In the early days, as well as today, clothing told a
lot about a person's lifestyle. Clothing was originally made
from wool, flax and leather. Today, these are used as well as
cotton, rayon, polyester, silk and all types of other materials.
Wool comes from the fleece
of a sheep. Each spring, farmers sheared their sheep's thick
winter coats. Then, they cleaned the coats and the wool could
be carded, spun and dyed.
Flax, which is a plant, was
used to make linen. Linen was lighter than wool so it was used
for summer clothing. The fine strands were combed and spun into
linen. Wool was too hot in the summer and linen was too delicate,
so the two were combined to make linsey-woolsey. This is a rough
fabric of linen warp and wool or cotton wool.
Leather was also used in making
clothing, boots, bags, gloves and shoes. Animal hides were tanned
into leather. To tan leather, the hide was placed in water and
added to it was hemlock bark. The bark released acid which kept
the hide from rotting. After soaking for several months, it was
then dried until it became stiff. The animal fats and oils were
used to make it soft enough for clothing. Our 2004 museum exhibit
displayed many of these materials which were used to make nightwear,
undergarments, everyday wear, special occasion wear and accessories.
In the Victorian era, night
wear was also important. Nightgowns were long-sleeved and ankle
length which echoed the everyday wear. A robe was also used in
the morning to cover sleepwear, just as we do today. Night wear
was made of finer materials, and were very lacy and fancy.
Victorian undergarments made
the outer shape possible, and women wore many layers. These layers
included pantalettes, which was a drawer-like garment that was
slightly longer than the knee. A chemise, which was a loose garment
worn to reach below the knees and had a drawstring neckline.
The corset, which gave shape to the hips and waist also lifted
the bust area. The women wanted to be thinner, so they tied the
corset so tight it squeezed their organs together. This caused
fainting and broken ribs. Also, many women experienced problems
in childbirth and with digestion. A petticoat, the skirt worn
under the dress and a second petticoat (the finest owned) were
worn under the dress. Finally, the dress and accessories such
as gloves and bonnet were added.
Everyday wear was very different
in the Victorian era than it is today. Women and girls covered
everything except their faces. They also wore bonnets or hats.
Many Virginia women wore gowns made of lustering, a crisp light
silk that they had to order for wear during the summer months.
The higher up one was in society determined the way they dressed.
The more prominent people wore silks, velvets and furs. The poorer
people wore wool and linen.
Wedding comes from the Anglo-Saxon
word "wedd" that meant a man would marry a woman and
pay the bride's father. Many of today's weddings have been traced
back to ancient Egyptian and European customs. The traditional
white wedding dress came from the Victorian Era and Queen Victoria.
Most couples in this time married for other reasons than love.
Women needed a man to provide a house, clothes and money. Women's
vows included the promise to obey her husband, but his did not
include the promise to obey her. Parents sometimes filled hope
chests, hoping that their daughters would someday marry. They
filled these with things needed for the house, such as blankets
In the Victorian Era, pregnancy
and birth were private occasions. Christenings on the other hand
were social events. Most churches insisted the child wear a white
gown. This was a symbol of purity and innocence. Most of the
gowns were made of fine linen; they were fashionable and tasteful.
The term "Christening" dates to the early Christian
and Catholic churches. To Christen a child is to recognize the
"Christ-light" within the child. This was a way to
know the essence of wholeness, joy and perfection that is your
Mourning did not apply as much
to men as it did to women. Women had to go into deep mourning
for a year and a day for their husbands. The widow would dress
entirely in black and only leave the house to go to church or
to visit close relatives. During the second year of mourning
the widow wore less black, more gray, white and purple. The closer
the relationship, the more black they wore, and they wore it
for a longer period of time. It was considered honorable to follow
this dress code during mourning.
Women were not women without
the many accessories that made the outfit complete. Until around
1800, women would carry their few coins and personal items in
pockets sewn in the linings of their dresses. Later, pockets,
coin purses and purses were used. Some purses even had built-in
mirrors. During the late 1800's, watches on long chains were
popular with the ladies. Brooches and hair pins were worn and
during evening events, fancy collar necklaces would also be seen.
No lady would have considered herself dressed without her gloves.
Shoes were also a big accessory. Working women wore shoes made
from strong leather, and wealthy women wore shoes made from silk