From Daggett Farm to Maddox Family Home, a big part of the magic and history of The Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village is, without a doubt, the clothing. Visitors, members and new employees are often in awe of the amazing variety of period clothing items we produce. The scope of work is immense: clothing and textiles for daily programs, seasonal activities like historic base ball and Hallowe’en, and special events such as Motor Muster, Ragtime, Old Car Festival and Holiday Nights. How all of this wonderful clothing actually gets to Greenfield Village remains a bit of a mystery to the typical guest as well as to many employees of The Henry Ford!
Tucked away on the second floor of Lovett Hall behind a nondescript set of doors, The Clothing Studio is one of the well-kept secrets and hidden gems of The Henry Ford. Between period clothing and uniforms, The Clothing Studio covers over 250 years of fashion (from 1760 to present day) and is the premier museum costume shop in the country. No other museum does what we do at The Henry Ford. It’s often surprising to visitors of The Clothing Studio that our own employees actually research, design, develop and create most of our period clothing and textiles onsite. Our talented, dedicated, and productive team with a passion for fashion and historical accuracy is comprised of two full-time staff members, 13 part-time staff members, and a small group of valued volunteers. Together we clothe nearly 800 people a year in multiple outfits of period clothing, costumes, and uniforms.
When it comes to work flow, there really is no downtime in The Clothing Studio. Work on the April opening of Greenfield Village begins before the Holiday Nights program ends with the sewing of hundreds of stock garments for period clothing sites to prepare for hundreds of fitting sessions of new and current employees. Once Greenfield Village is clothed for the opening, the preparation for summer programming begins with a big ramp up to mid-June, with Motor Muster and programs from “Simply Gershwin” to our summer stroller program. In addition to the regular workload, there are also unexpected requests, such as providing clothing for multiple Henry Ford characters for the 2013 North American Auto Show or sewing display curtains for Designing Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s exhibit in the museum.
Every year we strive to not only maintain our high standard of period clothing and textiles, but to improve upon them with research and special training. The Studio staff works collaboratively with many internal departments to insure research, development, and execution of the best, most historically accurate clothing and accessories to help create an inspirational and authentic experience for our guests. While some clothing or textiles changes in Greenfield Village are quite noticeable, others are subtle. In addition to the typical clothing and accessories updates for new staff and replacement clothing for longtime employees, here are some of the new things you will see from the talented hands of the Clothing Studio staff:
- Games on the Green staff and Strollers will have new clothing items reflecting the targeted date change from 1900 to 1912. In this summer’s initial phase-in to 1912, look for new, narrower skirts and fancier white blouses for the women and new replacement linen suits, sweater vests and knickers for some of the men. Additional updates are planned for 2014.
- New full aprons in J.R. Jones General Store. The aprons will provide more protection and thus increase the longevity of the period dresses underneath.
- New button-front rain slickers for Firestone Farm in black and yellow – both historically accurate for 1885.
- Carriage drivers will have the option of new wider brim hats with decorative ribbon trim for improved sun coverage.
- New headwear options for women in the house at Susquehanna Plantation including head wraps and day caps (1860).
- The female Greenfield Village Singers will have newly made, print dresses (same design) to replace worn dresses from previous seasons (1920s).
- Town Hall hosts will have new uniforms and pianists will have new black and white outfits for the “Simply Gershwin” program (1930).
Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum Uniforms
- New replacement Ranger uniforms (1912).
- Improved functional and professional uniform clothing items for Creative Programs support staff.
- Protective fire-resistant coveralls for Pottery Shop staff.
- Graphic logo cotton t-shirts for Glass Shop staff.
- New evening event museum uniforms with a dressier, more formal evening appearance, in a sophisticated color palette of black, charcoal, burgundy and white. The new uniforms were designed to complement yet differentiate evening museum staff from Catering and Visitor Services uniforms.
- New/replacement Discovery Camp and Aspiring Innovators Camp counselor uniform polo shirts in a lighter weight material and with a new light aqua color.
Other textile products
- New replacement puppets for Games on the Green summer programming.
- New bat bags for historic baseball.
Whether on a farm, in a fine home or on the street, functional and fashionable clothing and textiles have consistently influenced the lives of people throughout history. In today’s world, with so much emphasis on fashion and home decor, we know our guests pay a lot of attention to our presentations and environments. From the second floor in Lovett Hall, The Clothing Studio is proud to be an important and dynamic part of The Henry Ford, playing a significant role in helping enrich educational experiences and delivering “wow” to millions of guests.
Tracy Donohue is General Manager of The Clothing Studio at The Henry Ford