Monday, September 11, 2017

Civil War Ladies' Garb in the Trans-Mississippi

What did ladies wear in the Trans-Misssissippi area during the Civil War?

I have 20 or so direct ancestors who were Confederate soldiers. In my research, I discovered that 11 served in Texas units, 2 served from Mississippi, 3 from Alabama and 1 from Arkansas. Clearly, the Western theater was well represented in my ancestry! That made me interested in researching what their wives, daughters and sweethearts would have worn... because everyone knows that the ladies "out West" dressed differently than those "back East," right?

Well... not so fast.

When investigating the clothing of a particular region, it's always helpful to look at four things:
  • Diaries and memoirs from people in that region
  • Photographs of people in that region
  • Original clothing from that region
  • Documentation of shipping imports and shop stock from that region
I decided to look at these categories and blog about them. But don't worry, I also decided to break this up into several blog posts because each of these topics can be pretty big! The diaries and memoirs were the most fun for me, so I'm going to start with them. Since I'm looking specifically at war-time related fashion in the Confederacy, I decided to focus on just the Trans-Misssissippi area. I've categorized these books by Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas. And yep, there are a lot more than these, but I narrowed it down to these because I didn't want my blog post to become gargantuanly long! (Did I just invent a word?)

So here we go...


Brokenburn: The Journal of Kate Stone 1861-1868

The Journal of Kate Stone, from Mississippi, is free online. She has a number of great sections concerning clothing and fabric. Here are some quotes to enjoy.

"Mamma had several of the women from the quarter sewing. Nothing to be done in the fields too muddy. They put in and finished quilting a comfort made of two of my cashmere dresses. Mamma had Aunt Laura's silk one put in today and Sue is quilting on it.....This will be a lovely silk affair. Aunt Laura always has so many pretty silks and wears them such a little while that they are never soiled." Silk and wool were obviously available and had been for some time if they had worn-out dresses of those fabrics to be used in quilts!

Later on she talks about cutting up old dresses to make clothing for the soldiers. "And I have not a thing that will do. We have cut up every silk and wool thing we have for the different boys."

When some marauders stole their goods, she made an interesting itemization. "Now for a list of our losses. All the clothes left in the cart were taken by Mr. Catlin's Negroes, Uncle Bob being unable to protect them. They comprised most of our underclothes and dresses, all my fine and pretty things, laces, etc., except one silk dress, all our likenesses, and all the little family treasures that we valued greatly." In spite of the thieves' action, she apparently still had at least one silk dress left.

Of course, buying nice fabric became hard as the blockade took effect and all textile mills were working largely for the army's needs. But good fabric was still available, though expensive. "I must confess, on getting home, Mamma did not like a thing I bought, and most will be returned if possible and the rest kept under protest. I am a poor shopper and must have execrable taste. The $95 dress I bought Mamma is ugly. But it was the only piece of woolen goods in town, and Mamma has nothing warm for winter."

Obviously silk and wool were not only available, but considered first choice for women's clothing. Was cotton mentioned? Yes, we find references to "calico," a type of cotton, here and there. "This evening we rode down in a light shower to see how Mrs. McRae and Bettie were getting on, Mamma in a riding skirt of rags and tatters and I in a calico dress and the remains of my old green habit." Calico here was not a fashionable choice, but apparently worn for a dirty ride in the rain.

"Everything has gone up in the same ratio. We expect to suffer for clothes this winter. We hear of a gentleman offering $50 for a pair of boots and then waiting for weeks to get them made. Unless we capture some Northern city well stocked, there will soon be no dry goods in the Confederacy. The ladies are raising a cry for calicoes and silks that echoes from the Potomac to the Gulf." Apparently calico was just as hard to get as silk, thus refuting the claim that cotton was the cheap alternative to silk. She mentions later, "There are several well-filled stores, but the prices are beyond anything.
We saw a pretty light calico but Mamma could not afford it at $6 a yard."


Fannie Beers' Civil War

Fannie Beers' "Memories" is another memoir of a Western woman and is also free online. She married a man from Alabama and traveled quite a bit during the war. But she eventually wound up as matron-in-charge of the Second Alabama Hospital. Her memories are fascinating.

When I came through the lines I was refused permission to bring any baggage ; therefore my supply of clothing was exceedingly small. I had, however, some gold concealed about my person, and fortunately procured with it a plain wardrobe. This I had carefully treasured, but now it was rapidly diminishing. At least I must have one new dress. It was bought, a simple calico, and not of extra quality. The cost was three hundred dollars! With the exception of a plain muslin bought the following summer for three hundred and fifty dollars, it was my only indulgence in the extravagance of dress during the whole war. Two pretty gray homespuns made in Alabama were my standbys.

Though the cotton calico fabric was expensive, it was apparently still considered "simple" and "not of extra quality." Even her "homespuns" (which could have been cotton, wool, or a blend of the two) appeared to have been preferable. We can infer that wool and silk would still have been the favored choice.

A Blockaded Family

A Blockaded Family: Life in Southern Alabama During the Civil War by Parthenia Antoinette Hague is another fun reminiscence. Parthenia and her friends, like most young ladies of the 1860s, knew very little about spinning and weaving homespun fabric. The war changed all that.

"While knitting around the fireside one night, talking of what we had done, and could yet accomplish, in industries called into existence by the war and blockade, we agreed then and there that each of us four could and would card and spin enough warp and woof to weave a dress apiece. This proved a herculean task for us, for at that time we barely knew how to card and spin. Mrs. G smiled incredulously, we thought, but kindly promised to have the dresses dyed and woven, in case we should card and spin them."

The story of how they learned the intricacies of spinning thread, weaving material and then dyeing it for use (or dyeing the thread first) is very interesting and entertaining. They were quite proud of their patriotic homespun dresses!

However, the preferred material for dresses continued to be the old favorites, wool and silk. The stories of their efforts to produce those fabrics is also quite interesting.

"Some very rich-appearing and serviceable winter woolen dresses were made of the wool of white and brown sheep mixed, carded, spun and woven just so; then long chains of coarser spun wool thread dyed black and red were crocheted and braided in neat designs on the skirt, sleeves, and
waist of these brown and white mixed dresses of wool."

The need for Southern-produced wool was recognized early in the war and quickly remedied by ranchers raising more sheep and textile mills working the wool into fabric. The Austin (Texas) State Gazatte noted on May 25, 1864 that, "Great enterprise is being shown in the erection of powder mills, cotton and woolen factories, &c.  To employ the latter there has been secured, on Government account in Texas, one million pounds of wool."

But wool fabric was also produced in homes for personal use.

An Alabama homespun dress
"Many of the planters in southern Alabama began to grow wool on quite a large scale, as the war went on and no woolen goods could be had. All the woolen material that could be manufactured at the cotton mills was used to clothe our soldiers so that all the varied kinds of woolen goods that hitherto had been used with us had now to be of home hand-made. In this we achieved entire success. All kinds of woolen goods - flannels both colored and white, plaids of bright colors, which we thought equal to the famed Scotch plaids; balmorals, which were then in fashion - were woven, with grave or gay borders as suited our fancy."

Imported silk was not always easy to get but all ladies of the Victorian era knew how to save and reuse old dresses. Here's a really engaging account of how one lady did it.

"A woman who was a neighbor of ours made herself what really was an elegant dress for the times. The material was an old and well-worn black silk dress, altogether past renovating, and fine white lint cotton. The silk was all ripped up, and cut into narrow strips, which were all raveled and then mixed with the lint cotton and passed through the cotton cards two or three times, so as to have the mixture homogeneous. It was then carded and spun very fine, great pains being taken in the spinning to have no unevenness in the threads. Our neighbor managed to get for the warp of her mixed silk and cotton dress a bunch of number twelve thread, from cotton mills in Columbus, Georgia, fifty miles from our settlement, and generally a three days' trip. She dyed the thread, which was very fine and smooth, with the barks of the sweet-gum and maple trees, which made a beautiful gray. Woven into cloth, it was soft and silky to the touch, and of a beautiful color. It was corded with the best pieces of the worn silk, and trimmed with pasteboard buttons covered with some of the same silk."



Celine: Remembering Louisiana 1850-1871 is an engrossing read but be prepared to flinch at her descriptions of life as refugees in the war. In addition to life-threatening concerns such as avoiding battling soldiers and finding enough food to eat (not to mention shelter), Celine also addresses their struggles with clothing. Nice clothing was still available for many, as evidenced by this comment.

"Later some of the neighbors called – Mrs. Wiley, Mrs. Cross, Miss Perry, etc. All were pretty women and were dressed in silk dresses protected by aprons, small, fancy aprons. Grown people’s nice clothes lasted pretty well the four years. With children it was different, we grew out of them."

But this heartbreaking description not only shows how hard it was to dress well, but also what they felt were absolute necessities for dress - things like silk dresses and coverings for their heads. 

"In jumping out of the wagon my dress caught on a splinter and was badly torn. It was a black silk of Grandma’s trimmed in narrow strips of blue, the leavings of the blue stripes which had been inserted in the Creole Guard’s flag to change it after the secession. The old dress had done its time and more, but I felt very sore on walking down the cabin of the boat with my clothes in tatters.

"There were on board several ladies and a young girl of my age. They were all very well dressed. I felt awfully poor and 'backwood' in their presence. Although we had never thought of our attire in Jackson where everybody looked the worse for wear it came on me like a thousand stings; the figure we must have cut to people who had not suffered want or had had time and opportunity to recuperate. As we walked in the boat here is our picture or description. Ma wore a grey, glazed cambric dress with trimming bands of Persian design calico and a new bonnet she had just had sent from Baton Rouge. The bonnet was green straw trimmed in green moire ribbon. She had on a beautiful lace mantle fastened on the shoulders with gold pins. Those kind of garments, not being worn during the war, were nice and fresh as when she wore them last in 1861. Her shoes fitted her well. They were of brown velvet with leather soles of the top of a Yankee knapsack. 

"Sister and I had on those black and blue silk dresses, at least four or five inches too short, and mine in tatters. Sister had no shoes on at all. Mine were heavy ones 'Uncle' Tom had made. My stockings were homespun, home knitted ones, more or less soiled by the dust and grime of our fifteen mile drive. Our hats? Well, they had been of pearl grey straw at Easter of 1861 and had had dainty pink sprays of arbutus as decorations, but the rims had become so nipped. They had gotten so sunburned that they were of a mottled, faded, orange hue. I had cut the rim down and bound them with faded Scotch plaid ribbon and an apology of rosette of the same ribbon ornamented the crown. They were simply better then being bare headed, that was all."


A Rebel Wife in Texas

A Rebel Wife in Texas: The Diary and Letters of Elizabeth Scott Neblett 1852-1864

A native Texan, Elizabeth's letters give us a detailed and informative look at life for Texas women in wartime.

As these prices show, cotton calico was not the cheapest option available. Homespun wool fabric was apparently even cheaper. "I wish you had got me a calico dress like Oliver got for Mrs O, gave $50 tis good calico & dark enough. He sent it by Warren. I have no hopes now of getting a dress. Dr Kerr has calico in town selling for $10 per yard, but I live in the woods where no body will see me, & if I can only get my home spun wool I’ll be fixed. In haste. yours affectionately, Lizzie."

Fashionable standards for clothing and manners were apparently still considered necessary by many Texas women, including this women of ill repute. "I also changed my boarding house a day or two since. I have been suspecting that the young widow was not all right from what I had seen of & several men who came there, but a few days ago a woman splendidly dressed in black silk and fine jewelry with a young girl about 16 took dinner there. They left the table before the rest did to go to the depot and some of us asked the question who they were, and were informed that one was Mrs Hawkerson and the other – I cannot recollect her name. Mrs H is a woman famous in Galveston for keeping a sort of private aristocratic whore house a short distance out town. I was surprised at this discovery and particularly at the elegance of her manners and it at once made up my mind to quit the place."

Elizabeth's own standard of "proper apparel" was so firm that she even refused to go out publicly without it. "I know how bad it is, to desire to go into company and forced to stay at home for the want of proper apparel. I never desire much to have fine dressing, yet still I have stinted myself woefully all my life….If I could recall the past I would act differently. I would spend a little more on my self than I did. But that is past, and if I haven’t a black silk to be buried in I have a white dress which will look well enough for me."

Letters From the South Texas Frontier

A large German community helped build Texas during its frontier days and Maria von Blucher was one of these German transplants. All through the hard pioneer life of poverty, sickness, war and violence, she maintained her standards of decency in manners and clothing. These letters home to her German parents are a fascinating look at her constant efforts to raise her children with proper manners, education... and clothing.

In spring 1860, Maria joyfully wrote to her parents about buying a Wheeler & Wilson sewing machine and enthused about how much time it would save her in sewing.

By 1862, the wartime depression and blockade, as well as Corpus Christi's shallow harbor which didn't allow serious shipping, had seriously affected the family's ability to dress well. "Times are hard for all families. Clothing cannot be bought at all, except if anyone is fortunate enough to be able to send silver to Mexico to get some....There are no shoes at all, and it was good fortune that I had two hides of good leather from which I myself make shoes for our family....I have resolved to wear out all my dresses before giving $26 for plain white calico to make dresses for myself and the girls. Calico now costs $1 a yard."

In spite of their struggle to buy decent decent clothing, she mentions in December that a friend "brought along gowns for the girls from Mexico."

In 1863, she received some cash from her parents and used it to purchase a number of items including "shoes, shirting, sole leather, one length of cotton, and one piece of colored skirting, so that I am now provisioned for some time."

When her parents sent some fabric later in the year she reported, "Our black woman is still with us, all gracious energy in running and ruling the household. I made her a present of colored fabric that many a lady her would be pleased to have. Having received all the fine things from your crates, I did not want to leave her empty-handed."

Even as late as November 1864, she apparently still had nice silk clothing on hand that she could sell to maintain her family through severe drought. "I had to sell my fine green silk dress and the wonderfully fine table cloth you had sent me, and likewise many other things. The green dress was as fabulous as my wedding dress, and I struggled over parting with it. Yet what is gone is gone and it is no use feeling sad about it."

An unidentified Texas lady


It's clear that Southern ladies in the West suffered from wartime shortages and the blockade, just as Eastern ladies did. However, it's apparent that their standards for dress were generally the same as Eastern ladies. Silk and wool were the preferred fabrics. Cotton was not a cheap substitute, since obtaining it included the necessity of spinning, weaving and dyeing it themselves (unless they were able to get an expensive, imported bolt through the blockade).

Farm women in the East and ranch women in the West both made allowances for dirty outdoor chores. Bare feet, pinning up or shortening their skirts, and even dropping their hoops happened by necessity. But ladies of nearly all social strata, East and West, felt that going out into public required higher standards of dress. These standards included, at a minimum, proper head-coverings, nicely made dresses in appropriate fabrics, and shoes if at all possible.

The popular Hollywood myth that Western women dispensed with corsets and hoops and wore cheap cotton ill-fitting dresses is just that - a myth. A Southern lady was a lady anywhere, and that included the West.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Victorian Little Black Dress: Mourning or Not?

A quick eBay search for Victorian photographs turns up the fact that most Victorian dresses look black or gray. Of course, that may be because Victorian photography was only in black and white! (Ya think?) However, a common misconception (furthered by eBay sellers) is that any lady with a dress that looks black MUST be in mourning.


Victorians were a lot like us in their color choices. They liked a variety. But they also liked their basic black dress.

Black silks, black wools, black velvets, and gauzy black sheers are very common for the middle 1800s. Black was appropriate for many occasions, from morning to evening. And it was a useful color - any colored dress that had been spotted or faded could always be dyed black and used again!

Black for Mourning

Of course, black was an appropriate color for mourning attire. If a widow or a mother who lost her child could afford to do so, she would often wear an entire outfit of black. However, middle class or poor ladies often had to make do with what they had. Thus they might dye a dress black and wear whatever somber accessories they had with it during the period of mourning. Fashion magazines of the mid-1800s are full of suggestions for clothing and accessories for mourning.

An example of what a wealthy family might do is found in a fictional story in Godeys Lady's Book, 1863. In the story, a family in mourning for a fallen son/brother decided that all three of the ladies needed new black dresses. Mrs. Murray and her two daughters are “well to do in the world.” So they have the village dressmaker make them each three new dresses for mourning - a black bombazine, alpaca and calico.

Black for Non-Mourning

But in addition to mourning, black was a highly versatile color for so much more! Rather than tell you what black dresses were used for, I decided it would be fun to show you instead. So here are some original pictures and descriptions of ladies' clothing that was black and not necessarily for mourning.

This "Dinner Dress" is from Godeys Lady's Book, 1862. The description reads: "Made of black poplin, trimmed with flutings of purple silk and black velvet ribbon. Black and purple belt, fastened with a clasp. Linen collar and cuffs." 


Black dresses were definitely suitable for older ladies, as this quote from Godeys Lady's Book implies: "This was Virginia’s first impression of her hostess. At a glimpse she saw the silvery hair which sheds a pleasant radiance over the face, like moonlight; the soft lace about the throat, in which the head seems to nestle lovingly, like a dove’s in its snowy plumage. Of course she wore a black silk dress and a small black shawl over her shoulders; such a costume belongs to a woman of her age as much as white to a bride." 


Home-dress of black alpaca. The corsage and skirt are in one, and the trimming consists of cuir-colored velvet buttons, and bands of cuir-colored velvet. Godeys Lady's Book, 1863.


Young ladies wore black too, as this story about a young minister and his wife indicates. "'I must learn to economize more. There’s the cyclopaedia I had promised myself for this year; I must do without it.'

'And I the new black silk I thought of having in the spring,' said Mrs. Trueberry.

'No, Carolina, you need the dress,' replied her husband.

'Not till we are out debt, my dear,' she said gently, but firmly; 'and that will be when you get your quarter’s salary in April. I can turn and make over that blue cashmere I have, and it will do with my others.'"


"Look at the Time" by Gustave-Leonard de Jonghe
This is obviously a fashionable lady about to go out. She's clearly not in mourning because her bonnet is yellow and she has a bright multi-colored shawl. This is a daytime dress, as it appears to be either mid-morning or mid-afternoon, based on the clock.


Portrait of Maria Sawiczewska,
Leopold Loeffler, 1861
This lady is in formal evening dress suitable for a ball, dinner or other "after five" event. Again, this is unlikely to be a mourning outfit since she is wearing gorgeous coral jewelry with it.


The Governess, by Emily Mary Osborn, 1860
As a contrast to the wealthy ladies above, this is a low-income lady. The poor, downtrodden governess is clearly being berated by the indulgent mother. Her depressing plight is accented by her daytime working dress - likely either black wool or silk with lovely sheer sleeves.


Afternoon Tea 1865 George Dunlop Leslie
And just as another contrast, this time it's the employer who is wearing a black dress while her maid wears gray. White collar and cuffs indicate that she is likely not in mourning.


Black dresses were so ubiquitous that Godeys even included suggestions on how to reuse them when they were worn-out. "Two mothers had each a good black satin dress; in the course of time they became, as unfortunately all dresses will, too shabby or two old-fashioned for their wearers’ use. One mother picked hers to pieces, washed and ironed it, and made from it two handsome-looking mantles for her daughters. The other adapted hers for a petticoat, and spent five-and-twenty shillings in the purchase of new mantles for her two daughters. The mantles made of this old material were far the best-looking, and most serviceable. Now, five shillings would have bought a petticoat; and thus the saving of twenty shillings might have been made for the pocket of the husband."


A final fashion magazine image - this one of a striking black ensemble trimmed with red! Le Follet, October 1861.


And just for fun, I'll throw in an entertaining description I found in an 1863 fictional story. Even "Deacon Moody's" wife had a black dress!

Deacon Moody was a little glum man, and looked as if he was asleep half the time; but if ever you see anybody wide awake it was his wife. Her eyes was big, and round, and black, and she would look at your over her specs for ever so long without winkin’. She was so fat and round that she looked for all the world jest like a great bolster tied in the middle. She had on a black bombazine frock, a checked apron, a black silk neck hankercher on her neck, and a great red knittin’ sheath, shaped like a heart pinned on her side. She sot in the big rockin’-chair, and rocked, and knit, and talked all the afternoon. 

So if you are a living historian, you can wear a black dress for many occasions - not just for mourning! And next time you're looking at old pictures of Great-Grandma, wondering if the black dress meant she was in mourning - it might have just been her favorite "little black dress!"


If you have a Victorian little black dress, my mom and I have some lovely accessories in our shops! Check out headpieces and jewelry at Southern Serendipity and rosette belts and cockades at Creative Cockades. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Civil War Skirt and Blouse: Right or Wrong?

If you're a first-time reenacting lady, heading for "sutler row" to buy your first outfit, you'll see them everywhere. Beautiful billowing white peasant blouses and lovely full flowered skirts. Perfect! You find a set in your size and POOF! You're a reenactress!

Then you get on a reenactor online forum and you see this discussion about "the dreaded skirt and blouse combo." You read it and you're in the dumps - apparently the mismatched skirt and blouse are ALL WRONG and were never worn during the war. You sadly consider the cost of buying an entirely new outfit.

But THEN you start looking on Pinterest at original photos of Civil War ladies. WAIT! There are ladies in real 1860s photographs wearing a skirt and blouse!

Okayyyyy, what's going on here?

US National Archives 111-B-1686
Mis-Matched vs Matched
The first item to consider is whether Civil War ladies only wore outfits with matching skirt and top, or if they wore mis-matched outfits too. The answer is, they wore both. Sort of.

The mainstay of all female wardrobes in the 1860s was the matched skirt and bodice. Sometimes it was a one-piece dress, sometimes the pieces were separate, allowing for two different styles of matching bodice to be worn (a day bodice and an evening bodice, for example). If you looked in any woman's closet, the majority of what you'd find would be dresses with matching skirt and top.

Barrington House photo. 1860s.
But in the 1860s, a new fashion was just beginning to take hold. A young lady, or a fashionable woman might have an outfit or two in this new style. The style was - you guessed it - a mis-matched skirt and top. BUT... there were very particular parameters for this style.

And that's where fashion historians blow a gasket, because the modern sutler version of a white blouse and calico skirt doesn't even come close to fitting the 1860s parameters for what we now call a "skirt and blouse."

So let's take a look at what these outfits really looked like.

Musées Nationaux-Grand Palais
The Typical Blouse
A "blouse" was originally a man's garment. Using the term "blouse" for woman's clothing is still a fairly new thing in this era, and it refers to a certain kind of top, one that imitates a gentleman's shirt. Up till now, we have been calling a ladies' top a "bodice," a "waist," or a "body." These terms could mean slightly different things depending on your region.

What we call the "blouse" of the 1860s (and I will use this term the rest of this post because it's familiar) was almost always white and almost always very fine, beautiful fabric. Sheer cottons, silks and wools were often used. Tucks, frills, and furbelows of all sorts were generally included. Many times we see ribbon woven into the collar, or even into the whole blouse. It was a sharp looking, well-fitting, high fashion garment.

Here is a blouse from the Met Museum made from sheer window-pane fine cotton. It is partially lined and includes a fitted waistband and some lovely ruffles.

This gorgeous sheer blouse (it appears to be silk) is puffed to kingdom come! A fitted waistband and frilly collar complete this little piece of elegance.

And just one more example (someone please stop me!). This one is so pretty with its detailed white-work flowers. It's likely that white-work was done by hand.

The Garibaldi Blouse
As I said, blouses were almost always white. The exception was for an outfit mimicking the famous Guiseppe Garibaldi, a freedom fighter in Italy. Garibaldi blouses worn by ladies were generally red, like his was, and included intricate, military-style black trim. You'll often see mock epaulettes on the shoulders. These gorgeous blouses were usually made of fine wool or silk. Because they were solid colored, they were almost never made of cotton - solid cottons were very rare in the 1860s.

Lovely - but not for Civil War era!
No Peasant Blouses
So even though those lovely flowing white blouses on sutler row look so enticing, they're not accurate. The cotton fabric is usually too coarse and heavy, the blouse is too loose and floppy, there is almost never a proper collar - and I'm just getting started! Basically, a ready-made blouse of any kind will probably not look right for our era. Blouses of the 1860s were made to fit YOU and you only.

Conversation Piece, Lilly Martin Spencer
The Skirt
So now we come to the second part of the ensemble. Remember that a "skirt and blouse" combo is considered a high fashion outfit. The cheap floppy calico skirts on sutler row don't make the cut.

Skirts of the 1860s were generally fine tightly woven silk or wool. Both solids and patterns were used - but watch out which patterns you choose! Some of our modern designs simply weren't around back then. Plaids and stripes are generally pretty safe (and if you're concerned about a plaid, you can research it online to see when it was created).

1864 Ladies Friend Magazine 
If you are wearing the typical 1860s white blouse, you can pair it with a skirt of many colors and designs. However, if you're wearing a Garibaldi blouse, it was almost always paired with a black, or black-and-white skirt to complete the look of Garibaldi's uniform.

The Belt
Now we come to the optional finishing touch. A belt is not necessary for this ensemble, but it does make a nice statement and was quite popular. Here are some types of belts that were worn with these outfits:

- Velvet or silk with rectangular metal buckle (like the fashion plate above)
- Velvet or silk with double buckle
- Rosette belt (came into fashion in the mid-1860s)
- Medici belt - these were generally silk, fitted your waist (no bow in the back, a la sutler row) and sometimes beautifully embroidered
- Swiss waist - a silk, corset-like garment

So if you're a young lady, or if you're portraying a fashion-forward lady, a skirt and blouse ensemble may be for you. But save yourself some money by avoiding sutler row and instead go for the stunning original design: a high-quality finely designed blouse and silk or wool skirt.

This young woman shows off the perfect ensemble: Frilly sheer blouse with ribbon woven in, silk medici belt and silk taffeta skirt. Her hair is smoothly in order and her lacy hankie provides the perfect finishing touch.

Here's another photo from my sister's collection. Though mother and daughter's faces look almost alike, mama has a fashionable but predictable lady's outfit, probably a one-piece dress with lovely trim. Daughter, on the other hand, is more fashion-forward and is wearing a beautifully trimmed Garibaldi blouse - she probably sewed all that trim on herself! Her dark solid skirt is likely black silk. Both she and mama complete their ensembles with neck bows and ribbon hairnets. Such a lovely couple!

If you want to see more gorgeous blouse outfits from the 1860s, check out my Pinterest board on the subject.

This outfit was so fun that sis and I decided to attempt it ourselves. We found some lovely sheer cotton and sis made our gorgeous blouses with plenty of tucks and frills. I made the skirts - mine is swishy silk taffeta and sis's is a rich wool. I also made our cockades. And Mom made our snazzy hairnets! I think the whole effect turned out nicely!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Girls Day Out

For Mom's birthday, we decided to do something FOOFY this year! And what's more foofy than having tea with your girlfriends?

So we and the afore-mentioned girlfriends made a trek out to Ridgeway, South Carolina and had tea at Laura's Tea Room, followed by a leisurely antiquing trip back home. The ultimate day of girly FOOF!

Laura's Tea Room loans you a hat!
This was our first visit to Laura's Tea Room so we had fun taking extra pictures. Except for the fact that it seemed a little pricey to us, and the "tea" had some odd American twists, we thought it was a lovely place.

Here are the conspiratorial girlfriends, ready to have a party for Mom! Naturally, if you're going to have tea, you must wear hats and gloves. Laura's Tea Room provides hats for ladies who don't have one (we heard a lot of giggles as ladies tried them on). But we felt Highly Elegant since we already had our classy hats on!

Have hats, will travel!
Miss Rose's hat is what she calls the "Aunt Bea style" (watch the Andy Griffith Show if you're not sure what that is). Miss Jeannie's hat was dramatically decorated with strawberries because - as she pointed out - it is now strawberry season! Raquelle's hat might have looked rather tame with just black and white, until you notice that it has feathers that wave around while Raquelle guestures. (Note: Raquelle guestures a lot.) My hat is a pretty vintage straw hat that still has it's original velvet flowers - and just happens to match my dress perfectly!

The birthday girl!
Now, for the birthday girl! Mom decided today to wear something that she wouldn't need to take off later while antique shopping. So she opted for a "fascinator." She came up with the idea the night before and made one for herself that exactly matched her outfit! If you've never seen a fascinator before, I once heard a British newsperson describe it as a "sea urchin on your head." Actually, it's a lot cuter than that!

Laura's Tea Room not only serves high tea, they also have a more casual cafe where they serve soups, sandwiches and salads (how alliterative!). The cafe is on the main floor and is combined with a shop of all things tea-ish. When we arrived, they gave us a few minutes to look around the shop (and pick out hats to wear, except we already had ours). Then they took us upstairs to the "tea room" proper.

As another fun touch, we gave the birthday girl a tussie mussie - a Victorian handheld bouquet. Here are a couple pictures. And the flowers looked smashing with Mom's outfit!

There were lots of fun tea-themed decorating touches, like the little teapot napkin rings. And - what fun! - you get to choose your own tea cup as you head for the table! Decisions, decisions... I chose a pretty white and gold cup because I liked the way it looked with the little gold tea spoon. 

Everyone had a yummy cold iced tea glass at their plate. The odd Americanism was that they only gave us two teapots of hot tea for the whole table - one flavor they chose and one we chose. I prefer the English way of giving everyone their own pot so can choose your own flavor. But in this case, it was easy to decide what flavor to pick - we just had the birthday girl do the choosing! 

Another interesting Americanism was that we were served a pasta and spinach salad first. I suspect this was supposed to fill us up so we wouldn't notice that the "tea" part of the meal was a trifle on the skimpy side. However, it was definitely a tasty salad!

Once the salad dishes were cleared, we were served scones - that is, one scone a piece. They were American sized scones (i.e. not very big) but quite delicious. And naturally, one must have lemon curd with your scones! 
And for the grand finale, we were finally served the "real" part of the tea (in our opinion!). It was all scrumptious! Tasty little sandwiches, trifles, chocolate covered strawberries, and more! Of course, when you eat calories with friends, they don't count - right? 

After we finished eating, Mom opened her gifts and then we sat and chatted for quite a while. It was a slow day with a number of empty tables so we just had a good time yakking in the quiet room and catching up on each other's lives.

Here are a couple more pictures of the room so you can see how elegant we felt.

Then on our way out, we did one more quick pass through the shop to admire all the pretty items on the shelves. This is a fun place to "window shop" even if you don't purchase something!

Nope, we didn't buy anything - that's Mom carrying the "loot" she received for her birthday! Don't the ladies look color coordinated with all those teapots behind them? 

Before we left, we did what all good bloggers do - took a picture of ourselves by the sign! By the way, this is also a great way to keep your photos organized and remember where you went. (Free tip from a Dumb Blond Photographer! You're welcome.)

Then we all piled into the van with our assorted hats, flowers, and bags and proceeded to fill up the rest of the afternoon with stops at antique stores! Everybody found a "treasure" of some sort and we enjoyed looking at "treasures" we didn't need - such as the Confederate soldier garden statue. He was quite handsome, but just didn't seem right for our rose gardens. 

And that, ladies and gentlemen (are there any gentlemen reading this?)...was our fun girly day together!