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Women's Clothing

A number of new women's styles made their way into the fashion world during the 1860s. The decade was particularly marked by a change in the shape of women's skirts, both in the use of gored skirt and in the addition of the oval hoop. Dress skirts and bodices also received more surface decoration, marking a move into the exuberant Victorian age. On a different note, reform dress made an appearance. A number of women, in rebellion against the male-dictated fashion ethos, discarded their traditional long, tightly corseted dresses and donned shorter, more naturally wasted dresses atop trousers. Nonetheless, the stylish women still remained stylish, and women's attire continued to evolve into the small-waisted, high-bustled, fringed, and ruffled designs that characterize the late 19th century.

Early 1860s skirts were still quite full and ample, seen in the image on the left. They were often gored (sewn together with separate bolts of fabric, rather than one large, pleated piece) to throw them out at the bottom. Notice how the stripes in the dress on the right meet at points along the front; this is indicative of the use of separate bolts of fabric sewn together at that spot.

1860s Full Skirt 1860s Full Skirt

1860s Full Skirts: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900, 1995

By the mid-60s, the skirt began to change shape, becoming flatter and narrower in the front and fuller in the back. The use of gored fabric allowed for the flat, smooth front seen in the image on the left. Skirts also began to hang atop oval loops that extended father out the back, allowing the front to flatten and the extra material to be gathered into the back. The woman standing in the image on the right wears an oval hoop, identifiable by the way her skirt is thrown out in the back.

1860s Oval Hoop Skirt 1860s Oval Hoop Skirt

1860s Oval Hoop Skirts: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

A practical innovation in skirt design turned fashionable around 1865. In order to keep long skirts from dragging on the ground when walking, cords were fastened at intervals to the inside of the skirt. The skirt could then be raised from the ground to the desired height, and the cords were tied around the waist. The young girls in the image below display this fashionable new trend in their walking attire.

1860s Walking Skirt

1860s Walking Skirts: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

The jockey waist was commonly worn in the 1860s, featuring two points extending from the bodice past the waistline. The jockey waist can just be made out against the black fabric of the dress on the left. During the second half of the decade, shortwaistedness became quite exaggerated. Notice the high, small waist in the image on the right.

1860s Jockey Waist and Shortwaisted Bodice 1860s Jockey Waist and Shortwaisted Bodice

1860s Jockey Waist and Shortwaisted Bodices: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

Bodices of the 1860s fastened down the front, with buttons growing quite large by the end of the decade. Small, white collars of lace or linen closed at the neck with a brooch, which also became quite large in the late 1860s. The woman in the image below displays the large buttons fastening the bodice and a standing white collar enclosed with a brooch.

1860s Bodice

1860s Bodice: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

The false yoke (the yoke is the fitted shoulder portion of the bodice that is cut above the bosom) was worn frequently on the 1860s bodice, often having pleats or ruffles. Note the ruffled upper portion of the bodice and shoulder in the images below.

1860s False Yoke 1860s False Yoke

1860s False Yoke: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

The Garibaldi shirt, an Italian style shirt, was also quite popular during the 1860s. These shirts of red or black wool or white cotton had full sleeves and appear to have laced up the front. Not only do the girls in the images below sport the fashionable Garibaldi shirt, but they also display the newly popular shirt-and-waist style. During the 1860s, fuller, separate shirtwaists (bodice plus waist), usually plain, were coordinated with plain or checkered skirts.

1860s Garibaldi Shirt 1860s Garibaldi Shirt

1860s Garibaldi Shirt: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

A number of sleeve styles are seen during the 1860s. Bell-shaped sleeves remained popular until 1863. The bishop sleeve (a full sleeve gathered at the wrist) and the Pamela sleeve (a bishop sleeve tied off at intervals to create puffs) were also popular. Shoulders were long and sloping with the armscye (the opening to which the sleeve is attached to the bodice) circled the upper arm, horizontally, at armpit height. The woman on the left displays the early 1860s bell-shaped sleeve. Bishop sleeves, with the low armscye, are featured on the work dresses in the image on the right.

1860s Sleeves 1860s Sleeves

1860s Sleeves: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

Dresses of the 1860s, particularly the skirts, became much more ornamental, with braiding and other trim. Daydresses also featured braided borders and were either plain or patterned with spots, florets, or other small motifs. The woman on the right dons a lavishly decorated dress, with ample trim, while the woman on the left wears a simple daydress with small pattern.

1860s Dress Pattern and Trim 1860s Dress Pattern and Trim

1860s Dress Patterns and Trim: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

The image below illustrates typical 1860s reform dress.

1860s Reform Dress

1860s Reform Dress: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

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