Last Call for 


The Story of How Whalebone Shaped 19th-Century Fashion


Exhibit will close on Saturday, January 16, 2021

In Our Weathervane Gallery

Curated by Richard Doctorow

The beguiling ensemble of an elegant 19th-century lady—her billowing hooped skirts, shapely corset, and coquettish parasol—were  all made possible thanks to whalebone, or what we know of today as baleen. Used by whales to filter their food from the water, in the 18th and 19th centuries baleen was the “plastic” of its day. Light, strong, and flexible, it could be worked into any number of shapes and sizes, including hoops for skirts, ribs and shafts for parasols, and the “boning” that gave corsets their shape. Baleen was so vital and valuable that whalemen continued to hunt whales for it long after kerosene and petroleum had made whale oil virtually worthless.

Through this display of 19th-century photographs, fashion magazine plates, whaling tools, corsets, parasols, and exquisite dresses from our collection showing the changes in fashion from 1820 to 1920, When Woman Wore Whales explores the fascinating, surprising, and vital role the American whaling industry played in the world of 19th-century fashion.

Gallery Hours: Weds. – Sat., 10:00 am – 4:30 pm


The Suffolk County Historical Society Museum is open to the public for a safe, socially-distanced family outing with 15-minute intervals between parties. Exhibits provide a safe, “touchless” experience for adults and children alike. Masks are required of all museum visitors over age 2.  



300 West Main St.  Riverhead, NY 11901



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