A question about hoopskirts

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D.H. Hill

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Were hoopskirts worn as everyday clothing or just for special occasions? It seems as they'd get in the way, particularly in the country, or get caught in doors, etc.
 

Northern Light

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How often and when hoopskirts were worn, largely depended on your socio-economic standing. If you were a farm wife living on the frontier, you likely did not wear them often, if at all. If you belonged to the upper strata of society, you probably wore them everyday, depending on your schedule. They were certainly de rigueur for formal occasions, but not practical for women who had work to do.
 
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D.H. Hill

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Thank you for that clarification. Did every day rural dress have the same basic style, just not bell shaped?

"I thought you'd would ask how does one get in the stall in the ladies room when wearing one. It's a sight to see."
I can imagine; a difficulty I'm glad I'll never have to endure.
 

Northern Light

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Women wore floor or at least ankle length dresses, with probably more or less petticoats underneath, depending on the season. There were no cages or hoops underneath, too impractical. A fuller crinoline, a petticoat with layers of tulle, might be worn for special occasions, but for frontier women, probably not. Colours were generally on the dark side so as not to show dirt so easily, or black so as to have something appropriate when death struck, as it so frequently did. Calico prints were common everyday wear, because they were cheaper.
 

MaryDee

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This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a conference/workshop on 19th century women's clothing. One of the presentations was "Steel Mills and Steel Petticoats" by Carolann Schmitt of Genteel Arts Academy in Gettysburg. When the steel "cage" came out in 1857, it was like a revolution! Instead of half a dozen or so heavy starched petticoats (often with cording to make them stiffer), a woman needed only two--a narrow petticoat under the cage for modesty and a fuller one over to soften the hoop lines. The weight savings were considerable,. Per Carolann, the hoop reduced the amount of laundry by 75%. All those petticoats had to be washed, starched and ironed.

I've read elsewhere that Amelia Bloomer and her dress reformer friends stopped trying to convince everyone to wear bloomers when the steel hoop came out, because the hoop did away with the heavy petticoats. The source was a modern article on the Dress Reform movement which I forgot to bookmark, grrr! I've noticed myself that a cage provides far more ventilation in hot weather, certainly a big plus at midsummer reenactments.

Most women who ditched their cages to cross the plains to Oregon or California invariably bought a new one soon after arrival. You could buy one for as little as 50 cents. Most women didn't wear big hoops (like the kind you see in photos of Mary Lincoln), but a much narrower version, 80 to 90 inches in circumference. The big ones were for ball gowns. Women working in factories around machinery were generally not allowed to wear them. I'm sure farmers' wives didn't wear them to milk the cows and feed the pigs, but they certainly donned a cage to visit the neighbors or go to town or to church.

During the Civil War, skirts were generally up to 4 inches off the ground. Floor length skirts were out of style in the early 1860s. Source: Juanita Leisch, Who Wore What? Womens Wear 1861-1865. Gettysburg, PA, Thomas Publications, 1995. This was a big change from the 1850s. Skirt length went down again after the war. (This will sound very familiar to those of us old enough remember what happened to skirt lengths after World War II!)
 
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Northern Light

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And like any good texas frontier gal, she's got her colt pocket tucked in her apron. Pretty wicked with a fryin pan too!
I think her skirts are about 2" off' the ground.
No point in dragging them around in the dust or the mud! And it never hurts to show off nicely turned ankle:giggle:.
 
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James B White

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There's evidence that women wore hoops for at least some factory work. When the arsenal caught fire in Allegheny, PA, there were many female workers killed: "The steel bands remaining from the hoop skirts of the unfortunate girls, marked the place where many of them had perished [the bodies having been consumed by fire.]" http://www.historynet.com/explosion-at-the-allegheny-arsenal.htm Here's a drawing of women at work at another arsenal (Watertown MA) showing what they might look like seated together at work: https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:rv042v219

As others have noted, hoops like that for everyday wear would be of a smaller diameter than ones for fancier occasions. But a dress without an underlying hoop could look really low class--for example the famous pipe-smoking refugee--so I think that unless women were out on the farm with just family and hired help, or were poor enough or of a low enough social class, or were doing hard work like laundry or scrubbing floors--which would also indicate they were of a low class--there was pressure to wear at least a small hoop if one's work made it possible, especially if one would be seen by other people.
D.H.Hill said:
Did every day rural dress have the same basic style, just not bell shaped?
Yes. The bell shape, of course, is produced only by the hoop, so the only difference was the length of the hem. There's a famous photo of women wearing skirts hemmed for hoops, but without the hoops, showing the excess length: https://history369.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/female-venereal-hospital.jpg A few women are wearing hoops in the photo--the one in profile holding a white cloth, and the one at the extreme left-- but you can see how the same kind of dress appears without hoops, with the hem dragging the ground, on the woman toward the left of the photo with hands on hips. The only thing different in the basic cut of the dress is the extra length to go over the hoops. Of course, there would be more subtle differences in fabric and trim, as one wouldn't make a dress meant to go without hoops of nice fabric and fancy trim.
 
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yellowthornoftexas

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Lol, I've been in a couple of other era reenacting groups, not one had a topic about women's clothing where us fellers commented! Not sure what this means!!! Lol CW men more "in tune" with their lady folk? Lol
 

MaryDee

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For many women, especially those on a budget, the "going to church" dress was generally the newest, with a fancier collar basted on. When replaced, it became the "everyday work dress." If the family was quite poor, that may have been her one and only dress, sponged and pressed the night before, with the "Sunday collar" basted on for the day. Sometimes the nicest dress was kept for 10 years or more strictly for special occasions (think of Ma's delaine [wool] dress in the "Little House" series, although that was 20 years later).

I'll bet lots of little kids had fnn with Ma's hoops!

What lots of re-enacting fathers have troubles with is that both boys and girls were dressed alike--in dresses--until they were toilet-trained. Actually, dresses were much handier for changing diapers than boys' pants! Until the boys were "breeched," the sexes could be told apart only by where their hair was parted (middle for girls, side for boys), once the babies grew enough hair to part!
 
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MaryDee

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Yellowthorn, my group, or members thereof, offers a workshop every two years. The men go to the history sessions, not the clothing sessions--and that's by their choice. For the latest one, we had three men present--two of whom were husbands of the presenters helping with the audiovisual gear. The third sat out in the hall working on his laptop.
 

yellowthornoftexas

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I'll admit, I spoil her, always looking for something new or telling her to get a new dress or something. She saw a real pretty Ball dress for $300.00! I told her to get it! She looked at me like I was nuts! Lol
 
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D.H. Hill

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Thank y'all for the great replies! Lots of interesting information.

"I've been in a couple of other era reenacting groups, not one had a topic about women's clothing where us fellers commented! Not sure what this means!"

Well, can't speak for the other chaps but I portray a soldier from the back woods of ol' Virginny. Having grown up in the woods myself it just seemed that the wide hooped dresses I see at reenactments (I admit I haven't been to very many, though) and most period portraits wouldn't exactly be convenient for daily use out here. I was curious how women I would have seen back then would have looked.
 
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For many women, especially those on a budget, the "going to church" dress was generally the newest, with a fancier collar basted on. When replaced, it became the "everyday work dress." If the family was quite poor, that may have been her one and only dress, sponged and pressed the night before, with the "Sunday collar" basted on for the day. Sometimes the nicest dress was kept for 10 years or more strictly for special occasions (think of Ma's delaine [wool] dress in the "Little House" series, although that was 20 years later).
I have always thought is wearisome to baste and un-baste collars on dresses. It seems they would get tired of doing that every week!
 
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