| By Julie Hunter, Collections Manager
This piece was originally written for and published in the Costume Society of America‘s February 2021 e-newsletter.
Issaquah, Washington, is fifteen miles east of Seattle, in the homelands of the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Indian Tribes. Whites settled the valley in the 1860s and a town based on agriculture, lumbering, and coal mining was soon established. It remained a small town until the 1960s, when improved highways and a booming regional economy brought rapid development. Residents wanting to save their local history formed the Issaquah Historical Society in 1972. Since the first professional museum director was hired in 1999, the organization has become the Issaquah History Museums, with a staff of four.
To meet IHM’s mission “to discover, preserve and share the history of Issaquah and its environs,” we hold over 36,000 artifacts and images. The costume collection numbers approximately 900 pieces, providing a tangible and personal link back through all of the generations to the pioneering families of the area. The collection includes wedding dresses, bodices, skirts, jackets, dresses, underclothes, baby clothing, costume jewelry, hats, accessories, and shoes. As is typical, menswear is underrepresented, but we have some, especially jackets and T-shirts from after 1950. A silk shirt (see photo 1) that belonged to the town’s first pharmacist, as well as a Masonic apron belonging to his brother, the town’s first doctor, are key pieces. Also typically, we have many special event garments. In addition to a Campfire Girl Ceremonial Gown from 1920, party dresses, dance outfits, and several wedding gowns, we have a beautifully preserved bridesmaid’s dress from 1958 (see photo 2).
Our earliest garments date to the 1830s and 1850s. During CSA’s Angel’s Day in 2019, we learned that a woman’s cap in 1850s style was probably a reuse for a fine fabric woven in India in the 1830s. It came from one of the earliest white families in the valley. A quilted underskirt, with provenance from Pennsylvania in 1855, was brought here by the maker’s daughter when she came to set up shop as a milliner in 1907.
The collection’s newest artifacts are a sash, cat ear headband, and fluffy pink tail, all of which were worn by Issaquah residents participating in Women’s Marches in Seattle and Washington, D.C., on January 21, 2017. Our strong continuum of items relating to Issaquah High School goes back to a graduation dress worn by a member of the first graduating class in 1911. We have generations of letter sweaters, as well as class rings and pins. Recently we were given a football player’s letter jacket from 1989 and a wardrobe of cheerleading uniform clothing from that era.
IHM was the grateful recipient of the 2019 CSA Angels Day. Along with the generous supply of storage materials, tools, and the expertise of the professionals, the photography from that day is very valuable to us. It allows us to show a good amount of the costume collection online. If you would like to see more of our collections, please visit our website at https://issaquahhistory.org/.