During the performance of Odd Fellows rituals, members donned costumes to portray characters in the story and make the lessons come alive for initiates. A printed label stitched inside this robe reads “Inner Guard,” telling us it was intended to be worn by the person playing that character. The Inner Guard appeared in many rituals, guarding various doors and entrances until it was time for the initiate to enter. Lodges are known to have adapted costumes made for use in one role to be used instead by alternative characters. Sometimes costumes were even purchased and used by a completely different group than intended. In this case, the three-link chain at the chest probably reserved this costume solely for use in Odd Fellows rituals.
The robe has a label for the Ward-Stilson Company, a regalia manufacturer founded in New London, Ohio, in 1888. Some regalia companies began operations by making uniforms during the Civil War and changed their focus as the revival of interest in fraternal organizations expanded. Most regalia companies offered costumes in several different styles and materials at a range of prices. They also offered “starter groups”—package deals for a group of costumes for the primary characters in the rituals.
Stacy C. Hollander, "Independent Order of Odd Fellows Inner Guard Robe," exhibition label for Mystery and Benevolence: Masonic and Odd Fellows Folk Art from the Kendra and Allan Daniel Collection. Stacy C. Hollander, curator. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2016.