Saturday, August 24, 2013

Woman's Clothing

I love researching and writing historicals and often have said I’d like to time travel into one of the settings of my stories, but, wearing a corset everyday would be about as convenient as the outhouse, so I’m glad I live in the twenty-first century. 

The corset was only one layer a woman had to deal with… After a rather tight corset, which was claimed to ‘provide even the stoutest of women a healthy option to control the shape of her body’, a woman added at least two petticoats, drawers, a chemise, crinoline, and bustle with cover, a corset cover, the ever fashionable hoop skirt, which was made with thick, heavy wire so it wouldn’t lose its shape, and then over all of this came the dress, (these were often made of heavy cottons, brocades, and wools). A women’s ensemble of 1800’s easily weighed over twenty-five pounds—without shoes, overcoat/cape, hat, gloves, etc. etc. 

In the 1860’s the popular, huge hoop skirts limited movement and sitting to the point at some social events, woman stood for the entire evening. No wonder the ‘vapors’ set in.

With the popularity of the home sewing machine, patented in the U.S. in 1848, and then the invention of paper patterns in the 1860’s, came infinite changes in apparel, both for men and women. The ability to mass produce clothing provided accessibility to a much larger array. Synthetic dyes were also becoming more popular, which provided bold, vibrant colors. The Civil War and the western land runs also changed fashion. During this time the simpler clothing worn by the ‘working’ class became more popular, especially in the south and west. Laboring in the plantation fields and/or walking for up to forty miles a day beside a covered wagon, women quickly discarded layers and the more constricting garments.  Until then most of the fashions came from overseas, and filtered through the U.S. by way of New York, but the gold rush in California quickly increased the population of the western U.S. shore and the women there, being outnumbered by men two to one, had the power to instill new fashion trends.

We often think of split skirts for horseback riding, but it wasn’t until the bicycle increased in popularity that split skirts and bloomers became popular. The trend started in San Francisco where women started to ‘shorten’ their skirts to ride bike. This is also where the ‘General Association for the Simplification of Women's Clothing’ was founded in 1896. I’m assuming it’s this association we have to thank for the much simpler bras and underwear of today. 

All in all, I truly can’t imagine how bulky twenty-five pounds of clothing would be to wear, especially in the summer heat! 



  1. I can't imagine, either, Lauri. No wonder the women sat and embroidered or some other quiet activity. Moving around in the heat would be difficult. But, then, they were acclimated to the life they led. For instance, I grew up without air conditioning except for a few hours a day because it caused my dad a sinus headache. We were uncomfortable at times, but now I could never tolerate life without air conditioning and ceiling fans.

  2. Women out west had simpler, less restricting corsets - but most still wore them to support the bosom. And thank goodness for the French! They designed the 'brassiere' in the early 20th century. I'm old enough to remember the age of the "foundation" - the girdle with stocking clasps - which my mother wore every day until she finally gave that up after pantyhose came out. What goes around comes back - now we have Spanx. Sigh.

  3. Very enlightening, Lauri. Today's garments are so blessedly simple and light, thank goodness.

  4. I read somewhere that women often developed severe urinary tract infections because they did not use the restroom as often as they needed. They learned to "hold it" for an entire day, in some instances. Not good at all for the female body. Oh, the men, what freedom they had!
    Don't we love the look of those fashions, though? Very romantic and lovely. And hot!
    Good for the ladies who shortened their skirts or used bloomer type pants to ride bicycles.
    The photos were great.

  5. Enjoyed the post, Lauri

  6. I remember the docent showing us the outhouse at Andrew Jackson's home. It was actually big enough for women to enter it with those large skirts. He said women had holes in their undies so they could just straddle the hole and hope for the best. YES, we do have it a lot easier today, thank goodness. I wonder what that society would think if they saw the almost none dressed women of today?

    Loved the post and photos.

  7. Cardigan sweaters are a versatile and must-have staple for every woman's wardrobe. A cardigan can add extra glamor, style and attention-grabbing appeal to any simple outfit. Women's sweaters come in several different styles such as long sleeves women sweater


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