Civil War Fashion

Although shortages of fabric and other dress goods during the Civil War meant that many women, especially those in the South, had to make changes in the way they dressed, fashions were still important in both the North and the South— women just had to make modifications based on their circumstances.

Fashions in the 1860s focused on accentuating a woman's waist, and most dresses featured a fitted bodice with wide, somewhat puffy sleeves to make their shoulders look broader and even wider hips (think hoop skirts) to showcase a tiny waist. As the war dragged on and fabric became harder and harder to find, hoop skirts went out of fashion since so much fabric was required to cover the hoops.

Women always wore their hair long, but pinned up, and they rarely left the house without a bonnet on. Bonnets were primarily used to frame a woman's face, rather than protect her from the sun. Bonnet

Fashion of the 1860s.

the language of the fan

The idea that fans can convey messages in a kind of "fan language" has been around since the eighteenth century, and there are many written records for deciphering coded messages sent by fan. For instance, it is said that ifyou place your fan near your heart, it means that you love the person this gesture is directed toward. If you fan quickly, you're engaged to be married, while if you fan slowly, you are already married. Holding your fan half opened at your lips means that you would like to be kissed, and if you open and close your fan several times it means that you think the person you directed your motion toward was cruel.

fashions changed over the war years, too, with bonnets getting smaller and smaller as the years went by, eventually being replaced by small hats.

Most women, especially in the South, carried fans with them to cool off during the hot and humid months (with no air conditioning). Fans also had an underlying purpose: wordless communication. With different movements of the fan, a woman could give unspoken messages to the person she was talking to, to a person across the room, or to a man from whom she desired attention. This allowed her to communicate without appearing too forward, an undesireable trait for women in the Civil War era.

One of the most popular forms of fashion during the 1860s was "mourning fashion." Mourning fashion was popularized by England's Queen Victoria, whose husband, Prince Albert, died in 1861, just as the American Civil War was beginning. Queen Victoria dressed in black mourning

Typical dress of1860s.

Typical dress of1860s.


clothes to memorialize her husband and required her staff to wear all black, as well. In fact, she wore mourning clothes for more than forty years, and sparked a fashion trend that jumped across the Atlantic Ocean and coincided with a time when many American women would experience the death of a loved one.

Mourning "dress" wasn't just a black dress: it extended to bonnets, hats, veils, handkerchiefs, shoes, and any other piece of clothing seen in public. Businesses specialized in selling only black clothing. Mourning apparel extended to jewelry, as well, with mourning jewelry usually made of black jet or gutta-percha (a substance made from tree sap that looked black when it hardened). Lockets and cameos, while not mourning jewelry, were also very much in fashion, and women would often carry around locks of hair given to them by their husbands, sons, or sweethearts.

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