The Evanston Historical Society has been calling its costume collection the second largest in the state (after the 50,000-odd pieces at the Chicago Historical Society) for a long time, but it was just a guess. Now, having completed an inventory that tallied more than 10,000 items–80 percent of them women’s wear–EHS can make the claim with assurance. Curator Janet Messmer says the fresh look at the collection’s hundreds of accoutrements inspired her to mount the current exhibit, The Perfect Accessory–a peek at some of the necessary trimmings for the well dressed from 1820 through the 1950s. Hats were de rigueur for most of that time (finished off, like many other things, by the 60s, Messmer notes), and the exhibit includes bonnets, the most common headwear for most of the 19th century, and the narrow vertical hats that usurped them in the 1880s. Some of those were trimmed with whole birds, usually treated with arsenic to take care of any insects that might be coming along for the ride. There’s a 1914 toque, a 1923 cloche, a “coolie” hat from the 30s, and a late-1940s wide-brimmed “New Look” picture hat, trimmed with swooping fake birds made from osprey and pheasant feathers. But the hats are only part of the story: there’s also a purse decorated with melon seeds, a silver posy holder on a finger ring, a watch chain made of braided hair, a blue plush cigar case with a top shaped like a samurai sword, and more. So much more that Messmer will rotate pieces in and out of the show during its run, which continues through October. The Evanston Historical Society is at 225 Greenwood in Evanston. Hours are 1 to 5 Thursday through Sunday and admission is $5, $3 for students and seniors. Call 847-475-3410.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Janet Messmer.