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Sarah Elizabeth Van Riper (1857-1942)


Sarah Elizabeth Van Riper, later in life, with her husband, Cornelius Post.

Sarah Elizabeth Van Riper, daughter of Uriah J. Van Riper and Anna Banta, was the musician of the family. In 1852, Godey's Lady's Book described music as "so important a branch in female education"; a talent expected of a genteel young lady. Uriah and Anna appear to have encouraged Sarah's musical pursuit. Tax records from the 1860s show that the family owned a piano. Sarah's audience may have ranged from her immediate and extended family members to her father's political allies (or enemies, depending on the occasion). We don't know if she was an eager student or pushed into performance by her parents, but she definitely wasn't a stranger to the stage. According to church records, she played the organ at Preakness Reformed Church, where her family attended services. Music and the church were a part of her life until her death in 1942. Her golden wedding anniversary celebrations included a vocal performance, and when she died, she was the oldest living congregant at Preakness Reformed Church.


In 1877, Sarah married Cornelius Post, and the couple lived on a farm in the Preakness section of Wayne. Early in her marriage, Sarah may have worn an outfit like this; a matching bodice and skirt ca. 1880, from the Wayne Museum's collection.

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An example of a bustle or cage crinolette, ca. 1872-1875, from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.


Princess Alexandra of Wales, later Queen of England, photographed ca. 1878, from the Fashion History Timeline.


Sarah, living in rural New Jersey, may not have kept to the fashion standards set in Paris. However, she wasn't completely out of the loop- her family was upper middle class and had connections to Paterson, Fair Lawn, and beyond. And there was plenty to keep up with when it came to women's fashion in the 1870s and 1880s.

In the middle of the 1860s, the wide cage crinoline started developing into a new kind of undergarment; the bustle. Rather than extending out to the sides, this garment shifted the silhouette back. The bustle helped support the draped, gathered, or piled fabric in the back of the skirt. Trimmings, too, were getting increasingly heavy; bows, lace, tassels, braid, ruffles, and more all found their way onto the skirts and bodices of the period. Fashionable styles also differed depending on the time of day. Skirts could be reused throughout the day, paired with a long sleeve morning bodice, which was traded out for a shorter sleeved evening bodice.

By the middle of the 1870s, however, the bustle deflated. Sarah may have read newspaper or magazine articles about the Princess of Wales, Alexandra, who popularized the 'princess line' style. The silhouette got slimmer. Bodices started to lengthen towards the hips. The front of the silhouette was straight and snug. While the bustle had placed volume at the small of the back, now volume came from below the hips, even spilling out into long trains. This silhouette lasted into the early 1880s, before the bustle came back for a second turn.

While not as flashy as some of the patterned fabrics and bright silks found in the fashion plates, a lightweight wool gown like the one seen above still would have given Sarah all the marks of a fashionable lady. The slimmer silhouette, lower reaching bodice, decorative trim, and ruffled train were all the rage in the early 1880s.

If Sarah didn't have access to French fashion plates, like this one from 1880, she could probably consult Godey's Lady's Book, an American women's magazine published from 1830 to 1898. Plate from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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