Today's post was researched and written by FIDM Museum's summer intern Joanna Abijaoude. Over the past several weeks, Joanna has assisted with multiple projects, including digitizing ephemera from The Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection and compiling research for an upcoming exhibition. Joanna is a 2014 M.A. candidate in the Visual Culture: Costume Studies M.A. program at New York University. In preparation for her thesis, she is researching Hollywood costume and 20th century designer Walter Plunkett. During her internship, Joanna became interested in skirt lifters, a distinctly Victorian accessory. In today's post, she explores the function, aesthetics, and cultural implications of a c. 1876 butterfly-motif skirt lifter in our collection.
Though the Victorian era is well known for its ingenious inventions, this week I was introduced to a particularly clever gadget in the FIDM Museum’s Collection that served a practical sartorial purpose: the skirt lifter.Skirt Lifter
A skirt lifter resembles a pair of small tongs, or scissors with padded circular discs instead of blades. The Museum’s example is brass and features a decorative butterfly that sits in between the handles. A small ring at the top would have held a cord, ribbon, or chain to suspend the tool just below the waist. Modern historians refer to the object as a “skirt lifter,” while period sources predominately use the term “dress holder.” When I initially encountered this object, several questions immediately came to mind: how was the dress holder incorporated into an ensemble and what occasions demanded its use? Did all classes of women utilize it? Why was the butterfly a popular decorative motif for this accessory?