Traveling by Ocean Liner: Dressing the Part
Our latest installation of What We Wore: Traveling by Ocean Liner. / THF190376
The current What We Wore exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation features garments worn by the Roddis family of Marshfield, Wisconsin, while traveling by ocean liner.
Postcard of Cunard’s White Star Line RMS Queen Mary, about 1949. / THF256419
During the mid-20th century, more Americans had the means and opportunity to experience a vacation abroad. Whether looking for relaxation or seeking adventure, these travelers enjoyed visiting places very different from home. Travel by ocean liner had become faster, more comfortable, and less expensive—and was part of the adventure.
Passenger list for Cunard White Star Line’s RMS Queen Mary, 1949. / THF701257
Traveling on an ocean liner in elegant first-class surroundings—a kind of five-star floating hotel—meant dressing up nearly every evening. So, into trunks and suitcases went formal dresses and tuxedos, along with daywear for shipboard activities and sightseeing on land. Enjoying the superb service and elegant atmosphere on shipboard—while dressing the part— was half the fun for travelers like the Roddis family of Marshfield, Wisconsin.
By the mid-1960s, most people would choose speedy airplane travel over grand ocean liners, and travel would become increasingly less formal.
Packing for ocean liner travel required careful planning. Nearly every evening, passengers donned formal dresses and tuxedos. Catherine Roddis took the evening dress below along on a 1948 cruise through the Caribbean to Brazil onboard the SS Nieuw Amsterdam.
Catherine Roddis (shown here with her daughter Augusta and husband Hamilton) wore the evening dress below in the Champlain Dining Room of the SS Nieuw Amsterdam, 1948. / Photo courtesy of the Estate of Augusta Denton Roddis
Evening Dress, about 1941, worn by Catherine Roddis. / THF166578
Augusta Roddis wore the dress shown below for daytime activities during a 1949 European trip onboard the RMS Queen Mary—the world’s fastest ocean liner in the late 1940s.
Day Dress, 1945. Worn by Augusta Roddis. / THF166561
Augusta Roddis, with her luncheon partner, in the first-class dining room of the RMS Queen Mary, September 1949. / Photo courtesy of the Estate of Augusta Denton Roddis
Catherine Roddis packed the dress shown below for a trip to Europe onboard RMS Queen Elizabeth. Margery Wilson, author of a 1941 etiquette book, recommended lace for travelers—it held its shape in any climate, required little ironing, and always looked elegant.
Dress, about 1948, worn by Catherine Roddis. / THF166563
Catherine Roddis (shown here with her son-in-law and daughter, Henry and Sara Jones, and husband Hamilton) wore the dress depicted above during a trip to Europe onboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth in 1950. / Photo courtesy of the Estate of Augusta Denton Roddis
While packing for ocean liner travel might be less complicated for male passengers like Hamilton Roddis, it still required suits and ties—and often a tuxedo.
Suit, 1951, worn by Hamilton Roddis. / THF165826
Hamilton Roddis and his daughter Augusta play shuffleboard on the SS Manhattan in 1938. / Photo courtesy of the Estate of Augusta Denton Roddis
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.
by Jeanine Head Miller, travel, fashion, Henry Ford Museum, What We Wore