Discover New England fashion from head to toe

Mar 7, 2018

“Head to Toe: Hat and Shoe Fashions from Historic New England” opens June 1 at the Eustis Estate

1960 hat with feathers and 1997 hard hat

From left: This c. 1960 hat was made by Yvonne Fecteau Comeau, a French Canadian milliner, who kept a shop on Essex Street in Lawrence, Massachusetts, for more than forty years. This hard hat went to work on Boston’s Big Dig with the donor every day in 1997. The donor worked for local contractor J. F. White, whose logo appears on the hard hat.

Head to Toe: Hat and Shoe Fashions from Historic New England showcases forty-six hats and pairs of shoes worn in New England from the 1750s to the present. It is the latest in Historic New England’s series of exhibitions at the Eustis Estate Museum and Study Center in Milton, Massachusetts.

Often the most luxurious and decorative aspects of dress, hats and shoes reveal fascinating stories about social status and personal style. Whether attending a wedding, going to worship, or celebrating with friends, New Englanders dressed for the occasion. Stylish objects show New Englanders’ notions of glamorous dressing, including designer pillbox hats and custom-made boots, silk top hats and gold stiletto heels. Other exhibition highlights are boots worn during Boston’s Big Dig and a pair of Julia Child’s shoes.

Head to Toe also explores the creation of these fashion accessories and their effect on New England’s economy, workforce, and environment. The exhibition looks at how fashion influences our self-image and presentation, offering visitors multiple ways to consider each piece on display. Arranged thematically, the exhibition explores body image, gender identity, cultural appropriation, and activism.

“This exhibition combines fun, fashionable accessories with surprising details and rich context, which is what I love about Historic New England’s collection—the stories are as great as the objects,” said Curator Laura Johnson.

The exhibition is on display at the Eustis Estate Museum and Study Center in Milton, Massachusetts, through February 24, 2019. Admission is $15. 

Opening Reception: Friday, June 1, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.

See a list of additional events developed to complement the exhibition.

This exhibition is supported in part by our lead sponsors, Susan P. Sloan and Arthur D. Clarke, with additional support from Coby Foundation Ltd. and Dr. Janina A. Longtine.

Head to Toe is part of Mass Fashion, a consortium of eight cultural institutions that explores and celebrates the many facets of the culture of fashion in Massachusetts. Discover the wide array of fashions, and the stories behind them, on view in the Commonwealth. In addition to Historic New England, the partners include Concord Museum, Fuller Craft Museum, Massachusetts Historical Society, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Old Sturbridge Village, Peabody Essex Museum, and Trustees of Reservations. Visit massfashion.org.

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Exhibition Highlights

Brocade Shoes

Pair of silk shoes with two-inch heels, square tongue, and a floral design. Silk, metallic thread, leather, wood (1765-75). Made by Winthrop Gray, a cordwainer, in Boston. Shoe buckles, probably Birmingham, England, c. 1770. These elaborate metallic and silk brocade shoes once belonged to Martha Stevens, a wealthy Dorchester widow.

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  • Brocade Shoes

    Pair of silk shoes with two-inch heels, square tongue, and a floral design. Silk, metallic thread, leather, wood (1765-75). Made by Winthrop Gray, a cordwainer, in Boston. Shoe buckles, probably Birmingham, England, c. 1770. These elaborate metallic and silk brocade shoes once belonged to Martha Stevens, a wealthy Dorchester widow.

  • Glitter Boots

    High heel platform boots, designed by Charles Dane, Paris, 1990-2000. Made of leather, silver glitter, metal, wood. Nothing says “celebrate” quite like these sparkling silver boots. The donor, who wore them for Carnival in Provincetown, Massachusetts, said, “Sometimes the occasion calls for it.”

  • Straw Hat

    Natural-colored straw hat, braided with high crown and narrow brim (1886-88). Trimmed with bright blue grosgrain ribbon and bow. Brown leather sweatband. Paper label pasted to crown interior. Henry B. Martin ran a dry goods business in Milton, Mass., until about 1890. Martin's stock included imported French straw bonnets and locally made rye straw hats like this one.

  • Strawberry Hat

    Small round pink velvet women's hat trimmed with four pink and green velvet strawberry tassels. Constructed over stiffened straw base, with a pink lace lining. Two clear plastic combs attached with elastic bands to sides; pink grosgrain interior band (1950-1960). Milliner was Ethel Atkins of Boston.