Corsets & Cravats: Exploring Mid-19th Century Material Culture

Rose Marie Favors for The Newberry Observer
Corsets & Cravats is coming to Newberry this weekend. - Courtesy photo

NEWBERRY — Don’t be surprised if you see ladies in hoop skirts and gentlemen in top hats strolling around Newberry this weekend, August 3-5. You will not have stepped back in time. These genteel people will be downtown to attend a new educational program: “Corsets & Cravats.”

Some of them are from Newberry and elsewhere in South Carolina while many others are from places as far away as Maine, Texas and Michigan. Some of them are employees or volunteers at historic sites, some are educators, some are musicians and artists, some are skilled crafts people who faithfully reproduce clothing and accessories of the era; some are costume designers for theatrical productions. All of them will be here to learn about the material culture of the United States during the mid-19th Century [1820-1870]: art, literature, music, domestic skills, religion, and the like.

The goal of this event is to promote research-based portrayals in the living history community by interacting with experienced historians, by guiding and encouraging beginners who are interested in the material culture of the mid-19th Century and by educating the public-at-large about this era of American history. The event will feature prominent guest lecturers, knowledgeable and experienced instructors, well-respected juried vendors as well as period-appropriate activities and entertainment.

The event is presented in two basic formats: one format is a Saturday morning program in which attendees will hear from nationally-acclaimed lecturers on the separate topics of Mourning, the Industrial Revolution and changes in fashion design during the early-mid 19th Century; the other format is a weekend long program that includes the Saturday morning lectures and additional classes and workshops. Attendees of the weekend-long program will have the opportunity to choose five of 18 classes that will be offered, with topics including 19th century literature; period music; corsetry; hair dressing; millinery; research using 19th century resources; interpreting history with cultural sensitivity; various classes about clothing construction; neckwear; religion during the 19th century; and others. Period attire is welcome but not required in any of these events.

Whether a person is attending the Saturday morning-only program or the entire weekend, they will all enjoy seeing displays of original garments of the era that are on loan from private collections. On Saturday evening, they will enjoy an entertaining presentation of period music by “Joyful Harps” at The Newberry Opera House. Throughout the weekend, in the lobby of the Opera House, anyone can shop with several vendors who specialize in 19th century original goods and quality reproductions: a milliner, a tailor, a leather craftsman as well as purveyors of antiques and jewelry, among other things.

By separate ticket, attendees might “Take Tea” at Olwen-McKenna Tea Room. They might also enjoy “A Taste of South Carolina” at Community Hall, a period-inspired supper by “Made from Scratch” caterer, Cathy Taylor. On Saturday, the Charleston Tintypist Photographic Artist will be in Memorial Park, demonstrating wet-plate collodion photography, and by separate fee, taking the likeness of anyone who would like the experience —- in period attire or modern clothes.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States defines “Heritage Tourism” as “traveling to experience the places, artifacts and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past.” Some tourism professionals also speak of “Educational Tourism,” the idea being that travel can be as much about education as “about relaxation, that learning can be about fun, and that learning is for people of all ages.” “Corsets & Cravats” fits either of these definitions as a catalyst for tourism in Newberry County.

As we welcome “Corsets & Cravats” attendees to Newberry, we will see people from all across the Nation, who are willing to take time and incur the expenses of travel, to come to Newberry for the purpose of learning about history and culture. For most, this will be their first visit to Newberry and to South Carolina. Now they are coming, lured by the program being offered, the Newberry Opera House and the charm of Newberry’s historic downtown district.

Additional information about “Corsets & Cravats” is available on Facebook at or on the web at

You can purchase tickets for the Saturday program by calling the Box Office, Newberry Opera House at (803) 276- 6264 or by contacting Rose Marie Favors at telephone (571) 288-9863 / email

Corsets & Cravats is coming to Newberry this weekend. & Cravats is coming to Newberry this weekend. Courtesy photo

Rose Marie Favors for The Newberry Observer