Reviews / Comptes rendus - Ellen J. Gehret, Rural Pennsylvania Clothing.

Reviews / Comptes rendus

Ellen J. Gehret, Rural Pennsylvania Clothing.

Adrienne Hood
Rural Pennsylvania Clothing. Ellen J. Gehret. Technical editor, Janet Gray Crosson. York, Pa., Shumway (Liberty Cap Books), 1976. 309p., bibliography, illus. ISBN 0-87387-064-6, $25.00

1 One might ask about the relevance of a publication dealing with Pennsylvania clothing to the researcher of Canadian material history. That question is answered in the author's own words in the preface:

As the study progressed, it became increasingly apparent that the late eighteenth century garb worn in Goschenhoppen was not peculiar to that area alone, but was worn throughout most of the English, Scotch-Irish, and Pennsylvania-German areas of southeastern Pennsylvania. Now it is realized the same type of clothing probably was worn... [in] other regions receiving migrating southeastern Pennsylvanians. (p.13)

One of these other areas included Ontario. Extant textiles of Ontario-German origin compared with those shown in this book show a remarkable similarity, thus making it possible to apply much information from Rural Pennsylvania Clothing to the research of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century German-speaking communities in Canada. Further, studies of existing early Canadian clothing show that the constructions, cuts, and fabrics used often varied little whether the original owner was German, British, or French. The dearth of accurate material in costume and textile research makes Gehret's work a most useful contribution to the field.

2 The author's purpose, stated in the abstract preceding the text, was to write "a source book to be used especially when making reproduction clothing of the type worn in southeastern Pennsylvania, particularly between 1750 and 1820, by the farmer, the day-laborer, the tradesman, their women-folk and children." In this the book is successful and because its implications extend beyond the area of reproduction clothing, it appeals to the textile historian, the material historian, and the museologist as well.

3 The book's six chapters are "General Sewing Instructions," "Women's Apparel," "Men's Apparel," "Apparel Common to Both Men and Women," "Decorative Needlework Found on Clothing," and "General Appearances." Each is broken down to form sub-chapters dealing with all important items of clothing known to be used by men and women in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Pennsylvania. Not mentioned in this publication and left for further research are "rain and snow gear, funeral wear, the varied sectarian garb, clothing associated only with specific trades and hunting, and military uniforms" (p.14).

4 The chapter on "General Sewing Instructions" introduces the reader to the original fabrics used and the stitches with which the garments were sewn. The black and white photographs are good and in some instances a scale is provided which makes it possible to compare the picture with the original piece. There is also a discussion on the selection of modern fabrics which might resemble those used originally.

5 The format of the other chapters and sub-chapters is basically the same. An introductory text, based on archival and museum research, describes each garment. Possible variations of cut or style are noted as are quaint superstitions concerning the clothing. This is followed by clear instructions on the sewing of the garment and a detailed drawing of its cut — from which a pattern can be taken. Complex constructions are drawn on a graph. Close-up photographs of the original pieces illustrate fine points of construction. Exceptions to this occur when the author has been unable to see an original garment from which to take a pattern. Then the text stands alone without diagrams or photographs — a wise decision which eliminates the speculation so often seen in costume reproduction. Attention is paid to the smallest detail of dress, including sections on the often overlooked subjects of shoes, stockings, buttons, buckles, and garters.

6 The book includes a glossary of terms related to clothing and its production; both the English and High German terms are given as well as the sources from which the definitions have been drawn. There is also a section of photographs showing recent reproduction clothing and some of the fabrics from which it has been made. Placed between the glossary and the bibliography, this seems to be something of an afterthought and would perhaps be better placed following the main text and before the reference section. The publication ends with an excellent and extensive bibliography listing a multitude of unpublished sources, periodicals, pamphlets, and books.

7 Rural Pennsylvania Clothing is well-bound and logically laid out, thus facilitating its function as both a work book and a source book. The thoroughly footnoted references will satisfy the rigourous demands of the historian. The photography, however, could have been better. The quality of the black and white pictures is generally good, especially in the close-ups, but the occasional lack of clarity, particularly in the chapter on men's shirts, is frustrating when trying to examine detail. Unfortunately, there are no colour plates. Although this is understandable due to the expense involved, colour would have added tremendously to the value of the book.

8 The lack of well-defined geographical and cultural boundaries in relation to the dress of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century North American labourers makes Rural Pennsylvania Clothing a valuable publication for Canadian research, museum acquisition, and especially historical reproduction. The similarity of items discussed in the book to those presently documented in Canadian collections is significant enough that this book should be included in the library of anyone working in the above fields. Since very little detailed study has been done on the dress of the early German-speaking areas of Canada, this publication will greatly aid any such future undertaking.

9 Rural Pennsylvania Clothing is an excellent work dealing with a difficult subject. Very few examples of everyday functional clothing of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century North America have survived since it was more often the clothing worn for special occasions which was treasured and handed on. Gehret undertook a difficult task when she began the research for Rural Pennsylvania Clothing and the finished work" is thoroughly and competently presented.

Adrienne Hood