period costumes by Wendy Fetridge

People view history differently. There are those who romanticize it as the "golden old days", there are those who believe it is a tool to learn and improve upon, and those who just disregard it. I like to think, I am a combination of the first two, but I am sure my family and friends would probably say I am a hopeless romantic.

You might ask what does this have to do with Antique Boating? Well my approach to enjoying our floating pieces of history, is to present the whole picture. The elegance and frolicking spirit represented by these crafts were a direct reflection of their owners and the time in history. Fashions whether in clothing, furnishings or boats have always been consistent with the stock market. During Bull Markets hemlines rose and during Bear Markets they fell. The roaring twenties with its flappers and “rum runners” was a time of bull markets and free spending. The Victorians were conservative in dress and produced elegant family launches with graceful wicker furniture. Early in the history of Antique Boat Shows, exhibitors were encouraged to dress in period costumes. Thus while my father was busy refinishing the boat in the basement or garage, my mother was busy sewing the appropriate outfits for the “girls”. Dad dressed up occasionally, but for some reason it was directed more towards the women of the family.

As the years progressed my interest in the clothing worn by the past “boating set” grew along with my sewing skills. During this time our collection of boats and family members also grew, increasing the need for different boating attire.

This led to the discovery of vintage clothing cutting diagrams and patterns. The majority of the outfits pictured have been reproduced from these historical references. Many of the wonderful reproductions of vintage patterns available have unfortunately not been rescaled for today’s proportions. Not only are we twenty percent taller, but we are also longer limbed and for the most part, larger in girth than our historic counter parts. Recently the large pattern manufacturers have added patterns for historic clothing to their design lines. These patterns while not always historically accurate are better suited for today’s body shape. And those without an understanding of the old sewing patterns (directions were optional). The garments pictured really represent the people of the era, much like today’s T-shirt and shorts represent today’s fiberglass boater. Victorians enjoyed ornate to an almost gaudy level. Their garments were trimmed with braid, fringe, feathers, lace, ruffles, jet beads and other weighty trims. Fabrics and trims were often selected for look rather than comfort. Their boats had cut velvet seats and tons of brass and bronze trim. The horsehair filled seats were attractive but not always comfortable. The elegant carriage of the women in this period was matched by the graceful way the launches and skiffs moved through the water.

The era of flappers was flamboyant and rebellious. Dresses were again trimmed with beads, fringe and feathers. However the long graceful skirts were replaced with shorter straight skirts. The leg of mutton and balloon sleeves were gone and bare arms or close fitting sleeves were on view. The boats were being powered with more powerful engines and being designed to plane at higher speeds.

The barrel backs and “rum runners” were roaring into the world along with a new generation. There are three generations of our family included in the accompanying photographs. Most of the time everyone is very cooperative about dressing in the year’s “official” outfit, but sometimes when the sleeves are long and the necklines as high as the temperature, there is some protest.

So while not always the most comfortable in 90+ temperatures, the effort to present a complete segment of history is appreciated by the spectators.

return to finger lakes chapter main page ...........visit wendy's antique clothing website