Clothing of 1830s

Clothing the family of the 1830s was an important task, and most of the work was the responsibility of the women.

Every stitch of the sewing had to be done by hand; Elias Howe didn’t even invent the sewing machine until 1846, and Isaac Singer’s version didn’t come about until 1850.

Of course, ordinary people didn’t have the large wardrobes we expect today. They made do with one outfit for every day, one for Sunday best, and perhaps one other, or parts of another, for seasonal change. Even wealthy people didn’t necessarily have lots of clothes, although their money allowed them to purchase ready-made items from the storekeeper, or to hire custom sewing done outside the household, or by a temporary live-in seamstress.

Where a family lived determined to a great extent where and how they obtained their clothing. City and town dwellers usually purchased the fabrics, if not the entire garments, from specialty or general stores. People in rural or remote areas were more likely to undertake the whole process themselves. Still, it was possible for nearly anyone to order nearly anything to be sent to them from a merchant in the next town, or even from a merchant oceans away. It just took a very long time to arrive.

There was a great variety of fabrics available for making clothes in the 1830s. They were all “natural” fabrics; wool and linen were most common, with cotton and silk were scarcer and more expensive. Hundreds of weaves and patterns were available.

A rich selection of colors existed even before synthetic dyes were developed in the late 1850s. These early colors were made from plant parts-leaves, stems and blossoms of woods and meadow flowers; roots, barks, nut hulls and tree galls; berries, fruits, pits and skins; mosses, lichens, and fungi and non-plants, such as insects and shellfish.

Many dye sources were imported from tropical areas, and were sold in general stores. They were widely available to both home dyers and professional dyers. The professional dyers sometimes supplied services even to home spinners and weavers. Really, every combination of home and outside professional endeavor went into the providing of fibers, fabrics, and garments in the 1830s.

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