Bazylinski, Better Buyers

Bazylinski, Better Buyers


SPEAKER 1: This has
been a production of Cornell University Library. ALISON BAZYLINKSI: Thank you. Thank you for that
nice introduction. I’m excited to be here. When I got this
fellowship last summer, this was all toward research
for my dissertation. So large portions
of this are kind of pulled from different
areas of my dissertation. Hopefully it’s all come together
in a way that will make sense. There are two different
chapters that I was sort of pulling from on this. And fingers crossed
I’ll be done next year. So at first glance, this
article, “Be a Better Buyer and Unravel the Secrets
of Cotton, Silk, and Wool” reads like a fashion magazine. The two women examining
fabric in this image are lithe and
fashionable, richly outfitted and stylish
forms, including a fox fur stole, which you can see wrapped
around the woman on the left. Their makeup and dress indicate
privilege, leisure, and access rather than deprivation
and hard work. This was actually
published in 1933. Not exactly how we might imagine
rural women, or most women, for that matter, struggling to
cope with the Great Depression. However, this article is
not from a fashion magazine, but rather from a
pictorial review which had a wide readership
amongst lower and middle income women. And when one moves
past this illustration, the article actually focuses
on textile production, policy, and use, issues not particularly
associated with leisure. In fact, it actually outlines
many of the growing dialogue surrounding three of most
popular fabrics for women’s clothing regardless of
income and location. And it talks about
the issues centered on quality, availability,
materiality, and standardization. So the use of these stylish
women and the opening illustration was
perhaps meant to show women of all backgrounds,
that educating oneself about textiles was
a responsibility of modern fashionable women,
a status all women could and should aspire to regardless
of circumstance, an argument home economists throughout
the country were making at this time. This call for women
to be better buyers in a national publication
was not unique or even particularly new. As the home shifted from a space
of production to consumption, so too did ideas
about women’s roles. Emphasis on women performing
good or appropriate consumption– and good and
appropriate are terms far more complicated than they
might at first seem– became a concern amongst
audiences and became explicitly linked to conceptions
of citizenship. Being good buyers indicated
a readiness and ability to take on civic
responsibilities, including training the next
generation of Americans. When this article claimed
textiles as a women’s issue, specifically arguing
that quote, “Since time began textiles have
been our field, and we have every right to
claim authority over them,” and then noting
that because women, but all but a small
percentage of fabrics, they could, if they chose,
have an enormous influence over their character. It was recognizing
that fabric knowledge was far from a trivial matter. Understanding the relationship
between textile materials, production, and
consumption could be used to assert more authority
over consumption and as a mode of expressing citizenship. At this time, rhetoric
surrounding female consumption for all women
often took the line of elevating the moral
responsibility of women to consume. For example, women like
Edith McClure Patterson, who was a leading member
in the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, believe that
women’s greatest responsibility was to buy, and
through this action they could lift and
maintain the home to a higher level
of efficiency, which was part of a vital national
project, particularly throughout the Great Depression. In fact, she went
so far as to say that consuming was of
national economic importance because as women made good
or bad decisions in spending their money, so too
did they raise or lower the standards of living
of the entire nation, a lot of responsibility,
according to her. Thus, when the text
of being better buyers called on women to
do their part to make quality more than a
slogan by choosing wisely to demand responsibility
from retailers, it was because the purchase
and choice of textiles made women responsible for
the standards of quality and honesty which affected
the very fiber of our nation. As this article demonstrates,
and as my dissertation project takes as its premise,
textiles and textile knowledge was a significant
part of women’s lives and part of local and
national discussions on economics, policy, and class. So a little bit more
about my dissertation project more broadly. I contend that fabric
is an essential part of the daily lives
of all people. I see you’re all
wearing clothes. It’s great. But the task of purchasing
and choosing textiles has historically
been a female one. Dressing oneself
and one’s family were considered essential skills
for good housekeeping, tasks which required a basic
understanding of what was available. And this was obviously very
individual based on budget, on sewing skill, on
access to retail outlets, as well as what was in style. So all of these
are playing a part. Aesthetic and
economic value systems are formed and shifted as
women made their decisions. And this is never
just a one way street. It was never one group dictating
to another and vice versa. Knowledge of textiles
was thus a key aspect of real and imagined femininity
during the early to mid-20th century in the United States. Racial, class, and
aesthetic definitions were tied implicitly and
explicitly to this knowledge. So debates over textiles,
their meanings, uses, and economic and aesthetic
value were, in fact, debates over what determined
standards of femininity, class, race, and citizenship. And for my project overall, I’m
interested in the interactions of rural women, home economists,
fashion textile producers, and then textiles themselves
to drive the narrative of my dissertation. So I look at cotton,
silk, and rayon. And at one point, I actually
had wool in my dissertation, and then I dropped that
because I wanted to graduate and I could only get
funding for so long. And I connect these to the
processes of production and consumption together,
which have generally been separated in
scholarship, especially on textiles and clothing,
and then link these to larger discussions
on consumer identity, aesthetic
sensibilities, and citizenship, as well as looking at categories
of race, class, and gender. So all of these trying to bring
together in this discussion. The experiences of women living
on farms and in rural areas are not typically thought of
in terms of their relationship to clothing, labor, and culture. And in fact, they were often
in positioned in contrast to urban modern women in terms
of appearance and clothing. However, rural women,
like women in urban areas, were interested in fabrics,
aesthetics, and clothing. And this is something that
home economists knew well, which is why I picked
these two groups. So why home economists
and rural women? Both rural women
and home economists were central to the debates I
talked about earlier in terms of quality, standardization,
who is using textiles, where, and why. Throughout my research
it became quickly obvious that home economists were
leaders in textile research and education during my
time period in question. And my time period
is 1920 to 1945, but I’m not really
discussing World War II today because I only
have so much time, and that is a whole other
issue with fabric restrictions. And there’s a number
of interesting surveys I found in the archives
here, actually, that I would love
to talk about, but I won’t because [INAUDIBLE]. So trained textile specialists,
and particularly those working for the federal government and
for universities like Cornell and for the extension
service, saw rural women as a key audience
for their work. In fact, much of their
research and efforts, while generally couched in
white middle class language, aimed to improve the quality
of life for rural women. Whether or not rural
women agreed or not is open for debate. So while I began
with home economists, their interest led me
toward rural women. And then when I began to
look for secondary sources, I realized that although
much has been published on rural life, very
little has considered the ways rural women thought
about and utilized clothing and personal appearance. And often the phrase
rural women summons up images, and even rhetoric,
of tired, worn down– I always think of the
Dorothea Lange photo. However, circumstances
varied, and women showed incredible initiative
and diverse circumstances. They developed
business strategies, took care of their families,
attended reading groups, listened to radio
programs, read periodicals, and attended classes
and annual events at universities like Cornell,
such as Cornell’s Farm and Home Week. And in fact, extension
workers, home economists in universities, and the
Bureau of Home Economic found many rural women
did want to learn about textiles and clothing. There are always
exceptions, and one of the big issues of
studying personal appearance, you have to make
generalizations. And then when you get down
to the individual level, it is often wrong
because it’s individual. However, extension
work programs, reports on activities
of farm and home weeks, county fairs, correspondence,
and research studies done by home economists
across the country show that many rural
women did care and wanted more information. Take, for instance,
there is a woman who was interviewed and just
named Mrs. Farmer at a Cornell Farm and Home Week in 1938. She talked enthusiastically
about the sewing machine demonstrations that she attended
and how impressive they were. And then not only that, she
stated that farm women wanted to learn new ways of making
clothing just the same as they wanted to learn
about new ways of cooking, and that farm women
aren’t set in their ways nearly as much as
people would think. So home economists, meanwhile,
were deeply interested in the same fabrics
as rural women. And my period in question,
the main fabrics– cotton, silk, rayon is
coming into being, and is– throughout the 1920s and 1930s– is rapidly being used, wool,
and then linen as well. But I’m also not
dealing with linen. For the federally employed,
university professors, and extension
workers, rural women were a key constituency so
that many of their concerns overlap with those
expressed by rural women. However, home economists had
broader interests as well, and they were often
rooted in public policy, American economics, and
white middle class values. For the home economists of
the American Home Economics Association, the Bureau
of Home Economics, and women working in
university settings, clothing and textile
knowledge was part of a larger system
whereby homemakers could make their lives more
efficient and beautiful while at the same time bringing
them into the American polity through consuming. For these groups, the ability
to make economical choices that reflected their tastes and
values, aesthetic and economic, was essential to being good
consumers and citizens. Throughout all of
this, rural women and home economists’
relationships varied by state,
region, and race. Under the umbrella of the
United States Department of Agriculture, the
Bureau of Home Economics worked to address national
issues, while also responding to concerns from
women across the country. They worked closely with
the extension service, which was a more hands
on organization that sent female clothing,
food, and homemaking specialists into communities
and into rural homes. And many of the women in
the home extension service are trained home
economists, but they’re working in the
field versus, say, at the policy level,
like Ruth O’Brien, who was heading the
Clothing and Textile Division of the Bureau
of Home Economics. So although these
extension agents had ideas of what
constituted correct skills, they tended to be more
informed and sympathetic to the daily lives of
the women they served. Policies and ideas developed
at the national level did not always
work on the ground. It is noteworthy, then,
that clothing and textile demonstrations and courses
were frequently in high demand within home extension programs. Workers repeatedly noted that
home economics was now so much more than cooking and sewing,
although these elements did not disappear. Rather, they changed form. Clothing construction
and textile education replaced classes
demonstrating basic stitches, although sewing classes
stuck around as well, but just put into
different contexts. Ready to wear was beginning
to make inroads in many areas, although many women still could
not afford, or maybe didn’t like, ready to wear options. So whether learning about
new types of textiles, how to make over old garments,
or new sewing skills, rural women were interested
in expanding their knowledge. I know I’ve talked several
times about textile knowledge. And what I mean by that
varies depending on group. But broadly, I
define this phrase as referring to an
intellectual knowledge, so scientific research,
particularly in terms of home
economists, potentially at the microscopic level,
identifying fibers, looking at how they respond
to stress tests, but also an understanding
of how fabrics feel, look, and behave in
different circumstances, so their materiality. And like I said, this often
meant very different things for trained home
economists and laypeople, in part because they had
different bases of knowledge, but also, in part, because
of their different lived experiences. And it’s the
difference in women’s lived experiences
that interests me and how that relates to issues
of race, class, and gender. So for home
economists, they were deeply interested in expanding
textile knowledge to consumers and producers, believing it
would benefit both groups, and frequently in
some of the same ways. And they built off of
progressive era reforms, and then through much
of the 20th century, developed programs
that emphasized how women, particularly rural
women, should consume properly. Clothing and textiles
was consistently a major part of single
women and family budgets. And from the earliest days
of home economics as a field, considerable attention was
paid to textiles, clothing, and female purchasing. And part of what their
research included– so like a more scientific
point of view– would be thinking
about textile knowledge as something that could be
broken down and quantified through qualities such as
tensile strength, thread count, material, and weave. For home economists, the
most important aspects of textile knowledge were
based on these studies and observations because
these were characteristics that could be linked to quality,
and unlike aesthetic elements, could be quantified
and thus standardized. At the same time, they did
recognize the highly subjective nature of clothing as part
of personal experience and how it fit into ways of
living socially, personally, and professionally. They believed that the
scientific elements of clothing could be reconciled with
more nebulous aspects, but only through careful
consideration and education. For women outside
of home economics, textile knowledge was based
more on their lived experiences with fabrics. They picked clothing based
on feel, on sight, on touch, on previous encounters, and
potentially through things that they read,
both good and bad. While they might not have
known the chemical composition of rayon, they understood that
material properties affected their daily lives through
wearing and caring for their clothing, as well
as that of their families. Textile knowledge,
for rural women, was a combination of
aesthetic and economic values, constantly shifting based on
available merchandise, style, and economic opportunity. So you shouldn’t
really be surprised that perhaps these
groups did not always agree on the best way to
develop knowledge and use it. For their part, home economists
and extension workers recognize some of the
difficulties, many of which rural women likely
would have agreed with. A lot of it had to do with
class and social status as well as race. Although extension work was
already segregated by race, at least officially, they
had separate African-American extension agents who visited
African American homes, and then white
extension workers. And I want to get more
information on that and hopefully be able
to incorporate that into my own research. Some obstacles, however, seem
to be common in all sections. There’s potential
indifference or prejudice in families about being
told how to live their lives or what to do. Home demonstration
programs were sometimes– probably often–
designed to interest the more intellectual
and prosperous groups of families, so women who
had access to education or were formally educated. And then low educational
status, which might prevent the intelligent
reading and interpretation of literature. Also, lack of accurate
information and social barriers that might be unknown to
outside extension workers could exclude lower
income families from active participation. So as many of these
examples indicate, lifestyle cultural
values and lived experiences could vary greatly. At the same time,
extension workers saw their work as extremely
important for rural women. One extension specialist
even listed the aim of the organizations as quote,
“To establish demonstrations which are practical, progressive
examples of better homemaking, which lead onto greater profit,
culture, comfort, influence, and power,” which is really
saying something when they’re talking about going
out into these areas where women are maybe
isolated and bringing them into different areas. So these possibly
conflicting impulses, a potential lack
of understanding of what rural women could see
as leading to this greater profit, culture, comfort,
influence, and power, account for some
of the differences in how these groups understand
and utilize textiles. Some rural women felt extension
workers did not properly understand their circumstances,
and they could hardly be expected to embrace
their teaching regardless of how scientific or
official it might be. Extension workers
and home economists in contact with women
from rural backgrounds frequently complained about
issues such as poor choices in fabric and style. So for example,
favoring how something looked over testing for quality,
a lack of understanding of what constituted good dress or
the importance of good dress, and a preoccupation
with novelty. These issues, however,
rather than indicating a lack of intelligence or
comprehension of textiles, reflected differences
in cultural values that developed from
lived experience. Thus thinking about cloth in
terms of textile knowledge means thinking about
how hierarchies of value are formed and then expressed
through personal appearance. So the two case studies I’m
going to talk about today are cotton and silk. First I wanted to show you this
song quickly because this kind of summarizes how economists
thought about cotton and silk. And this is part of
a play, a health play for the use of rural
schools and clubs from The Farmer’s Wife in 1923. I don’t know what kind of
music would go to this, but I really enjoyed
this when I found it. And it describes cotton is
practical as you can see, and silk is beautiful and costs
a lot and doesn’t wear well, but all the pretty
girls love it. So I’m going to work this
into my dissertation somehow. I don’t know how. But this is the
beginning my time period, so this is a pretty
good illustration of some of the
differences in how popular views of these two
fabrics differed. And again, it’s teaching
young rural children the importance of the main
textiles used in clothing. So cotton is used in work
and children’s clothing. It’s a fabric known for
affordability and durability. And then silk, on
the other hand, we all know has a long history. I frequently see it referred
to as the queen of fabrics. It’s popularly associated
with fashion and femininity. This is the last
part of this song to reiterate why you
should dress properly because if you don’t,
you’ll be drowned in tears. If you look at this last
line, if you don’t dress well, you’re going to die,
is really the takeaway from this song for children. I just wanted to show that. And while cotton
and silk might seem like they have
nothing in common, or even be oppositional
in how they were used, they still came into many
of the same conversations for home economists. And in this period, they’re
some of the most frequently used materials for many
women’s garments. And really, rural women were
interested in both cotton and silk for similar reasons. When they’re buying cloth,
they wanted to look good, they wanted to get a good
deal for their money, they wanted to get good
wear out of the cloth and have something
they could take care of in a way that
wasn’t too onerous, and be able to take care
of their family’s clothing as well. At the same time,
cotton and silk underwent cultural
transformations during this period. From the perspective
of home economists, cotton was an underutilized
but highly useful fabric, as you can
see from this quote from Lewis Stanley in 1927. The Bureau of Home Economics and
home economists at universities such as Cornell partnered with
cotton textile trade groups, most notably the Cotton
Textile Institute, which is the precursor to
National Cotton Council. And they endorsed cotton
as a fashionable fabric, which was something that hadn’t
taken place before this time. Silk, on the other hand,
had no need of promotion in terms of fashion publication. It was already very
well-publicized. And in fact, during
this period, silk was available in more
prices and more varieties than ever before. Rather than sales,
concerns about silk instead centered on
quality standards and truth in marketing and labeling. Rural women– rather than
home economists, rural women showed more variety and their
concerns and complaints. And it’s been
harder to try to get at what their
specific thoughts are. But they did provide feedback
at farm and home weeks. They participated in reading
courses, as I said earlier. And they sent in
letters to publications such as The Farmer’s
Wife as well as to the Bureau of Home Economics. So I tried to use
these, and I’ve tried to use observations
from home economists, reading sort of
against the grain and keeping in mind
their own biases toward white middle
class values to try to get a better idea of
the lives of rural women. And rather than
endorsing one fabric over the other, as clearly some
in the Bureau of Home Economics were doing, many
rural women wanted to get a better idea of
what they were purchasing and what would last,
and why they should purchase what they’re buying. Beauty did not have
to mean low quality, just as a high price did
not have to be good quality. Women wanted to know what
would withstand washing and what was in style, and what
would work for their families. And in general, female consumers
and home economists alike agreed that the
market for fabrics was growing ever
more complicated. Purchasers who wanted
to know the composition and performance of a textile
had relatively few, if any, options. You could try a burden test
when you’re buying fabric, although if you
walked into an area and you tried to burn
a little section of it, I don’t know how well
that would go over. But that was something
home economists advocated. If you wanted to see if
something was a natural fiber, there are different
methods you could try if you ever wanted to try that. This becomes more
complicated, obviously, as fabrics are blended
together, as you have rayon coming onto the scene. And then when synthetics
come into being much later. And labels are not on clothing. Maybe I probably should
have said this earlier. Clothing isn’t labeled. And this is something that
home economists are really pushing during this
time period as well. And this goes along with their
efforts toward standardization. But there aren’t labels that
say the percentage of fibers on clothing. And during this period,
you see some push toward that,
particularly with wool. But this becomes an issue
with silk weighting as well. So what home
economists did do is they undertook
research studies to try to provide more information
for consumers, for themselves, and for retailers. And one example of
this type of study were the Purnell Projects, which
were led by Beulah Blackmore here within the College
of Home Economics. And Blackmore partnered
with other state agricultural
experiment stations, including Pauline
Berry Mack, who was at the Penn State
agricultural station, who none of you have probably heard of. I read about her all
the time because she was the person doing
research on silk, and all her grad students
did research on silk. And she was very instrumental in
trying to get more information and show that weighting
was not a positive thing. But the object of these
studies here at Cornell was determined the chief causes
of non-durability in silk rayon and cotton textiles used for
women’s and children’s apparel. And then this
information was then used for formulating consumer
standards for wearing apparel and fabrics, and
they worked closely with New York’s
extension personnel to collect samples and partner
with agricultural experiment stations throughout the nation. So their work developed rapidly
over the years, expanded to wool, and they
presented their findings and recommendations to federal
agencies as well as the public. So as they went through
these programs– the experiments ran
from, I believe, 1938 through the 1940s– they took into account
what consumers were saying and then put that
back into their work so they could try to figure
out what women wanted to know and what was most important
for them to look at. And of these projects
combined scientific study with this input and then
pushed that forward. So with cotton, the US
Department of Agriculture, whose main constituents
were rural men and women, was seriously concerned with the
cotton situation in the 1920s. It was very significant to USDA
programs as well as the country for a number of reasons
because in the mid-1920s, cotton was the third largest
agricultural crop in the United States, and the cotton
textile industry was seventh in
terms of production. Through the Bureau
of Home Economics and partnerships with the
American cotton industry, they embarked on ambitious
plans to increase cotton usage, particularly for
women’s clothing. When they cast their
program at a wide audience, and this included
middle class women, their partnerships with
the extension service, and their already close
ties with rural populations meant that the actions and
concerns of rural women were part of the equation. And for this, economics
neatly dovetailed with home economists’ argument
that comprehension, taste, and responsible use of
textiles, including cotton, were important skills for
women as consumers to develop. The main message from home
economists concerning cotton was that buying
cotton was a marker of good citizenship
and good femininity because cotton was
an American product. Through purchasing
cotton textiles, discerning buyers propped
up their households, and by extension,
the national economy. Publications such as
Ruth O’Brien’s book on selecting cotton
textiles and USDA bulletins were particularly
aimed at rural women. And during this period,
it wasn’t necessarily that cotton wasn’t used in
many types of women’s clothing, but that it was not always
heavily associated with style the way that silk,
rayon, and wool were. Associations between cotangent
of the crop and cotton as a fiber played into this,
as did the low prices of cotton during the years
after World War I. In fact, the USDA bulletin. 1444 noted that the poorest
people depended on cotton goods for clothing. So these connotations
with poverty and cotton could be hard to
dispel and certainly doesn’t fit into
definitions of fashion. But cotton certainly was used
in garments and many household items. However, it was not
necessarily a common choice for dressier or good garments. The promotion of cotton
textiles as fashionable took place through the
Cotton Textile Institute, which was the major trade
organization after 1927 and a frequent collaborator
with the Bureau of Home Economics, the
American Home Economics Association, and
textile specialists throughout the country. Here’s an example of some
of their current information on cotton. The extension sermons and
programs such as farm and home weeks promoted cotton
use for rural women through demonstrations
and exhibits. For example, in 1928, Susan
Bates, a trained home economist and employee of the
Cotton Textile Institute, as well as an adjunct of the
Bureau of Home Economics– And I think she also
worked at Iowa State, but it’s been really
hard to find this, but she was sort of all over the
place with what she was doing– planned a style show at
the American Farm Bureau Federation. This was considered
a great success. It was heavily promoted in
newspapers across the nation, and they took this
as an indication they should push this further. This led to, in some ways, the
establishment of cotton weeks, cotton fairs, and programs
continuing this promotion. So this is also published by
the Cotton Textile Institute. And there would be these weeks
where they would say everything cotton this week. Stores would promote it. So it was across a lot
of different fields. Finally, through press
releases, magazine articles, and radio releases,
the desirability of cotton for household
and clothing purposes was kept before the
public during these years, during the 1930s and 1920s. And in fact, by 1941, 69% of all
clothing was made from cotton. So this works. And you actually see
a lot of complaints, during the
[INAUDIBLE] war years, when cotton is
restricted, of women writing into the Bureau
of Home Economics or talking to home
economists in the AHEA about the poor
quality of cotton. Messages from rural women,
particularly in the 1920s and ’30s– sorry– were more
ambivalent toward cotton. They wanted to purchase
things that looked nice and could be cared for, as
well as get a good value, and this wasn’t always cotton. For example, in the 1927
Yearbook of Agriculture, home economist
Edna L. Clark noted that over the last five or six
years, so from 1922 to 1927, cotton was being
replaced by silk or rayon for women’s clothing,
farm women’s clothing. They interviewed 231 women,
and they listed a number of reasons for the switch. Silk was cooler in the
skin, it lasted longer, and perhaps most importantly,
silk was more attractive than cotton. So some blame was placed on
textile clothing manufacturers, and home economists argued
that more effort needed to be put into the manufacture
of beautiful cottons as effort had been put into silks,
and that cotton fabrics that were of artistic design
of real character were difficult to find. And the study also demonstrates
that women in rural as well as urban areas demanded
proper attention to fabric texture, color,
and design in relation to garment design if they
were to take cotton seriously. And all throughout this period,
home economists and the cotton textile industry spent
a lot of time and effort trying to convince rural women
and others to buy cotton. And it stands to reason if they
were already wearing all cotton wardrobes, why would they
spend all this time and money to do this? Wearing cotton might have
been part of basic life, not necessarily a status symbol,
and many women did buy cotton because it was
affordable, available, and practical in ways that
silk and rayon were not. Rural women, at the
same time, could and did benefit from the efforts of
the Cotton Textile Institute’s and the Bureau of Home
Economics’ efforts to promote new developments
and designs in cotton for women’s clothing as
new varieties, prints, and finishes became available. In my chapter– I could have said this, too. Each of my chapters
in my dissertation is based on fabric. So my first chapter is cotton,
silk is my second chapter, and I talk a lot about silk
weighting within this chapter. And this is an
image of what silk looks like when
it’s been weighted and it’s deteriorating. It starts to shred,
and I actually was able to see some examples of
this in the costume collection here as well. But I couldn’t
find the pictures. Not entirely sure I took
them, but I saw them. And it’s really fascinating. So I googled this and
found this instead. So all these debates
surrounding silk weighting in women’s clothing are part
of a larger conversation and concerns over
quality control, standardization, and truth in
labeling and merchandising. Home economists and the American
Home Economics Association were concerned about
this for a while. They formed a committee on
standardization in 1920. And at the time, the
committee identified some of the main
issues as there was a lack of laws to
protect consumers from misrepresentation,
so people could kind of say whatever they wanted, and no
one was really regulating this. Ignorance or indifference
of a large proportion of women and girls
to clothing problems, which often led to a selection
of yard goods and clothing based solely on
surface finish, color, and cut, and led to
extravagant spending on dress. And that’s that middle class
judgment coming through right there. There’s a lack of tests
and specifications for minimum standards,
indifference and possible antagonism
in the trade, and then determination
of the most effective way to identify fabrics to reach
or pass minimum standards didn’t exist. So the goals of this committee,
which might seem pretty basic– like we want to know
what we’re buying– were not without controversy. And they noted that their
idea is a new one, a big one, one that involved some radical
changes in the established order. And they believed, however,
that in the long run, the interests of the consumer,
producer, and retailer are identical. So home economists
and rural women themselves argued
that women had a right to know what they were buying. And as I’m talking
about silk weighting, you might be wondering,
what is silk weighting? How does this relate to the
interests of home economists and rural women? I will to get to
that, I promise. Up until this
point, [INAUDIBLE].. In the late 19th and
early 20th centuries, affordable silk wasn’t really
an option, particularly people in lower circumstances. However, industrialization
and mass production changed this for silk, and
it made this luxury item within the reach of many more
middle class and some lower income customers. So by the 1880s, the combination
of more raw materials, mechanized looms, and a
steady supply of labor allowed previously
unimaginable amounts of American economically
produced silks to move into the marketplace. This became available
at department stores and through mail order
catalogs that spread these goods across the country. And women began to expect access
to these new reasonably priced silks rather than viewing
them as a foreign luxury. Granted, these weren’t
the most affordable. They’re still going to be more
expensive than other fabrics, but for greater groups of women. As demand and markets expanded,
producers looked for ways to meet expectations while
making a larger profit, and silk weighting is born
out of these impulses. So to weight silk, the
silk cocoons are unwoven and the silk is spun. And it needs to be degummed,
so getting the gum off of the fibers so it can
then be dyed and processed. And this causes
the fiber to lose a percentage of its weight. The weighting process,
then, consists of emerging woven
unfinished silks into baths of mineral
salts, most often tin. And lead was also
used, and there’s some interesting correspondence
with the AGA contacting the Surgeon General asking
how bad is led waiting? Is the lead going to come off in
the clothing and poison people? I never found an
answer for that. Still working on that. It was mostly tin, however. And then a common method was
to dip the fabric alternately in solutions of tin chloride
and disodium phosphate. And then as the fabric would
go between these two solutions, the weight would increase. So as many as six
passes could be given, and it could add as much
as 50% of end weight in mineral materials. So this makes the fabric feel
heavier and potentially more expensive. And based on home
economics research led by Pauline Berry
Mack at Penn State, a fabric with 50%
weighting in tin salts had a short wearing
life, particularly when combined with wear,
wash, and perspiration. Weighted silk, hung in a room in
a private house and left alone, was shown through
testing to disintegrate in about four months so that
a person could pull it apart with her hands. And 50% weighted silk it
wasn’t really that unusual. One study showed that a
cross-section of dresses bought in the New York retail market
at prices ranging from $2.98 to $59.50– and almost all of
these that they tested were sold as unweighted
or low weighted– more than 90% of the dresses
were 50% weighted silk. And various trade
sources confirm that this was a fairly
standard to the market. And in response to all of this– and home economists
had been concerned about this for a while– but it took some
time for the industry to take notice and
start to consider that might be an issue. A nationwide study on silk
took place in early 1930s, with home economics
departments across the country sending in samples to be
analyzed in order to get a better idea of
truth in retailing and labeling, how the
fabric wore over time, and how much was I paid for it. So I have some samples
of these that I have found in the collections here. This one is from Alaska. She dry cleaned her own silk
dress in gasoline at home. But she wore it
approximately 25 times, and it was only $3.00 per yard. I actually don’t
know where this– some of these have
samples with them, too. So that’s from Alaska. This one’s from
Hawaii, I believe. And a lot of these, in the
archives, it was great. They actually had the
samples of silk with them, and they’re still in
very good condition. And I was looking– I know some of them I
saw, you could actually see the tears coming
in from the weighting. But yeah, they asked them
what the retailer told them when they bought it, how much
it cost, what it was used for. So you can see some of
the different examples that women pulled up. And some women said that they
got good wear from their dress. Some women said, I wore
it twice and it started to fall apart at the seams. And they have a detailed study
at the end where they summarize all the results, which was great
because I was going to do that myself, but they did it for me. That was really nice. And what’s really interesting
about this study is that the amount of
weighting in the silk– because they sent these to
Bureau Standards and they tested them– price doesn’t
correspond to weighting. So you could get pure silk,
and it might be cheaper than weighted silk,
even though there’s actual more silk product in it. So there’s not really– there’s no regulation. There’s no necessary correlation
between price and quality. I’ll show a couple more. This one’s $2.00 a yard for an
afternoon dress, not washable. I’m not sure if it’s weighted. So some women might know
to ask if it’s weighted. Sometimes the
retailer didn’t know. It really just depended. And discussions of stock
weighting and its hazards stretched from the
silk industry, so this included manufacturers of
textiles, garment makers, distributors, and retailers,
to issues of public health– health, like I
mentioned, with lead– and then to issues of taste
and proper consumption and into fights over
standardization of goods. Home economists, government
officials, and even major silk companies agreed that
overweighting was a problem. Some major silk companies,
such as Cheney Silks, are really concerned about
this because they are producing higher end silks and they
didn’t want these smaller businesses to cheapen
their product necessarily because at this point,
press notices showed marked lack of
cooperation of trade in conforming to standards
from some silk companies because some silk manufacturers
felt the competition of others that weren’t holding to
standards forced them to vote for more weighting
because they needed to be competitive in the marketplace. So this brought some
strong opposition. And there are articles that
talk about this as a scandal. There’s a lot of really
interesting articles in the trade press that
make it sound very dramatic. It was great. In all of this, it didn’t stop
companies from weighting silk or women from purchasing
it because if you can buy a cheap and inexpensive
silk when maybe you couldn’t have bought that
before, how much are you going to care if it’s weighted? So personal considerations,
what you’re looking for, you could possibly
compare it to fast fashion now, where
it’s not going to last, but you can afford it. And reasons varied. Like I was saying, some
women were probably legitimately duped by
a heavier hand of silk, but others saw an
opportunity to purchase more aesthetically pleasing
materials previously out of their reach. So this is all taking into
consideration economic, social, racial considerations
while purchasing fabric by the yard or
ready made clothing. And even weighted silk
wasn’t exactly inexpensive. In the late 1920s, when
silk was at its most plentiful and
least expensive, it was still unattainable for
women of lower incomes. And from what I talked about,
the earlier survey that women switching to silk, we know
that some rural women, probably dependent on their own
situation, were wearing silk, and the number increased
during the 20s. And this continued
into the 1930s for women who could afford it. There is also evidence that
some women would not even attend church if their
clothing wasn’t nice enough. So in terms of why women
might be buying something that might be out of their
budget, if they’re concerned about presenting themselves
for social events or to go to church, this
would potentially be an issue. So it might not have
been for everyday wear, but for some, it would
have been an option. Silk was still
certainly fashionable based on how it felt,
looked, and wore, and somewhat exclusive
based on price. But the issue of silk
weighting threw doubt on former notions of
silk’s innate superiority. When seams could rip, fabric
split, or dresses fall apart after one wash or wear, what was
the value in purchasing silk? However, for other
women, affordable silk, even if it was
weighted, was a chance to engage in modernity and newly
accessible fashion systems. So for silk and
cotton, these are all the areas that I’m
working through and hoping to expand more. And in conclusion,
I just wanted to end with a memo from the
Department of Home Economics at Cornell, a 1933 memo
that was addressing the aims of the clothing
and textile department. And this is that students who
could go out into communities, and who organized things
for the community, who came into Cornell, noted
particularly that clothing was an important part of
the harmonious expression of personality. Students should
understand how it fit into ways of living
socially, personally, and professionally
because clothing influenced women’s sense of
security and social efficiency. The Department of Textiles and
Clothing recognized all of this and aimed to help students
study textiles and clothing from the standpoint
of health, comfort, and economy to understand
its contribution to social and
professional success, enjoy as an expression
of aesthetic beauty and for creative
self-expression. For home economists
and rural women, textiles could provide some
or all of these things, making them a central but often
invisible part of their lives. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] And this illustration
was from one of the booklets for
Farm and Home Week here, Uncle Sam holding
the hand of a housewife. Thank you. [INAUDIBLE] AUDIENCE: Alison, was a
lot of the silk imported, or was there a domestic
silk industry as well? ALISON BAZYLINKSI: So they’re
importing the raw material, but then they were
making it here. AUDIENCE: So they’re actually
importing the silk from China. ALISON BAZYLINKSI: Yes. They’re getting the
raw product, yes. And then there are issues with– I think the mid-1930s– with getting silk from Japan
and Japan becoming more hostile. So there’s that push for
lyocell stockings versus silk. AUDIENCE: Was this up
until ’45, did you say? ALISON BAZYLINKSI:
My dissertation will be up until ’45. AUDIENCE: I’m curious how
the effect of World War II and our entering– I mean, you mentioned
something in 1941. And then I’m thinking all
the fabrics that are needed, the wool, perhaps. Well, I don’t know. World War II might have been as
much cotton as wool for the– ALISON BAZYLINKSI: So they
didn’t actually– based on the studies that I saw, the
lack of cotton became an issue. They had the raw product,
but they didn’t necessarily have the looms for it. So the looms were being
used for Army products, and they couldn’t
produce enough things. And actually, a
common complaint was that the products that
were being produced were either too expensive or
of such poor quality women didn’t think they
were worth buying. And they were
talking about cotton. I didn’t see as much
about wool, but there was a lot on the
quality of cotton, and that the only
things available were rayon house dresses
that weren’t worth– it just wasn’t even worth the
money because they’d fall apart or they’d shrink. AUDIENCE: It doesn’t
have wet strength, right? But the other thing
that I was thinking of is that they didn’t have
washing machines in those days. So that’s a big– ALISON BAZYLINKSI: Definitely. And that is something that’s– AUDIENCE: That’s
post-World War– yeah, that’s post-World War II
that all the washing machines became– every housewife
had have one and all that. ALISON BAZYLINKSI:
And when that’s the case, if cotton is
difficult to wash, why would you want to buy cotton,
especially if it shrinks, if it loses its finish, all
those different things, which are– AUDIENCE: Silk
isn’t too terrific in the washing machine. ALISON BAZYLINKSI: I ruined
something silk one time. I’m like, I can hand wash this. Couldn’t hand wash that. Ran everywhere. Other questions? AUDIENCE: So first a confession. I have been known to burn
little threads from things. [INAUDIBLE] dressing room to
make sure the fiber content was accurate. But I’m wondering,
when they were talking about promoting cotton and
the aesthetics of cotton, if wrinkling was ever
brought up as a detraction. Is that because–
that’s something we don’t really deal with
anymore, but would have been. ALISON BAZYLINKSI: It is, yes. They talked about– about
partway through this, they start to come up
with the new finishes that help with wrinkling on. But in some of the
earlier surveys, that is a discussion
where they’re saying they don’t
retain the starch, and then they get wrinkled. They’re just not retaining
that starch very well. And what starches you
can use, and which ones work best for cotton,
should you choose to do that, were some of the
studies that are published in the Journal of
Home Economics, actually. But that was an issue
that women found as well. AUDIENCE: Sure. That’s an excellent
subject matter. And I wonder if your
future research will include speaking to farm wives. ALISON BAZYLINKSI: What? AUDIENCE: Farm wives. ALISON BAZYLINKSI: Yes. Yes. AUDIENCE: Because
most of it seems to have come from the archives. And I can see that
home ec brochures do talk about textiles,
but farm wives talk about bolts of cloth,
and maybe even fabric. But textiles is a
bit pretentious. ALISON BAZYLINKSI:
Actually, that’s a really good point, yeah. I’ve been going through– I’ve just started to go
through The Farmer’s Wife to look through the letters
that the women were writing in as well to see what they
specifically are saying. So I haven’t really gotten
through that material as much as I would like. But that is certainly
a part that I want to know what they’re saying. AUDIENCE: And you have
to think about women who were maybe sewing by hand. No, they wouldn’t
have had machines. They might not have even
had treadle machines. ALISON BAZYLINKSI: Yeah. Yes, definitely. That would make
a huge difference in the terms of patterns and
what types of garments, and how much time they would have, too. AUDIENCE: And then
talk to women today about what their
mothers did and maybe what their grandmothers did. ALISON BAZYLINKSI:
Yes, thank you. AUDIENCE: The Beulah
Blackmore work that you were talking about. What got her started doing that? ALISON BAZYLINKSI: That’s
a great question, actually. I’m not sure. AUDIENCE: OK. Because I’m trying to
figure out what made her– [INTERPOSING VOICES] AUDIENCE: Yeah, I was curious
if there was any connection that you came across
in the archives to the work that was happening
in the costume shop, which started around 1920. It was in operation
until the ’40s. They were serving
clientele, but that could have been an impetus. ALISON BAZYLINKSI: Probably. I think actually had
the papers with me. We can look afterwards. I’m not even kidding. They’re in my purse. AUDIENCE: That might be it. That might be it. ALISON BAZYLINKSI: Yes. That would make
sense in terms of– because the project
started in’37, ’38. And if they’re working on
making clothing for women– yeah. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] ALISON BAZYLINKSI: Yeah. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] ALISON BAZYLINKSI: So
maybe that was why. And then during the
Depression, they had the WPA sewing rooms, too,
so maybe also related to that. AUDIENCE: And even
the doll collection, where they really did
use the vintage fabric from those in the ’20s. Yeah, that’s ’20s. It’s a good question. I don’t know the answer. AUDIENCE: So when
did Levi’s come in? I would have thought they were
rather important on farms. AUDIENCE: They’re 19th century. AUDIENCE: Yes, late 19th. ALISON BAZYLINKSI: Yes. I haven’t talked about that. AUDIENCE: Then
presumably they would be technically ready to wear. ALISON BAZYLINKSI:
They would be, yes. More for–well, I guess some
women would probably wearing them as well. I know there’s been some
interesting work done– oh, I can’t remember
who the scholar is now. But she looked at them as a
way for African-American women to assert their identity
within a working context. I would have to
look at the article. I haven’t done any
work with denim. AUDIENCE: Considering
race is part of your work, does region come in to play
in terms of just either the rural women that you’re
hoping to kind of address, or any other way? ALISON BAZYLINKSI: Yes. I’m trying to do– I’m kind of trying
to do case studies. I’m actually hoping
to go down to NC State and look at their records for
African-American extension workers in the next two weeks. I’ve pulled some stuff from
Iowa State and from here, and then I’ve been looking
at some secondary sources. But right now I
know it’s lacking. I would like to look
at the differences, if there are differences,
between the extensive work done by African-American women. And a lot of that does come
down to access and opportunity as well, which makes sense. But that’s something that
I want to build on to. So I’m trying to look
at a couple places down in the south, Midwest. Haven’t really done much
with Pacific Northwest, like east of the
Mississippi River, maybe. Anyone else? Thanks. SPEAKER 1: This has
been a production of Cornell University Library.

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