Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Victorian Secrets": Ladies' undergarments and fashions during the Civil War

Gloria Swift has dressed in woolen tunic and pants while serving on a Civil War artillery demonstration crew.

She’s also worn a chemise, corset, underskirt and other layers to show visitors at Fort Pulaski National Monument near Savannah, Ga., ladies’ fashions during the Civil War.

The coolest get-up during those incredibly hot Savannah days?

Wear the artillery uniform, she advises.

The National Park Service ranger is organizing two programs at the fort this Sunday, March 27, as part of Women’s History Month.

At 11 a.m., a model, in a program called “Victorian Secrets,” will be dressed from the “inside out” to show all the undergarments a woman of means put on “before going to town.”

Unless she had assistance, a woman put on her stockings and shoes on first. Drawers, a chemise, corset, an underskirt, a hoop, an overskirt and the dress followed.

“How lucky we are to have pants these days,” quipped Swift.

A fashion show follows at 1 p.m. A park employee will display a civilian gentleman’s fashions of the day while women showcase everyday and traveling dresses, as well as a ball gown.

The Victorian Era, as we know, was a time of public modesty, but some women knew how “to flash an ankle.”

“Clever women who wanted to be a little seen wore red stockings or red stripes,” Swift told the Picket. “It was scandalous.”

Of course, fashions had much to do with social status and other circumstances. Most women during the war made do with a day dress, bodice and apron.

Union blockades eventually starved the South of war material and clothing.

“In the South, you saw less and less new patterns” as times got lean, Swift said. Women customized the one or two available dress styles.

Soldiers’ wives lived at Pulaski (above) both during and after its fall in 1862. This weekend’s program is a way to let visitors know about the battles and the people back home.

“Let’s tell the other side of the story,” Swift said.

The fee at Fort Pulaski is $5 per person; children ages 15 and under are free. Call the park at (912) 786-5787 for more details.

1 comment:

  1. Love the title - Victorian Secrets. Thanks for posting this. I've attended events where we've dressed spectators before. They can't believe how many layers the people wore back then. A good history lesson.