Dressed to Play!


To quote from some old familiar tunes, when “the weather outside is frightful,” inside the Oshkosh Public Museum visitors will find themselves “in the good old summertime.”

Dressed to Play! focuses on the summer fun families have enjoyed throughout the years. Since the emphasis is on family gatherings, this amazing exhibition features clothing worn by local children and adults, and a variety of belongings they used for both outside and inside entertainment. Many of the garments shown, especially those of children, have never been exhibited before.

The type of clothing we wear often reflects our personality, and it is usually the first thing people notice. People have worn distinctive attire in pursuit of summertime pleasure for many generations. As families gathered to enjoy the warmth and camaraderie of summer, they wore special clothes to mark the occasion or to help them enjoy a particular sport or activity. Over the decades, some clothing styles stayed remarkably the same, while others have changed as styles evolved and new trends emerged.

It’s fun to reminisce about the past, especially when we recall pleasant days at the lake, watching a ball game, enjoying a picnic with grandma’s famous cookies, or going to the County Fair. Although the methods have changed over the years, people have used photographs as a means to capture precious moments of enjoying these halcyon days with family and friends, and the Museum’s archives holds a plethora of options that served as inspiration for this winter’s exhibition.

Dressed to Play! has been broken down into five themes and includes a mixture of random time periods from roughly around 1880 through 1950. This allows the visitor to really discover how things have evolved, or how they have remained relatively unchanged.

Certainly one of the main activities was going to the fair during those last hot days of summer, where one could play games of chance to win a prize, eat cotton candy, or view local prize winning exhibitors from rabbits to quilts to pies. There was also the option of taking in one of the sideshows, not to mention whatever excitement could be seen from the grandstand. What you wore to this event was positively an important factor. Although the fair is now viewed as a more casual affair, it once was looked upon as the highlight of the year and a place where ones best, and coolest, garments could be shown off.

Another theme focuses around everyone’s favorite—the alfresco picnic. Whether a family affair or a company event, people love to share food and socialize in the outdoors. The variety of settings and clothing worn at these informal meals are as vast as the menus. Other themes include much-loved locations sought out during hot weather, which usually meant just getting away from town and enjoying the cooler weather found in the country or waterfronts. This is where many have, and still do, ride bicycles, go camping, swim, boat and play games.

Dressed to Play!, on display February 17 to May 19, is an exhibition of clothing, with accompanying historic photographs showing scenes and people from past generations. It was specifically chosen to generate memories, reflect on the pleasant pursuits of summer, and help us appreciate innovation — be glad we no longer wear wool on a hot day in July.


About Author

Tammy Malewski

The Oshkosh Public Museum is a non-profit regional history museum entrusted with the care of more than 300,000 historical photographs, documents, and artifacts that represent the history, culture and heritage of the region. Housed in the historic Sawyer home since 1924, the Oshkosh Public Museum is an amazing resource for research and discovery of Oshkosh and the Lake Winnebago region. Situated just off the Fox River near historic downtown Oshkosh, the Museum’s mission is to preserve the area’s colorful legacy, and to bring history to life through innovative exhibitions and educational programs that will both inspire and entertain guests of all ages and interests.

1 Comment

  1. I love you paper! God bless your efforts. Your articles are timely, up to date and informative. I love reading about Oshkosh. The Northwestern is so expensive and I really don’t care what’s going on in Green Bay etc. I must send you a check to help you along. Have you thought about going to the funeral homes and pushing obituaries? I am 70 years old and a lifelong resident of Oshkosh. I’ve stopped the NW a few times in frustration but have missed obits that I needed to respond to. Keep up the great work your doing. Best Regards,

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