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Volunteer Side Effects


Having been retired for more than 10 years now, I've found myself doing volunteer work for lots of different organizations and causes. My latest foray into work that generates no income is at our county museum. The payoff is not in dollars, but in excitement and the stimulation that comes from my love of history.


Our latest project has been to sort through all the clothes donated over the years that have been catalogued but not well organized and get them boxed up in archival paper, with pictures and labels for use in displays later on. I think that's what we're doing although we aren't exactly the Smithsonian and don't have the storage space they do.


I won't say the actual work is exciting as it has been mostly helping get rid of items people have donated because they can't bear to throw something away. Having dealt with my parents and their inability to throw anything away, I am familiar with the concept. Torn and stained clothing is not historical unless it was worn by someone famous and even then, we don't need all 16 pair of their pants. It's a good thing I'm not in charge. I leave the thinking to others.


I've learned a lot about the people who have lived in our town and county since it was settled. Some of my very astute observations include the following:


* Women had very small heads. I know because I have a small head and almost all the hats fit me just fine. And I look fabulous every time I try one on. I make this statement knowing there is no mirror nearby to check but I can tell by the looks of my coworkers who try not to indulge me in my fashion statements. 'We're here to work, Shelley, take that thing off.' After about 20 hats, no one looks at me anymore without shaking their heads.


* Women wore a lot of under clothes. Especially linen or cotton slips the length of the dresses. What I don't get is how much work they did embroidering these things when they were worn under the dress. Didn't they get hot with all these layers? How long did it take to get dressed? Everything back then had to be ironed even if it's worn underneath. And it has to be hand washed, bleached and starched. And for what, to do house and yard work? Um, no thanks.


*Shoes. Have our feet today gotten fatter? All the shoes we've dealt with are so small and narrow I don't know how you would ever get them on. Or off. Or be able to walk in them. Between the hats, dresses and shoes, I can make a bold general statement. People back in the day seem to have been a lot smaller than we are today.


* Too much of a good thing. The prime example of this is fur coats. In the sorting process we came up with a large pile of fur coats and they made me sneeze. They are beautiful but what do we do with them all? And the fur things aren't just coats. There are neck pieces and things I don't even know what to call them. Decoration? Accent pieces? So, maybe we set up a display for a year or so with all the fur stuff. Then what? Back in the box.


You may have noticed by now that I ask a lot of questions. Mostly in my head. I might mutter out loud but fortunately, no one is nearby. And this is just about the women's clothes. Imagine my poor brain with everything else that's in the place. If I walk from where we are working to the office across the building, my eyeballs jump from display to display and I stop every few feet to gather more information. My coworkers have probably thought they might need to send out a search party for me or find a leash.


I have a friend who has a Sears catalogue from 1915. Did you know you could buy a house from Sears? Yup. I bet it was easier to assemble than anything from Ikea. As you can see from this picture, the petticoats were stylish and modeled well. Again, why? They were worn UNDER the dress. I don't get it but thankfully, I don't have to. It may have been a more simple time but in some ways maybe it wasn't.


I can hardly wait to see what else I learn from this museum experience. I hope my coworkers don't throw me out for being a slacker. Now, where did they hide the hats?

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Unknown member
19. Apr. 2023

This must be so much fun and would love to see you in all those hats send pictures next time!

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Unknown member
15. Apr. 2023

And those corsets!! I can’t imagine.

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