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How do you shop for clothes? Do you go to a department store at the mall, buy online or through mail order catalogues, shop locally at specialty shops, or frequent consignment shops? How did Concordians in the 18th and 19th centuries acquire their clothes? Who were the style-setters?
As part of the state-wide MASS Fashion collaborative project, Fresh Goods, a past exhibition at the Concord Museum, examined these questions about the sources and context of small-town Massachusetts fashion and document answers by drawing on the Museum’s extensive historic clothing, textile, and decorative arts collection, as well as probate inventories, account books, advertisements, photographs, and letters and diaries of the period.
Clothing conveys information about the wearer’s gender, age, rank, and wealth, as well as clues about subtler categories, such as taste, education, marital status, and aspiration. Through twenty evocative documented outfits, the exhibition considered the shopping habits of Concordians in the 18th and 19th centuries. Included in the exhibition were pieces made at home with fabric purchased at shops on Concord’s main street, or made at the local workplaces of seamstresses, tailors, and milliners; or purchased in Boston, New York, London, or Paris. Through close looking at these rare and rarely-displayed artifacts, visitors were encouraged to compare their own conventions for consuming clothing to people’s practices in the past.
The accessories and services available through the 18th and 19th-century shops on Concord’s Milldam (the main street of the town), including mantua (dress) makers, tailors, hatters, and boot and shoe makers, was also explored. In addition, visitors were able to virtually “shop” the Museum’s historic clothing collection through a specially designed interactive experience that utilized an online shopping platform.
The title, Fresh Goods, is taken from a November 1816 newspaper ad for the Concord shop of Josiah Davis announcing the sale of fabrics such as figured flannels, crimson bombazettes, and white and black cambricks. The exhibition was accompanied by a broad range of engaging public programs for both adults and children.