The Way We Wore


Fashions of the pioneer women were generally hand sewn with much attention to detail.  Many tucks and pleats adorned the full-skirted dresses, at the waistline or as decoration around the neckline.  Hand crocheted or tatted lace was carefully sewn to the dresses.

The women usually wore their hair long, but piled high on the head or carefully pulled off the neck held by combs and barrettes.

Hats were adorned with feathers and flowers and fur collars were common on coats worn in the early days.

Wedding dresses of the day were often of dark colored cloth so they could be worn later for other occasions.  Most were detailed with lace on the sleeves, bodice and neckline.  Shoes had high tops with buttons for women and children for many years.

Men's suits were of the three-piece vested style and shirts had high starched collars.

Dresses became shorter as women became more active.  In the 1920's after World War 1, a kind of madness hit the fashion world and dresses became knee length or shorter with little or no shape.  Waistlines disappeared and dresses were belted at the hipline, sometimes in contrasting materials.  Women cut their hair short and covered it with close-fitting hats called cloches.  Dancing the Charleston was a favorite pastime.  It was the era of the "Flapper."

After the stock market crash in 1929, which brought on the Great Depression, ladies' dresses returned to a longer length, mid-calf at least. Colors and styles were more somber.  The waistline returned to its natural position and hair became longer again.

As women had joined the work force from necessity during World War 1, they continued on the job in the decades following and clothes for the workingwomen became more practical.  Trousers were worn by women in factory jobs and occasionally for sports participation.  Not until many years later would pants become accepted attire for shopping and even formal occasions.

In the 1940's and 1950's came the era of the "Bobby Soxer" when the young people assumed an identity of their own and were called teenagers, teeners, or bobby soxers.  Almost a uniform of sorts was worn by the girls: knee-length pleated skirts and baggy sweaters for school and jeans and a man's shirt for weekends.  Bobby sox and loafers or saddle oxfords were a part of both outfits.  In the 50's, the pleated skirt was sometimes replaced by the full gathered skirt made of cotton and a cotton blouse and still the bobby sox.

Women wore their hair shorter again but with an abundance of curls and waves.  Hats and gloves were worn on most occasions.  Men's suits were double breasted with wide lapels and loose fitting trousers, pleated onto the waistband.

Ladies shoes in the 1940's and 1950's started with small heels and a rounded toe and gradually the heels became higher and thinner until they were at least three inches high and narrow as a pencil on the bottom with very pointed toes.  This style of footwear continued into the decade of the 60's.

Men's clothes gradually became more comfortable and by the early 60's men could buy separates of slacks and shirts for casual wear and for sports.  Gradually this type of clothes became acceptable even for some office wear.

In the late 1960's women's dresses took a drastic turn and the mini skirt was born.  Most mini dresses were loosely fitted below the bust-line and stopped as much as six inches above the knee.  Hairstyles became bouffant with much back combing or teasing and hair was worn no longer than shoulder length.

After the mini skirt, pantsuits became a part of the fashion scene and were worn while shopping, at the office, and even for church and weddings.  In our colder climate, they have been a real blessing for the winter months.

Shoes became low heeled again to match the pantsuit era, but there is now a trend back to spike heels and sandal styles for all seasons.

In the late 1970's and to the present, dresses have made a comeback and women once again can be feminine and beguiling.  Hemlines fluctuate from just above the knee to two to three inches below the knee.

Lori Christopherson

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial page 33

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