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Thursday, March 1, 2012

19th-Century Fashion of the Starrs

By Megan Maxwell, site staff

The Starr Family Home State Historic Site is currently displaying three 19th-century dresses in its opening exhibit, “Fashion of the Starrs.” The three dresses represent different time periods in the lives of the women who lived in the site’s Maplecroft mansion. Each of them also tells a story.

The lavender dress with its two bodices—one for daytime and one for evening wear—dates to around 1870. The dress belonged to Sarah Fry Clapp, Clara Starr’s mother. The dress was probably first worn by her in the 1860s and later altered to keep up with changing fashions. Mrs. Clapp may have just liked the dress, but it was also a cost-saving measure to re-use the dress during the economically stressed times just after the Civil War. The changes to the hemline, including the removal of a bottom ruffle, and the expansion of the bodice are easily visible, telling us that the outfit was altered more than once. Sweat stains indicate that the dress was worn a lot, possibly for dancing in a hot, crowded ballroom.

The black dress is one of our favorite collection pieces. It, too, belonged to Mrs. Clapp and was altered accordingly so she could continue wearing it. It’s easy to see why. It is an elaborate late 1870s formal dress with nearly 20,000 beads, 250 silk tassels, and 175 feet of cording decorating it. Black was very fashionable, especially for older women to wear. With the organdy collar pulled back, you can see that two separate rows of buttons were added to accommodate Mrs. Clapp’s increasing size and allowed her to continue wearing a dress she liked. She wore this dress when her portrait was painted and also for photographs. The fragile condition of the original dress made it too damaging to display on a mannequin, so we had a replica made so it could be displayed in all its glory.

The pink silk dress dates to 1895, when the Starrs’ oldest daughter, Clara, was married to Ben Pope. The bride’s wedding dress is in the same style. It isn’t recorded which one of the Starr girls the pink dress belonged to, but the big puffed sleeves were the height of fashion in the mid-1890s. This may have been another favorite dress special enough to save for future generations. Dirt stains around the hem suggest that it was worn often while it was in style.

Starr Family Home is located in Marshall on the corner of Travis and S. Grove streets, in the Texas Forest Trail Region.

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