ShowsBefore You GoBulletin BoardContactAboutSearch
Show and Features |
Culture Watch | Question of the Week | Letters of the Week |
Traveler's Aid | Library | Host's View

Traveling in Style

Developments in rail, air, sea and automobile transportation around the turn of the 20th century not only made it easier for more people to travel, they inspired changes in the way travelers dressed and pampered themselves. That's the focus of an exhibition at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. Tom Verde has this story.

Traveling in Style
by Tom Verde

Real Audio Listen with RealAudio          help Need audio help?

The popular, though unsubstantiated, origin of the word posh is that it's an acronym for "Port Out, Starboard Home", where the first class berths were on Titanic-era luxury liners. While this theory is questionable, there's no doubt that the accommodations on-board these ships were, well, pretty posh.

Madeline: "There's a wooden dressing case, it was a man's dressing case, and it comes complete with silver-topped glass bottles for toothbrush and tooth powder and cologne."

Madeline Shaw, associate curator for costume and textiles at the Rhode Island School of Design, helped organize The Far Traveler, an exhibition devoted to the ways in which form has followed function as modern travel evolved.

Madeline: "Travel has changed and the means of travel have changed. And as they have done that, art and design have responded to it."

While some perhaps were stooges, full-service gas station attendants were at least on hand once upon a time. A time when people just didn't go for a drive, they went motoring.

Madeline: "We've got a few motoring coats from the first decade of the 20th century and a motoring veil and it's made of lace and lined with chiffon. And it's meant to fit over the woman's hat and to protect her hairdo and her clothing from dust and from being disarranged by wind."

Where did one find a motoring veil and other such items? Why, in a Saks automobile apparel catalogue, of course, also on display at the exhibit.

Madeline: "There are pages of motoring coats: long leather coats with fur linings, rubber coats for protection from the rain, these enveloping overall things that look like ponchos but they cover everything including the steering wheel and the seat."

Tom: "This is something you'd wear?"

Madeline: "This is something you'd put on with a hood and drape it over the steering wheel because cars were open. They didn't have canopies and they didn't have windscreens and you sat up very high and you were very exposed."

Protecting passengers from the means of transportation themselves was another important function of travel clothing during this era. Early airplane engines, for instance, spewed oil everywhere. The solution? The one-piece flying suit: coveralls of cotton or fur-lined leather that not only protected clothing from oil stains but provided warmth while soaring through the chilly upper reaches of the atmosphere in an unheated plane.

Though it's hard to believe airplane food was ever that good, air travel of course eventually became more civilized. Ageing boomers like myself even recall the days when people used to get dressed up to get on a plane. And even though we're now traveling to more places around the world than ever before, you have to admit when you start comparing, say, your average carry-on bag with the likes of a French designer steamer trunk, we're just not doing it with quite as much as style we used to.

At the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, I'm Tom Verde for The Savvy Traveler.


Savvy Resources:

  • Rhode Island School of Design

  • The Rhode Island School of Design Museum
    224 Benefit Street, Providence, RI 02903

American Public Media
American Public Media Home | Search | How to Listen
©2004 American Public Media |
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy