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The Stories Clothing Tells

By Jantzen Bates, LCHS Intern, University of Idaho MFA Candidate in Costume Construction

The clothing we wear illustrates a lot about our lives. The colors we like, the silhouettes we prefer, how much money we may have, who made it and why. But how often do those stories get told after we’re gone? Like the favorite dress you always wore to parties, your grandfather’s military uniform, the Halloween costume your mother spent all night making, or the tiny yellow sweater you knitted for your best friend’s first baby. At the Latah County Historical Society, we’re privileged enough to be the arbiters of some of those stories and my time this semester has been spent carefully organizing and cataloguing the clothing that we house.

In its collection of over two thousand apparel and textile related items you can find outfits from as far back as 1860 (and nearly every decade since), multiple sewing boxes and sock darners, dozens of Parisian designed hats and even a jester outfit worn to the 1980 Moscow Renaissance Faire. Throughout this process I have found some truly delightful treasures and as Julie Andrews said best, “these are a few of my favorite things…”

This first outfit was made by Louise Becktol, Moscow resident, in the early 1920s for her mother Mrs. Charles Deobold to wear to the weddings of Louise and two of her other siblings. Louise made a three-piece wedding ensemble with so much love and care that it has lasted over 100 years in wonderful condition. Not only was it fashionable for the time but is still a lovely outfit that I’m sure many mothers of the bride would wear today.

Another amazing find is this 1890s-1900s Tailored Walking outfit for a teenage girl, with only a 13-inch waist! What’s amazing to me (as your resident historical clothing nerd) is how bright and vibrant the colors of the striped brocade are and how well it is preserved. This type of colorful outfit for a teenager is so uncommon to find and it was thrilling to see!

This children’s baseball uniform, c. 1938, for the Moscow Owls may seem pretty unremarkable but what’s so fascinating is that we have the original team photograph including the boy whose uniform we now have (John Bonnett, the kiddo in the glasses, 2nd from the right in the standing row). A little slice of life of pre-WWII Moscow.

This 1920s Burnout Velvet Flapper Style dress is one of my favorite items in the whole collection not only because it’s gorgeous but because this dress originally used to be orange. Theresa Cummings, who wore this dress as a hostess at the McConnell Mansion, spilled and stained the dress one day and because she loved it so much she decided to dye it black so she could continue wearing it. That’s just my kind of Woman.

These booties were knitted by Audrey Barr in 1950, for her daughter Karen. When Karen donated the booties she also found the original patterns and donated those as well. As an avid Crocheter myself it was lovely to see a pattern from over 70 years ago that’s still able to be followed today. Christmas gift idea for some parents to be?

The last item that I truly love from this collection is this narwhal needle puncher for making rugs or yarn embroidery. When I first saw it, I had no idea what it even was or who sold it. As I went down the whale-shaped sewing supply rabbit hole I found that this very unique needle punch was an advertising ploy by the Whale Art Company from St. Louis Missouri (think pens with company names on it). I love the idea that some advertising executive in the 1920s or 30s thought, “you know what we need? Narwhals.”

Often when we look to the past either in museums or photographs or even in our own attics we can forget that people in the past were just that, people. Just like us. They didn’t like Monday mornings, or spilled things on their clothes or made something for their parents as kids that they kept forever. The best thing about working at Latah County Historical Society is that I get

to discover and appreciate some of those people and the things they held dear.


Funding for Jantzen's internship at LCHS was provided by the Moscow Women's Giving Circle. Additional funding in support of content like this comes from 2023 Business Sponsor Ted Curet: Allstate Insurance. Our thanks to these entities for their support!

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