What is a Southern Belle?
When one thinks of a southern belle, one thinks of an dignified lady, with curls in her hair and fancy dresses, petticoats, hoops, corsets and a large skirt. Just what Scarlett wore in the film “Gone With The Wind.”
Actually, the word “belle” comes from the French word for beautiful, and typically, the southern belle was just as beautiful on the inside as she was on the out. She would have epitomized southern hospitality, but still could seem coy and naive. Their style was common in the pre-Civil War era (or antebellum) of the United States.
The fashion during the antebellum (before the war) was quite exquisite and graceful. The gowns were trimmed with lace and frills and very decorative. Because of the large hoops worn under the skirt, a woman often looked like she was floating along when out for a walk, adding to her elegance. Though from the outside she may have looked beautiful, the dresses and their numerous undergarments were often quite heavy, with many layers of petticoats and crinoline.
Civil War day dresses were not quite as fancy, but still fashionable. Day dresses were made to be affordable to the middle class women, and were quite versatile in style so that it could be worn to a variety of functions.
Another type of dress during this period was the Civil War camp dress. These dresses were usually quite plain, without the frills and decorations of the Civil War day dresses or gowns. The skirts were not very large around, and the sleeves were not as puffed in order that the women may work easily in them. Camp dresses were also not as long as other dresses of the time, so that it made working in fields, factories or around fires easier.
The typical southern belle gown, the Civil War day dress and camp dresses are very popular today for Civil War reenactments. These reenactment dresses strive to be as close to authentic as possible. The same fabrics tend to be used, such as silk taffeta for the gowns and day dresses, or wool or cotton for the camp dresses. The gowns and day dresses are most often one solid color, as are camp dresses, but these also come in pretty plaids or flowery calico's as well.
There are many different styles and colors of reenactment dresses and there are many places that sell them. Or, there are a variety of patterns available which gives detailed instructions on how to make your own Civil War reenactment dress and offer suggestions for using the most authentic fabrics and notions possible. The prices for these dresses and patterns are quite reasonable.
Clothing oneself in the dress of the Civil War era can transport you to a different time and can truly make you feel like a southern belle. Life was much more simple then, but it also has an aura of class and charm associated to it, and these styles of dresses have an appeal that will last for many years.