A fashion portrait of women’s history

  • By Theresa Goffredo Herald Writer
  • Monday, May 14, 2012 8:56pm
  • LifeStanwood

Washington state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen is not so much a slave to fashion as she is a student.

For more than 50 years, Haugen has amassed a collection of vintage women’s clothing that helps illustrate society in the 20th century.

The buttons and bows, the shoes and handbags, the hats and furs and suits and gowns — at least 180 pieces in all — are on display in Stanwood in an exhibit that weaves women, history and fashion into a fabric tapestry.

“I felt it was good to look back to see where women had come from and where they are going and clothing told us a thing or two about women,” said Haugen, who has been a Democratic senator since 1993 and a representative from 1982 to 1992.

Haugen has donated her museum-worthy clothing collection to the Stanwood Area Historical Society, which is opening the exhibit to the public Saturday at the Floyd Norgaard Cultural Center.

The opening of the exhibit, “Waistlines and Hemlines,” features two sittings for tea where Haugen will present a short program about the collection.

Haugen said her goal with the collection was to show how women were clothed, decade by decade, starting in 1900 “before women had the right to vote and were corseted, and every decade since to see the difference reflected in the clothing.”

Historical society volunteer Janet Mayer, who has been part of a team of women donating many hours to set up the exhibit, called Haugen’s collection a fascinating picture.

“It’s how the clothing ties into the social attitudes of the times, and we really tried to bring that out, and that was the part Mary was interested in,” Mayer said.

“Obviously it’s part of the women’s movement, and we wanted to tie in the clothing and how it changed as we became more engaged in society.”

Mayer, who graduated from high school with Haugen and is a longtime friend, said the senator amassed part of her collection when she was a beautician. Haugen’s friends and customers would give her some special items over the years and the collection grew.

“She was very interested after a time to keep things that were special to other people,” Mayer said. “And also to preserve history, to show others how mothers and grandmothers lived, and it was that part that was important to her.”

Haugen said her collection started with an aunt who gave her a few items and it grew from there.

“To me they are like friends,” Haugen said. “When I think of the clothing, I think of the different women who gave them to me and their stories, and I couldn’t tell you which I like the best.”

Haugen grew up on Camano Island, the only daughter of Elma and Melvin Olsen with five older brothers. She said her family was not wealthy so clothes had to be cared for.

Haugen said she couldn’t put a value on the collection.

“I have been to the Smithsonian, and I think I had some better things than they had,” Haugen said.

Haugen did name a couple of her favorite pieces.

There’s a suit with poodles from the 1950s. And there’s a 1910 women’s walking suit — a piece Haugen bought for $100 — that Haugen described as “pretty extraordinary.”

A walking suit was worn by women who lived in a city and were going to go shopping or out for a walk. “Women didn’t do much in 1910,” Haugen said.

Beyond suits, the collection has hats, shoes and furs, and an excellent display of eight or nine wedding gowns, Mayer said.

There is also a representation of short skirts and dresses from the 1960s, and outfits reminiscent of what Jacqueline Onassis wore at the time: sleeveless dresses with matching coats.

Mayer admits there are not many items for the gentlemen, but men can go through the exhibit as well and appreciate the history.

“They would be amazed how much there is, and how parts of it tie to the community,” Mayer said.

The collection lacks pieces made before the 1900s because women were pioneers, and the clothes they couldn’t wear anymore became items for their children or quilts, Haugen said.

Haugen said she is looking forward to the exhibit opening and to the exhibit being up for several years as a reminder of how far women have come in this country. She said she believes it’s important to look back.

“Far too often we forget what the road was like for our mothers and grandmothers,” Haugen said. “I believe that fashion tells us a lot about the times.”

Theresa Goffredo: 425-339-3424; goffredo@heraldnet.com.

‘Waistlines and Hemlines’

“Women’s Fashions from the 1890s to 1960s,” Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen’s extensive collection of vintage clothing, opens from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday with two sittings for tea at 1:30 and 3 p.m., at the Floyd Norgaard Cultural Center, 27130 102nd Ave. NW, Stanwood.

Haugen will give a short program at the teas. Suggested donation is $10. For reservations, call Rose King at 360-387-1278. Tickets also can be purchased at Snow Goose Bookstore, 8616 271st St. NW, Stanwood, and Karen’s Kitchens &Gifts, 370 NE Camano Drive, No. 7, Camano Island.

Future open days for the exhibit will be announced.

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