19th Century Fashion Facts

  • In the 1850s, skirts measured as much as ten to twelve yards around the hem.
  • Small pieces of lead were sewn into the hem to keep the wind from lifting full skirts.
  • A woman might wear six to nine ruffled petticoats underneath her full skirts.
  • The entire weight of one dress with petticoats might be as much as forty pounds.
  • Whether a woman wore a cage crinoline (hoop skirt) or layers of petticoats, wide skirts were a fire hazard.

Kindle Scout question: What did you learn while writing this book? Answer in 300 characters or less.

I have to admit to being fashion blind. I do not notice what other people are wearing unless their clothes are truly outrageous for the circumstances. If someone were feeding the pigs in a ball gown to rival Cinderella’s or someone attended a ball in a gunnysack, that would get my attention. Otherwise, I assume people wear whatever clothes are normal for the circumstances and don’t pay much notice. The result of my fashion blindness was brought to my attention by a critique partner who noted that my characters had no clothes. Given I’m writing historical fiction, I should probably include a few details.  After some Google searches, I learned a few fashion details and pinned some pictures on Pinterest. The question is how to include the descriptions without slowing down the story.

Below are my original and revised paragraphs.

Original: The next afternoon, I stood outside a small room at the back of the church where the women’s bible study group met, waiting for the meeting to break up so I could speak to my aunts. Aunt Hilda was the minister’s wife, so she led the study, and Aunt May attended because she was the banker’s wife and supporting the church was expected of someone with her position in society.

Revised: The next afternoon, clutching my borrowed copy of Godey’s Lady’s Book, I stood outside a small room at the back of the church where the women’s Bible study group met, waiting for the meeting to break up so I could return the magazine and tell my aunts that Pa had sent for me. Aunt Hilda was the minister’s wife, so she led the study, and Aunt May attended because she was the banker’s wife and supporting the church was expected of someone with her position in society.

My aunts were obviously sisters. May, Hilda, and Hannah were all tall and blonde with blue eyes. It was their petticoats that set them apart. Aunt Hannah swore that too many petticoats interfered with her work managing the hotel and never wore more than four and her skirts hung embarrassingly straight. Aunt Hilda usually had six for an acceptable fullness. It was Aunt May with nine petticoats that rustled and held out her skirts in almost a bell who was truly fashionable.

It was finally four o’clock, and Aunt Hilda led a prayer to close the meeting. After the “amen,” women began drifting toward the door, chatting on their way, and I got my first clear view of Aunt May’s new gown as she stood to leave. The dress had no collar, leaving Aunt May’s entire neck exposed, and her skirt was a perfect bell, indicating that she had received the cage crinoline that was advertised in the issue of Godey’s I held in my hand.  Aunt Hilda’s face had a sour look, and I wondered if it was Aunt May’s choice of neckline for church wear that caused it.

Have I gone overboard with description or do the details add to the story? Let me know.

If you enjoyed this excerpt from For Want of a Father, please nominate it for publication before April 30.

for want of a father final copy

 

 

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