Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Old Fashoin His
Costume of the California Gold Rush 1849-1859 | Lengthy essay on the clothing of men, women, and children around Old West mining camps. Also touches on societal roles and ethnicity. The Gold Rush was to change all that forever. For the first time, "striking it rich" and becoming wealthy overnight was a possibility. A poor store clerk could, and did, spend a few years in the gold fields and return to become governor of his state. A woman could do the same domestic chores she had at home, but be paid an unbelievable amount for them. No longer was one doomed to spend a lifetime in honest study and toil, struggling for a living. A person could go to the gold fields and get rich quick. Even though the possibility rarely became reality, this idea entered the American psyche and never left. Today, the idea of the self made man getting rich quick is at the heart of the American ideal. Back in the States, clothing reflected the rigid social system. By looking at a person, one could tell how old he was, what social level she occupied, how much money he had, what her marital status was, and where he lived. In California, all those signals became blurred and confused. One of the most refreshing parts of life in the gold fields was freedom to act, live, and dress, the way one wanted to. The lack of a "service economy" in the gold country meant that even people, especially women, who were quite well off, found it necessary to do their own work, and that the menial occupations paid extremely well. All of these circumstances led to considerable blurring of the usual conventions. We find educated ladies of refinement living in dirt floored cabins, wearing dresses made of cheap calico with men's boots, at the same time as we find washerwomen dressed in the height of expensive fashion. In order to give you the background necessary to understand the clothing of the time, I'll be covering what the normal standards were, and the exceptions to them that the Gold Rush influenced.