Gilded Age Fashions: A weekend in the country ... and the many outfits that entailed

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LENOX — How many outfits do you pack when planning for a four-day trip?

Depending on your plans, it's probably one to two outfits per day. But in the late 1800s, packing for a four-day trip to the Berkshires would require a steamer trunk or two to fit the necessary 16 to 20 outfits needed to survive the weekend.

"Any woman traveling to be a guest would have to bring trunks and a maid to help her with them," Betsy Sherman, retired executive director of the Berkshire Historical Society, said in a recent interview.

But just listing the garments a woman would pack doesn't have as much impact as a visual presentation of the items, she said, referring to a new exhibit, "A Weekend in the Country: A Day at the `Cottage'," at Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum.

The exhibit, a collaboration between the Berkshire Historical Society and Ventfort Hall, is on display through the end of August.

"The Historical Society has a large collection of clothing, strongly focused on 1870 to 1930 or 1940. We have two different Victorian and Gilded Age collections," Sherman said. "When Kelly [Blau, a member of Ventfort Hall's board of directors] and I began this collaboration, the thought was to put up big beautiful gowns. We then began talking about what it was like to travel during that time period and what a woman would have to bring for a four-day visit to the Berkshires. The list was just huge, with all the different outfits and the different undergarments to go with them."

Among the outfits needed daily for a woman of stature during the Gilded Age were: a morning dress, a day dress, a tea gown, a dinner gown and a combing jacket. Other daily items included corsets, bodices, corset covers, undergarments and numerous petticoats.

"These are all items Sarah Morgan [owner of Ventfort Hall] and her guests would have worn," said Linda Rocke, marketing coordinator at Ventfort Hall.

Among the items on display are a cream-colored silk satin with lavender silk chiffon insets decorated with a lace overlay and a seafoam green silk tea gown with ecru lace trim.

"The cream-colored dinner gown was donated by Cooley Crane, a long-time board member and historical society member," Sherman said. "All of the clothing in the collection comes from local families."

She added, "The tea gown is a very interesting piece because most of the silk items in our collection are robes. Tea gowns are in their own class. The tea gown let a woman out of her corset. You could wear it to a quiet dinner at home and still be elegantly dressed."

Other items on display include a traveling costume and a maid's uniform as well as two traveling trunks. The trunks, which belonged to George Morgan and his daughter-in-law, Josephine Perry Morgan, were donated to Ventfort Hall by Daniel Popkin of Princeton, N.J.

"The trunks still have the stickers from where they traveled," Rocke said, pointing out the original Louis Vuitton makers label on George Morgan's trunk.

Sherman said there are plans for future collaborations featuring clothing from the historical society's archives.

Reach Online Editor Jennifer Huberdeau at 413-496-6229 or on Twitter @BE_DigitalJen.


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