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blogbrainsmallSeacoast History Blog #138 
June 23, 2012

I’m no fashion plate as my wardrobe and my wife will attest. My fashion-backwards style runs to Woody Allen chic, that is, buy many copies of the same innocuous shirt and pants and wear them for 10 years, then buy them again. But I do occasionally enjoy a project Runway TV marathon -- and I really like the collection Sanra Rux has put together. Her exhibit “The Height of Propriety” may look, at first, like a roomful of headless, armless, legless ghosts, but on closer examination, there is a lot to be learned here – for free – about how our ancestors dressed. (Continued below)

 

I’m not going to give the whole show away. This is just a teaser. I want you to climb the flight of stairs (or take the elevator) and visit the Peter Randall gallery. I’m a dues-paying member of the Portsmouth Athenaeum and my hat is off to them for keeping new exhibits continually running at this hideaway exhibit room. The entrance is smack downtown in Market Square, yet I’ll bet 95% of the locals – not to mention the tourists – have never stepped inside the new improved membership library. It started in 1817, long before public libraries, and is among the last of the private libraries of its kind in New England. Think of it as a club that protects local history with a passion.

Portsmouth athenaeum fashion exhibit / SeacoastNH.com

The former proprietors of the Athenaeum, Sandra says, were the social and intellectual elite of the city, and you can tell by their clothes. That’s debatable, but these are certainly familiar names from history. Charles Brewster, the history writer of the 1800s, is represented by his military hat with a conspicuous feather. You’ll see Edmund Roberts’ silk coat and a black velvet hat that once belonged to artist Helen Haven Langdon.

Mary Ann Morrison May, who lived in the John Paul Jones House, left us her wedding gown, as did Maria Salter. Salter married William Preston in 1847 and her gown was remade from one fashioned about 1820.

The exhibit is sponsored by Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and runs through Sept. 15. It overlaps with Fashion Night Out in Portsmouth Sept. 6, an after-hours shopping event, and is held in conjunction with "Thread: Stories of Fashion at Strawbery Banke, 1740-2012."

The wardrobe of roughly 20 Athenaeum proprietors are represented in the free Athenaeum exhibit, which is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, 1 to 4 p.m., at 6-8 Market Square. For more info call 603-431-2538 or visit www.portsmouthathenaeum.org

Portsmouth fashions

Charles Brewster military hat/ Portsmouth Athenaeum

SEE MORE PHOTOS FROM
Portsmouth Athenaeum Fashion Exhibit

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