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Building Communities through History ~ A State of the Organization Address

Join CCHS President Rob Lukens as he provides an overview of the Chester County Historical Society's current standing and our exciting vision for the future. This half-hour talk will be followed by a Q and A session and social hour. Be the first to receive a copy of CCHS's newly minted 2013 annual report and meet CCHS's new Volunteer President Dr. Jane Brigman.  This free event requires a RSVP by October 10, 2014 to

Volunteers In Action

A team of 10 volunteers worked from July through November 2013 to dress more than 40 mannequins and forms.  CCHS is indebted to them and to the Fashion Archives and Museum of Shippensburg University, who lent many of the mannequins used for the exhibition.

Ready-Made / Handmade

Store bought clothing became the fashion and handmade clothing began to seem outmoded.

Women who could afford high fashion still relied on customized dresses that were one last flourish of over-the-top design and had decorations such as pleats, embroidery and machine-made trim. However, department stores began to replace dressmakers and home sewing for the local middle class with simpler profiles. Undergarments, still worn by women in many layers, became cheaper to buy at stores.

Fashion Plates

Local fashion copied the rapid changes in style.

Dresses evolved from a large, circular skirt to a narrow skirt with a bustle that emphasized the back. With even tighter undergarments, dresses were more complex and remained largely handmade. The tightness also caused health issues that launched a clothing reform movement. Men’s clothing, by contrast, was simple and became the first ready-made clothing available in places like Wanamaker’s, Philadelphia’s first department store. Waistcoats became much more uniform and tended to match the suits.

Before the Civil War

Newly published magazines spread fashion trends widely and Quaker plainness was pronounced.

Godey’s Lady’s Book, first published in Philadelphia in 1830, became an important source for fashionable ideas from Europe, especially for women. Their clothing profiles shifted to billowing sleeves, pleated bodices, and lower, tighter waist bands known as the Romantic Style. For men, decorative and sometimes flashy waistcoats were a personal touch to uniformly simple jackets and breeches.

Greek and Roman Design

Chester Countians formed an identity with their clothing.

Like other Americans, local people borrowed design elements from ancient Greece and Rome. This style, known as Neoclassical or Empire, rejected 18th century French fashion. Its reference to ancient democracies represented the importance of civic participation that appealed to our New Republic. This look had a simple profile and high waistband for women and men.

Profiles: Chester County Clothing in the 1800s

Clothing reveals a great deal about who we are.

In the early 1800s the United States was a new nation.  Economic and political opportunity varied across the country.
Chester County was the same, with residents ranging from poor to wealthy.