Century-Old Underwear (And Other Victorian-Era Fashion) Graces the Pittock Mansion

The renowned local mansion/museum lays out some antique finery.

By Rachel Sandstrom August 3, 2015

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Combination bloomers (left): An "open combination," circa 1900. Combinations were camisoles and drawers combined into one garment. Evening gown (middle): This embellished silk and lace gown belonged to Bessie Bigelow Conant of Boston, Massachusetts, and is in a style typical of 1910. Duster Jacket (right): Tailor Harry Sherman made this wool and velvet jacket for his daughter, Molly, in 1908 when she became engaged to marry.

Through November, lovers of deep retro can get an intimate look at the fashions of the 19th Century at the Pittock Mansion, as the former home of Oregonian newspaper magnate Henry Pittock hosts Ball Gowns to Bloomers: Spotlight on the Clothing Collection. The show features ball gowns, petticoats, bloomers (100-year-old underwear!), and a rare sighting of a man’s cane and top hat. The display completes the publicly open historic home’s longstanding illusion of walking through the life of the Pittocks, and their peers among Portland’s founders, like the Couch family and the Failings.

It’s easy to imagine Georgiana Pittock lounging in her drawing or music room in one of her cotton “house dresses,” or meeting guests in the finely appointed foyer wearing a tailored coat of the era. Some items on display were actually worn by the Pittocks, but most serve as a representation of the era: a closer look into the daily lives of the people who created, took care of, and wore them. The exhibit shows changes in fashion and ideal body type (from voluptuous to curveless); the shift from custom to ready-to-wear clothing; and the work that went into wearing, creating, and cleaning the clothing. One portion of the exhibit even includes a multi-page spread in the magazine that was the Good Housekeeping of the era, all about laundry day.

See? The past wasn’t that glamorous. It was good-looking, though.

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