More Summer Dresses from a Hundred Years Ago

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, May 9, 1912: I brought my dress home today. It is an Indian linen trimmed with wide embroidery, edged on both sides. I think it is very nice. Of course, I intend to get a far grander one next spring.

Photo Source: Ladies Home Journal (June, 1911)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

This dress must have been really special. Grandma mentioned buying it (or maybe buying cloth and a pattern to make it) in nearby Milton on April 27.  On April 30, she went “uptown” to get it made (or maybe altered)—and on May 7 she went back to get it fitted.

Did the linen really come from India? In the days before modern transportation, it seems like it would have been expensive (and unusual) to import cloth from Asia.

(It’s also interesting that Grandma wrote about wanting to make a dress in the previous day’s entry.  She was going to have lots of new clothes very soon. )

16 Responses

  1. Wow it’s wonderful that you have her comments, what a lovely thing to hold on to. :-)

    Freight transportation by boat was still common then and with the occupation of India by the British importation of many commodities was also common and easier to transport to the US than the UK, though yes quite pricey and more for the middle and upper classes.

    • I think that the Muffly’s farm was an average-sized farm in central Pennsylvania at that time. They obviously sold some agricultural goods and had enough money to purchase some consumer goods in nearby towns, but based on the diary I think that they raised most of their food and made many items.

  2. Happy to hear that Grandma liked the dress! Even when I was a kid…getting new clothes was an exciting event. Not so in this day and age. How nice to see how special a dress could be!

    • You’re so right. My closets (and many others) are stuffed to the gills with clothes–and it’s so easy to buy more. Outfits aren’t special like they once were.

  3. Those dresses are so lovely – it’s no wonder your grandma enjoyed thinking about and planning her wardrobe. :)

  4. thanks for sharing the pictures! Beautiful!

  5. I think it was very possible that the linen came from India… There was quite a world wide trade going on 100 years ago. When I was young I used to collect the costumes of different cultures… and learned a great deal about the industry of so many countries.

    • I’m constantly amazed how much I learn from doing this blog. I hadn’t realized how much trade was occurring a hundred years ago.

  6. What lovely dresses! I often wonder how on earth farm women (or even women who didn’t work on a farm) managed in heavy skirts, petticoast, and those awful corsets! Cannot imagine being out in the fields in all that yardage! Your site is wonderful!

  7. [...] obviously is referring to the second dress that was mentioned in previous entries. (It’s not the Indian linen one that a seamstress [...]

  8. I wonder if you have any photos of your grandma, taken at around this age Sheryl? Perhaps you could identify the dresses she wore by their descriptions in her diary!

    • Unfortunately I have very few photos of Grandma when she was young–and the quality of the ones that I have aren’t very good. There is the one photo on the “People” page that shows the dress she was wearing–but it’s difficult to see the details. I think that photo was her high school graduation photo. If so, it would have been taken in 1913.

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