Six Generations of Style: A Wisconsin Family's Fashion Legacy

Sep 11, 2017

An exhibit at the Museum of Wisconsin Art showcases the clothes of six generations of an upper-middle class, Marshfield family -- The Roddis family.

“The collection is probably the most studied and researched collection of its type in the United States," Edward Maeder explains. He's the curator of The Roddis Collection: American Style and Spirit.

Roddis shirred beaver dress
Credit Photo by Gillian Bostock Ewing, copyright Jane Bradbury

“Clothes are communication; that’s the bottom line. My professor in London used to say, ‘We think our clothes cover us when in fact they reveal our true selves as silently we inspect one another,’” he adds.

Why the Roddis family?


Maeder explains that they were an example of the general society at the time. “The whole family is kind of a microcosm of what was going on, not only here but around the world.”  


Museum’s director of collections, Graeme Reid adds, “I think a lot of times people might expect that a collection of clothing like this might come from an extremely wealthy high-society family, but this was a good, solid Midwestern, upper-middle class family.  I think one of the mantras about the whole family and the collection is quality not quantity.”


Running through mid-September, the collection is part of a museum exhibition called A State of Fashion, which also includes Milwaukee children's clothing designer Florence Eiseman and an exhibit featuring many modern Wisconsin designers.


Jane Bradbury has been the driving force behind cataloging and preserving her family’s collection of not only clothing but of letters and other objects. She now lives in London but was back in Wisconsin in August to give some talks about the Wisconsin side of her family.