And dress reform. A journal on dress reform was published in Middletown, she said.
“In the 1850s, women wore Turkish trousers under a shortened skirt for freedom of movement,” she said. “It was called the ‘American dress.’ But it got too much attention. The focus was on what women wore, rather than what they said. So they went back to conventional styles.”
Even then they wore vintage clothes. At a reception for Revolutionary War hero Gen. Lafayette in the winter of 1824-25, Camilla Smith, wife of a doctor who served with Lafayette, wore a blue and gold silk dress from the Revolutionary War era with a decorative green apron — “not for dirty work, but maybe for sewing,” said Hansen, pulling the dress from a box. A small purse called a “reticule” went with it
“I don’t know why she wore the dress for Lafayette — because it’s beautiful, old? History is a mystery,” said Hansen. “But the dress is doing well at 235 years old, wrapped in acid-free paper. Natural dyes last longer.”
As for washing, since wool and silk are unwashable, said Hansen, people wore cotton and linen underneath, which they rinsed in water they boiled in their backyards. They aired out their outer clothes, and brushed and spot-cleaned stains.
“They washed themselves as often as we do,” said Hansen, “but less enjoyably, taking sponge baths with a bowl of water and soap.”
Clothes gradually became less cumbersome. In mid-19th-century, skirts changed, Hansen said. “Dresses with hoop skirts were liberating, holding up the dress, making it lighter,” she said. She pointed out diagrams of various kinds of hoops. “Then the bustle brought the skirt up and behind. And with the Artistic movement, gowns became less structured, more flowing, reflecting freedom of thought.”