Blogging From A-Z Petticoats and Pinafores

I’m so far behind today on comments here and elsewhere, but I shall persevere!

Oh, my stars. Petticoats and pinafores. Ringlets and ruffled drawers. Little girls were so sweet. Now, I’m not quite that old, but I well remember my aunt fixing my hair in rag rollers to make ringlets for church. Once the ringlets went out, and they’ll stay in longer than you’d think if you use rags, I wore my hair braided. It was long enough to sit on even though it was in a high braid. So, you can imagine working and playing outdoors would be a mess for unbound hair. The ringlets or braids tend to keep a little girl’s hair sort of in order.

I also remember getting dressed up for church on Sunday. My little undershirt with pink bow and rosebud in the center, full length white stockings with elastic garters, patent leather shoes, full slip, ruffled petticoat, dress, dress coat, hat, gloves.

Girls in the antebellum period reflected their mother’s fashions to some extent, with some strong differences such as hem length. Comfort, unless the girl was a working or farm girl, didn’t enter into the picture. Girls wore corsets, though not as constrictive as their mothers (and some of their fathers).


The first layer was the chemise a sort of smocked undershirt that came to the knees or above. In the 1869’s they started tucking the chemise into long drawers, which were heavily embellished with lace and ruffles because they were meant to show. Above were the stays or the corset, which, as I said wasn’t as restrictive as Mother’s. Then a short petticoat, which could be several layers to get the desired volume.

Whereas a woman’s dress buttoned up the front, a child’s dress buttons up the back and usually comes up to the neck. Skirts come to just below the knee at about age five and lower about an inch a year until age eighteen when the girl was eighteen and the skirts were floor length. Both girls and women wore high-topped boots most of the time, which had to be fastened using a button hook.  Colors in the south tended to be brighter until the blockade took effect and dyes became hard to obtain. (Hence the birth of butternut uniforms, but that’s another story.)

Everyone wore bonnets or hats and gloves outdoors to protect their skin.

The following is a scene from Rain Crow. Captain Fox has come to see if Lorena has made a decision about spying for him. They walk back into the house where she also has a boarding school and find the girls in the middle of a math lesson. Persy and Lucille are two little heathens who are always in trouble.

Purdy clicked up the limestone stairs beside Fox who opened the door for me. If not for his quick reflexes, he would have walked over me as I stopped dead still in the doorway. At the bottom of the grand stairway were piles of pillows beneath each banister. Girls flocked in the middle of the great hall staring upward where Persy and Lucille perched at the top.

“Go!” shouted Cecile.

The two pushed away and slid down the banisters, laughing uproariously while the crowd cheered them on, each for their favorite. I hurried over to them just in time for Persy to fly off the banister through the air barely ahead of Lucille, and plop down on the pillows, skirt and clouds of petticoats everywhere but where they should be on a young lady. She sprawled out on the pillows laughing too hard to care that everyone could see her ruffled drawers.

The crowd had still not noticed Captain Fox and myself until he burst out laughing himself. “Who won?’ he asked.

“Where’s Imogene?!” I demanded.

Lucille was still giggling, but stood up and straightened her skirts. The crowd parted, wide-eyed. Lucille pointed at Imogene who was left alone in the middle with a fist full of money. “Imogene’s taking the bets. She’s teaching us math.”

“Pity I wasn’t here sooner,” Fox said. “I love a good race. Will you be going again?”

“I should teach you all subtraction. No, they will not. Please don’t encourage them.” I glared at him, but having made many a trip down those banisters myself in my younger day, I wasn’t inclined to say too much lest Maisy or George tell on me. And they would.


  1. You wrote (yesterday?) ‘Apparently I don’t know how to write a short blog post’ – this is not a bad thing, in my opinion. Your writing is truly lovely; it’s a pity for the reader who must needs stop reading at the end of each post 🙂
    (Actually, I’m feeling the same about KD James’ #AtoZchallenge posts too. I am SO looking forward to the end of her 26-instalment story! It’s if you’re interested and haven’t been yet)
    And I loved YOUR story excerpt today – the backstory encapsulated in that final line, especially 😀

    1. Boy am I behind. Phew.

      Now I need to check out KD. Thank you. Thank you also for your kind words. Maisy and George are two slaves. They have become fascinating characters in their own right and I very much look forward to exploring their stories. George will be quite a hero in the end.

      Once again, thank you for your faithful support.


  2. Women have endured so much in their march through history, fashion not being the least of it. My mother had to wrangle me into a dress on the floor for church. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d be born to an era of petticoats and corsets. I can’t wait until you get Rain Crow published. Your history and story are so rich, the kind of multi-layered tale I simply adore, like Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth.

    1. Elise,

      Oddly enough, I loved the primping for church and getting dressed up in my special little dresses and hats.

      I have never read Ken Follet. Something to add to my to be read pile I see. I appreciate so very much you sticking with me. It gives me a lot of impetus to keep going on at times. Thank you.

  3. I loved this. And I likely gave you an impression a while back – which was incorrect – about old pics – which I love, and I love these little girls, and the only thing that makes me sad about them is they are gone. Seriously? I’m sad about that.

    Ah, these children growing up in that time frame! They didn’t know anything other than what they knew, but still.

    Anyway, I’m loving RAIN CROW, Julie. Such atmosphere! And your knack for natural dialogue – stupendous.

    Q. Saw your comment on John Frain’s blog. Hmmm. Q for Civil War is a puzzler…how about Quantrill’s raiders? (help from my hubby – he’s quite knowledgeable about Civil War)

    1. Donna,

      I know. If I had the money I would collect old photographs and have some. I do read a lot of letters and diaries and look at photos of the people involved and their families. It makes me sad also to know the little ones and vibrant young people are long gone.

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying Rain Crow. I hope I can do justice to the story. Thank you for the compliment about the dialogue.

      I decided to go with quinine. Since Lorena and Imogene were smuggling opium and quinine, that seemed to work out.

      Once again, thank you for your faithful support.

  4. Oh, Julie, such atmospheric language. And I’m always a fan of superb alliteration.

    “… piles of pillows beneath each banister.” And later in the same paragraph you give an awesome bookend with “Girls flocked in the middle of the great hall staring upward where Persy and Lucille perched at the top.”

    Wow, great stuff. It’s always fun to read something you enjoy reading and you feel like you’re learning something at the same time. I know it’s fun, because I have fun right here!

  5. Ha, oh, John. Please don’t. I have no idea how I write let alone what the terms are. This is rough draft and I just notice tense changes. Oops. Anyway, thank you so very much for your kind words.

    I have so very much enjoyed sharing these tidbits of history and bits of Rain Crow. Even better is getting to know everyone else better. It’s been a true joy.

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