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Clothing Guidelines - Women

RGA’s goal is to present an honest representation of the 19th century, historically as authentic as possible. Completing a character or persona with garments, accouterments, and props that are in keeping with the era is what will make a presentation come alive. Seeing the apou 

The following guidelines are to get you pointed in the right direction in researching and establishing your "Old West" era (circa 86-1880) character's wardrobe.


CLOTHING (The following guidelines relate specifically to the "Old West" era, circa 1865-1880.)

For the time period, clothing is a bit complex. Many vendors sell clothes that are 1895-1899 and sell them as 1800's clothing. This is deceiving because they do not give the exact year. Make sure when purchasing and/or making clothing that you have researched the year styles in the time frame you are portraying. Women’s clothing 

was determined, as today, on the activity, geography and everyday life of each woman. Also, there were 

many fabrics and patterns. Most fabrics were natural cottons, silks, satins and velvets. Florals, paisleys

and stripes as well as solids in many colors were popular.


Bodices fitted below waistlines. Sleeves were generally slim and tight fitting with some sleeves with slight

fullness at the shoulder. Collars are generally stand up or ruffle with lower necklines reserved for evening wear. Trains on skirts were popular for evening and home but shorter walking skirts also seen. Lots of drapery and two or more fabrics or colors considered a must. Bustles expand to maximum fullness around 1887.


What is NOT allowed in RGA is reconstructed prom dresses or polyester as well as zippers and velcro.

Stay away from obviously nylon or polyester laces. Dresses and female clothing will have historically accurate materials as well as cuts and style.


DRESSES: The common dress worn by the average ranch or homesteader was a day dress.

This can be researched and manufactured regularly at not a great expense.


POLONAISE: A style of dress that the bodice and overskirt are made as one piece appearing in the early 1870’s

and remaining popular through the 1880’s. They could be very fancy or very simple.


A word to the wild women - Dance hall girls skirts should be below their knees with an evening style bodice.

Soiled doves, if you choose to wear your underwear as a costume, know that you wouldn’t be doing it

downstairs or outside. That is a sure way to make sure the “proper” ladies would run you out of town.

Even among the not so proper there were rules to be observed. If you were walking down the streets

you are expected to dress somewhat respectable.


SHOES: There are many styles, you’ll have to do a little research. Ball slippers and walking boots were made

of many materials,, kid, seal skin and leather. A good standard is leather

high-top boots, lace-up or button top boots.


ACCESSORIES: Earrings - only French hooks and screw-on posts. Studs were introduced around the turn

of the century. Clip-ons came in the early 1900s. Stay away from modern styles. Earrings were made

of gold and silver and sometimes incorporated with pearl, precious or semi-precious stones.


Cameos were very popular in various colors as pins, necklaces and earrings.


Women’s watches were similar in style to men’s. Pocket watches were often put in a small pocket

that was pinned to the dress. There were also some watch pins.


Hats and bonnets were worn very often. Styles are too varied to include here. Again, it is suggested you

study to learn what was in style. They could be simple or adorned with ribbons, bows, feathers or

even whole birds or wings. (We won’t expect you to use real birds as they did, just keep them real looking).


Glasses/Specks will be period.


Other hair adornments include ribbons, bows, flowers and feathers. Fancy hair combs made of

tortoise shell, bone, ivory and wood were very popular and were usually very elaborate.


HAIR: Women usually had long hair. Shoulder length or a little below the shoulders was considered short but

was sometimes worn. Very popular in the 1800's were fancy curls and coiffures piled on top of the head.

Hair pieces were often used to make elaborate hairdos possible.


Make-up is allowed (we’re too vain). Some women did wear make-up, especially soiled doves and

entertainers, but it began to show up on the faces of women in cities also. They wore rouge and lipstick

as well as a foundation and there are references to “darkening” the eyelashes. (It is interesting to note

that rouge was often times made with beet juice and a foundation was made of flour paste!

We are not suggesting you use these items).


Hands were often gloved, but if they weren’t, nails were either natural or French manicure.


There is much more detail too extensive to list here. Some suggested reference books are;


“Le Maitresse Couturiere-The Lady’s Dressmaker” and “Buttons and Bows” both by Marna Davis.


“Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harpers Bazaar” by Blum, a Dover publication.


“American Victorian Costume in Early Photographs” by Pricillia Harris Dalrymple, Dover plus many more.


The key word here folks is “RESEARCH“. Although the organization does allow some exceptions, the point is to strive for authenticity or as close as possible. After all, RGA’s goal is to present an honest representation of the 19th century.

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