Programs & Events

From the Elegant to the Everyday: 200 Years of Fashion in Northern New England

Opening reception, Friday March 14 at 5:30 pm
March 15 through May 3, 2014

When the prize goods of the privateer Fox of Portsmouth, NH, were sold in Saco in July 1814, auctioneer Samuel Larkin had every expectation that the items would bring good prices. The sale consisted almost entirely of a wide range of fabrics and fashionable clothing accessories, including muslin caps, fancy wigs, "Barcelona" handkerchiefs, men's and women's hose, and hats for everyone in the family--all of which had been seized from English ships during the War of 1812. Americans had long looked to England as the source of the latest styles and for the fabrics and accessories needed to keep up with the prevailing taste. The inhabitants of smaller cities and towns, like Saco and Biddeford, were just as concerned about dressing fashionably as those who lived in larger urban areas such as Boston. Residents of northern New England were eager to purchase quality goods so that they too could "cut a fine figure". The desire to keep up with current fashions changed little over the next century and a half, although people began to look to places other than England for the latest styles and fabrics. The mechanization of the textile industry, the invention of the sewing machine in the 1850s, and the availability of ready-to-wear clothing by the early 20th century made it easier and more affordable for people of all classes to dress well. Clothing styles changed, but people continued to strive to look their best.

Drawn from the collection of the Saco Museum, as well as other institutions in Maine and New Hampshire, this exhibition will focus on the clothing worn by the inhabitants of northern New England from the 18th through the 20th centuries. It will include not only examples of "best" dress, but also items of everyday clothing. Fashionable attire was not confined to just special occasion garments or the clothing of the elite; even ordinary clothes reflected the current style of their day. In addition to outerwear such as 18th-century cloaks, ladies' gowns of the 19th century, and 20th-century men's suits and military uniforms, there will be a wide variety of accessories on view as well.

School and Youth Program Offerings

What were fashionable people wearing when America declared independence from England? When Maine because a state in 1820? When people headed west to join the Gold Rush in the 1850s? Or when Ford began rolling out cars in the early 20th century?

Bring your class to explore American history through 50 fashionable garments on exhibit at the Saco Museum now through May 3rd. Explore the gallery imagining what it was like to wear pants that only came to your knees, dresses with hoops that made you four feet wide, vests that pulled your shoulders back giving you perfect posture and tops so stiff you couldn't bend over.

30 minute program - Explore the exhibit on a guided tour that will get students thinking about the little things in everyday life that were affected by the styles people wore and how these styles differed from rich to poor. The garments will be put in historical context through major events of the era already familiar to many students.

60 minute program - Participate in the 30 minute program before heading down stairs to our classroom to create your own image of what people will be wearing 100 years in the future using multimedia supplies.

To schedule a free Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday field trip email: