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Flour Bag Dress

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

A large cloth flapper-style sack dress made out of a 100 lb Pillsbury’s XXXX Patent Flour bag. Probably made in the 1940s.

For more information or to purchase a photograph of this item, view this dress in our collections database.

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Points for Creativity

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014


How do you encourage people to go see your new production? Easy! Give them cool swag. But when posters and key chains no longer grab people’s attention, marketing offices need to get creative.

This emery board was created in 1963 to promote the Alfred Hitchcock film, The Birds, at the Anoka Theater in Minnesota. With its clever, though slightly nefarious slogan, “File Your Nails – Don’t Bite Them, THE BIRDS is coming”, the nail file successfully suggests the frightening nature of the film, (you will never look at birds the same way), while still giving people something they will actually use and look at frequently.

Slightly less useful, though still creative, is this cell phone holder promoting the 2009 film New In Town. In the movie a woman moves from Miami, Florida to New Ulm, Minnesota and realizes it’s not so bad. Made of red rubber foam, the shoe has the movie’s title written across the vamp, so you read it every time you grab your phone. Perhaps a snow boot would have better evoked the spirit of Minnesota, but it probably wouldn’t hold a cell phone.

Finally, we have a top hat, used as part of the promotional package for the 1995 premier of Julie Andrews’ musical, Victor/Victoria at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis. A ribbon above the brim reads “Victor/Victoria” and the hat held dried roses, a plastic vase, a chocolate bar, and more. However, because of the direction of the text it cannot actually be worn as a hat, (well, it could, but everyone would be craning their necks trying to read upside-down). So instead, it’s a hat that promotes the musical from your dresser. It’s probably a perfect storage space for your nail file and cell phone holder.

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Child’s dress

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Child's dress

Child’s size 2 printed cotton dress with a star and dot print made and worn during the 1860s. The dress has a plain bodice with a square, wide neckline, ruffled cap sleeves and a back button closure. The full skirt is gathered at the waist and the bodice is lined in white cotton. This was the first short dress worn by Genevieve Ives Schwarg of Dodge Center, Minnesota, a teacher and librarian active in the women’s suffrage movement.

For details, view the dress in our online collections database.

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Shoes on Parade: Highlights from the Minnesota Historical Society’s Footwear Collection

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

View footwear highlights from the Minnesota Historical Society’s Collection featuring styles from the 18th century, through the 1920s, into the 1960s, and beyond.

Created by Lizzie Ehrenhalt

Learn More:

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A Brief History of Bow Ties

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

This informative piece on the history of bow ties focuses on those in the Minnesota Historical Society’s Collection. Consider updating your look using tried and true retro fashion! Part of the ‘Things Used to be Cooler’ series. Watch for more fashion and living tips from the past coming soon!

 
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Merry widow

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Merry widow

Black lace merry widow. Strapless combination bra and girdle foundation garment, Hollywood Vassarette V-ette style 1079. Manufactured by Munsingwear, Inc. of Minneapolis, Minnesota, circa 1960s.

Starting May 7th, come see this piece and many more at Underwear: A Brief History at the Minnesota Historical Society.

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Don’t Say Underwear, Say Munsingwear

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

For nearly 100 years after its founding in 1886, the Munsingwear Company was known for its innovations in both style and manufacturing techniques and materials. The largest producer of branded underwear in the U.S., it was also the largest employer of women in Minnesota. Curator Linda McShannock explores the company’s numerous “firsts” over the course of its 100 year history, embodied by the slogan “Don’t say underwear – say Munsingwear”

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Vassarette bra, girdle, and half slip

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Vassarette bra, girdle, and half slip

This half slip, brassiere, and girdle represents Munsingwear’s first coordinated promotion between departments manufacturing lingerie and foundation garments using an Italian print named “Toulouse” with fabric coordination by Jean Hall of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Made of nylon and spandex by Munsingwear Incorporated, 1961.

Starting May 7th, come see this piece and many more at Underwear: A Brief History at the Minnesota Historical Society.

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Munsingwear loungewear ensemble

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Munsingwear loungewear ensemble

Orange and yellow loungewear ensemble with a quilted cropped vest, a sleeveless top, quilted skirt, and a slip. The orange vest has a yellow lining. The yellow sleeveless top has a band fastened by a button and two long sashes attached to the bottom of the top wrap around the waist over the band. The orange skirt has a yellow lining and a vent that runs along the waist to the skirt hem allows the slip to show under the skirt. Made by Munsingwear Incorporated, Minneapolis, Minnesota, circa 1945-1955.

Starting May 7th, come see this piece and many more at Underwear: A Brief History at the Minnesota Historical Society.

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An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs