CLOTHING IN THE CIVIL WAR AND
RECONSTRUCTION ERA, 1861–1876
Chapter 1 The United States in the Civil War and
Reconstruction Era, 1861–1876 13
Chapter 2 Society, Culture, and Dress 35
Chapter 3 Women’s Fashions 79
Chapter 4 Men’s Fashions 155
Chapter 5 Children’s Fashions 179
Glossary: The Civil War and Reconstruction Era 203
Resource Guide: The Civil War and Reconstruction Era 211
About the Author 217
CLOTHING IN THE GILDED
Chapter 6 The United States in the Gilded Age, 1877–1899 231
Chapter 7 Society, Culture, and Dress 257
Chapter 8 Women’s Fashions 267
Chapter 9 Men’s Fashions 323
Chapter 10 Children’s Fashions 345
Glossary: The Gilded Age 367
Resource Guide: The Gilded Age 383
About the Author 391
This is part one of Clothing through American History: The Civil War through the Gilded Age, 1861–1899. This first half of the volume investigates clothing worn in the United States from 1860 to 1877, during the period of the Civil War and, after that great national tragedy, during the Reconstruction in the South.
The first chapter of Part One provides an overview of the country and a brief history of political events. The second chapter examines the effects of these many major forces in terms of the multiplicity of cultures existing in the United States during the war and Reconstruction Era. Each had different effects upon different groups of the population, depending on geography, economic conditions, and ethnicity. Settlers of the West, for example, were much more affected by the Indian wars than New Englanders, unless sons, fathers, and husbands from New England were a part of the military forces deployed to the new battlefront to be directly engaged in the warfare. Discriminatory legislation would have a profound impact on Chinese and African Americans seeking to carve out a niche for themselves and their families in western states such as California and Oregon, while in New York the draft law, established shortly after the onset of the Civil War, was one of the major flash points for immigrant populations.
The remaining three chapters present how the multiple forces of politics, economics, social change and social adaptation, immigration, employment, geography, background, individual situation, and personal differentiation affected the clothing people wore and their overall appearance. Women’s clothing, changing more quickly and at all times the most complicated—as well as the most discussed, sketched, photographed, and considered—is treated in Chapter 3, followed by men’s clothing in Chapter 4, and finally infants’ and children’s clothing in Chapter 5.
The glossary defines words that may be unfamiliar to the general reader. The resource guide includes not only books, but also listings for museums and Web sites where the reader can look for further information, and a list of motion pictures featuring authentic period clothing.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE PERIOD
Even a volume considering just 15 years of U.S. history and culture can only scratch the surface. With variations in fiber, yarn, fabrication, coloration method, and trim, fabric itself presents an incredible potential for variation. Throw in the infinite number of variations possible in cut and application of trim, undergarments to support the form, body shapes wearing the garments, and accessories, and you have an exponential number of looks that would have been possible for any sex and any age. Yet there was an identifiable silhouette, a common enough look shared by most people in 1860 (women at least) that allows one to distinguish that look from one that was common in 1875. Those nuances are important, because they allow observers of photographs to narrow down an approximate date or museum personnel to assign a likely period to an artifact. They allow us to place in perspective an extant garment. They help us understand the role clothing played in subduing and emotionally controlling slaves and former slaves by making them visually indistinguishable. It also allows us to appreciate the slaves’ ability to express individuality even with the coarsest and barest of provisions. From the words of diaries and letters, moreover, we can understand the role that clothing production played in the lives of women who bore the responsibility, as well as the frequent pleasure, of providing clothing for themselves and their families. There is perhaps no closer link to an individual and to an understanding of that individual than that person’s visual selfpresentation to the world.
The United States in the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1861–1876 The signal event that defined the years between 1860 and 1877 was the Civil War. Known also as “the War between the States,” the conflict between North and South would leave thousands on both sides dead or maimed and a way of life for the South forever changed. Following the war, sections of the South were organized into military regions administered by federal forces, an era known as Reconstruction. Intended to prepare the Confederate states for readmission to the Union and to provide a measure of organization to the area, Reconstruction further alienated most of the southern populace.
Even as the South struggled with the war and its aftermath, westward expansion continued, fueled by the Homestead Act of 1862 (100 Milestone Documents) and completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. The federal government continued its pattern of making and breaking treaties with Native American groups that threatened to interfere with the push into potential farming, ranching, or gold-mining regions of the Midwest.
Immigration into the western and northeastern areas of the country increased with the war’s end, and conflict between whites, immigrant groups, and newly freed slaves escalated. The assimilation of former slaves into the mainstream U.S. economy was never effectively planned nor accomplished. Reconstruction, as well as the Freedmen’s Bureau, established in 1865, proved inadequate for the monumental task of providing for the thousands of previously disenfranchised people (The Freedmen’s Bureau). Treatment of African Americans in the South and much of the rest of the country followed a U.S. pattern of discrimination already affecting immigrants from other countries (especially Chinese rail workers) and Native Americans.
Technological improvements, including the telegraph, the sewing machine, and photographic techniques changed the way Americans communicated with each other and produced household necessities. Industrialization, sizing information, development of paper patterns for clothing, and changing roles of women in society began the process of moving clothing production out of the home and into mass production. Even with the hardships of war and its aftermath, women kept in touch with fashion news and used whatever resources they had at hand to clothe themselves and their families. Immigrant groups brought their own sense of fashion and style to the United States, some struggling to retain their ethnic identity, others more intent on blending into their new world. Native American tribes retained unique, identifiable styles that merged traditional and new materials and motifs. Freed slaves struggled to find a place in a society newly opened, yet still, in many respects, closed to them. Dress and appearance were important aspects of that change. Throughout the country, regional differences developed based on necessity and preference, yet within the diversity there was still a basic homogeneity of silhouette and form that helps to identify the period. Newspapers, photographs, fashion and news periodicals, advertising, and improvements in postal service decreased the isolation of the disparate sections of the country and recorded not only the issues, events, and opinions of the day but also the clothing and appearance of the people of the United States.