Yesterday I had the immense pleasure of visiting Rosecliff, another of Newport’s spectacular mansions. The tour was fantastic and included a fashion exhibit and lecture by the Newport Preservation Society’s dress historian, Rebecca Kelly, called "In Vogue-Newport and the American Fashion Press 1880-1920."
First of all, for some background and a picture of the famous ballroom, to give you an idea of what a romantic atmosphere it has. At the turn of the century, silver heiress Theresa Fair Oerlichs hosted lavish parties in Rosecliff’s 40 x 80 ballroom, the largest in Newport. Cole Porter, a frequent guest, played and composed music there. Scenes from several movies have been filmed at the mansion, including "The Great Gatsby", the tango scene with Arnold Schwarzzeneger in "True Lies" and the court scenes from "Amistad." Even today, many weddings are held there and photographers use it frequently as a backdrop for fashion shoots.
Though they wouldn’t let us take photos inside, I was able to find this picture of the ballroom at the Visit Rhode Island Website. Doors running the length of the room open up onto a massive porch overlooking a pool with a fountain, a huge expanse of lawn, then the ocean beyond.
Here’s a photo I took from the porch on the backside of ballroom.
Front entrance to mansion.
Garden fountain and front view of ballroom.
This years exhibit focuses on fashionable resort and sportswear, the evolution of which began at the turn of the century in vacation spots of the wealthy, such as Newport. Beside the collection of period costumes designed to accomodate women’s growing participation in outdoor activites, like horseback riding, yachting, golf and cycling(they called it wheeling back then), there was also a very interesting display of bathing costumes, including a wool Jantzen suit from the early 1900’s. I can just imagine how uncomfortable it felt when wearing it while wet, never mind it would probably make you sink like a rock! There was only one evening outfit in the display, but it was an amazing Worth gown from 1910. High waisted with a columnar shaped skirt, the popular silouette of that period. The skirt was comprised of tiers of fine red netting and beautiful red flowers with black centers were applied at the waist and bodice. It’s unfortunate they don’t allow anyone to take photos of anything inside these buildings, as it is really difficult to describe the beauty of this dress or anything else on display there, for that matter!!
The lecture tied in nicely with the clothing exhibit, covering how fashion periodicals, such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar were the first to begin reporting on the what the fashionable leisure class was wearing while summering in Newport and the subsequent rise of the American womens’ sportswear apparel industry. The lecture was also accompanied by magazine photos and illustrations depicting the popular resortwear fashions of that time.
Though the lecture was for one day only, I believe the fashion exhibit can be viewed all year as part of the regular mansion tour.