Archives for category: fashion


Bustle, 1880s, wire, metal and tape, (12 ¼”x 5”:, x 4 ½”). Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Josephine L. Thompson, History Collection, N0301.1944. Photograph by Ashley Gallagher.


According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons there were a total of 17,721,671 cosmetic minimally-invasive and surgical procedures performed in 2018.[1] Among the most pervasive surgical procedures exists a trend regarding body-shaping.[2] Historically speaking, the concept of altering the body to achieve a desired silhouette is nothing new. Yet, prior to the accessibility of surgery and injections, an individual primarily relied upon clothing to achieve an altered physical form. Influenced by culture and fashion, women in particular, have manipulated their silhouette through undergarments for centuries.

Arguably the most infamous historical female undergarment is the corset, but have you ever heard of a bustle? The bustle functioned as a near and dear accessory of every fashionable woman of the late 1800s. During the 1870’s female fashion dictated the collapse of the wide crinoline hoop skirt that dominated the first half of the century. The new mode of fashion featured a skirt that was tight to the front of the body and full with volume of excess fabric in the back.[3] The bustle, or dress improver, aided in the enhancement of size and fullness of the derriere and took a variety of forms.[4]

The bustle pictured is constructed of hollow wire coils layered to create dimension. This commonly used design is lightweight but sturdy. Other bustles were made of steel, cane or padded cushion stuffed with horsehair, down or straw to provide fullness.[5] Although the wire of the bustle pictured is bare and uncovered, some bustles were decorated in a variety of fabrics ranging from expensive silk and cashmere to cheaper flannels and cottons.[6] Regardless of appearance, a bustle remained hidden beneath the skirt or dress of its wearer. Placed under the outermost garment and over petticoats, bustles were secured by tapes fastened at the hips and under the bottom.[7] Tapes were adjustable and could be tightly pulled to alter the overall shape or size of the bustle and ultimately, the rear as a whole. The accessibility of the tapes provided the wearer the additional flexibility of securing the bustle on and off herself, a small and subtle gesture of control in regard to the shaping of her own body. Yet, the impermanence of the bustle as a body-shaper truly proved most effective when high fashion shifted once again and modified the ideal female form into a different silhouette.

The new focus of interest was an accentuated bust rather than derriere. With the use of an elongated corset women achieved the new “s curve” silhouette, which thrust the chest up and forward and the hips and rear down and back. Yet, within 10 years the ideal silhouette shifted once again further proving the benefit of removable shape-wear.

-Ashley Gallagher


[1] 2018 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report. Report. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. 2019. Accessed March 17, 2019.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Bustle.” Accessed March 19, 2019.

[4] “The New Phantom (Bustle).” V&A Search the Collections. Accessed March 19, 2019.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.





Corset, 1810s-1820s, sateen, linen, and bone, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Brockway Almond, N0083.1946, photograph by Emma Bresnan.


For hundreds of years in western fashion, the standard of beauty in women’s silhouettes was a conical torso. In the 18th century, stays smoothed out a woman’s figure, provided back support, supported a proper posture, and lifted the chest up and inward. The standard shape of a woman’s body, generally regardless of class, was smooth and flat.

Around 1800, women’s fashion experienced an explosive change, not only in dress types, but in the way that clothing shaped women’s bodies. With new empire waist styles, the emphasis was placed on a woman’s breasts, not her waist. Heavily boned stays were no longer the norm. Even the word stays was sometimes replaced by the French word corset. During the first decade of the 19th century, women wore a variety of styles of stays and corsets to create this new figure, often with little or no structure supporting the stomach and back. By the 1810s, however, they increasingly wore a more standardized style of corset, which was structured, but in an entirely new way.[1]

For the first time in hundreds of years, early 19th century corsets created a bust with curves that somewhat followed the natural shape of a women’s body. It was an idealized shape, but one that allowed women’s breasts to actually protrude, rather than be pressed into and out of cone shape. This shape looks far more familiar to the modern eye than the one createdby 18th-century stays, thanks to the gussets that effectively created cups. Even though to the modern eye, cups to hold the bust seem like an obvious choice, they were almost never seen in western fashion until the 1790s.

This example of a corset from the 1810s or 1820s shows the new techniques that were used to shape a woman’s body into an idealized form. Instead of any boning, it has cording, or thick threads stitched into place, to create structure. A few decades before, stays would fully encase a woman’s body in vertical strips of flexible whalebone, offering ample back support and pressing the breasts into position. The diagonal cording does much less to provide heavy structure or support. More or less, it follows the natural shape of the body, but does not support the back.
This corset has a pocket at the center front meant to hold a busk, a flat piece of scrimshaw or wood, which would hold the body upright and do the bulk of the shaping. Stays created a flexible armor of sorts, while the new corsets stiffly held up the body from the front and pressed women’s stomachs fashionably flat.
Corsets of the early 19th century were a huge departure from earlier styles, which drastically changed the way that clothing interacted with the body. While the shape they created was, to a modern eye, more similar to a natural silhouette, the garment itself is far less supportive than earlier styles and constrictive in a very different way.

[1] Norah Waugh, Corsets and Crinolines (New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1954), 75.

-Emma Bresnan

“It’s after six, what am I, a farmer?,” remarks Jack Donaghy to Liz Lemon when asked why he is wearing a tux in an episode of 30 Rock.[1] As a member of the wealthy, corporate elite, Donaghy knows the social importance of wearing the right clothes at the right time. As such, he would have fit right in in 1800s Cooperstown, New York. This powder blue hat box in the collection of the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown reflects the style and social class of the residents of this small town as well as the ingenuity of local entrepreneurs to succeed in a small market.

Hat Box Side

Side, H. Hollister Hat Box, c. 1837, pasteboard, paper, H: 9.5″ x L: 12″ x W: 10.75″ x D: 8.25″ Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Dr. Carolyn Olendorf, N0518.1942 (02), photograph by Mary Kate Kenney.

Hat Box Lid

Lid, H. Hollister Hat Box, c. 1837, pasteboard, paper, H: 9.5″ x L: 12″ x W: 10.75″ x D: 8.25″ Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Dr. Carolyn Olendorf, N0518.1942 (02), photograph by Mary Kate Kenney.

When H. Hollister set up his hat shop on Main Street in Cooperstown around 1839, he knew it was no ordinary small town. Incorporated in 1812, William Cooper and the other founders of the village sought to attract residents “already of a higher order than that of most villages its size,” with “more liberal tastes and a better style of living” than other settlements of its size.[2] The success of James Fenimore Cooper’s books set in the area solidified Cooperstown’s status as a resort community in the lush, forested mountains of upstate New York. Despite the small size of the village, Cooperstown was able to support multiple shops that sold fine clothing to a more upscale clientele.

Hollister’s shop could be found “At the Sign of the Golden Hat” according to the advertisement on a hat box that had once been owned by local resident, Alfred Olendorf.[3] Olendorf could have chosen to patronize at least one other store in Cooperstown (J.R. Worthington), but whether due to quality of products, loyalty to the business, competitive prices, or effective advertising, he chose to purchase a top hat from H. Hollister.[4]

The fact that this hat box survives at all indicates that Olendorf made use of it beyond its first trip home from the shop. Most likely, Olendorf would have stored the purchased beaver top hat in this box while not in use. H. Hollister knew this about his customers and used it as an opportunity to further promote his business. Not only would Olendorf be able to tell his friends where he purchased his beaver top hat, he would also be encouraged to return to H. Hollister’s shop to purchase one of the other types of hats listed on the label. Whether the customer required a fine hat of beaver or silk for evening activities, or a straw hat for boating on the lake, H. Hollister’s hats could complete any ensemble.

Despite the small population of the village of Cooperstown, NY, H. Hollister’s hattery stayed in business for at least 30 years. An 1870 census recorded Hollister “as the owner of $4,000 worth of real estate and $3,000 worth of personal estate,” translating to about $51,900 and $69,000 respectively in today’s dollars.[5] With an above average demand for fine hats in a small community and a shrewd sense of business and marketing, H. Hollister threw his hat into the entrepreneurial ring.

By Jen Vos


[1] 30 Rock. “Tracey Does Conan.” Season 1, Episode 7, Directed by Adam Bernstein, Written by Tina Fey. NBC, December, 2006.

[2] S.T. Livermore, A Condensed History of Cooperstown, with a Biographical Sketch of J. Fenimore Cooper. (Albany: J. Munsell, 1862) 68, 80.

[3] Hat Box, Fenimore Art Museum collection, Cooperstown, New York, N0518.1942 (02), “Documentation.”

[4] Mary Kate Kenney, “Hat’s Off! A Cooperstown Hatter and Local Entrepreneurship,” Cooperstown Graduate Program. Cooperstown, New York, 2018.

[5] 1870 U.S. Census, Otsego County, New York, population schedule, Cooperstown, p. 3, dwelling 22, family 25, Harvey Hollister; digital image,, accessed February 6, 2018,

safety bike

Bicycle, Safety, 1898-1905, iron, metal, wood, rubber, L: 72 x H: 44.5 x D: 30 in. The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of the Rochester Historical Society, F0939.1946.

Anyone who has seen an old-fashioned bicycle, with one giant wheel and one tiny one, and wondered how anyone could balance on it, can see why bike riders in the late nineteenth century preferred the newly-developed safety bicycle, with its equally-sized wheels. This change in bicycle design had far-reaching consequences for gender roles and political activism. Before the safety bicycle, cycling was a masculine activity; the design of older bicycles made it difficult for women to ride due to their long skirts. Women were also expected to spend their time in the home, not in public. Once the safety bicycle was invented, women in skirts could balance on a bicycle easily.[1] Women began to ride in droves in the 1890s, many reveling in their new-found freedom. Women were able to travel farther on their own and broaden their horizons.


However, this did not mean that bicycling was not still a gendered activity, as this particular model from The Farmer’s Museum’s collection reveals. Although men’s and women’s safety bicycles had similar designs, there was a clear difference between them. This safety bike was made by Radio Sporting Goods in Rochester, NY, between 1898 and 1905, at the height of the bicycle’s popularity. It was most likely owned by a man because it has a diamond frame. Most bikes for women lacked a bar at the top, as this one does. A bicycle with a “step-through” frame allowed women in skirts to ride more easily.[2]



A Ladies Safety Bicycle (Photo Courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

Although it would have been difficult to ride this safety bicycle in a skirt, it was possible for a women wearing bloomers to ride it. Some bicycle manufacturers marketed bicycles with diamond frames to women who wore bloomers.[3] Because of the bicycle craze in the 1890s, bloomers became popular among women.[4] Some men worried that women who wanted to wear pants would want other prerogatives that had traditionally been reserved for men.[5] Even those women who rode bicycles in skirts were seen as “new women,” who rejected traditional gender roles. Riding a bicycle gave women more control over their own lives. Cycling was also a political statement, particularly if a woman was riding a bicycle with a diamond frame.


Those who supported and opposed women’s suffrage linked safety bicycles to women’s participation in the public sphere.[6] Because they enabled women to travel more freely and on their own, suffragettes wrote that bicycles led to female empowerment. The popular book, Bicycling for Ladies, by M.E. Ward, stated that “riding the wheel, our own powers are revealed to us… you are continually being called upon to judge and to determine points that before have not needed your consideration, and consequently you become more alert, active, quick-sighted and keenly alive as well to the rights of others as to what is due yourself.”[7] The increased independence that bicycles afforded to women made it possible for them to leave the private sphere and demand increased rights and opportunities in the public sphere.

By Emma Glaser

[1] Ellen Gruber Garvey, “Reframing the Bicycle: Advertising-Supported Magazines and Scorching Women,” American Quarterly 47, no. 1 (March 1996): 67-69.

[2] Steven E. Alford and Suzanne Ferriss, An Alternative History of Bicycles and Motorcycles: Two-Wheeled Transportation and Material Culture (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 51-52.

[3] Garvey, “Reframing the Bicycle,” 69.

[4] Antonia Petrash, More than Petticoats: Remarkable New York Women (Guilford: TwoDot, 2001), 60.

[5] Patricia Marks, Bicycles, Bangs, and Bloomers: The New Woman in the Popular Press (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990), 191, 193.

[6] Erin Russell, “That’s No Ordinary Bicycle!: A Safety Bicycle and Women’s Suffrage” (Cooperstown Graduate Program, SUNY Oneonta, 2017), 6.

[7] M.E. Ward, Bicycling for Ladies (New York: Brentano’s, 1896), 12-13.