Vintage clothing on exhibit at historic Teackle Mansion

Sallie Ridgway vividly remembers the moment her sister, Kay, 9 years her senior, entered the room in the finely pleated white dress with the delicate lace trim and powder blue velvet ribbons at the waist.

“It was the most beautiful dress I had ever seen,” said Ridgway.

Now, more than 60 years later, that dress is on exhibit at Teackle Mansion, in Princess Anne.

Ridgway has long admired a well-made garment. Her mother sewed and so does she. Ridgway is a well-respected costumer in the region, with a storehouse of vintage clothing, costumes and accessories.

Her collection includes pieces previously worn by herself and by her family members, cherished gifts from friends, including an exquisite wedding bodice with leg-of-mutton sleeves, and fortunate thrift store finds. As a dedicated docent at Teackle Mansion, she is typically seen dressed in period clothing, portraying Mrs. Teackle, the lady of the house, circa early 1800s.

Ridgway’s passion for clothing continues. It was her idea to curate a new exhibit at Teackle Mansion, “Fashionable Revolution: An Exploration of Ladies’ Style,” which runs through June 23. The exhibit includes dresses on loan from four contributors, along with a few pieces belonging to the Somerset County Historical Society.

Simonne Theiss began collecting vintage clothing some 10 to 15 years ago, after she and her husband, Jim, moved into the Littleton-Long House, circa 1830, in Princess Anne. Theiss, who appreciated the architecture of her home and its period furnishing, became interested in acquiring a more intimate connection to the time.

“The personal aspect of clothing intrigued me. These are things that people touched, wore against their skin every day,” said Theiss.

Eight dresses from Theiss’ collection are included in the exhibit, several deaccessioned from museum collections. Sourced from Ebay, Etsy, and specialty sellers, Theiss’ dresses are some of the oldest featured, dating to the very early 1800s. Each of Theiss’ dresses is displayed on muslin mannequins, customized by her husband to ensure a perfect fit.

Jim and Simonne Theiss rented a U-Haul to transport the vintage dress collection to Teackle Mansion. Jim Theiss carefully drove the nearly 9 miles from their home on the Annemessex River to the 10,000 square foot mansion in historic downtown Princess Anne. As he drove, Simonne rode in the back of the box truck with her treasured dresses.

Upon arrival, she personally carried the dressed mannequins inside and arranged and accessorized each dress, taking nearly two hours to do so. The dress details are extraordinary, some as ornate in the back as in the front.

Theiss hinted that she is on the hunt for perhaps one or two more period dresses, specifically from the 1780s, the same vintage as their current residence, noting the question becomes: “What does one do with these dresses in one’s home?”

Translucent fabrics

Linda Bohan collects vintage linens. When she purchased a boxed “lot” of linens at an estate sale, she discovered a few handmade pieces of clothing for children at the bottom of the box.

The beautiful pastel organdy dresses are lovely. On display in a front window at the mansion, the translucent fabrics are illuminated by sunlight shining through the wavy old panes of glass. It seems likely the frocks, in nearly pristine condition, were never worn.

Bohan, who volunteers at Somerset Choice Station Antiques, often helps restore vintage linens and clothing. Her mother chastised, “you have all this education and now, you’re taking in laundry?”

Bohan, however, takes great pride in her careful work. When recently retired journalist Liz Holland brought a couple pieces into the shop to be sold, Bohan offered to help clean and mend them. Bohan spent four days mending tears, reinforcing threadbare areas, soaking and carefully cleaning a christening gown made for Holland’s grandfather in 1865.

She then spent two days gently pressing the garment. “Ironing takes a long time. I didn’t want to do any damage to the fabric,” which is more than 150 years old, said Bohan.

Several generations in Holland’s family have worn the gown, including Holland and her siblings. The long gown, now white again, is exquisite.

Since Bohan’s meticulous restoration, Holland decided not to sell this particular family heirloom for now and opted to offer it, along with a dress which belonged to her grandmother, for inclusion the Fashionable Revolution exhibit.

Bohan’s estate sale finds, included in the exhibit, are available for sale. Proceeds from sales through Somerset Choice Station Antiques benefit the Somerset County Historical Society.

Another child’s dress is on exhibit in what was Mr. Teackle’s office. It was made by Ridgway’s mother. Little Sallie wore the handmade dress with the blue velvet bodice and lovely striped skirt to her first dance when she was in the 7th grade.

Like ladies-in-waiting

Prior to the exhibit opening, Theiss and Ridgway attended to the dresses as if they were ladies-in-waiting, lovingly accessorizing each piece with shoes, shawls, purses and jewelry appropriate to the period. The chosen dresses — more than two dozen in total — are exhibited in five rooms throughout the first floor of Teackle Mansion, demonstrating textiles and fashion trends of the times.

Close inspection reveals tucks and pleats, buttons, hidden zippers and hook-and-eye enclosures, and fine lace and ribbon trimmings.The diminutive size of some of the dresses, particularly from the early 1800s, is striking. The dresses are unimaginably tiny — tiny waists and tiny sleeves — clearly designed for women that were small in stature.

One is sure to notice one dress, believed to be for a mother, that is adjustable — thanks to a lacing — perhaps to accommodate pregnancy and/or nursing.

It also has pockets sewn into the dress, innovative for the day. One is a small key pocket. Two dresses demonstrate roller printing, invented during the industrial revolution, which made patterned textiles less costly and more accessible to everyone.

A 1970s pantsuit

The carefully curated exhibit features one dress from nearly every decade from 1800 through 1960. There is a 1970s piece, too, not a dress but a flaming orange and white pantsuit — polyester double-knit, of course. It belongs to Ridgway, who used to wear it with an orange blouse and a white scarf with orange flowers on it.

The cut, the style, the repeating arrow design and the color perfectly represent the 1970s. Ridgway wore it frequently and even wore the blouse and scarf in a photograph for her family’s mid-’70s Christmas card.

Ridgway recalls, “My husband, Dave, bought it as a gift for my birthday in the early 1970s. I was mad at him for spending so much money on me. He went to Tepper’s, the biggest department store in Plainfield, New Jersey. It was very stylish. He really shouldn’t have spent so much money.” But, Ridgway happily added, “It still fits.”

If You Go

Fashion and the evolution of style, dictated by form, function, and societal norms and expectations, reveal much about our changing culture. If you visit, you are sure to recognize styles worn by your mother, your grandmother and, perhaps, your great-grandmother. “Fashionable Revolution” provides a glimpse of our past. See it while you can.

WHAT: Fashionable Revolution: An Exploration of Ladies’ Style.

WHERE: Teackle Mansion, 11736 Mansion St., Princess Anne.

WHEN: Open Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m.

COST: $10 admission includes exhibit and tour. Benefits Somerset County Historical Society.

CALL: 410-651-2238 or visit Somerset County Historical Society on Facebook

MAKE A DAY OF IT: Take a historic tour of Princess Anne. Enjoy lunch at The Washington Inn & Tavern, circa 1744. Stroll through the Historic Boxwood Garden, planted in the early 1800s (free and open to the public). Enjoy afternoon tea at the English Tea Cafe, inside the Victorian era Princess Anne Book Lovers Inn (by reservation).

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