Saturday, July 23, 2011

Letting the Clothing Speak - An 1860's Fashion Show

Clothing is about function - protecting our bodies from the elements. But fashion, that's something entirely different.

Fashion involves following the standards of your particular society and time, and perhaps expressing your individuality - if that's appropriate to the societal norms.

During the mid-19th century, the clothing worn by an given individual spoke volumes about the person wearing it; I decided to let the clothing speak to the attendees of the fashion show held during Charlton Park's Civil War event, held July 16th-17th, 2011.

It was an exceedingly hot weekend and spectators for the fashion show had to stand in the direct sun, so this years show was fairly short, but we packed in a huge amount of information. It was also interactive with the audience - they were asked to identify the type of person who might be wearing an outfit, lower, middle or upper class, rural or urban, North or South, what type of activity the outfit might be used for , etc.

The "sister dresses" made another appearance - they're a perfect style for sweltering weather.

We discussed why a family might buy an entire bolt of fabric and how that fabric might be used for girl's dresses, father and son's shirts (okay, probably not if it's pink like this fabric), and mama's apron or slat bonnet. We also mentioned the practice of reusing the fabric from the skirt of a dress in any number of items - all the little thrifty tricks of a middle class lady using her resources to best effect.

While these dresses are practical, everyday clothing, they do have some fashionable touches - the wavy braid trim and fancy buttons, pretty touches for lovely girls.

This lovely lady has had a long night, caring for a sick infant and has not yet dressed for the day.

She is wearing a wrapper, somewhat equivalent to a modern housecoat, and it would be strictly at home wear.

The baby is all in white, which may seem impractical, but is actually a very reasonable choice, as white clothing can easily be boiled clean. Underclothing for all ages is usually white for the same reason.

This particular wrapper was remade from an old, worn out dress - hence it's slightly dated style of fabric, a pattern that would have been popular during the 1850's. This is another example of thrift, one that is often seen in original garments.

It has some lovely sleeve details:

I'm so fortunate in my friends - when I ask for help, they always come through - even when I ask them to show off their nightclothes!

This nightgown was copied from an original and features beautiful white soutash braidwork and buttonhole stitched scallops - I do wish it showed up better in this photo, as the workmanship is stunning.

This gentleman is wearing his brand new, finished the night before the event, paletot.

Paletot's are considered an informal garment, being made with a loose fit, flap pockets and no lining. They're really going out of style by the 1860's, but this man is old enough to have worn this in his younger years and there's no reason to discard a perfectly serviceable garment, unless you're a spendthrift.

It's a good fit for his persona, that of a cooperage shop owner, who used to actively labor in the trade, but now leaves the physical labor to his employees, while he tends to the financial side of the business.

His success at business has allowed the expense of some hired help at home, an Irish girl who serves as a "maid-of-all-work".

Her clothing is completely practical: dark colors, with a pattern to hide stains, sleeves that can be rolled up out of the way, a kerchief round her neck, apron, and no hoop to get in the way when scrubbing the floors.

Our businessman's wife will often work right alongside her help, but she now has some leisure time on her hands and she has decided to support the war effort.

She's sending some mixed signals regarding which side she supports in the war, her patriotic apron favors the North, as does her combination of red shoes, white stockings and blue dress. But that bonnet, trimmed in red, white, red - is it actually a secession bonnet?

Patriotic clothing and accessories, such as cockades, aprons and even bonnets were favored by both sides in the conflict, especially early in the war years. But as the casualties mounted and the war dragged on, such items are less common.

The dress is not extravagant, the slight v-neckline is helpful in warm weather, as is her straw bonnet. The hoop is of modest size and the skirt slightly raised, both indications she intends to be actively engaged in activity.

Fashion always has a story to tell - this year the story involved a pair playful girls, a sick child being cared for be a weary grandmother, a prosperous business man and his household - common people of the 1860's, living their lives by the standards of the times.

Those same type of people exist today... but they sure don't dress the same!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing the history of fashion in the 1860's it was a interesting read. I never knew there was so much in fashion.