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Civil War fashion

November 19, 2011
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

When we think of Civil War women's clothing, most of tend to visualize the women of the Antebellum South, hoop skirts, grandly embellished with ribbons and bows. These elegant styles were common, but generally limited to the wealthier classes. Keep in mind that by the end of the war, everything in the south had changed. But up to and during part of the war, wealthy women wore several dresses each day. A morning dress was plainer. An evening dress was low on the shoulders and suitable for a party. A walking dress had a longer peltote (a jacket, which was essential to the outfit), that matched the skirt. Bodices were somewhat lower than the actual waistline, but rose after the war. Bodices were lined for support, and closed in front by buttons or hooks and eyes.

Working class women had generally only two or three everyday dresses, one Sunday best, and maybe the newest everyday dress reserved for going to town, or visiting people.

Hems were not turned under on dresses as they are today, but bound by a strip of fabric. This fabric could be removed and replaced if the hem showed wear.

Women generally wore several layers of clothing. Layer one was the drawers, chemise, and stockings, held up with garters. Layer two was the corset, stiffened with whale bone and a crinoline hoop skirt, or two or three petticoats. Layer three was a petticoat bodice, corset cover, or camisole. Layer four was the bodice, a skirt held up with suspenders, a belt and slippers. Layer five was the outerwear for leaving the house, plus a shawl, gloves or mittens, button up boots, bonnet or hat, bag or purse, handkerchief, fan and a watch.

The ideal woman of pre-Civil War south had pale skin and a round face. Her hair was parted down the middle and drawn back with soft loops. For dress the side hair hung loose in ringlets.

Jewelry was small. A brooch was worn at the neckline during the day. Matching chunky bracelets were worn on each wrist.

Fans were a necessity in the south because of the heat and humidity. Fans were simple, made of palmetto leaves, and painted with pretty designs. A nosegay, or small bunch of aromatic flowers was a popular accessory in an era without deodorant!

Purses were small drawstring affairs. Collar and cuffs were usually white and were removable for laundering or style change.

A parasol was a fabric umbrella carried on a sunny day to protect a woman's complexion and offer a little shade.

Lower class Civil War women in the south did not wear hoop skirts, and wore coarser fabrics, solid colors, or small calico prints. A wrapper was often worn, which was a loose one piece dress pleated from neck to hem and belted for shape, often with an apron. Wrappers were worn by working women, lower class women, rural women, and for household chores.

Hair jewelry was a special type of Civil War jewelry, used to remember loved ones separated by distance or death. It included the person's hair in rings, brooches, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, or watch chains. As the war progressed it became more and more mourning jewelry.



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