Si Jolie: Virtual Exhibit


Si Jolie: A Virtual Exhibit Experience

in the Chisholm Halle Costume Wing

Si Jolie! French Fashion in Cleveland is about French fashion and all of the stories in between. It highlights how Paris fashion motivated Clevelanders to travel abroad, influenced local fashion, inspired the golden age of department stores, and how significant fashion was socially. Guests who visit this new exhibition will travel back in time and experience how fashion and travel have evolved over the years and how similar Clevelanders then were to those living here today.

Journey to Europe on an ocean liner, learn about a dress fitting with the biggest names in fashion, explore how Clevelanders showed off their fashion at cultural venues like the Euclid Avenue Opera House and discover how Parisian fashion played a critical role in the shopping experience at stores like Higbee’s and Halle Brothers. Experience pieces that range from the 1870s to today and include items from the golden age of Dior – the 1950s, Charles Fredrick Worth who is considered the father of haute couture, Hermès, Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton and so much more!


A Brief Overview


We begin in the 1870s, shortly after the Franco-Prussian War destroyed much of Paris. The city rebuilt itself and once again lured tourists to make the sometimes harrowing sea voyage. Clevelanders were no exception: they packed their trunks, boarded ocean vessels, and set sail. In Paris, they shopped, saw the sights, and they basked in French culture. During the 1920s, interest in Paris and its daring modernity sent female entrepreneurs to scout the latest fashions for their boutique clients back in Cleveland. Women wore imports as well as runway copies to the theater and opera, flaunting their in-the-know style.

During World War II, most Americans suffered from the restrictions of rationing, and those who could afford couture often chose to celebrate native designers. After the war, the Parisian designer Christian Dior revamped the fashionable silhouette, and Clevelanders once again traveled to Paris to shop. At home, they experienced the golden age of department stores: Higbee’s celebrated “Gay Paree” with its import fairs and Halle Brothers offered an exclusive French beauty salon. Paris again became cutting edge with mod style in the 1960s and continues, to this day, to be the epicenter of fashion.

Many Clevelanders made French fashion part of their wardrobe, whether it was by shopping in Paris or sewing their own clothing with licensed French patterns. Through this exhibition, we hope to convey that they did, and still do, have worldly style.

For those who didn’t travel, local department stores brought international fashion to Cleveland. Higbee’s in particular was known for its annual Import Fairs during the 1950s and 1960s. Models strode down the Higbee’s runway in French fashion by designers like Dior, Chanel, and Lanvin, and visitors to the department store could view an electrified scale model of Paris.

Click here to see a 1961 Higbee’s Import Fair Advertisement

The Rebirth of Paris


Paris suffered its greatest destruction to date during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and 1871. As Napoleon III waged territorial battles with the Germans, the conflict affected trade, finance, travel, and spirit. As Parisian life returned to normal and the city completed construction of parks and grand boulevards, tourists flooded back. Clevelanders visited Paris to shop and see the sights, some on annual fashion-centered trips. They found their dressmakers in travel guides, but also through recommendations from friends or local tastemakers. In 1895, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine even criticized those who seemed to come only to have clothing made: “…American girls never see anything of Paris during their four weeks’ stay there each summer, because so much of their time is taken up at the dress-makers’.”


Traveling Abroad


Clevelander Randall Wade and his family began their ten-day sea voyage aboard the SS Ville de Paris on June 11, 1870. The family traveled comfortably in their central state rooms, but upon their return trip, severe storms created a harrowing journey. Randall wrote: “…the ship rolled so much that I was obliged to put up lashings before our children’s berths to keep them in, which caught Alice in her sleep and perhaps saved her neck.” As an adult, Randall’s son Jeptha traveled abroad with his wife Ellen, also sometimes called Nellie, who was constantly seasick. When smooth-sailing, first class passengers enjoyed comfortable settings, entertainments, fine dining, and a social atmosphere. In 1890, Ellen Prentiss noted that ten Clevelanders sailed together on the SS Westernland. Most ships of that caliber included passenger lists, making it easier to find old friends or make new ones.


Ellen and Adella Prentiss European Travel Photo, ca. 1890 WRHS Research Library


Below is an example of a Passenger List:

Although Nellie Wade was seasick aboard the  ship, but both she and sister-in-law Alice Everett rallied for Parisian shopping. Nellie and Alice shopped at the major couture houses, including Jeanne Paquin’s, right next to Charles Frederick Worth, the most coveted designer. Alice Everett’s Paquin gown was originally a robin’s egg blue with shining silver threads.

Evening Dress, ca. 1900. Jeanne Paquin, 3 Rue de la Paix, Paris. Gift of Mrs. A. Dean Perry 82.17.4

Packing for Paris


Ellen and Adella Prentiss prepared a packing list of undergarments for their 1890 Parisian trip, delineating the items stowed in their trunks, and those accessible during their sea voyage:

Here is the original list:

Some Clevelanders packed lightly because they wanted to shop. Clara Stone Hay chose not to weigh down her trunks upon arrival: “I see the most lovely clothes at Doucet’s but I have to hold my resolution of not getting anything now… I shall try when I come back.” During her 1882 Paris trip, she also worked with tailors to have clothing remade. “I am having my long black satin fixed by taking off the jetted lace and having plain silk spangles put on and I am going to have my purple satin and velvet made short, so I have all I need and it is nonsense to have to [sic] many things in a trunk.”

Trunk, 1880s. Louis Vuitton, Paris and London. Gift of Mrs. Ellery W. Sedgwick, Jr. and Mrs. Austin Chinn 91.129

The Fashionable Shape


Amongst the many undergarments packed in a traveler’s trunk, the corset, crinoline, and bustle served as the foundation for the sculptural gowns popular during the late 19th century. Some women also shopped for these items in Paris, sometimes as part of a trousseau. The trousseau contained the various garments and trimmings that would prepare a woman for her first years of marriage. These beautiful corsets also served as the foundation for the sculptural gowns popular during the late 19th century. The multitude of layers needed to wear fashionable gowns meant bigger steamer trunks for the voyage abroad.


How did people’s waists get so tiny? One popular way to get a small waist was/is by wearing a corset. Explore the history of one of fashion’s most talked about foundation garments in this next episode of Curatorial Corner.

The Epicenter of Style


For centuries, Paris has been considered the epicenter of style, and the city served as a stage for fashionable encounters. In order to prepare for promenades in the park and evenings at the opera, Clevelanders frequented Parisian dressmakers. The 1888 Baedeker travel guide recommended Madame Mantel, who worked in the Compagnie Lyonnaise at 37 Rue des Capucines. Several Clevelanders followed this advice and shopped there, as well as the establishments of Gaillard, Galardi, and Raudnitz. For smaller, ready-made items such as gloves, shoppers visited vast department stores such as the Galeries Lafayette and le Bon Marche, which was enlarged by Gustav Eiffel’s firm in 1872.

Evening Gown, 1880s. Antoine Gaillard, Paris. Worn by Sarah Keys Little Tod. Gift of Frederick Sheffield 56.645

Dressmaker’s shops filled Paris, but the most famous lined the Rue de la Paix. Jeptha and Nellie Wade spent more than a month in Paris in 1900, visiting both couture houses and the fashion displays at the Exposition Universelle. Nellie and Jeptha’s sister Alice also shopped at the most exclusive designers, including Charles Frederick Worth. The now legendary British-born Worth moved to Paris in 1845. By the 1870s, he was famous around the globe, thanks to his adept marketing and self-promotion. Prominent Clevelanders also shopped at Worth’s competitors, including Jeanne Paquin and Jacques Doucet.

Dress, 1890s. Charles Frederick Worth, 7 Rue de la Paix, Paris. Worn by Mrs. Henry Kearny. Gift of Henry C. Osborne 67.26.11


Photographs of Ellen Garretson Wade from the WRHS collection:

All the World’s a Stage


For some travelers, the opera was the center of their Parisian world. Clevelander Randall Wade’s travel diaries describe his delight with the view from his hotel of the new opera house, the Palais Garnier, which in 1870 was unfinished but impressive nonetheless: “[it is] the most elegant and grand specimen of architecture that I have ever imagined.” Nearby hotels and shops offered convenience, and the opera itself provided entertainment. In addition to enjoying the show, operagoers observed the audience’s fashion, sometimes with a critical eye. In 1890, Ellen Prentiss wrote, “[We] had a fine opportunity of seeing Paris dress, or undress, for some of the ladies wore shamefully low necked dresses. The opera was very fine.” Coats like these would have covered those alluring gowns.


Back home in Cleveland, the Euclid Avenue Opera House opened in 1875. After an 1892 fire, it lived on in a grander structure until its 1922 demolition. When the Hanna Theater opened in 1921, it largely filled the role of the Opera House. With four new theaters open, the press bestowed that strip of Euclid Avenue with the moniker “Playhouse Square.” Whether in Paris or Cleveland, elaborate coats and capes were an important part of opera fashion. 

Evening Coat, ca. 1913. Liberty of London, 3 Boulevard Des Capucines, Paris. Gift of Mrs. Harold T. Clark 66.6.39; Dress, 1910-1932. Mariano Fortuny. Gift of the Estate of Hayden Eames 50.577; Hat, ca. 1910. The Halsey Shop, imported from Paris. Gift of Harold T. Clark 3025


Here is an example of an Opera program:

Construction of the Euclid Ave. Opera House, ca. 1870s. WRHS.

At the Opera


This book contains John Ellsler’s set designs and plans for his productions at the Academy of Music on West 6th Street near St. Clair. Here, you can see the setting for “Led Astray,” performed in April of 1874. The Plain Dealer wrote, “The play is superbly mounted and the dressing very rich.” Ellsler was once Cleveland’s most prominent theater manager, and moved his productions into the new Euclid Avenue Opera House in 1875–the same year that construction on the Paris opera finally finished. The opera in Cleveland was not as grand as in Paris, but nevertheless, Clevelanders had a chance to experience productions and display their fashions.


Stage set design book, 1874. Euclid Avenue Opera House. WRHS Research Library

First Nighter Fashion


In 1920s Cleveland, the theater district boomed. Locals flocked to see performances in Playhouse Square, and the proud “First Nighters” opened the season. One of the most fashionable attendees was Phyllis Peckham. In 1928, the Plain Dealer wrote that “Miss Phyllis Peckham was, as usual, modishly frocked in a robe-de-style of eggshell shade.” The robe-de-style was a trend that readers would have known as decidedly French, and it recalls the wide skirts of the 18th century. Fashionable Clevelanders often chose Playhouse Square as their venue to flaunt imported styles like this, as well as chic hats, fur-trimmed coats, and sparkling dancing dresses.


Dancing Dress, 1925-27. French. Gift of Mr. Frederick C. Chandler and Mrs. Montgomery Frazier 91.22.23; Coat, ca. 1926. French. Gift of Mrs. Theo Ernst


Peignoir, 1920s. Paris. Worn by Mrs. Lawrence Hitchcock, Sr. Gift of Mrs. Henry Reynolds Hatch III, Lawrence Hitchcock, Jr. and Mrs. Frederick McConnell 91.52.20
Peignoir, 1925. Boué Soeurs 9 Rue De La Paix, Paris. Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Pavlish 75.133.6
Peignoir, ca. 1920. Madame Beaudry, Importer. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David Ingalls 89.94.20

Flapper Sex Appeal


Some Americans considered French style risque, but many sought out their lingerie. Boué Soeurs sold delicate silk and lace garments embellished with ribbon flowers and foliage. Phyllis Peckham owned this Boue ensemble, complete with dressing slippers. During the 1920s, the lingerie look sometimes crossed over into evening fashions. Louise Harkness Ingalls wore this velvet and chiffon evening ensemble, which would have been considered somewhat daring at the time.



Chic Boutiques


For those who could or would not travel, Cleveland’s boutiques provided the latest in French Fashion. Katherine Quinn, former Halle Brothers dress buyer, and her assistant Gertrude Maahs operated one of the chicest boutiques: Quinn-Maahs. During the 1920s, business-women like Quinn, Maahs and Mary Kazhal traveled to Paris regularly, buying fashion but also scouting the newest styles. Busy VIP clients like Phyllis Peckham even sent them to Paris with detailed wishlists. Boutiques  also offered house-made garments inspired by (and sometimes direct copies of) Parisian couture.


Plain Dealer Advertisement, Quinn-Maahs, June 19, 1932


The New Look


The aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II reached far and wide, including the way people dressed. For reasons of expense and principle, many Americans eschewed French fashion in the early 1940s, but everything changed with Christian Dior. In 1947 he debuted the “New Look” which emphasized a return to traditional femininity (women were expected to leave wartime work and return to the home) through hourglass silhouettes and sumptuous materials. Clevelanders were no different than the French in seeking out the new cinched waist. Some wore designer clothing from Dior, Jacques Fath, or Pierre Balmain, and others copied the look with more affordable options.




While most Clevelanders could only admire French Fashion from afar, Mary Bolton lived in Paris and met the designers firsthand. Mary majored in French at Bryn Mawr, and then put those skills to use when she and her husband moved to Paris in 1947. Kenyon Bolton became the Special Assistant to US Ambassador David Bruce, and was in the Foreign Service Reserves. The couple lived in Paris with their five children for three years. Mary visited the showrooms of Christian Dior, Jacques Fath, Nina Ricci, and others. She fit into their sample sizes, shopped the sales, and even modeled for a few designers such as Fath. Mary considered her purchases as works of art, and after the family returned home she continued collecting.

Bringing Paris to Cleveland


Clevelanders demanded French style and the department stores answered. In 1935, Halle Bros. opened the Antoine Salon of Beauty, which used the methods of the Parisian hairdresser Monsieur Antione. Starting in 1956, Higbee’s organized a store-wide annual Import Fair, with fashion shows, specialty goods, and foreign foods. Both stores offered imported fashions year round, as well as their own designs inspired by the runways. This ice blue coat from Higbee’s mimics the fashionable, oversized shapes of Paris design houses such as Cristobal Balenciaga. For those unable or unwilling to pay haute couture prices, some designers created more affordable lines or licensed patterns.



Pink suit and patternHigbee’s coat, 1959 Gift of Miss Carol Kirkstadt.


Below is an example of an 1952 invoice:



After decades of romance, Parisian designers looked to the future. In the 1960s and 1970s, Andre Courreges and Pierre Cardin created playful, futuristic looks like this dress worn by Clevelander Greta Millikin. Greta was an interior decorator with a collector’s eye. She filled her home with French furniture and her closet with French fashion. She traveled often, but could still find Parisian clothes at places like Halle Bros. and May Company. As the fashion director at both stores, Dixie Lee Davis went on annual buying trips to Paris starting in the late 1970s. Influenced by the saleswomen at Chanel in Paris, Dixie favored understated black in order to better showcase clothing to her clients.


Evening Dress, 1974. Pierre Cardin. The Mrs. Severance A. Millikin Collection 76.29.5


Chisholm Halle Costume Wing


The Western Reserve Historical Society established its costume collection in 1939. The department contains 40,000 garments, quilts, and textiles from 1750 to the present. It ranks among the top ten collections of its kind in the United States. 

In 1986, the costume wing was dedicated in honor of Chisholm Halle. Mr. Halle’s grandfather and great uncle opened the Halle Brother’s Co. Department Store near Public Square in 1891. He served as its President from 1966 to 1973, and as a trustee of the WRHS.

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