Fashion in Wartime in Waltham

By Arthur Smith

Waltham’s odd little Charles River Museum of Industry first whistled its siren song to me because of their Steam Punk festival last year. With my usual acumen, I missed the show by nearly 6 months, but did get out there on a recent Saturday for a look at their latest exhibit, on war and fashion.

First, a little about the museum. Waltham was an industrial powerhouse in the 19th century, known particularly for watch making and, although the city has not preserved this history with the scope of Lowell, the mills and factories along the Charles have been preserved. Although they now contain mostly high-end offices and luxury condos, one corner of the complex has been turned into a quirky museum with artifacts of the industrial age. Including two linotype machines (photo below: the Mergenthaler Linotype Machine), which barely seem to be history to me as my parents, both newspaper reporters, lived through the age of crusty linotype operators and the drama of seeing one's words set in molten type. (In our lazy digital age now, I just press “print!”)

The collection has a wonderfully random "cabinet of curiosity" feel. Visitors, whether casual tourists, history buffs, or the watch and clock collector, will find much to engage them. The main hall, enlivened by a crew preparing for a wedding, is a celebration of craft—vintage machine tools, presses, drills, lathes, those linotype machines, along with the other tools of the typesetters trade, such as turtles and type trays: beautiful as objects, and fascinating as history.

Outside the main hall, the museum was mostly empty; in fact my companion and I had the special exhibit to ourselves. Entitled “Frontline Fashion ” and drawing heavily on Vintage in Waltham, MA, which fashion savvy-friends assure is the best vintage shop around, the show traces the conversation between fashion trends and war, and was curated by students at Lasell College. I’m hardly one to assess fashion, but the show made connections that are new to me (trench coats get their name from WWI trench warfare). Like the museum itself, the show is one-of-a kind and was worth hunting out.

Photos by Arthur Smith

(Frontline Fashion at the Charles River Museum, a YouTube video)


About the Author
Arthur Smith Arthur Smith
Arthur Smith is the former editor of WGBHArts. Executive producer for digital education at WGBH, Arthur, an amateur pianist and singer, was previously a freelance classical music reviewer for the Washington Post for 9 years. He has also worked at an opera company, and ran the information service and publications programs for OPERA America, the national service organization for the art form.  Since 1991, he has been the program annotator for Vocal Arts DC, a classical song recital series based at Washington's Kennedy Center. 


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