This photo shows Tricia Buie, who was an instructor for a Road Scholar program ( www.roadscholar.org ) I attended last spring on the Golden Isles of Georgia. In the Road Scholar literature, she is described as a living history presenter throughout the Southeast, specializing in the lives of 19th century women. She is a Coastal Georgia Historian for the Center for Educational Adventure, and is a volunteer docent for the Coastal Georgia Historic Lighthouse and Hofwyl Plantation. She gave us a demonstration of the typical attire of a "Southern Lady", during the Victorian era.
A brave lady from our group volunteered to be the Southern lady that Ms. Buie used as her model. This photo shows that in addition to the tee shirt and shorts she was wearing at the beginning, a petticoat has been added that goes from the waist to the floor. Then a chemise was added from the waist to the shoulders (this was before the days of a brassiere). On top of these pieces, a corset was added to shape the woman's waistline. Fortunately for the volunteer model, Ms. Buie did not cinch up the corset from the back lacing, to make it extremely tight. However, many Southern ladies required a servant to cinch them up, and sometimes, they cinched so tight, that the lady passed out---which is why a "fainting couch" is a piece of furniture common to the Victoria era. This practice also gave rise to the cliche of saying a someone is really "tight-laced."!
On top of the petticoat, a lady would have worn the "contraption" seen in this photo. It consisted of a series of stiff circular hoops, held together with cloth strips, and having a waist band that could be fastened by the wearer. If you have heard the term "hoop skirt", now you know what they are talking about!
So far, we have just seen the undergarments, so now the process of the outer layer is started. Typically, a Southern lady's dress during the day time would have a collar that went up all the way to the neck, and long pagoda sleeves, down to the wrist.
Now to "tame" the lady's hair, a net enclosure would encircle her head. On top of the hairnet, a hat would be placed. The hat often had bird feathers (plumes) on it, and would normally be perched toward the front of the head.
A Southern lady would not venture out in public without her gloves. They were usually white, but sometimes colored to match her outfit.
This clothing did not have pockets, so the lady needed something to hold her "essentials". Since the needed item performed the function of a clothing pocket, they were sometimes called "pocket pouch" or "pocket book". As shown in this photo, they were usually designed so that the strings at the top could be wrapped around the lady's wrist, for ease in carrying. Yet another cliche is evident here, when we say "loosen up the purse strings", as coins would often be carried in the purses, and the strings would have to be loosened in order to access the money.
All of us watching this demonstration of how a Victorian lady would clothe herself, felt somewhat under dressed, compared to how things were in the olden days!
It was important that a Southern lady in all these layers of clothing knew how to properly sit down in a chair. It would be very embarrassing to sit down in a chair and have the hoops under the skirt come up and hit you in the face! Therefore, the important social skill of "arranging yourself" for a chair had to be demonstrated for our group!
Seeing this demonstration on how to clothe oneself, was most educational and enjoyable, and serves as a wonderful visual aid for my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verse that says, "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." ( Colossians 3:12 ). Seeing the amount of time a Southern lady had to devote to how she clothed herself before she went out in public, makes me realize that the time devoted to studying God's word, and applying it to my life, is more important that the fickle fashion rules of an era. The fashions will change, but the character qualities of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience will always be in style! Working to clothe myself in those "garments" will give this Southern lady from Arkansas (me!) "MILES OF SMILES!" Tricia