Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Civil War Fashion Show

I can practically recite all of Scarlett O’Hara’s lines in Gone With The Wind. So when I saw an advertisement that the Ladies Living History Society of Greater Cincinnati would be modeling “fashions of the 1860s,” I had to go.
Of course, Scarlett didn’t dress like anyone else in the movie, so if I thought I was going to see dresses like Scarlett’s, I would have been disappointed. Instead, the dress these ladies wore in their Civil War Fashion Show was more akin to what Melanie Hamilton and India Wilkes wore.
They started with a common day dress. This is the type I associate with Melanie. (Yes, I will relate all Civil War information back to GWTW. It’s all I know.) The day dress had many layers to it and the woman wearing it was kind enough to disassemble her outfit so that we could see just how elaborate dress was back then.
On the outside was the dress itself, made from 9 yards of fabric. Apparently, that’s where the expression, ‘the whole nine yards’ comes from. The collar was detachabale and the pagoda sleeves lay over removable undersleeves that women could launder much more easily than nine yards of fabric. Despite the expansiveness of the fashions then, they were actually pretty functional. Since collars and cuffs show dirt the most quickly, those pieces were removable and easily washable. 
Under that dress was a chemise, covered by the laced up corset. Over the chemise was the hoop skirt and an over-petticoat. Under the hoop skirt was another petticoat – an under-petticoat or modesty petticoat, in case the wind blew the outer skirts up. And under the bottom petticoat were drawers, which Rhett told Scarlett no one in Paris wore anymore.
Naturally, the women also wore stockings, gloves, and bonnets – except for the woman who wore a Glengarry cap instead to show her allegiance to the Irish. The cap, unlike the more popular women’s bonnets, was not tied to her head.
Another woman wore a work dress, which was similar to the ones that Mammy and Prissy (the slaves) wore in GWTW. Scarlett wore something similar when she was trying to revive Tara before the carpetbaggers came, but who are we kidding – she still looked glamorous.
The work dresses (the brown dress pictured at the top) weren’t glamorous, but they were surprisingly functional. The sleeves were shorter and tighter so that they didn’t drag through flames and other such things. The host of the fashion show said that burns were the second leading cause of death among women during that era.
The work dress had an apron pinned to it, and it had a corded hoop skirt which was not as pouffy as the wider hoops skirts, but was helpful in keeping the dress from twining around a woman’s legs as she worked. And though hoop skirts and dresses looked like they went to the ground, the hoops came about mid-calf. Otherwise a woman might be stepping into the hoop and tripping all the time.
We saw a typical child’s dress. It had a gathered neckline and grow tucks sewn into the bottom so that they could be let out as the child grew.

One woman wore a Swiss waist, which was almost like a corseted vest worn on the outside of the dress instead of underneath. It had arm straps that went over the shoulder and was worn over a blouse.

We saw swimming attire: full pants, long-sleeved shirt, stockings and shoes!

And we saw a fancier gown, more like Scarlett’s wardrobe. It was very pretty and had tuckers on the top. Tuckers are the lacy neckline that shields a woman’s bosom from a taller gentleman’s glance as he dances with her. I don’t think Scarlett wore those, but I’m sure Melanie did.

Last but not least, we saw the black mourning clothes that were very similar to those Scarlett did wear in GWTW. I couldn’t stop picturing the society dance where Scarlett works the bazaar booth, tapping her toes and dancing in step all by herself. The woman in the fashion show was dressed just like Scarlett, though I don’t think Scarlett wore black gloves. I’ll have to watch the movie again to see, because this was a crucial element to mourning attire. “Black gloves” actually became slang for mourning.

What I didn’t know was that women were expected to stay in mourning for 2-1/2 years. First in full mourning, meaning all black including gloves, bonnet, and perhaps a veil, for one year and one day. Then she could move into the next stage of mourning or even “stay in mourning” permanently, such as Stonewall Jackson’s wife, who was widowed at the age of 28 and lived to be in her 80’s.
Men had to mourn for 3 months.
The women in the fashion show had made their clothing and talked about that and their desire to be as historically accurate as possible. They said that GWTW wasn’t historically accurate. No? That’s a shame, because that’s where I’ve gotten most of my knowledge about the Civil War. I like to think I look at the war through Scarlett’s eyes. As skewed as that might have been, I loved the dresses.

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