Calico Ball historical collective

The CalicoBall Collective?

If you are reading this, you probably LOVE history. And if you are like all the other history lovers I know, you are probably ALWAYS looking for ways to integrate a little piece of the past into your daily life. So wouldn’t it be nice to have one place where you can do just that? Wouldn’t it be nice to have one place where you can find interesting historical vignettes? Or historical recipes adapted for modern cooking techniques? Or guides to heirloom gardening? Or even tips and tricks on how to adapt historical clothing patterns for modern wear? And wouldn’t it be nice if those who are masters in these fields had a place where they could share their knowledge? If so, then CalicoBall™ is the place for you!

What is a Calico Ball?

Ladies pose for the photographer in their matching calico dresses. Image c. late 1880s

Calico Balls (often called Grand Calico Balls) originated in the mid 19th century and served as benevolent social gatherings. Ladies and gentlemen of middle and upper middle class would forego their fancy silks and satins for the evening and instead don much simpler gowns and ties made from humble cotton calico. Afterwards, calico ballgowns were donated to local charities. Calico Balls reached their heyday in the 1870s and lasted well into the early 20th century.

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Origins of the CalicoBall Collective

CalicoBall was a musing that started in early 2019. After 25 amazing years of making historical fashion, I was looking to the future and wondering- WHAT’s NEXT? About this time, I read an article in Early American Life magazine regarding the history of calico. I was intrigued with the idea of Grand Calico Balls and the concept of taking something traditionally associated with the “laboring or lower” class and elevating it “grandeur.” This concept struck home as it is also the foundation of a 21st century movement currently sweeping across the South. Similar to the late 19th-early 20th century Arts and Crafts movement, trends toward ruralism, urban gardening, dress reform, and the reintroduction of folk music into modern popular culture are pervasive across the region. Twenty first century chefs are looking to the South’s culinary past and reviving what was once considered “poor folk” food and elevating it to fine dining. Popular authors are writing stories about real life characters who embody the deeply embedded Southern concepts of struggle, survival, and resilience. Recent evidence of this movement is Ken Burns’ 2019 documentary on Country Music which traces the origins of the musical mega genre back to its quaint, rural roots.

Realizing historical clothing is only a small part of this larger sociological, cultural, and historical context, it was obvious connecting with topics and ideas outside historical clothing itself was not only an exciting new prospect but also part of this larger revivalist movement going on around us.

And with that, the CalicoBall collective was born.

Woman feeding a calf c. 1910. Photographer: Reuben Sallows
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CalicoBall Mission

At CalicoBall, we celebrate the humble. We believe meaningful connection with the past is the root of authentic living. We honor our rural heritage by preserving the cultural story of those who came before us and we strive to provide a place of respite for our readers in this fast- paced, often hectic, modern world!

Jess and Amy
Milking time in the Sequatchie Valley c. 2018. Photographer: Susan Jarrett
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Barb KingLead Interpreter, Barrington Plantation/Texas Historical Commission

Susan Jarrett

Susan JarrettHistorian and Founder, Maggie May Clothing

Love History? So do we! Join our tribe!

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CalicoBall is a grassroots effort to document, preserve, and present rural America’s diverse historical traditions. CalicoBall is an educational extension of Maggie May Clothing. All rights reserved.