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Saturday, 30 August 2014


Today, September 1, marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference, the meeting which began the formation of Canada. This year on Prince Edward Island we are celebrating the anniversary in numerous ways and welcoming many visitors to celebrate with us. 

We have much to celebrate with the beginning of the country that we love today and the foresight of the people who started it so long ago. For example, this past weekend the world was in turmoil, ISIS terror in Iraq, Russian troops in the Ukraine, and a multitude of other miseries worldwide. Meanwhile, in Summerside, the top story in the Journal Pioneer was the Festival Acadien with a picture of a young woman grooming a cow on the front page. In Charlottetown, the capital, the lead story in The Guardian was the Shania Twain concert.  Oh how we love thee, "our home and native land!"

One of the interesting things for me with these celebrations was the glimpse at women's clothes of the 1860s. So restricting, they required careful consideration before sitting due to the large hoops which were very awkward! In addition, the clothing was heavy, and multi-layered, making summer heat unbearable.  Also the width of the dresses made it difficult to maneuver in tight spaces. Such clothing was not conducive to a busy work life because the women who wore these dresses weren't the ones who worked. They had servants who wore less cumbersome attire without hoops.

   Émilie in period dress

              1860s attire

In addition, the women also wore corsets and two or three petticoats. Another curious garment was the pantalette which took the place of panties or knickers, as my granddaughter, Sylvie, calls them. These garments of the time were crotchless with a bit of embroidery around the legs and tied with ribbon around the waist.  No other comment is necessary! 


I visited Eptek Center in Summerside to see the 1864 display and talked to Émilie who worked there for the summer. She found the costume heavy and uncomfortable but she only wore it for the summer job, wearing it for the last time today. The original wearers of such dresses didn't know anything else so they were accustomed to them. When I asked to see the hoop, Émilie commented that it was considered indecent in 1864 for a woman to lift her dress to expose her underclothes or feet. 

     Petticoats and hoops

As women moved out of their homes and into the work place, clothes evolved as well. Today clothes for women in the western world are designed for comfort, ease of laundering and movement, light weight, versatile, 

What would the women of 1864 think of the clothes in 2014?


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