Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Fashion Influence of Men

Who can forget those handsome actors from the 1940s and the 1950s, some of them continuing their popularity even longer--Cary Grant, Humphry Bogart, Gregory Peck, James Stewart to name a few of my favorites, still charming a new generation in black & white movies shown on television.  They were fashion trend setters, and rarely did you see them in a suit or sport coat without a pocket square.  Until researching this blog, I would have said "handkerchief," but that would have been a fashion mistake.

A pocket square is a decorative handkerchief that is worn with a suit or jacket, usually a square 10" to 17", made from silk, linen, or cotton.  Popularized by these trendsetters of an earlier era, the pocket square remains fashionable today.

Men contributed to another popular trend during both WWI and WWII, when hankies were printed with various patriotic symbols for service men to give to wives and girlfriends.

In the 1930s, the depression limited money for ladies to spend on their wardrobes, and often the only option for changing her outfit was to change her handkerchief.  During WWII women served the war effort by giving up silk stockings and silk handkerchiefs so the material could be used for parachutes.  This was the era of improved color-fast dyes, and rather than the fancy needlework and expensive fabric, women began buying colorful printed hankies.  These became part of ladies' wardrobes, tucking them into pockets of suits and dresses, tucking them into belts, or tying them at their throat.

These printed hankies could change with the seasons or have a holiday theme.  From Christmas, St. Patrick's Day, to Valentines Day, or even a hint to remind friends of a lady's traveling to special places, the decorations on hankies were nearly endless. 
Some of them were folded with ribbons for gift giving, and some even had their own gift cards.  My mother-in-law loved receiving cards and letters, and she saved them in empty shoe boxes.  An entire wall in her sewing room had shelves on which were saved row after row of her treasured cards and letters.  Of course, when she moved to assisted living, her cards could not go with her, and it nearly broke her heart.  

We put some of her cards into storage for her, and after her death, I found a birthday card with a pretty hankie inside.  Perhaps she had overlooked the hankie inside when she tucked the envelop into a shoe box before putting it on the shelf.  Or, perhaps she thought it was just too pretty or too filled with loving memories to use.


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Handkerchiefs to show a lady's talents


Once there was a generation of ladies who knew the talents of needlework, and those talents were often displayed in their handkerchiefs.  In my collection  are examples of crochet, both on borders and open work on corners.

The time and effort, as well as the skill, meant that many of these handkerchiefs never came near a nose.  There was an old saying:  "One for show and one for blow."  The clever ladies in Japan sometimes had pockets in their kimono--the left sleeve for a less expensive, plain hankie and the right sleeve for the fashionable, elegant one intended only for show.

In the era of the coronavirus, we can identify with the mothers of the 1800s when teachers, placing more emphasis on hygiene, began inspecting the handkerchiefs children brought to school each day, requiring one that was fresh and clean.  Mothers respected the idea of enforcing better hygiene, but sending their children to school each day with a fresh white hankie was challenging.  Their solution--a clean white hankie for the teacher's inspection but another one in their pocket made from colored calico or other scraps of fabric less expensive and easier to wash.

Surprisingly, printed handkerchiefs date back to the early years of our nation.  It is said that Martha Washington created a handkerchief to promote her husband.  One collector has a handkerchief from England that is printed with King Edward's abdication speech.

My favorites are the white-on-white hankies, with the decorative changes in texture and subtle designs in various white threads.  One in my inherited collection was even turned into a doll for gifting.

If you missed last week's blog, you may want to scroll back to it to see the elegant needlework of my grandmother, Maude Wilson Hawk.

You can click on images to enlarge.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Early Handkerchief History

 I find odd sources of inspiration for my blog posts, and with autumn here, my inspiration came from adding tissues to our shopping list, knowing pollen season was approaching.  Who knew that sneezing would inspire a blog?  I was surprised by how interesting the history of handkerchiefs is.

I have inherited quite a collection of handkerchiefs from my mother and mother-in-law, as well as some from their mothers.  The detail at left and the full image below are images of the handiwork of my grandmother, Maude Wilson Hawk.

The history of handkerchiefs dates back to China, when kerchiefs were used to shield heads from the sun.  Interestingly, the British also were known in modern times to tie the corners of a handkerchief and wear it on their head at the beach.  The name change from kerchief to handkerchief was intended to distinguish between a square cloth as a head covering and a square cloth meant to carry.

The romantic use of a handkerchief dates to the Middle ages, when a knight would tie a lady's handkerchief on the back of his helmet for luck.  Handkerchiefs became a symbol of wealth and status, so valuable that they were listed in dowries and bequeathed in wills.  Persians reserved handkerchiefs for the nobility, and in other cultures aristocrats emphasized their status by including elegant handkerchiefs in their portraits.

A tradition passed down to our own time, connected with both romance and status, is the beautiful handkerchief for brides.  In America, the bride's handkerchief probably originated in the South, and in some families the bridal handkerchief is passed through generations.  Using silk and linen for handkerchiefs was part of the display of status.  The Handkerchief  Shop online displays beautiful bridal handkerchiefs embroidered with special inscriptions.  My favorite is a gift to be given by the bride to her  father. Brides also use family handkerchiefs as the "something old" to carry. 

Queen Elizabeth I, whose handkerchiefs were embroidered with gold and silver threads, took the romance of handkerchiefs to higher levels, creating a whole vocabulary of handkerchief gestures.

Next week's blog will bring handkerchief history into the 1900s.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Agrarianism--What is It?

 There is an odd thing about time.  When we look at a clock, time seems to be a very definite thing.  Yet, I remember when I was a child and was told something I eagerly looked forward to would happen in an hour, it took forever!  If it was a special occasion several days away, I thought it would never arrive!!  Yet, today when I recall a special event in the past, it seems like only yesterday, and days on my calendar fly by.

Time has the same impact on words.  Agrarianism in its time referred to a philosophy or political philosophy that placed a superior value on rural society and the independent farmer as a way of living, than was placed on urban society and paid workers.  The imagined simplicity of a rural life was romanticized as more ideal than the complexities of city living.  In America, Thomas Jefferson idealized farmers as "the most valuable citizens," and in Europe John Locke and others reinforced the idea of the Romantic Era depicted in the bucolic paintings of that time.  China also had a philosophy of a utopian society of farmers.   

In Isaac Werner's time immigrants fled crowded European cities and places where their lowly station in life seemed inescapable, to seek a new life in America, as uncertain as that life may actually have been.  Once here, many of them  were confronted by the same urban, crowded tenements and wages reduced by the availability of desperate men willing to work for even less.

The opportunity to travel West and stake a claim had great appeal, but society was changing, spurred on by the industrial changes during and after the Civil War.  It was this era in flux during which Isaac Werner came to Kansas to stake a homestead and a timber claim.  The image of the "landed gentry" may have motivated many families to stake their claims in anticipation of building a farming dynasty for their children.  Instead, it  became a struggle for survival.  America had transformed into three classes--the Wealthy, whose lifestyles gave us the term "The Golden Age," the new Middle Class in towns and cities who lived comfortably 'in the middle' between great wealth and a struggle for survival, and the Working Classes of farmers, miners, small ranchers, and laborers.

As a result of that economic shift, "Agrarianism" took on the meaning of political theories involving land redistribution.  Some governments around the world seized land from the rich and distributed it to the working poor.  In America during Isaac's time a popular author, Henry George, advocated abolishing land ownership altogether and instead having land rent.  Land could not be bought and held as an investment, but it could be rented, and improvements to the land and what was produced on the land would not be taxed, with the land rent replacing taxes.

Today agrarianism is a word with a small "a," used primarily as a way to describe farm life in a positive, somewhat idealized way.  It tends more toward a philosophical or literary theme, with a hint of political thought from the past.

So why did I choose grain elevators from four different eras to illustrate this blog?  My point is, time is relative.  Some of you who follow my blog remember the small grain bens or wooden granaries at every farm.  Later, successful farmers with more land might have their own grain elevator and towns had small elevators like the one in the second image.  By the mid-century the huge concrete elevators towered over the plains, glowing in the sunlight in pristine white.  What had once seemed irreplaceable was not, and the concrete elevators are graying and cracking as huge metal bins replace them, both commercially and on farms whose own production requires massive storage.

Things that once seemed eternal disappear and often, as it happens, we hardly notice.  Time moves on, and to the young it moves more slowly than it moves for the elderly.  Perhaps that is because the young have less to remember and more years ahead to expect. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Western Frontier

I have written blogs about "the wide open  spaces" celebrated in poems, music, and stories, and it is true that when homesteaders like Isaac Werner arrived there were almost no trees and it seemed they could see forever.  Yet, what could be more "wide open" than the flat farm land of today, with far fewer farm homes to interrupt the horizon than existed in Isaac's day.  Each homesteader could claim one quarter section of land, which meant that each square mile could have four different homesteads claimed by four different families.  The typical township was 6 miles wide and six miles long, with 36 square miles or 144 quarter-sections of land that could be homesteaded.  Of course, not every quarter-section was good for farming, and there were some timber claims among the homesteads, on which the primary crop was timber.  Not every acre of a claim was plowed, like the pasture south of our home which remained unplowed prairie.

The point is that the image of the "frontier" that many of us have is more related to western movies than to the reality of the mid- to late 1800s when Isaac Werner staked his homestead and timber claim.

In 1893, the year of the Chicago World's Fair, Frederick Jackson Turner published a book titled The Significance of the Frontier in American History.  His theory was that as the line Americans thought of as "frontier" moved West, it  created a particular American identity.  The land was different from where people had lived before, and they had to adapt to its differences in order to survive.

Whether it was clearing trees to make fields or cutting sod to remove the thick roots before crops could be planted, it required strength and courage and determination.  The land seemed wild, and the traditions and rules of places from which they and their ancestors had come did not seem to apply in this new land.

  They were compelled to live in crude structures, especially where there were no trees nor stone to use for building their homes.  Some felt it necessary to carry a weapon, whether for defense from animals or from lawless men.  Emergencies, such as  prairie fires and illnesses, had to be fought on their own.  Doctors and lawmen were often too far away to call, and fires too immediately threatening to seek help beyond their own community.

Turner's Thesis was, and perhaps still is, that the American character became more democratic, more intolerant of hierarchy, more individualistic, and more violent.  However, he also theorized that Americans were less artistic and less scientific.

His last two conclusions were ironic, since Turner presented his thesis to the American Historical Association at the Chicago World's Fair, which was intended to display the inventiveness and creativity of the young nation to the rest of the world.  The fairgrounds themselves, the displays of fine art, the inventions--including electric lights, were on display to show the world that Americans  were not less artistic nor less scientific.  Rather, the people of this nation were equal to or even ahead of other nations of the world.

However, Turner's Thesis is interesting to consider.  Did the challenges that our ancestors faced change the nature and character of the American people in ways that linger even today?