Ladies! Let’s get dressed for the city in the 1850’s.
Imagine waking up, doing a quick sponge bath using the water pitcher and basin in your bedroom and beginning to dress…
Step one: Pull your knee-length cotton chemise over your head.
Step two: Step into your drawers or pantalettes—after checking the name in the waistband to be sure your laundress returned the correct pair. Straighten your drawers to be sure the large opening is aligned as necessary. Need I say more?
Step three: Pull on your knee length cotton stockings (perhaps silk stockings if you are well-to-do).
Step four: Secure your stockings with your garters so the stockings don’t slip down.
Step five: Put on your shoes or short boots, tying the laces. You learned early on that you need to put on your shoes before your constricting corset or you won’t be able to bend down to tie your shoes. If you are very fashion conscious, you may have a pair of short boots with a rubber gusset on the side of each shoe. This makes it easier to pull on your boots. If so, you send a silent thank you to the man who invented rubber.
Step six: Now you can put on your split front corset over your chemise and tighten the lacing in hopes of reducing your waist by two inches…but be sure you can still breathe! You don’t want to faint during the day.
Step seven: Add an under-petticoat…or more than one.
Step eight: Put on your cage crinoline—a device consisting of concentric steel hoops attached with string to create a dome shape. You might forgo this if you are dressing casually today and instead add multiple (perhaps as many as seven) petticoats including a crinoline petticoat stiffened with horsehair.
Step nine: Since you’ve chosen to wear the cage crinoline today, you’ll need to add petticoats to hide the look of the cage crinoline frame under your skirt. One of these petticoats might be the horsehair-stiffened crinoline.
Step ten: Tie a small pocket around your waist. You’ll reach your pocket through a hidden slit in your skirt, so you’ll want to align the pocket so you can reach your handkerchief. Add a clean hanky.
Step eleven: Following the fashion of the day, your dress is two pieces, a full skirt and a high necked bodice with bow trimmed, wide pagoda sleeves expanding from the shoulder. The bows on your sleeves match the bows on the skirt. If you haven’t already done so, you’ll need to prepare your bodice by quickly stitching on a freshly laundered white collar and puffy under sleeves which are tight at the wrist. Your dress does not need laundering as often when collar and under sleeves are kept fresh and clean.
Step twelve: The skirt goes on first, remember to align it for pocket access. Then add the jacket-like bodice that extends over your hips
Step thirteen: Fix your hair, by parting it in the center and brushing it down and arranging it to cover the ears. Then, tie your hat under your chin. Straighten the piece of fabric attached to the back of your hat to hide your neck.
Step fourteen: You’re also almost ready. Pin on a brooch, perhaps the mourning brooch made from your late grandmother’s hair. A sweet remembrance.
Step fifteen: Put your pocket watch on its decorative chain into a watch pocket on your bodice.
Step sixteen: Toss a lovely shawl across your shoulders, leaving one side to drape across your skirt.
Step seventeen: Gloves in hand, you are ready for your day.
It is important to note however, that women in small towns and the country (that would be most everyone in Texas in the 1850s) dressed a bit more simply.
Is it any wonder that bloomers made their appearance at this point in history?
In 1851, in Seneca Falls New York, three feminist leaders, including Amelia Jenks Bloomer dared to wear their new reform costume: a short skirt worn over Turkish trousers— a protest over the increasingly restrictive and elaborate women’s clothing. Although many women probably looked longingly at the simpler, more comfortable bloomers, the garment never became mainstream dress. Alas, the world was not ready for women in trousers.