It would seem that during the 1860’s, especially during the war years, that ladies clothing would come to a stand-still – but that is not the case. During the early years of the decade the fullest skirts imaginable were the way to go – imagine how much material it would take to make a dress during this time period! Of course, many women were able to re-fashion some of their older clothing to make a new dress, adding new sleeves or bits to the skirt. Large hoops were worn during this time, in comparison to the oval hoop that came into fashion at the end of the 1860’s.
Most dresses, except for the wealthiest citizens, were rather simple in the early years – very full skirts, simple bodice that perhaps fastened down the front, either bishop sleeves or bell sleeves with white undersleeves, with shoulders long and sloping down to the armpit. Belts became popular. White collars were worn with most dresses and sometimes closed at the throat with a brooch.
Hairstyles were very simple, pulled back with combs into a hairnet or snood. In the early years the ears were covered.
Cloaks and shawls were used for warmth – but by the end of the 1860’s were considered a no-no. Paletot jackets were also worn at this time – they were very full and came down just past the waist.
As with any decade, not everyone wore the newest fashions at the same time and what one woman wore at the beginning of the decade another might not wear until the middle. I hope the following photographs help give an idea of the early fashions of the 1860’s.
This is an excellent example of an early 1860’s dress – full skirt, full bishop sleeves, sloping shoulder to the armpit where the sleeves are attached, white collar and brooch. There is just a touch of soutache braid on the caplet sleeve and at the wrists. Very simple hairstyle.
An extremely full skirt that seems to have additions to it – was this for style or warmth? It seems to match the wrap she holds over her arm. The bodice on this dress is very simple, with a white collar and brooch. Large bishop sleeves complete the outfit. Another simple hairstyle.
The three woman in this photo – sisters? – are dressed similarly – simple bodices, white collar, full skirts. The middle woman has bell sleeves with white undersleeves, while the other two are wearing bishop sleeves. Again, simple hairstyles.
I would say this dress is a bridge from the end of the early years to the middle years. The material has a check pattern, but still the very full skirt. A good example of bell sleeves with white undersleeves. There is trim at the bottom of the bell sleeve and on the bodice. A white collar and simple hairstyle.
I do not claim to be an expert on dating old photos, but I do enjoy trying to put them in the right decade and learning about the different styles throughout the years. These are gems that give us insight into the world of another time.