Dressed for the Weather

I. Introduction

II. Heat

         A. Practical ‘rules’ (relax, drink fluids, stay out of sun, flies etc.) Topic all on its own.

Richards, Caroline Cowles, Village Life in America 1852-1872: School girl diary of Caroline Cowles Richards. pg. 73. Entry for July 1856
    “It was warm while we were gone and when we got home Anna told Grandmother she was going to put on her barege dress and take a rocking-chair and a glass of ice water and a palm leaf fan and go down cellar and sit, but Grandmother told her if she would just sit still and take a book and get her mind on something else beside the weather, she would be cool enough.”

          B. Period practices are often impractical today: No privacy to undress

Barr, Amelia All the Days of My Life, pg. 207 Remembering life in Austin, TX in 1856.
    “How did women amuse themselves?...It was a pleasant and constant custom to send word to some chosen lady, that they, with Mrs. A. and Mrs. B. were coming to spend the following day with her. If the day was hot, they arrived soon after nine o’clock, got quickly in to loose garments and slippers, took out their tucking, and palm leaf fans, and subsided into rocking-chairs....About four o’clock they began to dress, and the carryall arrived; because after half-past four the invasion of the male might be expected, and it was a point of honor to throw a little mystery around these meetings...”

Mrs. Merrifield c. 1854
    “As a general rule, we should say that in youth the dress should be simple and elegant, the ornaments flowers. In middle age, the dress should be of rich materials, and more splendid in its character; jewels are the appropriate ornaments. In the decline of life, the materials of which the dress is composed may be equally rich, but of the less vivacious colors; the tertiaries and broken colors are particularly suitable, and the character of the whole costume should be quiet, simple and dignified. The French, whose taste in dress is so far in advance of our own, say that ladies who are fifty years old should neither wear gay colors nor dresses of slight materials, flowers, feathers, or much jewelry; that they should cover their hair, wear high dresses, and long sleeves...

               2. Sheer fabrics:
                   a. Muslin (cotton), barege (silk & wool), grenadine (silk), organdy (silk), etc.
                   b. Modern equivalents (batiste, voile, silk organdy, etc.) & problems (finding sheer prints, etc.)

Brokenburn: The Journal of Kate Stone 1861-1868 pg. 216. Entry for June 3, 1863, near Monroe, LA
    “Mrs. Hardison sent me two lovely organdy dresses she promised. They look like old times. They are so pretty.”

               3. Linings
                    a. High or low body, trimmed edges on low bodies.
                    b. Unlined skirts and sleeves, self fabric hems, etc.
               4. Head covering
                   a. Sheer bonnets (keep head cool, but no shade)
                   b. Deep brims on sunbonnets: shakers, slats, light or sheer fabric w/ long curtains to protect dress from sun fading
               5. Accessories: parasols, fans (not both at once), dampened neckerchief
               6. Consider modest hoops instead of corded petticoats, even for work impressions (air circulation)

          D. Dress for Men
               1. Lightweight wools or linen: Natural fibers help cool as well as warm
               2. Light cotton drawers
               3. Lighter colors, especially oatmeal colored linen suits
               4. Remove coat at most and only then with permission of any ladies present
               5. Unusual methods... leaves or pads in the hat

Sutherland, Daniel E. Seasons of War: The Ordeal of a Confederate Community 1861-1865 pg. 131
    “But as nightfall approaches, the advance has sputtered. Temperatures hovered around 90 degrees at midday. Veterans, who had learned a trick or two about campaigning, stuffed leaves in their hats to help ward off the sun.”

III. Wet: Brokenburn: The Journal of Kate Stone 1861-1868 pg. 48. Entry for Aug. 28, 1861
    “The boys go out and get wet, often several times a day. Brother Coley says he has not been really dry for three weeks, but we with our long dragging skirts are prisoners.”

                2. Water shedding garments
                3. Shawls and cloaks

Low, Betty-Bright & Jacqueline Hinsley Sophie Du Pont: A Young Lady in America pg. 115. Entry for March 21, 1833:
    “They all three departed-- and jad mpt been gone an hour when it was pouring! Imagine sister Victorine’s despair! At last she dispatched Mullen loaded with Indian rubbers, shawls &c. after these errant damsels”

              4. Umbrellas

Stuart Letters of Robert & Elizabeth Sullivan Stuart and their children, 1818-1864 A letter from Lavinia Stuart to her sister-in-law Kate Williams on Dec.17th 1852 vol. 1, p. 446 Privately printed, 1961.
    “...and then to see her when she prepared to go home in the evening. She puts on a pair of shoes that sound like horses’ hoofs on the floor, pulls her dress up around her waist, puts on a shawl and a big hood over her turban, and she is a regular Mother Bunch. Then she waddles off in a most independent manner, as if she were *lord of all*. I forgot to mention that when it rains she brings a white cotton umbrella.”

              5. Sturdy shoes

Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, Fashion and Manual of Politeness. 1860 pg. 30
    “Storm Dresses – A lady who is obliged to go out frequently in bad weather, will find it both a convenience and economy to have a storm dress. Both dress and cloak should be of a woolen material, (varying of course with the season,*) which will shed water. White skirts are entirely out of place, as, if the dress is held up, they will be in a few moments disgracefully dirty. A woolen skirt, made quite short, to clear the muddy streets, is the proper thing. Stout, thick-soled boots, and gloves of either silk, beaver-cloth, or lisle thread, are the most suitable. The bonnet should be either of straw or felt**, simply trimmed; and above all, carry a large umbrella. The little light umbrellas are very pretty, no doubt, but to be of any real protection in a storm, the umbrella should be large enough to protect the whole dress.”

As we are all ‘travelers’ at most events Ibid., pg. 31:
    “Strong boots and thick gloves are indispensable in traveling, and a heavy shawl should be carried, to meet any sudden change in weather. Corsets and petticoats of dark linen are more suitable than white ones, as there is so much unavoidable dust and mud constantly meeting a traveler.”

             6. Frequent references to rubber shoes, boots & other garments: Commonly available as at least as early as 1830’s:

Southern Literary Messenger, Feb. 1839. A doctor is among the many who criticizes women for wearing thin shoes.     “...instead of wearing boots with India rubber overshoes...In London it would not be considered genteel for ladies to be seen in the street as thinly clad as is customary with us... for [in London] India rubber over dresses are not uncommon as a defense against their sudden showers.”

             7. India rubber goods were much more common by the1850’s and throughout the war years:

Other travelers: Life in the West, (1851) pg. 93.
    “Cloaks and shawls must be found for Mrs. Moreton, and the girls, and the ‘rubber coats and leggins’ with ‘the sou’-wester hats’ must be taken out for Mr. Moreton and his sons.”

Richards, Caroline Cowles, Village Life in America 1852-1872: School girl diary of Caroline Cowles Richards. pg. 23, Entry for April 1, 1854.
    “I might go over to Aunt Ann’s on condition that I would not stay, but I stayed too long and got my India rubbers real muddy and Grandmother did not like it.”

India rubber overshoes were found on the steamboat Arabia.

Godey’s Lady’s Book April 1864 pg. 408.
     “Water-proof cloaks seem now to be a necessary article in a lady’s wardrobe. They are generally made with the Quaker style of hood, which can be pulled over the bonnet....”

IV. Cold

Outline copyright Glenna Jo Christen 2000-2002
Online Aug.13, 2000 Return to Presentations & Works in Progress

Updated 9 March 2002 (a)