Clothes were never to be a source of vanity, but they were made attractive by the quality of their construction and materials. Shaker recipes for dying fabrics in shades of red, brown, blue, green and purple exist, demonstrating that a broad range of colors were used. The technique of making shot cloth, cross-weaving threads in color combinations such as red and white, red and blue, blue and brown, and other color combinations produce rich, iridescent shades. Decorative elements such as printed or woven patterned fabrics, possibly obtained from dresses brought in by new members that were not suitable for wear, lined the bodice and sleeves of dresses, though they would be seen by none but the sister who wore them. Neckerchiefs worn before about 1840 were typically of blue cotton with white border stripes or patterns; from about 1840 until about 1875 silk neckerchiefs made by the Kentucky Shakers were popular.
Some elements of style decreed by the Ministry or custom were of purely aesthetic value. The integral apron front of skirts, common from about 1810 until the end of the century, served no purpose, as a separate apron was worn by sisters while doing work. In 1855, the Ministry permitted the addition of five pleats on each side of the integral apron purely for the sake of appearance, as it would necessitate the use of more fabric.
In the second half of the 19th century, the rules relaxed considerably, and expressions of individual style and preference became more common. More worldly trim and ornaments were added, and styles evolved to be closer, though not up to date with, the fashion of the time. Skirts became fuller and more deeply pleated; according to Elder Henry Blinn, “To make the skirt set properly a crinoline or very full skirt was worn beneath it,” as was the custom in the world. By the 20th century, Shakers had latitude in clothing choices, and many sisters wore commercial cotton dresses, blouses, and skirts.
Shane Rothe (they/them) joined Shaker Museum in July 2023, working with independent curator Maggie Taft on an exhibition for the new museum space in Chatham. Shane is an artist as well as a curator and continues to create in the mediums of painting, sculpture, writing, and performance. Shane holds a BFA from CalArts and an MA in art history and curatorial studies from the University of Chicago.