The Woodstock Dress, which will be given its full measure with a fashion show featuring Sarah Stitham’s recreations of the 1920s garment, on Sunday, May 5, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Christian Science Church, 85 Tinker Street, was designed by Augusta Allen, whose creations helped support her family after they migrated from Ohio to Woodstock in 1913. Augusta, the great-grandmother of Historical Society of Woodstock (HSW) member Deborah Allen Heppner, made the dresses on a treadle sewing machine and sold them at the town green for $20 each, the equivalent of $400 today.
Seamstress Stitham, whose Workday Wear line of handmade dresses is based at her home in Olive, became intrigued by the Woodstock Dress after seeing it at an HSW exhibit. She borrowed four dresses from Heppner’s personal collection and spent four months, with the help of a pattern maker, coming up with a pattern she could use to recreate the dresses. “They’re ingenious,” said Stitham. “Augusta used a lot of seams and darts in the bodice. When measuring someone for a dress, she could take out or let in these various seams to get a perfect fit. She used a lot of trim around the sleeves, neck, and hem. The trim helped the sleeves stay puffed, and it gave the hem weight so it would swing more. She had a true cottage industry going, and it was wildly successful.”
Augusta made dresses in various fabrics — cotton, velvet, taffeta, and more — some serving as casual everyday dresses to wear to market, others appropriate for a formal reception, without changing the design of the dress. It became a favorite among women of the art colony and was also worn by many of the Cheats and Swings square dancers during a number of exhibitions, including one memorable performance for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt at their home in Hyde Park.
At the May 5 fashion show, Stitham’s recreations — in organic cotton, organic seersucker, and lightweight denim — will be modeled by local artists and performers. Tea and homemade baked goods will be served. Music will be provided by Reggie Earls and Timothy Hill, and Heppner’s husband, town historian Richard Heppner, will talk about the history of the Woodstock Dress. He may also bring the story full circle by mentioning that the Allens were brought to town by painter Birge Harrison, the first head of the Art Students League program when it came to Woodstock in 1906 and was located in the building where the recreations of Augusta’s dresses will be presented.