URI graduate student seeks Gilded Age yachting clothes to anchor her research project

Individuals, groups sought to loan clothing for complete recording, analysis KINGSTON, R.I.-September 2, 1999 — A University of Rhode Island graduate student wants sailing enthusiasts, yachting history buffs, and families with connections to yachting traditions to search their attics, their basements and even their memories for vintage yachting clothes. Natasha Kelly, who is pursuing her master’s degree in historic dress, is seeking help from those who own yachting wear dating from 1880 to 1910, so she can complete her thesis-Yachting Wear: Sartorial Symbol of Conspicuous Leisure and Consumption in the Gilded Age. She wants families, individuals and museums to show her their vintage clothing so she can analyze how they fit with the history of the period. “Brief descriptions and selected images of a specific type of clothing for yachting activities appear sporadically in costume and yachting history books,” Kelly said. “These occasional references lack detail, categorizations and interpretation, leaving a gap in the history of costume concerning this particular form of dress.” Kelly, who hails from Swathmore, Pa. and who now lives in Charlestown, R.I., said her study seeks to interpret the clothing as it relates to leisure, consumption, wealth and social status and expand awareness and understanding of the factors affecting the design, function and cultural meaning of yachting wear by placing it in its appropriate historical, economic and social context. To reach Kelly, call URI’s Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design at 874-4574. At no cost to the owner, Kelly will perform fiber, date and weave analyses, and will determine whether the piece is hand sewn or manufactured. Kelly will also photograph the piece for the historical record. Kelly is completing an analysis of a cotton yachting dress loaned by Angela Fischer of Newport and Brookline, Mass. White with blue trim, the dress was worn by Fischer’s grandmother, Mrs. John Nicholas Brown, on her honeymoon. The piece is dated 1898, and was purchased in Paris. It bears the banners of the New York Yacht Club and Fischer’s grandfather’s yacht, the Ballymena. “There is no boning in the dress. At that time, most women’s garments had boning,” Kelly said. “This shows the trend of people getting into outdoor activities. Women would also wear these while watching the regattas.” Kelly is seeking men’s clothing as well. “The light pants, and the blue blazer remain a symbol right up to present day. But unlike today, straw boater hats were also part of the wardrobe in the Gilded Age.” Kelly intends to talk to representatives from the Museum of Yachting in Newport, the Preservation Society of Newport County, the Rhode Island Historical Society and Rhode Island School of Design. “If people have photos, paintings and diaries, I’d like to see those as well because they are also primary resources,” Kelly said. And she needs the material relatively soon. Her thesis is due next August. “Throughout the year I will be researching and writing,” Kelly said. Kelly, who obtained her bachelor’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in comparative German and French literature, chose URI for her graduate program because she said its textiles program is the best. “I love this state and I would definitely stay if I could find a job.” Linda Welters, professor and chair of the textiles department, said this project is particularly well-suited to the area because Newport has been a great center of yachting. “This is an attempt to get at things in private collections,” said Welters who is also Kelly’s adviser. -xxx- For Further Information: Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116