%> Nevada Riches: The Land and People of the Silver State
People & Life Ways
Riches, Ranching & Railroads
(1850-1900)

Clothing

In the 19th century people dressed very differently from people today.  There were many reasons for the differences.  Partly, at least for women, clothing styles were dictated by differences in culture.  It was not considered proper or modest for women to wear pants or short dresses.  A woman named Amelia Bloomer tried to radically change fashion in the 1850s by wearing an outfit with a short skirt and baggy pants underneath, called the Bloomer Dress.  Many feminists, women who supported the idea of women's rights, wore the new fashion, but many people considered the style offensive and it never really caught on.  A song written in 1851, called "The Bloomer's Complaint: A Very Pathetic Song," made fun of the new fashion.  In 1876 Mary Walker, scandalized many people in Virginia City by walking down the street wearing men's trousers.  One observer called her trousers, "a most grotesque garb." Another thought they looked a trifle seedy and weren't worth six bits (75 cents).

Dry goods merchants stocked fabric and some basic clothing items such as underwear, caps and shoes.  Most children's clothing, however, was made at home or by a seamstress in her shop.  Some clothing worn by children was very fancy.  The boys wore full suits, with pants, shirt, jacket and a tie.  Dresses for little girls could be just smaller versions of an adult dress, with ruffles, bows, and lots of decoration, especially in the 1870s and 1880s.

If you lived in a rural area or worked on a ranch, clothing styles were much simpler.  All girls wore dresses, often made of cotton calico in a plain style with very little decoration.  Boys wore dresses until they were 5 or 6 years old, then they began to wear pants.  The pants for young boys were sometimes much shorter than trousers that older boys or men wore.  One of the boys in this photo is wearing short pants.

Of course, pant length could vary, depending on how many children there were in the family.  Clothes were passed down, and it wasn't unusual for a child to begin wearing clothing that was too big, and wear it until it was too small.  Then it was passed on to the next child in the family.  Overalls were common sight on young boys, like this schoolboy in Tuscarora.
 

Photo Credits:
1: Library of Congress
2: Nevada State Museum
3: Northeast Nevada Museum
4: Northeast Nevada Museum