Clothing and Grooming


While the patterns used to make clothes varied relatively little across socio-economic groups, the material and amount of elaborateness did. Rural people wore plainer clothes, made from coarser and heavier fabrics than those used in the city. Felt hats became popular for many types of men, but usually only professional or wealthier urban men wore silk hats. Rural women had fairly plain, limited wardrobes, compared to their urban sisters. Urban women, even those on the lower economic end, tended to be more fashion conscious. Those who could not afford the latest fashions purchased cheap imitations, with plenty of decorations such as lace, ribbon, braid, fringe, and flounces. Since the ideal female figure of the period was the "hourglass," women in the towns and cities and wealthy plantations wore tight corsets to make their waists look smaller in relation to their busts and hips. They also used crinoline under their skirts to make their skirts full, although the use of full-skirted crinoline lost popularity after the end of the 1860s.

Men held up their pants with suspenders, or "braces," although many men in the West used wide leather belts. Many wore loose-fitting vests, often made of wool, which became popular both for everyday attire and dressy occasions. Professionals wore suits, which fit loosely. The coats of the suit were usually woolen, with broad shoulders and wide sleeves; the pants were baggy. Shirts contained stiff paper or starched collars, giving them a rigid appearance, although they actually fit rather loosely. White shirts were a sign of prosperity, showing that the wearer was not a "laborer."
In town, women and men generally wore shoes with leather soles and high, fabric tops. Shoes were either buttoned on the side, or laced up in front. Shoes for sport were introduced in the 1860s, an early version of sneakers, with laces, fabric tops and rubber soles. Shoe makers did not distinguish between left and right shoes, and there were no half-sizes or varied widths beyond "slim" and "wide." Socks and stockings were made of cotton or wool, and were generally black, brown or white. Silk stockings for women were available, but hard to acquire and expensive.
Facial hair was popular for men, although full beards were not prevalent outside New England. Mustachios, lamp-chop sideburns and other such styles were considered dignified, masculine and handsome. Women of fashion wore their hair long, swept back, and in a "waterfall" style, which was held behind the neck with a hairnet. Some added hairpieces, often made of horsehair, to supplement any deficiencies of length or volume.