Victorian Fashion

I am not a fashion maven. I am a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl, unless I’m wearing Chico’s Travelers Collection, which look stylish but feel like pajamas. (Need I say more?) I have one favorite pair of shoes for each season and I wear them until they fall apart, at which time I spend hours online looking for the exact same pair. I almost never wear shorts because of my pasty white Cleveland legs, but the pair I don’t mind being seen in I bought in 1998. Seriously.

Despite my embarrassing anti-fashion proclivities, I am a writer of historical romance, and in the Victorian era, women of a certain class were very concerned with fashion. And if I am to write about them, I need to care about what they wore. Or at least how to get it off them. 😉

To that end, I spent Saturday taking a field trip with my NEORWA chapter mates to the Kent State University Museum of Fashion. The most interesting exhibit, at least for me, was one called Inside Out, which featured clothing literally inside out so you could see how it was constructed. And they had Darcy’s puffy shirt! Colin Firth wasn’t even it–more’s the pity–and we were all still drooling. You can find pictures at–I can’t get WordPress to cooperate with the photos I took. 

The Victorian era lasted from 1837 to 1901, and fashions changed drastically during that timeframe.  And don’t even get me started on men’s facial hair–that is deserving of its own post.

In the 1830s, as at right, the ideal form was a long torso with a slim silhouette, so corsets were tight and movement was restricted. (Isn’t that an odd picture? The upper half seems oddly disconnected from the bottom, but I sometimes wonder if that’s how women felt…)


Starting in the 1840s, skirts became wider–the fuller the skirt, the more petticoats underneath, which was a sign of wealth. I love this relaxed portrait of Queen Victoria and her prince from 1841.

Illustration of cage crinoline from Punch, 1856


The 1850s saw the invention of bloomers, as well as the cage crinoline–a miraculous contraption that held the skirts out in lieu of a dozen petticoats, returning women to a comparative freedom of movement.


There is an adorable scene from Mrs. Gaskell’s Cranford in which a fancy cage from Paris is ordered for Miss Pole’s bird. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong type of cage. It’s just the first minute and again at about 3:45, but if you like BBC period programs, you have to watch the whole series–it’s delightful.

The 1860s saw skirts at their widest and waists at their narrowest–remember this scene from Gone With the Wind?


In the 1870s, skirts deflated quite a bit, hoops replaced by a flatter front and layers in the back, as in this painting by Pierre Auguste Renoir from 1874.



In the 1880s, the bustle was the dominant feature in women’s fashion (and the top hat for men) as seen in this 1883 painting by James Tissot.




The last decade of the 19th century brought big sleeves, sharply defined waists, and slimmer skirts, as in this fashion plate from 1893…





…and this John Singer Sargent painting from 1896.



The turn of the century brought us more masculine attire for women, the Gibson Girl–see the Sargent painting at right from 1903–outrageous hats, and the rise of haute couture.

Londoners in front of Harrods, 1909

There is far more to seventy years of fashion than I have the time, energy, or inclination to share here, but if you’re interested in learning more, click on the link for each decade above, and check out these sites for more information and lots more pictures:


Conquering Fear

Yesterday I spent the day with writer friends from the Northeast Ohio chapter of RWA, participating in a workshop presented by Bob Mayer. He spoke about many things in his six-hour talk, including turning ideas into stories, recognizing and developing conflict (my biggest problem, perhaps), outlining and plotting, characters’ needs and flaws, and story arcs. But for some reason, the part that resonated with me most was his discussion of fear.

FullSizeRender (1)Fear, Mayer said, is “a feeling of alarm or disquiet caused by the expectation of danger, pain, or the like.” It stems from uncertainty. Since life is one long uncertainty, all of us have fears. We fear failure, rejection, criticism, loss. We fear making the wrong decision, making mistakes. I can remember three times in my life when I was truly fearful: the day I graduated from college; the day I made a commitment to start my own law firm; and the day I sent off my first manuscript to an editor who’d requested it. Every one of those marked a decision to leave the safety of the known and start on an unknown path potentially fraught with peril. Graduating from college I realized it was the first time in my life I really had no clue what I was supposed to do next. The entire world was before me, and absolutely anything could happen. Starting my own law firm, I left the security of a regular paycheck in exchange for freedom–to take the work I wanted, to get away from the backstabbing bullshit of my old firm, and to spend more time with my four-year old son. And the day I sent that manuscript was the first time I faced either real acceptance or true rejection of my writing.

That editor did reject my manuscript, which stung. I am extremely fortunate in that another editor was waiting to see it too, and when she did, she bought it, and my life as a published author began. But all three of these moments in time taught me that to act in the face of fear is, while scary as hell, worth every tear shed and every night spent tossing and turning, asking yourself whether you’ve done the right thing. Mayer said yesterday, “Heroism is taking action in the face of fear.” While I certainly don’t consider myself a hero for facing my fears, perhaps all of us who take that step into the unknown do have a bit of the hero inside us. Although you’re never going to see me jumping out of an airplane. No way.

If fear is preventing you from accomplishing your dreams, take a closer look at yourself. I’ll bet there’s a hero inside of you too.

Five Reasons to Go to a Writers’ Conference

I spent this weekend at my RWA chapter’s Cleveland Rocks Romance Conference, which was wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, I thought I’d share with you some reasons why, if you’re a writer, you should attend a writers’ conference too.

1. You meet other writers.

Writing is a solitary occupation. We spend a lot of time in our own heads, which is generally a wonderful place to be, but it does us all good to get out of there for a while and meet like-minded people. We can learn from each other’s experiences, kick ideas around, make new friends, and laugh a lot.

2. You learn some new things.

Conferences include workshops about various aspects of the writing business. Our conference, for example, included an editor/agent panel on what’s hot in romance and tips on writing an attention-grabbing first page, as well as workshops on Disorganized Organized Revisions by Hanna Martine, Using Social Media by Mindy McGinnis, and Romantic Suspense by Carla Neggers.

3. You get to hobnob with famous and not-yet-so-famous authors.

A not-so-famous author pic I shamelessly stole from Miranda Liasson

Conferences usually include at least one best-selling super-famous author who gives a keynote speech and/or teaches a workshop–our keynote speaker this year was Carla Neggers. You can meet them and talk to them. They will happily autograph a book for you, and have their picture taken with you. The not-yet-so-famous authors will eagerly do the same, mostly because we are so happy anyone is paying attention to us at all.

<— A not-yet-so-famous author pic I shamelessly stole from Miranda Liasson

4. You can sometimes relax and kick back with editors and agents.

Our conference includes a gathering in the hotel bar after the Friday evening panel. Editors and agents are not scary at all when they’ve had a couple of drinks. Although one does have to be careful not to drink more than they do, because that can get embarrassing. Or so I’ve heard…

5. You have an opportunity to pitch your books to those agents and editors, face to face.

Although the prospect is really quite terrifying for introverted writers (especially me, as I haven’t done it yet), people tell me it’s not so bad. The advantage is that you have an editor or agent’s rapt attention for 5-10 minutes to tell them what your book is about. They can ask questions about it and other things you’ve written, an opportunity not provided by a written query.

Bonus reason: Books!!

But peIMG_2587rhaps one of the best reasons to attend a writers’ conference is the books. Some free, some not so free, some autographed, some not. Conferences are an excellent way to remind ourselves why we got into this crazy writing business in the first place–because we love books.

This year’s haul —>

Author Interview: Christy McKee

Today fellow Ohio girl and NEORWA chapter-mate, Christy McKee, sits on the hot seat. Christy’s latest book, The Truth About Lilly, was released on Valentine’s Day. Welcome, Christy!

Tell us a bit about you. Where do you live, and how long have you been writing?

Thank you so much for having me today.  For starters, I am a Buckeye, born and raised in Ohio. When I married, my husband’s career took us to Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky and Louisiana, but my heart never left the Midwest. Finally, we have come home to stay and live in a picturesque little Ohio town with a lovely square and Victorian gazebo.  I worked in TV and advertising for many years, always doing some kind of writing but never fiction.  I heard about a Romantic Times convention and talked myself into going. A year later, my first book was completed.  The line I submitted to was done away with and my book collected dust for the next several years.

What inspired you to write The Truth About Lilly?

My early childhood was spent at a resort area, Indian Lake, in Ohio. My dad owned a marina and boat sales/repair operation. Growing up in a place where people vacation and are there to have a good time was fun. We always had a supply of new friends and many who came back year after year. I thought it would be interesting to build a series around a similar resort town, my fictional Haley, Vermont.

Sounds like a wonderful place to grow up! What does your writing process look like? 

My writing process is sort of a hybrid. I am not a pure panster but I stop at story boards. When a story idea comes to me it appears in Technicolor in video format.  I have the beginning and end but no middle. The real work comes in deciding on the plot points, creating the middle.  After I’ve decided how the characters need to grow, I am set to begin writing. I maintain if I plotted the book out in its entirety, all the fun of discovery would be gone. And… I’m all about having fun on the job.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

When I am not writing, I read, go to movies, go to Green Bay Packers games, watch Netflix series, PBS, research house plans for the perfect house I want to build someday and visit my children.

What are you working on now?

At the moment I am writing book two in The Shores of Lake Champlain series. It’s about a thriller writer who has withdrawn from life after losing his wife and child and the personal chef who is determined to force him to start living again.

What book are you reading now?

I love the Emily March series Eternity Springs and am reading book nine, Tear Drop Lane.

I tend to work through story ideas when I’m driving or in the shower, both of which are, of course, places I can’t write anything down. Do you have any strange writing habits?

Here I thought I was the only one who wrote in the shower. For some reason, after lathering and rinsing, I crank up the water temperature and go into a “mellow thought” zone.  Plot problems I’ve fiddled around with suddenly have a solution. I am not being kind to the environment, I know—all that hot water– but for some reason it works. I keep expecting my mother to show up—in ghost form– and knock on the bathroom door telling me I am using up all the hot water.  As for driving and writing, don’t get me started. I’ve gone to the grocery for milk and ended up God knows where—truly I didn’t know where– while ruminating over a new scene for my book. The things we go through for our art.

Oh my. I don’t tend to get lost, but I have sometimes been surprised to arrive at my destination without being completely aware of getting there.  That’s probably a bad thing to admit, isn’t it?

The Truth About Lilly, by Christy McKeechristylillysmall190x303 (1)


Lilly Talbot never imagined she would be starting her life over again.  Losing her good name for something she didn’t do has driven her to move into an old lake house she inherited in Vermont. Upon arrival, she is stunned to see half the roof is about to slide into Lake Champlain. Even more upsetting, the man who can fix it will only agree if she trades him room and board for his labor. What will the good people of Haley think of her sharing a house with the handsome bachelor?

A man with a past…

Connor “Mac” McQueen, once one of the infamous Whiz Kids of Wall Street, spent three years in prison for insider trading. Only one thing sustained him during his time inside, the thought of owning Point Cottage, a home he’d fallen in love with years ago. His plans to turn the house into a stunning showcase for his eco-friendly home construction business might be scrapped.

Secrets and lies…

Now someone’s trying to drive Lilly from her home. Is it someone from her past?  Mac has secrets of his own– that could ruin lives if revealed. But if Lilly and Mac are to have a future together they must first delve into the past for answers and accept some difficult truths about each other. Only then, will they know if true love is in their hearts.


   “Last week I had a blue Mercedes soft top.” She didn’t elaborate that it was a leased car, and she could neither afford to buy or lease another one. “If vandals had done this to that car, your sheriff would have found the culprits strung up by their toes in some of those big ole’ trees in the front yard.”
   “Blood thirsty little thing, aren’t you?” He offered up a rusty chuckle, relieved at her lift in spirits.
   “You know us Southerners. We still have our backs up over the War of Northern Aggression.”

Find Christy and her books at:

Another visit to Akron

Akron’s been on my mind lately, as I’ve been there more in the past two weeks than I have in years. Okay, only twice, but still.

Last week my husband and I went to a concert (Wilco, in case you were wondering) at the Akron Civic Theater, which is truly one of the oddest looking buildings I think I’ve ever been in.

Strangely enough, given that my dad grew up in Akron and my grandmother lived there almost her entire adult life, I had never been there before.  It was originally envisioned as “the Hippodrome,” a 3,000 seat movie theater with an arcade full of shops and restaurants. It was designed in 1919 by L. Oscar Beck, an Akron dance hall owner. Construction began and the lobby was built, but the project was bankrupt by 1921. In 1925, the abandoned lobby and adjacent land along the Ohio and Erie Canals were purchased by Marcus Loew–who founded the Loew’s theater chain and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios–and designed by architect John Eberson.

The theater was completed in 1929, two years after Loew’s death. Its interior was fashioned after a Moorish castle featuring Mediterranean decor, including medieval carvings, European antiques and Italian alabaster sculptures. Eberson also designed the theater to be “atmospheric,” featuring twinkling starlit skies (seriously, it’s wild–this picture of mine doesn’t do it justice at all) and drifting clouds.

Proscenium arch, Akron Civic Theater

I had never seen or heard of an atmospheric theater before, so being the nerd that I am I needed to do some digging. The Akron Civic is one of the largest remaining examples of atmospheric theaters in the US. It was nearly destroyed in the 1960s, but for the enterprising persistence of a group of Akron matrons, who saved the theater from destruction and insured its continued success. (Ironically, they did so in part by selling popcorn, the smoke and grease from which so blackened the walls that the theater underwent a $19 million cleaning and renovation in 2001. Or at least that’s what the guy selling beer(and no popcorn) told us.)

John Eberson was born in Romania in 1875 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1901. He developed the atmospheric design, and by the end of his career had designed anywhere from 100 to 1,200 theaters, depending on which website you choose, all over the world. Usually designed with European themes, Eberson’s theaters featured large sky-blue ceilings with twinkling stars and clouds, and facades on either side. You can almost imagine you are in a courtyard in some ancient European city. Almost. We really weren’t sure what the fake Christmas trees along the top were doing in a Moorish castle.

Left facade, Akron Civic Theater

It’s curious that so many of his theaters are in Ohio, and some in relatively small towns as well. Eberson designed the Colony Theater in Shaker Heights, which is now Shaker Square Cinemas (a slightly bizarre art deco space), as well as theaters in Marion, Canton, Bellefontaine (the only one with a Dutch motif and working windmills), Bryan, Celina, Norwalk. Perhaps it is because he built his first theater, the Jewel, in Hamilton, Ohio, and started his own architectural firm in Hamilton.

Have you ever been in an “atmospheric” theater? What did you think?

In addition to the links embedded above, check out these sites for more information and some great pictures:
There are some wonderful examples of Eberson’s work at this interesting blog about, of all things, ornamental plaster.

Western Reserve School of Design for Women

It’s been interesting to me lately how often I get inspired by presentations to the DAR. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, since for the last two years I have been in charge of selecting the speakers, but whatever. In our most recent meeting, the speaker was discussing the history of the Cleveland Institute of Art. The CIA began in 1882 as the Western Reserve School of Design for Women (WRSDW).

Old City Hall, built in 1875. Source: Cleveland Memory Project.

It was founded by Sarah Kimball, reportedly known as “Cleveland’s first militant suffragette,” in her own house on Euclid Avenue, intended to train women for a career in design–there was, after all, a shortage of marriageable men after the Civil War, and women had to do something to support themselves. The school was founded to teach “the principles of art and design as practically applied to artistic and industrial pursuits, and also the collection and exhibition of works of art and virtu.” (You can see a copy of the original Articles of Incorporation here.) In just six weeks, the school had outgrown Kimball’s house and moved to the attic of City Hall. Within one year, the school had grown to five instructors and 77 students.

Horace Kelley Mansion. Source: Cleveland Memory Project.

The school was co-ed from its inception, but the name kept its focus on women until 1892. It was renamed the Cleveland School of Art and moved into the Horace Kelley Mansion on Willson Avenue, now known as East 55th Street. Efforts to merge the school with Adelbert College, now part of Case Western Reserve University, were unsuccessful, and the school remains independent to this day.

Cleveland School of Art. Source: Cleveland Memory Project.

The School of Art remained in the Kelley Mansion until roughly 1906, when a new building was constructed in University Circle. In 1949, the school was renamed the Cleveland Institute of Art, and in 1956 moved around the corner into the more modern, and far less pretty, building in which it is still housed today.

In 2015, the Cleveland Institute of Art will move back onto Euclid Avenue into the former Model T Assembly plant that CIA acquired in 1981, and which now houses the Joseph McCullough Center for the Visual Arts.

Clara Wolcott Driscoll, c.1904-05.
Source: Morse Museum of American Art.

One of the WRSDW’s most notable alumna was Clara Wolcott Driscoll. Born in Tallmadge, Ohio, in 1861, Clara was a graduate of one of WRSDW’s first classes. In 1888, she moved to New York and found a job with the Tiffany Glass Company. Although she resigned in 1889 when she married Francis Driscoll–Tiffany did not employ married women–she returned to the company in 1892 when her husband died. She oversaw a small Women’s Glass Cutting Department. Tiffany was a proponent of women in his industry, because, Tiffany noted in 1894, women “were better suited than men for small hand work and possessed ‘natural decorative taste’ and ‘keen perception of color.’”

But in addition to glass cutting, Clara was a designer as well. In 2005, many of her letters came to light, revealing the fact that Tiffany did not design many of the lamps for which he was famous; Clara did.

Tiffany Studios Dragonfly Table Lamp, c. 1900-06.
New York Historical Society

Sources for more information on the Cleveland Institute of Art and Clara Driscoll

“Cleveland Institute of Art,” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
Cleveland Institute of Art website,
Designing Women in the Cleveland School of Art,” Marianne Berger Woods
“Breaking Tiffany’s Glass Ceiling: Clara Wolcott Driscoll (1861-1944),” CIA website, January 1, 2012
“Out of Tiffany’s Shadow, a Woman of Light,” New York Times, February 25, 2007
“A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls,” New York Historical Society traveling exhibit
“Tiffany Studio Designers,” Morse Museum of American Art exhibit
Website of Susan Vreeland, author of Clara and Mr. Tiffany (2012), 

The Ohio City Bridge War

After my last Cleveland post, a friend asked if I would write something about the Ohio City War. “The what?” I thought I knew my hometown pretty well, but it turns out I knew squat.

The origins of the “Bridge War” lie in Cleveland’s inherent schizophrenia. There are two sides of the city: west of the Cuyahoga River, and east of the river. The Cuyahoga is that squiggly blue line running through the center of the city in the map below.

Cleveland, OH, 1910. Source: US Digital Maps Library.

I am actually one of those relatively rare beings who have lived on both sides, but most of my life has been spent on the east. We sometimes joke that you need a passport to go from one to the other.

After Cleveland was founded in 1796, the west side was populated by captains of industry, and most of Cleveland’s factories are on that side of the river. The east side came to be inhabited primarily by lawyers, bankers, executives, and the like. Although the east side had its “Millionaires’ Row” in Euclid Avenue, the west side had Franklin Avenue, which had its own grand houses, some of which still exist today (including Franklin Castle, which is rumored to be haunted, but I’ll leave that as a teaser for another post). As the city grew and prospered, the east side far outstripped the west in terms of wealth and development.

Because the west side was separated from the east by the river, and the ferries that had moved people from side to side were inconvenient, a bridge was built to connect the two halves of town. The near west side was an incorporated municipality in its own right, known as Ohio City. 

One of Cleveland’s first bridges was a floating bridge off of Center Street which connected Cleveland with what became Ohio City, and was jointly owned and maintained by the two municipalities. It was made of large whitewood logs chained together. When a ship wanted to pass, a section of the bridge was floated to one side and then drawn back into place by ropes. The bridge was carried away by flood a number of times, each time replaced by something they thought might be a little better. 

In the spring of 1836, an group of east side developers constructed a bridge south of the floating bridge on Columbus Street.

Columbus Street Bridge, c1836. Source: Cleveland Historical Society.

The new Columbus Street Bridge provided a direct route to Cleveland from the Medina and Wooster turnpike (now known as Pearl Road) and bypassed Ohio City’s main commercial thoroughfare. It was a covered bridge with a draw at the center allowing ships to pass. Ohio City residents, justifiably fearing that the new bridge would divert commercial traffic, were incensed. In retaliation, they boycotted the bridge. Unimpressed, Cleveland quietly removed its half of the floating bridge in the middle of the night. 

Ohio City then made a number of attempts to destroy the bridge, including an ineffective explosion. Either in late 1836 or 1837–I am not sure which historical account is accurate–a mob of Ohio City residents marched to the Columbus Street Bridge with guns, crowbars, axes, and other weapons, intending to finish the job. They were met by Cleveland’s mayor and armed Cleveland militiamen. In the ensuing fight, three men were seriously wounded, and a number of arrests were made. In the end, the courts wisely decided that Cleveland needed more than one bridge. Cleveland restored its half of the Center Street Bridge, and Ohio City stopped trying to blow up the Columbus Street Bridge.

Columbus Street Bridge, c1986. Source: Cleveland Memory Project.  

The original wooden Columbus Street bridge was replaced by a steel span in 1870, then by a double swing bridge, and finally by a lift bridge in 1940. The 1940 bridge is currently closed and is being restored. Ironically, it is now a popular route between Cleveland and Ohio City.

Center Street swing bridge. Source:

The many incarnations of the Center Street Bridge were finally replaced by a steel swing bridge in 1900, which remains in use today.

Ohio City was annexed by Cleveland in 1854, and is now home to Cleveland’s historic West Side Market and some of the best restaurants in town.

There are a number of great resources on Cleveland’s bridges, among them: 
Bridges of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County (1918), available on Google Books. 
The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
The Cleveland Memory Project, in particular
The Cleveland Historical Society, which also has an awesome free app that puts Cleveland history at your fingertips as you travel around town. 

Visiting my Hometown

This week I am starting a departure from all things English (gasp) to spend some time closer to home.

I live in Cleveland, Ohio. I was born here, and have spent well over half my life here. Living in “the Mistake on the Lake,” especially during the 1970s , gave one a bit of an inferiority complex. We had a river that actually caught fire. We had the “boy mayor” whose municipal mismanagement made us the laughing stock of the world–I remember visiting Canada when I was a kid, and the waiter in a Chinese restaurant said, “Ah, you’re from Cleveland. Don’t you have that crazy mayor?”

Growing up, I had been vaguely aware of the city’s history–the landscape is dotted with gorgeous old buildings in varying stages of decay, and my own high school was built in 1926, so it was hard to be completely oblivious–but I never gave it much thought.

Cleveland Heights High School, c1930, from The Cleveland Memory Project

In recent months, however, I’ve been doing some exploring of my fair city’s background, and it is a little bit amazing.

Charles Brush mansion, built in 1884, from The Cleveland Memory Project

In 1885,  half the world’s millionaires lived in Cleveland, most of them on one street–Euclid Avenue, once famously known as “Millionaires’ Row.”

These millionaires included John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil Company; Samuel Mather, who with his daughters and their husbands founded many Cleveland institutions, including Trinity Cathedral and University Hospitals; Francis Drury, who founded the Cleveland Playhouse; Isaac N. Pennock I, inventor of the first steel railway car in the US; arc light inventor Charles F. Brush; Amasa Stone, one of the founders of what is now Case Western Reserve University; John Hay, who served as personal secretary to Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State under William McKinley; Jeptha Wade, founder of Western Union Telegraph, any many others.

Euclid Avenue postcard, from The Cleveland Memory Project

Euclid Avenue was described in the 1893 edition of Baedeker’s Travel Guide as “one of the most beautiful residence-streets in America.” Incredibly hard to believe now, as the vast majority of these beautiful homes were demolished, and the magnificent trees lining the street were devastated by Dutch Elm Disease.

Euclid Avenue, c. 1905, from The Cleveland Memory Project

Eventually the millionaires moved out to the country, which became Cleveland’s suburbs, went broke, or left Cleveland entirely, and their homes were demolished. But for awhile, Cleveland was truly a magnificent place.

In future posts I’ll touch on some of the stories from Cleveland’s heyday, including the one of the woman who tried to swindle Andrew Carnegie. In the meantime, if you’re so inclined, take a look at the website of the Cleveland Memory Project, which has all the photos I posted today and thousands more. Also consider visiting the site of Dan Ruminski, whose wonderful presentation I attended a couple of months ago sparked my interest.

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