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FAIRFIELD, Maine — Social status and clothing functionality influenced circa-1862 fashions, as more than 50 people learned during a Civil War Fashion Show held Saturday, May 12, in the Prescott Building at Good Will Hinckley School in Fairfield.
Sponsored by the Maine Living History Association, the event featured approximately a dozen models wearing circa-1862 civilian and military attire. According to Miss Christabell Rose, a Civil War re-enactor and the show’s emcee, the event helped raise funds to support the big Civil War encampment set for this summer.
“We Are Coming, Father Abraham,” a large-scale Civil War re-enactment, is slated to take place Aug. 24-26, at Good Will Hinckley School. Hundreds of re-enactors, including Confederate cavalry and infantry, are expected to set up period camps and stage mock battles and skirmishes during the weekend. The re-enactment will highlight the 150th anniversary of five Maine infantry regiments mustering into the U.S. Army.
During the May 12 Civil War Fashion Show, models demonstrated different civilian fashions, including those worn by children and women. Stepping into her 1862 persona, Rose said that she wore a black mourning dress because her father recently died.
Kristy Palmer modeled a blue day dress with pagoda sleeves, a fashion popular in the 1850s and still found among middle-class women in 1862. The dress featured a detachable collar and removable undersleeves that could be washed separately.
Described by Rose as representing “the epitome of 1862 ladies,” Jill Hartsgrove modeled a dress that incorporated a large plaid design. Rose explained that while women often wore small plaid designs, a large plaid tended to appear “more in upper-middle-class dresses.”
As women and children modeled period apparel, Rose discussed how clothing defined social status. Middle- and upper-class women wore more expensive materials, such as silk, and lower-class women made their clothing from common materials. “Proper” women covered their heads with bonnets or other headgear, according to Rose; a woman who went bare-headed and espoused particular clothing styles might be considered “a fallen dove,” a euphemism for “a loose woman,” she said.
Early in the show, K Hartsgrove modeled the undergarments that women “would wear … under our hoop” skirts, Rose said. Worn “for privacy,” a chemise would lie beneath a corset “to keep the body oils off it to keep the steel [ribs] in the corset from rusting,” she explained. Other “women’s unmentionables,” as Rose called them, included an over-petticoat and pantaloons.
Four uniformed Civil War re-enactors explained their uniforms and accoutrements. Clad in a gray uniform, Neal Donovan V of Brunswick asked the audience which army he represented. “Confederate,” a woman replied.
Donovan responded that his uniform accurately portrayed the gray uniforms worn by the first Maine infantry regiments sent to war in 1861. He belongs to a re-enactor unit named for Co. A, 3rd Maine Infantry Regiment.
In 1861, the company was known as the Bath City Grays. “They were the upper crust of the City of Bath,” he said.
Portraying a captured Confederate soldier, Steve Henry of Winthrop was marched on stage at bayonet point by Neal Donovan IV of Brunswick, who portrayed a fully equipped Union re-enactor. Audience members listened closely as Henry, speaking in a Southern drawl, explained how the clothing that he wore was produced during the war.
He fielded many questions, as did Todd and Becky Olson of Phillips. They portrayed a Florida sutler and his wife traveling to Maine during the Civil War. A sutler was a merchant who sold nongovernment-issued goods to Union soldiers, Todd Olson explained.
Clad in travel attire, Becky Olson explained how such clothing was worn by women of means in 1862.
Scheduled to last two hours, the Civil War Fashion Show ran over 30 minutes as audience members asked detailed questions.
“We love an interactive crowd,” Rose said afterwards. “It makes a connection for them and for us.
“Part of what we do is teach,” she said. “These are questions they may not [otherwise] get answered.”
Rose indicated that the Maine Living History Association would like to hold similar fashion shows elsewhere in Maine. The association “is not Union, is not Confederate,” she said. “It’s Maine, the spirit that was Maine then.”