The American Civil War caused interruptions to the fashion trends,
especially in the south. Cloth was scarce, the effort to clothe soldiers
paramount. The sewing machine grew in popularity and abundance, causing
an oversupply of seamstresses after the war. Women tried to keep
fashionable, if only by altering old garments. Early into the 1860s,
skirts were full all around, but after 1864 they became narrower and
flatter across the front, extending out farther behind as they evolved
towards the bustle.
Dresses tended to be short-waisted, increasingly shorter in the waist
towards the end of the 1860s. The bodice shoulders were long and
sloping, fastening down the front, usually with buttons. Small collars
came into fashion and many styles were tight to the base of the neck.
Sleeves were wide and billowing in flares. Wide-buckled belts were
common. Neck ribbons lost their popularity, and if worn were very
Where the 1850s had the center part with wide puffs at the
sides, the 1860s saw the same center part but with the hair drawn back
tight behind the ears, or covering the ears but without the puff. Hair
nets were fashionable but after 1863 the invisible style was preferred.
Little girls wore their hair like the adult women, or sometimes with one
side curled up and puffed, the hair being held in place by lard or
grease. Women struggled to keep up with styles, in spite of the war, as
long as they had access to current fashions from the magazines like
Godey's and Harper's Weekly. The mothers' styles were created from the
main bolt of fabric and the scraps were used from both girls and boys.
Often, in photographs boys looked much like girls, the only
distinguishing feature being that boys' hair was parted at the side and
girls' hair in the middle.
The most dominant feature of the 1860s hair styles is the center part,
with the hair pulled to the sides and the absence of bangs. The next
most notable feature was the chignon introduced during the
Victorian era about the 1850s but which remained dominant in the 1860s.
This was a knot of hair or a roll of hair worn at the back of the head,
often enhanced with lace, flowers, or netting, or arranged into loops
and braids. It was
at its peak in the 1860s, but employed throughout the century. It moved
to the top or low back of the hair, and the front hair began to lose its
part, with the hair around the face being curled into ringlets, then
combed to soften the look. Hair styles for formal affairs were nearly
always round, but much fuller behind and at the sides than in the front.
They were enhanced by velvet, ribbons of silver and gold, as well as
pearls and diamonds, and often supplemented with false hair, either
human or animal. Ladies magazines advertised the false hair, whether it
was already styled or could be pinned into a woman's natural hair and
styled along with her own. It was the rural women, without the
assistance of servants, who predominantly wore long hair over the
shoulder. Topknots became smaller and moved to the back of the head,
although the hair still maintained the middle part, pulled smooth at the
sides, sometimes with ringlets and coils worn over the ears.