Kuspuk – The Arctic Muumuu

When the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 the Western Arctic opened up for contact and trade. Christian missions were soon bringing salvation and modesty to the locals, who reportedly walked about dressed in either the skins of animals, or nothing at all (as this 1860 etching of the interior of an Eskimo dwelling depicts.)


The wrapper, a style of house dress made of printed cotton, usually with a flounced hemline and optional belt, were being mass produced by the 1890s. Missionaries gave Native women these unfitted frocks to cover their nakedness and they became popular throughout the South Pacific where the style was called a holoku or muumuu.
In Alaska, wrappers were worn as indoor dresses, but the brightly coloured cotton prints were also worn outdoors as covers over fur parkas. The style became a part of the traditional Alaskan Eskimo costume and slowly morphed over the years to include short versions with hoods and pockets.

Glossary – Pneumonia Blouse

White cotton ‘pneumonia’ blouses, c. 1910s

Diaphanous cotton batiste shirtwaists, often trimmed with lace and decorated with whitework embroidery were slangily referred to as ‘pneumonia blouses’ as early as 1905. The pneumonia term is often erroneously thought to date back to the Spanish Influenza of 1918/19, but in fact, the term was falling from use around that time possibly because the term was no longer amusing in light of the severity of the Spanish Influenza.

The term shows up in the 1906 novel ‘A Waif’s Progress’, by Rhoda Broughton, the heroine gets a bad cold “The result of a pneumonia blouse, I suppose! As long as girls strip themselves naked in January they cannot be surprised at their chests and lungs resenting it.”

That same year an article appeared in the New Zealand newspaper The Evening Post referring to a backlash that had started the year before in the U.S. against the style that Americans were calling the ‘peekaboo waist’:

History Bounding

‘History Bounding’ is a recent trend for enthusiasts who dress in contemporary clothes styled after an historical period or person. It began six years ago when Canadian blogger Leslie Kay, who was headed for Disney World, began a blog called DisneyBound where she styled modern outfits for Disney characters. The trend grew from there. This site created by two twin sisters has a lot of DisneyBound looks.

The results run from costumey looking cosplay outfits to contemporary fashions that don’t readily appear to have an historical reference. The most successful looks fall between these extremes. I suppose you could call it historical appropriation!

Glossary – Spinster

When the word spinster entered the English language in the mid 14th century, it referred to a woman who spun flax into linen thread or wool into yarn for a living. The job was commonly taken up by unmarried women at home.

By the 18thcentury the word had come to mean an unmarried woman who had passed her ‘best before’ marriageable age – when she transformed from a maiden into an old maid. Jane Austen’s character Charlotte Lucas from Pride and Prejudice is identified as almost a spinster at the age of 27, “Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.”

The Leotard

Jules Léotard, 1838-1870

French acrobat Jules Léotard developed the art of trapeze when he first performed a three bar aerial performance on November 12, 1859. He wore a one-piece jersey garment for his trapeze performances that was called a maillot during his time, but that now bears his name. Jules Léotard was immortalized by George Laybourne as the subject of his 1867 popular song, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze. Leotard died in 1870 from smallpox. ‘Leotard’ entered the English vocabulary in 1886. The earlier term maillot became the French word for a one piece bathing suit.

Left: woman in leotard, c. 1885


Glossary – Hollanderizing, Shinerizing, Martinizing

Yesterday’s fashion in song post Take Back Your Mink from the 1950 play Guys and Dolls contains the line “So take back your mink to from whence it came, and tell ‘em to Hollanderize it for some other dame!”

Hollanderizing is a process that uses sawdust and chemicals to freshen up fur garments. It was named for its inventors, A. Hollander and Sons. Albert Hollander arrived in the United States from Poland in 1889. He eventually began a fur care company on West 29th street in New York, and later moved his business in Newark, New Jersey. In 1918, the Hollander company was granted a patent for their proprietary cleaning process known as “Hollanderizing.” Soon, a chain of Hollanderizing fur cleaners popped up across North America, with branches opening in Toronto and Montreal in 1930. However, Canada had its own version of Hollanderizing a few years later.

The rival fur-cleaning process called Shinerizing was registered in Canada in 1943. The process, which was similar to Hollanderizing and eventually bought out by them, was named for Hyman Shiner and his sons Sol and Huck who had a fur-cleaning and storage business in Toronto. The term Hollanderizing fell out of trademark in 2007 when it was not renewed – probably because so few women own fur coats anymore and it wasn’t worth protecting the use of the term.

Martinizing is a dry-cleaning process for wool and silk clothing that was invented in 1949 by Henry Martin, a New York chemist. The process didn’t use flammable chemicals, which allowed for the cleaning to be done on the premises, rather than being shipped to a cleaning plant outside of town. This allowed for a quick turn-around and the process was promoted as a One-Hour Martinizing service.

Glossary – Beatnik fashion talk

Here are all the fashion terms from the Complete Beatnik Dictionary:

So if you are a flutter bum (good looking guy) and want to get all chrome plated (dressed up) in some threads (clothes), you can put shape in a drape (dress well) in an ivy (suit) with a bent Brummel (bow tie), leathers (shoes), and a lid (hat). Or maybe you just want to kick back in your goat (goatee beard) and shades (sunglasses) and wear rags (sportswear), like some johns (pants) and earth pads (shoes).

Better check your Mickey Mouse (watch) if you are picking up a dolly (cute girl) for a date. She may need a lot of time on her nest (hairstyle), by hitting the bottle (bleach her hair), or get a wig chop (haircut) and become a fuzzy duck (girl with short hair). To make cover (get dressed), she could wear a crazy quilt (new dress), and put on her binoculars/peepers (glasses) to see if pinky’s out of jail (slip is showing) before getting into some twin trees (high heels).

And if the date is good, it could lead to a rock torniquette (diamond wedding ring).

Glossary – Obroni Wawu

Obroni Wawu is a phrase used in Ghana that literally translates as “dead white man’s clothes”. 

Many of the clothes donated to charities are sold to Africa, and Ghana is one of the largest purchases of used clothing. However, there is a problem — the influx of used Western fashions are killing the traditional African textile and clothing industries, and the recent influx of fast fashion is also lowering the quality of the second hand clothes. As a result many African nations are now banning the importation of ‘dead white man’s clothes.’

Glossary – Scroop

Remember when Rhett Butler comments on Mammy’s new red taffeta petticoat when he hears it rustling? That sound is called ‘Scroop’ and is the distinct crisp, scraping sound made by silk taffeta. The sound is achieved by the silk being treated with a dilute acid that hardens the protein filaments. The sound is also achieved in rayon taffeta by using a similar treatment that hardens cellulose filaments.