MANSFIELD - Carol Wooley looked as though she had stepped out of the pages of "Gone With the Wind," as she stood in front of about 50 people crowded into the tiny basement of the Mansfield Free Public Library last week.
Wooley, a retired North Penn High School history teacher, was dressed in a Civil War era costume, complete with multiple layers over a hoop skirt as was "proper" for ladies of that time period.
"The Civil War era was a period of rapid change," Wooley began her presentation.
"There were major inventions, scientific discoveries and wars, not unlike what is going on in our world," she added.
One such invention of the time were the very first photographs, a step beyond tin types, known as "cartes de vistes" or CDVs,
With the advent of photography, "most everyone could have their picture taken," Wooley said, and they did, especially young ladies sending their beaus off to war.
"They would put their pictures in pins and soldiers would carry them in their knapsacks to remind them of their loved ones," she said.
But despite the turmoil and disruption of war, particularly Civil War, ladies were "still interested in fashion," she said, and loved the sumptuous fabric and fancy trim that ladies of "high society" regularly sported.
"Clothing is what you wear, fashion is what you wish you were wearing," she said.
Ladies who could afford it regularly wood dress to support their husbands' contribtions to the war effort, such as those who owned factories that produced things needed by soldiers.
Parties were held during "social seasons" on a regular basis and women would dress in their finery to reflect their husbands prosperity.
Because indoor plumbing had not yet been invented, bathing and laundering clothing took place only occasionally, and so layers were utilized, not just for modesty, but also to protect outer wear from body odors and perspiration.
Clothing was worn until it wore out, and then it was taken apart and remade into something else, Wooley said.
"Trim was put on to the bottom of skirts so when they became too dirty to spot clean, they were removed and a new bottom was attached to the trim," she said.
Undergarments included the bustle, to hold out the skirts in the style of the day, and the corset, the equivalent of the modern day girdle, made with wood, metal or whale's bone stays, Wooley said.
Because the corsets were pulled so tightly to achieve as tiny a waist as possible - 19 inches was the ideal - there were many cases of women fainting from lack of air, and so "fainting couches" were invented.
It also took several hours to get dressed for the day and most women needed help, because there were no zippers or elastic.
Everything was fastened with hooks and eyes or tiny buttons.
Clothing for both men and women was mostly cotton or wool, natural fabrics that "breathed" Wooley said, and were cooler in hot weather than many synthetic fabrics made today.
Hats and gloves were a necessity for a proper lady's wardrobe, with bonnets worn by married women and straw hats fashionable for young ladies.
The straw hats often were adorned with ribbons, tied in the back and known as "follow me's" because the tails hung down in the back to attract young men.
Skirts were ankle length to make sure no female skin could be seen.
There were no pants for women until the invention of the pantaloon, an undergarment split at the crotch allowed easier access for relieving oneself, Wooley said.
Bloomers came along later, and often were worn in equestrian activities, she added, but it was many years before it became proper for women to wear trousers, mainly because of strict religious customs of the day.