Harnessing the Utility of Clothing

Helen Gould, Jay Gould’s eldest daughter made the transition from dutiful and religious daughter to one of the foremost philanthropists and best-loved women of her time. She studied law and New York University before the passage of suffrage. She championed women’s economic equality, helped finance the Spanish-American War, and married for love at the age of 45. While she was described by the New York Times as “plain, plump, and not interested in society,” Helen Gould had a keen eye for quality apparel and a taste for tailored clothing often in a palette of black, white, or neutrals. Many of her outfits convey a sense of style that is almost contemporary, combining quality materials with excellent tailoring and flattering silhouettes.

As a single teenager still living with her parents, Helen’s early wardrobe adheres to the appropriate standards of the period. The earliest dress in the exhibition is an elaborate purple silk ensemble of Helen’s by American seamstress M.A. Connelly which displays the voluminous construction and elaborate floral decoration typical of the 1880s. As Helen matures, her wardrobe metamorphoses to reflect her roles as executor of her father’s estate, a single businesswoman, sports enthusiast, and role model to her nieces. Her tastes shift towards English tailoring and luxurious but restrained use of decoration as her palette simplifies.

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