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“Not really so primitive as one might be led to believe”: Interpreting Early Seattle Dress

Project by Elizabeth Korsmo (2018)

The purpose of this project was to relate orphaned dress artifacts to the history of Seattle, allowing them to tell the stories that have lost their tangible witnesses. Despite efforts to collect locally- relevant artifacts, costume artifacts within museum collections often lack provenance, and few
garments remain from the early years of the city (c. 1851-1866).

The project’s two components were researching the clothing worn early in Seattle’s history and analyzing garments in the MOHAI collection for examples of those historic practices. Eighteen dresses, four hoop skirts, and two accessories from the MOHAI collection were studied. A survey of letters, diaries, newspaper advertisements, photographs and local memoirs was made to determine local clothing norms; additionally, six original local (or geographically-adjacent) dresses were located and studied. This research revealed that Seattle area residents during the period 1851-1866 were aware of fashion through their contacts with the larger world; although they did not always have the means to acquire highly fashionable garments, they dressed themselves within American clothing norms. This evidence was scattered among different sources and collections, and most contained limited reference
to clothing. The paucity of surviving garments allowed only a small sample size, and displayed a bias towards special occasion garments rather than the sturdy clothing named in the written documents.

Keywords: Class of 2018, museum, museum studies, museology, project, interpretation, history, clothing, collections


Korsmo, E. (2018). “Not really so primitive as one might be led to believe”: Interpreting Early Seattle Dress. Unpublished master’s project, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.