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Monday, August 20, 2012

Civil War Ladies Fashion Show

This is the Place Heritage Park Ladies Fashion Show Aug 10 - 11, 2012.
My Mom took these pictures for me.  Thanks Mom.
At every Civil War event we do a Ladies Fashion show where we start in 1860s undwear:  a Chemise (or a long cotton slip with short sleeves that is off the shoulder) bloomers, stockings and shoes.  Then we build up the different layers from there.  I was the model this year because I finally got all of my underclothes period correct down to the shoes and stockings.  I was getting a lot of flack from wearing my oh so comfortable sneakers all the time.
This is my friend Amanda helping to tighten the corset and give the presentation.  Everything about 1860s Ladies Fashion was to accentuate a tiny waist.  An ideal waist size was 15" to 18" around.  Women starting wearing a corset at age 16.  I started wearing mine at 31.  You need someone to help you get into one of these.  Back then it was a Mother, Sister, Servant, Slave, or Mammy.  J helps me when no one else is available.  The term "Loose Woman" or "Loose Girl" came from a lady who wore her corset loose so she could get in and out of it quickly.  Also the phrase, "Tight laced" came from wearing a corset.  I learned that you must put your stockings and boots on before the corset because there is no bending over once it is on.
Hoop Skirt
Large at the bottom and large on top is our motto, all to focus on that tiny waist.  The corset also helps hold up the hoop skirt and petticoats.  Like today's fashions, the hoop skirt style came from France.  There were several types of hoop skirts, the one I have has 6 rings and is pretty flouncy with ruffles sewed in to mimic an extra petticoat that I do not need to sew.  Hoops were made from whale bone, wood, rope, wire, stiff fabric, cotton, or horse-hair.  Another option was a Crinoline which was a wire, leather, or rope cage without the fabric in between that also gave the nice bell shape under a skirt.  Crinolines are also lighter to wear than a full fabric hoop.
Petticoats give the dress a nice full look.  I had one petticoat and sewed another three for this event.  Ladies normally wore 3 to 7 petticoats under their dresses, over the hoop.  Southern Bells wore as many as 10-18 petticoats to make their dresses look really fluffy.  It was considered immodest to have the "bones" or ribbing of the hoop skirt show through your dress.  During the winter you wore more petticoats for warmth.
Ladies only had 2-3 dresses which were washed occasionally to keep the colors from fading.  To prevent the dresses from getting sweat stains and dirt around the sleeves and neck they wore undersleeves and collars that would get dirty instead of the dress.  These were changed out and cleaned.  It is easier to clean a removable undersleeve than an entire shirt. 
A full 10 yards of fabric for the skirt that my beloved husband painfully sewed for me.  He made my dress so I could go re-enacting with him: skirt, shirt, undersleeves, and chemise.  I bought the bloomers and made the petticoats.  He also bought my hoop, stockings, shoes, and lace collar.  He sewed all his own uniforms and did some of the leather work.  He cooks as well.  I am so lucky to have him.
The shirts, or top of the dresses, also had large puffy sleeves with the hem line off the shoulder to make it look fuller on top, again to accentuate a narrow waist.  Notice, both Amanda and I wear white collars.  Almost every day outfit had a white collar and white sleeve cuffs.  At night the rules were different, but during the day it was long sleeves and dresses up to the neck for modesty and sun protection.  The shirt matches the colored flowers on the skirt, but clothing colors and patterns did not always match back then.  Clashing fabric patterns and colors were commonly used.  For a man a pair of pants, shirt, vest, and jacket all from different colored or patterned material was common.  This indicated that he was wealthy enough to afford more than one bolt of fabric.
And a bonnie new hat to top it off courtesy of  Mary Ann Barnard.   You know, the hat lady, or Milner, a person who makes hats.  She made this one special for me with green trim and peacock feathers which I requested.  Now I just need J to make me a new dress to go with it.
Now my Civil War outfit is complete and I look like a proper lady who is ready to go about town.