Created By: Old Cowtown Museum
The Dressmaking and Millinery, located in the Business District of Old Cowtown Museum, represents the entrepreneurial role of women in early Wichita who provided necessary fashion needs for ladies. The Dressmaking and Millinery were appropriate occupations for women, single and married. Social norms restricted occupations to home or home / caretaking related. In 1878, when the population of Wichita was around 4,000, there were at least 47 businesses owned and operated by women. Over half of those businesses were listed as seamstress, dressmaker, milliner and/or hairdresser. This was followed by a large number of laundresses, homes as a boarding houses or music teacher.
Skilled seamstresses were valued as ladies’ clothing was very form- fitted. Each garment made to fit the size and shape of each lady. It required a skilled seamstress to tailor the clothing to the individual. With the need for such tailored garments, standardized sizes were not practical or available. Women could not purchase clothing “off-the-rack”. The idea of standard sizes or off the rack clothing would not come until later in the century.
Dressmakers were in used if a woman was wealthy to purchase her clothing, a special occasion was coming up that required the latest fashions or if one was not skilled with a needle. While the sewing machine changed the arduous chore of sewing for the farm women, who made their families clothing and undergarments, or the middle-class women who sewed for their families, it did not change the dressmakers work as much. The machine was still used for large seams and other simple stitching, but the dressmaker did the complex handwork herself. The intricate structure of the fashionable clothing of the period required extra care and skill.
Even the foundation garments required specialization. Corsets were a staple in any woman’s wardrobe,. They could be ordered from manufacturers or purchased from far away cities, but but local corsetieres, ladies specializing in the construction of corsets, were in high demand to fit this most necessary garment.a valuable resource.
Milliners were in high demand. Hats and hairstyles changed almost yearly during the decade of the 1870s. This was not something most women would not even attempt at home as the construction of a hat was time consuming and took great skill both in execution and design. Many milliners were also hairdressers, as the style of the time made hair and hats to work together in creating the fashion of the day. Surprisingly false hair and an individuals reclaimed hair was often an integral part of the creating the uinque victorian hairstyles. Hairdressers had to be very skillful to integrate these elements and create a natural look.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Old Cowtown Museum Tour