Southern Belle Fashion

Southern Belle Fashion 1830 - 1831

Godey's Lady's Book Fashion Plate 1830

Southern Belle Fashion 1831

Godey's Lady's Book Fashion Plate 1831

The style of the Antebellum south, or more specifically the Southern Belle style, was centered around traditional Victorian hoop skirts, grandly embellished with ribbons and bows. Because Southern Belle's were more well-to-do, the elaborate and grand styles of the time were a symbol of wealth and status in society. The elite women of the Antebellum South enjoyed French and English fashions. If financially able, women visited Europe and brought back designs from Paris and London to bring to seamstresses in the states. 

Some of the most memorable and stereotypical fashions when people think of the Southern Belle come from their evening attire. Evening fashions featured drop shoulder sleeves, low necklines, and voluminous skirts, held out by layers of petticoats, crinolines, or hoops. However, day-wear dresses used opposite styles, and featured high necked bodices and sleeves. It was unseemly for a woman to show skin before late afternoon. As pale skin was the style fashions covered as much skin as possible, ad parasols were popular to carry in order to avoid sunight. 

One interesting aspect of women's skirts was the hem. Today, a hem is turned under and stitched. During Victorian times, and in the American Civil War era, hems were bound by a strip of fabric. This fabric could be removed and replaced if the hem showed wear. This was a helpful thing at the time so dresses could be refurbished and repurposed over and over in order to extend wear. [6]

Mary Todd Lincoln Dress

Mary Todd Lincoln Dress at the Smithsonian

The elite women of the south wore fabrics that were harder to come by and more expensive. For example, silk, fine lawn, and muslin were typical, and velvet for the colder months. White was a popular color in warm weather for women with status. Large prints were difficult to match and restricted to the wealthy as the voluminous skirts were made of up to 5 yards of fabric. When using a print, stripe or plaid, even more material was needed, which increased the price of handmade dresses. [6]

Godey's Lady's Book 1830

First edition of the Godey's Lady's Book

Godey's Lady's Book Lace Making

Exerpt from the Godey's Lady's Book detailing laces and the techniques at which to make them

Women typically got their fashion insight from magazine subscriptions and books. One of the most popular magaizne subscriptions at this time was the "Godey's Lady's Book". The magazine was published by Louis A. Godey in Philadelphia between 1830 and 1878. Godey intended to take advantage of the popularity of gift books, as the market and demand for them boomed, and many of which were marketed specifically to women. Each issue contained poetry, articles, stories, and fashion created by prominent writers and other artists of the time. Because of the expense of the book, which was $3, avid readers tended to be from the upper class. Along with fashion, writers of this book also included articles focused on writing techniques and offered reading lists similar to those offered to college students. Many articles were written about the education of women, and the belief that women's education should be similar to that of men and more professions be open to women, including medicine. [7]