Getting dressed in the 19th century

Title

Getting dressed in the 19th century

Description

Albany NY is very cold in winter. So when women came from all over the state in February 1854 for the second NY Women’s Rights Convention, it was freezing. @AlbanyMuskrat evokes the scene:

“We can imagine scores of women trudging up the hill to the old Capitol building in pouring rain and icy mud, some in heavy crinolines, shawls and bonnets, others in the new 'Reform' dress or 'Turkish Costume,' loose trousers under a skirt... Newspapers described convention attendees as 'grannies, old maids and young Bloomers.'"

Hang on - let’s pause on Albany history and talk about the clothes. It’s hard today to imagine how suffocating the clothing was. When “Bloomers” were publicized in the 1850’s, they weren’t about a preference for pants - they were about being able to breathe.

Here’s how a woman got dressed in the 19th century:
1. First she put on stockings, gartered tight above the knee.
2. Then she buttoned up her high-heeled shoes, because once she put on her corset and skirts she couldn’t bend over.
3. Then she put on drawers: cotton pants to the knee or below that buttoned at the waist, and a light cotton slip called a chemise.
4. The corset went over that. Made of whale bones, and tied tight in the back. The tighter they were tied, the less you could breathe. Wearing one every day smushed your organs. Wearing one while pregnant meant you couldn’t breathe from the inside or the outside.
5. Then she put on a cage crinoline - a frame that really looked like a cage - or a bustle, a contraption made of coils that was tied around the waist and hung in back to give skirts their shape. Then a petticoat on top.
The cage was reportedly an improvement! It saved layers of petticoats, though it was prone to flipping up in the wind like an umbrella.

6. Last, the dress, which cd have its own layer of bone in the bodice & a heavy skirt. The skirt attached to the bustle with string or elastic.

The whole thing weighed about 15 lbs on average - the fancier, the heavier. All of that weight hung from your torso. Despite the yards of fabric, you were cold: the underwear was too light, and your legs were bare. The long skirts dragged on the ground, sweeping up dirt & shit.

Between the weight, the lung compression, and the awkward balance of the whole get-up, it was hard to do anything at all. Walking up or down stairs was difficult, running impossible. Imagine projecting your voice to a packed hall when you can’t take a deep breath.

Thanks to Marlise Schoeny at costume.osu.edu for the most detailed explanation I’ve found of what it felt like to wear these clothes. Check out their decade-by-decade collection at fashion2fiber.osu.edu. Also the Victoria & Albert @V_and_A & @MetMuseum

Creator

Daily Suffragist

Date

25/12/2019

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Citation

Daily Suffragist, “Getting dressed in the 19th century,” Daily Suffragist, accessed September 21, 2021, https://dailysuffragist.omeka.net/items/show/198.

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