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Clothing Styles

Perhaps this section should be called "personal adornment" since it includes hair styles and jewelery in addition to clothing. Anne Foster of the Sharlot Hall Museum suggested the book "Dressed for the Photographer" by Joan Severa as a good reference for this type of information. With almost 600 pages in large 8.5 x 11 format, this tome is not light reading in any sense. The material Severa presents is far too complex and detailed for me to include it all here, but I'll try to point out some of the more obvious stylistic changes through the years. For more detailed info, see the book -- if you can understand the fashion jargon! With endless phrases like "... the long point and tapered scalloped bretelles of her bodice ..." or " ... white undersleeves with frilled manchettes, ..." and "... silk lace flounces under bands of ruching" I tend to get lost in it. With the help of the glossary each word makes sense, but they are so unfamiliar that together they rush together into a jumble. Despite my absolute fashion stupidity, I'll try to point out a few main trends in adult fashions here. The book also includes children's fashions.

1840's
Women's fashions consisted of floor length dresses with bell-shaped skirts over many layers of thick petticoats, and very constrictive corset, giving a flattened and upward spreading bustline. Sleeves tended to be narrow, the bodice long and tight, and almost always closing in the back. Collars and sleeves were always white, of varying styles. Bonnets were popular, with deep, face concealing brim, and long drooping ends. An elbow-length cape called a pelerine was often worn. Ribbons around the neckline, and sometimes also the waistline, were 1.5 to 2.5 inches wide. A gold watch and pencil was worn on a gold chain or black cord, though only the chain or cord is visible in most photographs. Hair was parted in the middle and drawn back, over the ears in many cases, while younger women might have dangling curls. Earrings are rarely visible.

Men wore various styles of coats that tended to have long, narrow sleeves, fitted high under the arm. They nearly always wore a tie and vest for photographs, and often a hat as well. Ties were generally of modest width and tied in a small horizontal bow. Most men were clean-shaven, though some had a fringe of beard that went down from the sideburns and under the chin. Mustaches were occasionally worn by younger men, thick with downward turning ends.

1850's
Women wore wider skirts with more decorative elements in the 1850's. There was a short-lived fad for "Bloomers" consisting of a short skirt over ankle-length Turkish trousers, but most women continued to wear the proper floor-length dress styles. Older and heavier women began using shorter corsets in the late '40s and by 1853 those became the dominant fashion for all. With the popularization of a shorter corset in 1853 came a plain, one-piece dress style with a moderately long waist and bishop sleeves, opening at the front of the bodice. Necklines were more open than formerly, and wider collars were in style. Collars as wide as three to three and a half inches were worn flat on the shoulders, rather than upright as had been the earlier style. The bodice was usually plain, with two long darts at either side. By the mid-1850's the hooped skirt was replacing voluminous petticoats. Bonnets were more open, with shallow sides and set further back. In the early 1850's many women wore their hair in a style that presents a distinctive silhouette in photographs, with broad loops just over the tops of the ears. Later in the decade the loops became softer and lower, often covering the entire ear, but not extending out so far as they had earlier.

Men in the early 1850's wore fashions similar to the late 40's, but after 1854 wider, looser fashions were introduced. Vests tended to be double breasted, often with notched collars. Most noticeable on photographs are the neckties peculiar to the 1850 - 1857 period, a stiff, horizontally tied, two inches wide silk black or checked cloth that extends out on one side, giving an asymmetric appearance. Men tended to be clean shaved in the early part of this decade, but toward the end beards became more popular. Young men and boys often wore their hair in a distinctive high wave at the center of the forehead. Side hair got longer toward the end of the decade, covering the ears after 1857.

1860's
The Civil War caused some disruption of fashion trends, particularly in the south. Cloth of any kind was at a premium, and much effort went into providing the soldiers with warm clothes and blankets. The rising popularity and availability of the sewing machine resulted in an overall increase in tailoring skills, so much so that after the war there was an oversupply of seamstresses.

Women, even those of modest means, used their skills to keep fashionable, even if only by altering older garments. In the early part of the decade skirts continued to be very full all around, but after 1864 they became narrower and flat across the front, while behind they extended out even further. On plain-colored dresses braided or stamped borders imitating braid were often used around the bottom edge. Dresses tended to be very short- waisted, increasingly so as the decade wore on. The bodice shoulders were long and sloping, with a low, almost horizontal armscye at armpit level. Bodices fastened down the front, usually with buttons, and generally had two darts on either side of the front. Small collars were again in fashion, and many dress styles were tight to the base of the neck. Sleeves were wide and billowing in bell shaped flares, or more modestly flaring bishops sleeves. Belts, often very wide with a large buckle, were quite common. Neck ribbons were no longer popular, and when worn at all tended to be very narrow. Hair styles mostly involved a central part and hair drawn back tight behind the ears, though some still wore styles that covered the ears -- but not looped out in the 50's style. Hair nets came into fashion, though after 1863 they tended to be the "invisible" style.

Men who were not in military uniforms tended to continue in the 50's styles for the early part of the decade. By mid-decade the coat styles tended to be shorter and more closely fitted, with narrower sleeves. Vests were usually collared with narrow lapels. The stiff, upright, shirt collars were only worn for dressier occasions, while day to day shirts had collars that folded down. Ties became narrower, with the ends hanging down from the knot. Beards were popular, and the hair generally parted at the side and drawn smoothly back away from the face.

1870's
In 1870/71 fashion trends, which almost all originated in France, were disrupted by the Franco-Prussian War. America was in a post-war recession that turned to depression by 1873.

Women's wear of 1870 to 1876 period featured a bustle at the back of the skirt, with the sides drawn in and back, presenting a narrower profile when viewed from the front. Corsets were short at the beginning of the decade, lengthened again towards the end. The waistline was very high in the early years of the decade, but after 1874 waistlines began to lengthen. At that point two piece dresses became the fashion, with a long jacket bodice and separate skirt. Some of these jacket style bodices were fastened down the front, while others were worn open, with a long vest beneath them. These various pieces might be of different materials, but were generally dark in color. There was much use of pleating and ruffled flounces. Earrings were long and dangling early in the decade, but after 1873 a simpler, shorter, single drop became fashionable, as hair was drawn close at the sides of the head. Towards the end of the decade simple button-type earrings were popular, along with higher hair styles. Black velvet neck ribbons, 1/4 to 1/2 inch wide, were worn tied at back with a bow, with a brooch at the front.

Men's jackets became closer fitting and narrower, though for casual wear the extremely loose styles are still seen. Shirts begin to appear in more varied colors and patterns. The seventies necktie was wide and tied in a loose knot with square ends, but conservative and older gentlemen often wore the narrower style of the previous decade. Beards seem to have gradually lost favor over the decade.

1880's
Women in the 1880's had more variety to choose from, and could even buy ready-made dresses for work or casual wear. After 1882 skirts were fuller than at the turn of the decade, with some padding at the back. In 1883 the bustle returned to fashion, reaching it's peak in 1886, with side pads that widened the hips. In 1887 the bustle shape was deflated, forming drooping, deep folds. At the end of the decade a new, narrow skirt style was adopted, with fullness in the back. Bodices were worn tight, with high collars. Sleeves were mostly narrow, and ended short of the wrist.

Men in the 1880's ceased to wear the long loose "sack" coats in favor of short, more narrowly fitted styles. Lapels were very narrow, with the coat designed to close high at the throat, almost covering the tie. Sleeves were narrow. Shirts were mostly white, with two types of collars, the stiff standing collar, or a folding style. Beards were not uncommon, but mustaches were much more popular, especially after mid-decade.

1890's
Women's dresses of the 1890's have a stylistic feature that even I can spot, the mutton-leg sleeve. Of course, this style didn't arrive full blown, but developed over the decade. In 1890 and 1891 sleeves were still tight around the arm, but at the top of the shoulder they had a small, vertical, puff. In 1892 the puff expands to envelop the upper sleeve. By 1893 the sleeve expands even more, widest at the shoulder and narrowing to the wrist. In 1895 the the style becomes even wider, and is stiffer. Finally, in 1896 the style reached its peak. In 1897 sleeves were again narrow, with only a slightly puffed top. In 1898 the sleeves were long and tight to the arm, with a round puff high at the shoulder. Unfortunately for our dating efforts, while these puffed sleeves were popular, they were not the only style used, the bishop's sleeve, for example, continued in popularity throughout the decade. Other 1890's features include looser corsets, the use of shirtwaists, and a fullness in front, often from pleats or puffs.

Men in the 1890's were wearing narrower, shorter coats, with sleeves so short that the shirt cuff was often exposed. These tightly fitted coats were worn buttoned all the way up the front. Black was the predominant color for coats and pants, and white shirts prevailed for fancy dress, though there was more variation in the color of work clothes. Collars were short and stiff, with small points. The hanging tie became popular, though bow ties were also still used.




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