Fashion leaves mark on history
March 13, 2012
From bustles to hoop skirts – all the finery of the Victorian era – was on stage for a Carson City fashion show with a twist.
Besides showing off the fashions of the day, the show at the Nevada State Museum featured skits starring well-known historical figures of the region, such as Hannah Clapp, Eilley Bowers and Julia Bulette, said Tina Davis-Hersey, organizer of Sundays third annual event.
“The costumes in the show ranged from about 1859 to 1925, a slight shift from the time Queen Victoria lived, but still representative of the styles worn by women during those years, from leg-o-mutton sleeves and huge hats to bias-cut slinky gowns,” Davis-Hersey said.
“Women’s fashions have undergone many changes, often painful, often ridiculous. We wonder why women back then went through such misery to look fashionable, going as far as having ribs removed for a thinner waist.
“Today we may have the vote, we may be able to drink in public, we may even be able to walk in the park without a chaperone, but we still go to extremes to look pretty,” she pointed out in the fashion show’s program. Just take a look at the stilettos women wear today, and you’ll see we’re not far removed,” she said.
The program featured four skits.
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“The Dressing Game, A Tale of Two Laces,” featured local celebrities June Joplin and Karen Chandler – upper- to middle class ladies – dressing in the morning – a feat that included pantaloons, chemise, corsett, hoop skirt, bustle and finally the dress.
Historic characters, Hannah Clapp, a Carson City educator who was the successful bidder for the iron fence that surrounds the state capitol, Felice Cohn, a woman lawyer of the day, and Juia Bulette, a Virginia City madam who also engaged in philanthropic activities came to life in “Politics and Gin.”
“The Peep Stone, or Do You See What I See?” featured Lisa Bommarito as Eilley Oram Bowers, of Washoe Valley’s Bowers Mansion. She was once rich, but when her husband died, she turned to fortune telling to make ends meet, Davis-Hersey said.
“The Ballroom, Have You Seen My Flask”? was a re-creation of a Civil War ball.
The fashions for the event were primarily from the collections of Davis-Hersey and her mother, Carolyn Davis, but some people had their own costumes or dresses.
Davis-Hersey said she has been fascinated with history and historical clothing since she was 9 years old.
“I always wanted to play dress-up,” she said.
Diana Michaels, who portrayed Julia Bulette, said this is her third year participating in the fashion show.
“I enjoy the history and seeing how fashion contributed to history,” Michaels said, “but I also think it’s great that it brings people into the museum.”
For Susan Bunker-Niles, who played Hannah Clapp, the stories and fashions are a nice change.
“This adds a depth to history, rather than just reading about it in books,” she said.
But one participant, John King, gave the reporter a much simpler explanation for his involvement in the fashion show – “For the same reason your husband is carrying your purse,” he said.
Proceeds from the event go to its sponsors, the Friends of the Nevada State Museum and the Carson City Historical Society.