Searching for Mother Hubbardby Sally Helvenston Gray

Winterthur Portfolio


History / Museology / Visual Arts and Performing Arts


Searching for Mother Hubbard: Function and Fashion in Nineteenth-Century Dress

Author(s): Sally Helvenston Gray

Source: Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Spring 2014), pp. 29-74

Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur

Museum, Inc.

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Searching for Mother Hubbard

Function and Fashion in Nineteenth-Century Dress

Sally Helvenston Gray

The Mother Hubbard gown, a uniquely American garment worn by nineteenth-century women as everyday attire, offered a loose alte Its departure from fashion reveals the nascent tension between f d women’s dress in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. T women to repudiate the boundaries of its traditional use. Exp l environments provides another perspective on the meaning ury society.

I N Tsoption fashion haute c and oth tive attir of dress ings is s carded, become workin a single amine f of infor century women. Thegarment’s departure from fashionable fashion that ma the nin importa ee he xis he he th ar na n p no un a la ecessary to describe it, the square yoke, the htly gathered skirt, flowing from the edge of the yoke, are familiar to everyone.”2 As Croly


Textile Design in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design at Michigan State University and the former editor of Dress, The

Journal of the Costume Society of America. She has published essays on nineteenth-century dress patents, children’s dress, and frontier dress in Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, Kansas Quarterly, and

Cycle History, the proceedings of


This work is dedicated to the memory of C. C. P., the best boy in the whole world.

B 2014 by The Henry Franci

Inc. All rights reserved. 0084-041 century great coat with multilayered cape collar was named after the actor David Garrick. The waist-length leather flight jacket, the favorite of Charles Lindbergh, became known as the Lindbergh jacket. In many cases, the namesake is not responsible for these naming practices, with the names becoming attached through long nalist andmagazine editor who began her career as a fashion writer.

In her later work she often criticized the dysfunctional aspects of

Thiss du Pont Winterthur Musuem, 6/2014/4801-0002$10.00 fashionable attire: long skirts, hoops and crinolines, and the less conventional attempts at dress reform.the International Cycle History association and the popularity or notoriety of the individual. 2 Jenny June, “Practical Dress and How to Attain It,” Ladies

Home Journal, April 1887, 11. Jane Cunningham Croly was a jour-styles reveals the nascent tension between and function, formality and informality rked women’s dress in the last quarter of eteenth century and became increasingly nt in the next. While we may think of the

Helvenston Gray is associate professor in Apparel and 1 Examples of these go back at least as far as the “Mary Queen of

Scots cap.”Names could refer to details such as the “VanDyke beard” andpointed “VanDyke edgings” so typical in seventeenth-century portraits by Van Dyke. Likewise, sets of pleats at the back of eighteenthcentury women’s gowns are namedWatteau pleats.Mme. Pompadour’s name is invoked to describe a bouffant hairstyle that curves out over the wearer’s forehead a la Ronald Reagan. The early nineteenth-rnative to the tightness and restrictions of fashionable dress. ashion and function, formality and informality that marke he garment was suitable for many functions, which impelled loring its adoption in various social, cultural, and physica of fit in defining standards of femininity in nineteenth-cent

HE STUDY of dress, fashionable or highly histicated clothing easily catches the attenof art historians, museum curators, and theorists. Museum collections are full of outure dresses, special-occasion outfits, er examples of the finest andmost imaginae. In contrast, much less physical evidence from immediate and everyday surroundaved and available for study. Worn out, disor recycled, clothing in this context can invisible tohistorians exploring the broader gs of the fashion system. I have pulled garment out of the closet, so to speak, to exrom a variety of perspectives as an example mal everyday attire worn by nineteenthninet and t did e

T “Mot ering after

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All use subject to JSTOR Terms annth century as a time of corsets and cages inconveniences of long skirts, alternatives t for women to escape these nuisances. garment I have examined is called a r Hubbard,” a unique appellation considat garments historically have been named tists, actors, monarchs, and courtesans.1 me naturally evokes curiosity and contribart to the mystery of the garment. Because t at the forefront of fashion but functioned dercurrent in women’s lives, the dress is tic. In 1887 writer Jane Cunningham Croly, rly known as Jenny June, claimed, “it isn, 25 Aug 2014 08:17:36 AM d Conditions unwittingly suggested, the garment’s familiarity may have led to its obscurity. The Mother Hubbard is rarely mentioned in discourses on the evolution of nineteenth-century dress; however, historians can mine evidence from primary sources such as women’s diaries and letters, fashion and housekeeping journals, dress-cutting magazines, newspapers, and agricultural journals.3 Women did not wear the garment for special occasions or fashionable formal events, consequently few preserved examples remain.4 However, the variety of primary sources that reference this garment and its use among a broad range of wearers lead in many illuminating directions.