I've been recently asked a few questions concerning how a lady dresses in my Civil War Reenacting hobby, and I thought now might be a good time to cover that. This particular question will depend on the impression you portray, but for the most part, everything is still the same, just the colors and material change. Let’s start with the basics.
These will be according to closeness to skin, so we’ll begin with your ‘unmentionables’, and work our way out!
* Drawers made of cotton or linen.
* Chemise (long undershirt) usually made of linen.
- In all honesty, I have always just used knee high thin wool or cotton socks. But this is because I find those thick striped stocking from Sutlers kind of ugly. I prefer a white or black stocking, not orange, red, green, yellow, or any of the other colors that I have managed to glimpse other reenactresses wearing.
* Corset, or stays, stiffened with whale bone
* Corded petticoat, hoop skirt, or 1 or 2 petticoats
- Now, there is a very strict layering system in place for these garments, and it goes as follows, one or two under, or privacy, petticoats, then the hoop, or corded petticoat, and a couple of other petticoats to put over the hoop, or corded petticoat. So something like this: petticoat, petticoat, hoop, petticoat, petticoat. Now there are many differences between the three support garments. The corded petticoat was fashionable before the 1850’s, when the hoop skirt or cage was invented. It was a skirt, with many rows of thick cord sewn on. For a working class impression, this is a popular option, along with two or three petticoats. The hoop skirt, or sometimes called a cage, has more support, and allows for a bigger bell shape. This is more common among the upper class or wealthy impressions.
* Corset cover, or camisole, and over petticoat
A petticoat is used to keep you both warm, and to support your skirts. By using them, it also wicks moisture away from the skin, allowing for a cooler day. I prefer to use cotton for the summer months, and wool once the weather turns cool. These are VITAL to keeping the appropriate shape, and keeping the dress clean. Without all the undergarments, your body oil will get on the dress, causing stains and dirt...in an era where doing laundry took an entire day, you want to avoid soiling your good dress as much as possible.
* Skirt, sometimes held up with "braces" (suspenders)
- Younger ladies of wealth could afford many different colored fabrics, and often times wore a skirt and bodice of different vivid colors. Younger working class ladies wore a simple dress and bodice of the same fabric, and may even have a one piece dress instead of a two piece one. They could wear brighter colors and calicos as well though. Older ladies, 30+, in general wore more muted colors.
- The belt was a very common item to be worn, and could be any kind of fabric or leather. Ladies of any age could wear belts, and it was often times used to hang a fan, chatelaine, purse, etc off of. The belt could have a buckle, be tired like a sash, or have a rosette clasp.
* Shawl, jacket, or mantle
- No matter what, you need to have some kind of wrap on. Be it a simple crochet shawl, a lace shawl, or a full on jacket. If you were outside, you had a wrap on. I use a peletot jacket I made for all my impressions, since it was useful in almost all situations.
* Gloves or mitts
- No polite lady showed her bare flesh in public, and that included the hands. If you’re outside, you should be wearing wrist length gloves. The hands were covered when outdoors, and only taken off when eating or when prompted by the lady of the house whom you were visiting. The gloves should be in muted colors of white, black, or brown. This applies mostly to upper class ladies, as they would not need their hands for the task of cooking or cleaning. At home though, all ladies went without gloves. I prefer my leather riding gloves, but I use cotton and wool as well. Crochet mitts were popular among older ladies, and crochet gloves were used as well.
- This is again something for ladies of some wealth. Fair skin was a sign of money, since you could afford to be inside and not work out of the home. A good parasol is made of silk, but there are so many different styles that you really need to do your research in order to find one that is right for you.
* Bonnet or hat
* Bag or purse
* Hand Fan
Whew! And that isn't even all of the things that you can have, but those that are required, at the very least. There are other minor things, such as collars and cuffs, but it's getting a bit late, and this post is getting a bit long.