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Women's fashion exhibit spans 100-plus years



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Volunteers Sue Bossardet (left) and Marie English pose with four of the antique dresses now on display at the Northeast Oakland Historical Museum in downtown Oxford. Photo by CJC. (click for larger version)
October 10, 2012 - The only thing that seems to change faster than man's technology is women's fashion.

Right now, the Northeast Oakland Historical Museum (1 N. Washington St.) in downtown Oxford is featuring an interesting and diverse exhibit depicting the way women's clothing has evolved between the 1830s and 1950s, from the Victorian Era to the Cold War.

"People are so casual in their dress nowadays that when you see some of these clothes that women wore, you can really appreciate the period they were in," said Susan Bossardet, a museum volunteer who created the display with fellow volunteer Marie English.

Dresses, suits, petticoats, corsets, hats, shoes, purses, mirrors, pill boxes, fans, glasses, handkerchiefs and gloves will all be included in the exhibit, which will run through the second week of November.

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"Most of it has been donated (to the museum)," Bossardet said. "We have very few items on loan anymore."

Some of the items have never been on display before. They've been in storage at the museum for years and years.

"There's so much upstairs that's been packed away," Bossardet said.

Compared to what the ladies of yesteryear used to wear on a daily basis, today's clothing is "sloppy," in Bossardet's view.

"What other word can I use? We're just very casual," she said. "They always wore dresses and they dressed for the occasion. Everything wasn't jeans and a t-shirt."

Bossardet sees the clothing, particularly items from the 1800s and early 1900s, as a testament to what a woman's life was like back then and how she could accomplish so much with so little.

"It amazes me that back when women were dressing like this, they had virtually no modern conveniences," she explained. "There was no electricity. They did their own gardening, canned their own (fruits and vegetables), heated bath water to fill a tub to bathe five people. They had to pick up their carpets, take them outside and beat them. They had nothing and yet they were able to make beautiful clothes like this, prepare family dinners and go to church every Sunday.

"I'm in awe of them. I have virtually every convenience known to man and I don't have the time to do stuff like this."

Bossardet's favorite piece is a gorgeous wedding dress worn by Leta Beemer when she married the late Brace Beemer, who was the radio voice of The Lone Ranger from 1941-54 and once called Oxford his home.

"It's just so elegant," she said.

The idea to do a display of women's fashion was sparked by the upcoming Girlfriends' Walk, a downtown merchants event set to take place on Wednesday, Oct. 24 from 5-9 p.m.

"We wanted to be open for the Girlfriends' Walk and it kind of mushroomed from there," Bossardet said. "We just wanted to do something that was more feminine rather than the usual farm tools and dishes."

Now that she's retired, Bossardet's been spending a lot more time helping out at the museum, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

"I just love working up here," she said. "I've learned so much about Oxford history."

She's hoping this fashion exhibit will generate interest in the museum and local history in general.

The museum is open on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 12-4 p.m. It's also available for private tours.

For more information about the museum, please visit www.neohs.net

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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