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Notes from the Paynesville Historical Society. . .

Clothing changes through the years

By Dolores Hislop

There are many styles of clothing given to the museum and some are on exhibit for you to see. I will write this week on clothing styles and attempt to date the changes. The styles on exhibit go back to the late 1890s or early 1900s and range up to the 1960s. I will begin this article with clothing of the 1800s.

Most clothing was made by hand in the early 1800s and that continued to be the way clothes were fashioned for most of the people. However, the sewing machine and other inventions made the production of clothing possible by the middle 1800s. The people of our area still wore dresses, skirts, and other apparel made at home or with the help of seamstresses for the most part during this time.

The woman's dress style of the early 1800s was the Empire style which featured a short waist, short puffy sleeves, and usually had a long flowing skirt. This style lasted until about 1820. The next style that appeared was about 1830-1840 when dresses had tight, close fitting waists, a full skirt, and the women wore many petticoats under the skirts. In order to make the skirt appear more full, by 1850, women were wearing a new type of petticoat called the crinoline. Early ones were made of horsehair and later they were made with stiff wire or of whalebone to enlarge the skirt. We often hear of hoop skirts and this would be the fashion referred to.

In the 1870s, the style was the bustle gowns that enlarged only the ladies skirt in the back. The bustle was a formed pad worn beneath a woman's skirt just below the back of the waist. Also by 1880, the first suits for women were designed in Europe. In 1890, a blouse called a shirtwaist became popular, which was worn with a separate skirt. At this time, the "hourglass" figure became popular and the woman's clothing was laced tight at the waist to make the waist as small as possible. The pioneer women wore different styles but we usually see pictured the homespun dress without the stylish features that the city ladies wore.

By the 1900s, women's clothing changed quickly as manufacturers were making clothing and a mass market developed. Around 1910, the style called a hobble skirt was in fashion with the skirt so tight at the bottom that women had trouble walking. Clothing became looser, lightweight, and less formal during 1914 to 1918, during World War I. Simple styles prevailed during this time. During the 1920s, dresses became a straight design, unfitted, with skirts about knee length. The term "Flapper" was the word that characterizes this time, which in the dictionary means dress that has somewhat daring freedom and boldness. Women began wearing slacks in the 1930s and skirt styles were longer, but by 1940, skirts again were shorter, slacks commonly worn, and blouse and skirts were the fitted design. Padded shoulders were also common in blouses and jacket styles. After World War II, crinolines and long full skirts were again popular with nylon and other materials for shorter hemline and straight fitting sheath dresses, but we also think of the poodle skirts in this time frame which were in fashion. Also the A line dress and shift dresses, and the mini-skirt came into fashion. From 1970 to today, women's clothes have never held to one main style and although hemlines still change, women are free to wear whatever they feel is most comfortable.

Men's styles of clothing before 1800 were fashionable with lace collars, knee length pants, and even high heeled shoes worn as the style. However, the common man wore clothing more plain and only dressed up for certain occasions. In the 1800s, the men's fashion styles changed to become more plain. By about 1815, men in Europe and the United States began wearing trousers instead of knee breeches that had been worn before. Men wore the longer style tail coat which later was replaced by a double-breasted coat, called a frock coat, that was more full and reached about to the knee. Later the regular coat style of today replaced the frock coat and men used the tail coat style for more formal wear. In 1880, a coat called the tuxedo was also worn for important occasions.

From 1900 to 1950, men's suits were popular. The term single-breasted or double-breasted suits refers to the coat lapel lapping over the breast and having either a single row or a double row of buttons on the suit. Shoulders were unpadded around 1910, but later they became more padded. The only visible change in suit styles seems to be whether the men buttoned one, two, or three buttons on their suit coat. In pictures, the pocket watch chain is in style of the time period. The next style change for men occurred during the 1950s and 1960s. Narrow lapels on suits, natural shoulders, and single-breasted lapels were common-it was the Ivy League style. Also, men began wearing colored shirts instead of the usual white color with business suits. Clothing manufacturers created "wash and wear" fabrics so during the 1950s and 1960s leisure suits became popular and narrow ties also. This extended into the 1970 time period. Bermuda shorts, slacks, colorful shirts were worn and business suits also came in several colors. Wide neckties were common and were no longer plain but a wide variety of styles. It seems that men now have more freedom to wear a variety of clothing styles and for only formal occasions is there the need for "appropriate wear."

Fashion dictates the style in an area and usually takes awhile to cover the nation, so the years that are stated are approximate to the area where it started. I have attempted to only cover some years briefly and because men have certain attire that is generally worn, have only covered general suit styles and coat styles in this article.

We invite you to come to the Paynesville museum to view the styles on display and also to see the photographs on the wall which show various people in the dress style of the time period. It is interesting to note the way people dressed for pictures as this was the way they wanted people to remember them.

We also thank the people of the Paynesville community for donating clothing for the museum so we can see the various styles and display them. Please come to the museum and wear your comfortable clothes.

Article taken from information of the World Book Encyclopedia and the files of the Paynesville Historical Museum.