Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Clothing and the Western Woman

Women living in the west in the 1800’s dressed in the silks, satins, and fashionable dresses just like their sisters in the east for special occasions. However, they also dressed decidedly different when facing the rigors of western living.

In the rural areas women’s clothing could be dated to when they first arrived from the east up to ten years earlier. Silk and satin could be scarce in the rural areas. In these instances they would make ball gowns out of gingham and calico adding all the extra flounces, bustles, and trains. Adding handmade lace collars and wool braid around the hems to enhance the garments.
They would have one special dress they wore only to dances, church, and socials. They would wear a corset with their finest dresses to special occasions.

Common material for women’s clothing was linsey-woolsey, calico, silk, plaid, muslin, printed cotton, wool challis, dimity, and grosgrain-striped silk taffeta. Most garments had a pocket sewn in the right side seam. Generally each dress was the same style, the fabric and decorations made them different. In the early part of the 1800’s most wore one piece dresses. A dress with a full skirt required 10 yards of calico or 14 yards of silk because silk wasn’t as wide on the bolt as calico. From 1850 on women started wearing two-piece outfits(skirt and blouse). It wasn’t until the 1890’s when the “shirtwaist” or blouse became popular. By 1886 the chemise was replaced with the camisole a shorter version of the chemise with square or round neckline, lace and embroidery.

In 1882 stores began selling ready-made clothing.

Traveling on stage coaches and trains they wore linen dusters to keep the dirt and coal dust off their clothing.

Three essentials of any western woman were their apron, bonnet, and shawl. An apron was a full length garment worn while cleaning the house and cooking. It helped to keep their clothing clean, making less laundry. They called any type of hat a bonnet. Most had a sunbonnet with ties under the chin and a wide cloth brim reinforced with cardboard or thin slats of wood to make the brim stiff and keep the sun off their faces. They would also have a winter bonnet or hat. Some would even have a fancy bonnet to wear to weddings, funerals, and socials. The shawl was a quick wrap to throw on to greet company or make a trip to the outhouse. They usually had a special one to wear to social events if their family had the means.

Working and dealing with the heat they would shed undergarment layers, specifically petticoats and a corset. Rather than the 5-6 petticoats that was customary they would work in one or two. This also helped on wash day when they only had to laundry a couple petticoats and not half a dozen. To keep their skirts down without all the layers hide their limbs, they would sew metal bars or lead shot in their hems, thwarting any strong winds. They would also wear bloomers under their skirts rather than all the layers of petticoats. In winter they would wear flannel or quilted petticoats.

Western women worked by their husband’s sides. To make their chores easier they shortened their skirts, wore split skirts and some even wore men’s clothing. It made walking and riding horses easier. They also were less likely to wear the tight corseted styles. They could do their work easier in loose-fitting garments.
This information was found in: The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West by Candy Moulton.

Paty Jager

Photos were copied from: http://recollections.biz/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?


Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Paty,
That was so interesting. The pioneer women in Australia, also dressed simialrly to their American cousins. They too used to have to work the farms with their menfolk. And often water was scarse too. so they save on washing whenever they could.



Historical Writer/Editor said...

Thanks for the great information, Paty. -Laura H.

Lauri said...

Good post. I'll have to get that book. I'm always needing a bit of clothing info.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Paty, great post and I loved the photo illustrations. Thanks for sharing.

Paty Jager said...

Margaret, I imagine pioneers all over the world had the same problems and lived a similar lifestyle.

Laura, You're welcome!

Lauri, It is a great book! I've found lots of good information from it.

Caroline. If you to the site where I found the photos they sell time period clothing.

Susan Macatee said...

Great post, Paty! Makes sense that women who had to do physical work every day would modify their garments.