Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Clothing and the Western Woman

Women living in the west in the 1800’s dressed in the silks, satins, and fashionable dresses for special occasions just like the women in the east. 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 and 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 extra flounces, bustles, and trains to make them "fancy". Another way to make the dress more fashionable was by adding handmade lace collars and wool braid around the hems to enhance the garments.

They had one special dress they wore only to dances, church, and socials. A corset would be worn with their finest dresses to special occasions.

Common material for women’s clothing:
Linsey-woolsey - a strong, coarse fabric with a linen or cotton warp and a woolen weft.
Calico - a plain-woven textile made from unbleached, and often not fully processed, cotton. It may contain unseparated husk parts, for example. The fabric is less coarse and thick than canvas or denim, but owing to its unfinished and undyed appearance, it is still very cheap.
Silk - a natural protein fibre, some forms of which can be woven into textiles. The protein fibre of silk is composed mainly of fibroin and produced by certain insect larvae to form cocoons.
Plaid -any fabric woven of differently colored yarns in a crossbarred pattern.
Muslin - a cotton fabric made in various degrees of fineness and often printed, woven, or embroidered in patterns,especially a cotton fabric of plain weave, used for sheets and for a variety of other purposes.
printed cotton - cotton fabric with color added through block printing with dyes.
Wool challis - a soft fabric of plain weave in wool, cotton, rayon, or other staple fiber, either in a solid color or, more often, a small print.
Dimity - a thin cotton fabric, white, dyed, or printed, woven with a stripe or check of heavier yarn.
Grosgrain- made from wool, silk or a combination of fibers such as silk and wool or silk and mohair.
Striped silk taffeta - is traditionally plain and extremely tightly woven with fine horizontal ribs produced from white silk cocoons..

Most garments had a pocket sewn in the right side seam. Generally, each dress was the same style(they used the same pattern over and over), 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 (like a long slip) 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.

When traveling on stage coaches and trains, linen dusters were worn 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 five or six 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 to hide their limbs, they would sew metal bars or lead shot in the hems, thwarting any strong winds. They also wore bloomers under their skirts rather than all the layers of petticoats. In winter, flannel or quilted petticoats kept their legs warm.

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.


Lynn Lovegreen said...

Fascinating, thanks for sharing!

Paty Jager said...

You're welcome, Lynn!

Maggie Holcomb said...

That is all really interesting! I had no idea they had that many different types of fabrics at that time.

Paty Jager said...

Thanks Maggie! Yes, the worlds has been producing great fabrics for a long time.