Clothing featuring Ornamental Beadwork at Rose Hill Museum

Early 1900s beaded and sequined dress with square neckline.

Rose Hill Museum has a number of amazing costumes on display as part of this year’s special exhibition, "Beadwork: The Beauty of Small Things."

Undoubtedly, the embellishment of late 19th century clothing with jet beads or crystals was inspired by the replacement of candles with gas lighting which would pick up the glint of the beads. The use of jet beads resurged in the 1880s.

Near the first-floor staircase, the museum has a beautiful gown, the sapphire blue bodice of which is embellished with black jet beading. Natural jet, derived from fossilized wood, is lighter in weight and shines rather than sparkles. These beads would be a harder type than Irish jet which is fossilized peat, vulcanite, a vulcanized rubber, or dark glass imitating jet.

By the 1910s, fashion turned to metallic thread and sequins until glass beads returned to popularity in the 1920s. A black dress at the front left of the Victorian parlor illustrates this crossover in trends with elements of both. The squared neckline, straps, and hem are defined by sequins, while the bodice, sleeves, and skirt feature heavy beading.

The popularity with beading in the 1920s was to catch the glimmer of the new incandescent light bulbs. Shimmering satin fabric also reflected the light. Literally, women personified a “dazzling” fashion statement.

Often 1920s dresses favored thin, gauzy fabrics. Many of these dresses have disintegrated under the weight of the beads, pulling the fibers of the fabric. Several Rose Hill dresses currently on display are laid out on furniture to prevent further damage.

Fashion in the 1920s was also influenced by exotic cultures. Amulets and other jewelry from ancient Egypt were often copied, as were the softly side-pleated skirts from Egyptian art.

Howard Carter had only recently discovered King Tut’s tomb in 1922. Several beaded appliqués on display in the Cahoon Library of Rose Hill show the bright colors and interesting shapes emulating these ancient designs. A penchant for exotic cultures, in general, permeated mid- to late-'20s fashion; therefore, we see nature and animal motifs in ornamental beading of the time.

As one heads upstairs, the 1940s wedding headdress, bedecked with pearls, gives a preview of the variety of eras represented by beading on the second floor. A mid-20th century evening gown creates visual interest with the undulating overall patterns of silver and pink beads.

Continuing toward the Victorian bedroom, visitors can see a mid-19th century pale blue gauze fabric dress displayed on a bed to preserve the garment. Peeking into the children’s room, one notes the beaded flowers on the collars and pocket of a pink child’s dress from early in the 20th century.

Fun vintage, but reproduction, beaded clothing can be found in the early settlers section as one enters the basement displays. Two Campfire Girl dresses from early in the 20th century replicate beaded Native American garb. 

These are just a few highlights of the amazing creations on display in our current special exhibition. We hope you can join us at Rose Hill soon. The museum is located at 27715 Lake Road, in Cahoon Memorial Park, and is open on Sundays from 2-4:30 p.m.

Michele Yamamoto

This article was written by Barbara Comienski, a docent and collections volunteer for the Bay Village Historical Society. She is responsible for cataloging our doll collection and has assisted in the dating of our clothing collection, amongst other activities.

Barbara has been a national level doll judge for over 30 years and has submitted articles for various journals. She is currently the president of the Cleveland Doll Club, immediate past president of Northern Ohio Doll Club and secretary of a Zoom club out of the East Coast.

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Volume 15, Issue 16, Posted 9:10 AM, 09.06.2023