A successful Civil War Fashion Show

Among the models participating in a May 12 Civil War Fashion Show held in the Prescott Building at Good Will Hinckley School in Fairfield were (from left) Steve Henry of Winthrop, Avie Claude of St. Albans, Heidi Hartsgrove of St. Albans, K Hartsgrove of Newport, Jillian Hartsgrove of Newport, and Neal Donovan IV of Brunswick. The event was sponsored by the Maine Living History Association. (Photo by Brian Swartz)

When Miss Rose from the Maine Living History Association “messaged” me some weeks ago about a Civil War Fashion Show, I envisioned hoop skirts and petticoats and Scarlett O’Hara strutting along the catwalk as Rhett Butler grinned wolfishly.

So when we arrived outside the Prescott Building at Good Will Hinckley School on May 12, I still anticipated seeing only ladies’ fashions. Then we noticed the two armed Civil War soldiers standing guard at the building’s entrance; “that’s nice,” I thought. “The Army is here.”

Turned out the soldiers were father and son: the Union blue-clad Neal Donovan IV and the gray-clad Neal Donovan V, both from Brunswick. They are re-enactors with Co. A, 3rd Maine Infantry Regiment, and during the upcoming fashion show they and two other uniformed re-enactors stepped on stage and explained their uniforms and equipment.

By the way, Neal V wore gray because he portrayed a Maine soldier going to war in spring 1861. Seems the first six infantry regiments were initially issued gray uniforms; only the 2nd Maine wore that color into battle at Manassas.

During the May 12 Civil War Fashion Show at Good Will Hinckley School, Neal Donovan IV wore Union blue, and Neal Donovan V wore gray while portraying a Maine infantry soldier in spring 1861. (Brian Swartz Photo)

Portraying a circa-1862 daughter who had just lost her father, Miss Rose donned a black mourning dress and emceed the successful fashion show. The program adroitly mingled civilians and soldiers, and audience members asked questions.


Seven-year-old Avie Claude modeled a child's dress from 1862. (Brian Swartz Photo)


Dressed as a Maine militiaman would have been in spring 1861, Neal Donovan V drew applause from the fashion show audience as he strolled along the "catwalk" on May 12. (Brian Swartz Photo)

During the Civil War Fashion Show, Miss Rose details the circa-1862 fashions worn by 10-year-old Zoey. (Brian Swartz Photo)

The Bangor Daily News published the article I wrote about the fashion show. Yes, I know it reads like a newspaper article (better had, actually), but it details the who, what, when, where, and why.

And Miss Rose, please, note: I still do not understand the function of pantaloons.

During the May 12 Civil War Fashion Show, K Hartsgrove modeled the undergarments that a woman would wear beneath her hoop skirt. Miss Rose delicately explained the functionality of pantaloons. (Brian Swartz Photo)

HINCKLEY — Social status and clothing functionality influenced circa-1862 fashions, as more than 50 people learned during a Civil War Fashion Show held Saturday, May 12 in the Prescott Building at Good Will Hinckley School in Fairfield.

Sponsored by the Maine Living History Association, the event featured approximately a dozen models wearing circa-1862 civilian and military attire. According to Miss Christabell Rose, a Civil War re-enactor and the show’s emcee, the event helped “raise funds to support the big Civil War encampment we’re having this summer.”

She referred to “We Are Coming, Father Abraham,” a large-scale Civil War re-enactment slated to take place Aug. 24-26 at Good Will Hinckley School. Hundreds of re-enactors, including Confederate cavalry and infantry, are expected to set up period camps and stage mock battles and skirmishes during the weekend. The re-enactment will highlight the 150th anniversary of five Maine infantry regiments mustering into the U.S. Army.

During the May 12 Civil War Fashion Show, models demonstrated different civilian fashions, including those worn by children and women. Stepping into her 1862 persona, Rose said that she wore a black mourning dress “because my father has recently died.”

Kristy Palmer modeled a blue day dress with pagoda sleeves, a fashion style popular in the 1850s and still found among middle-class women in 1862. The dress featured a detachable collar and removable undersleeves that could be washed separately.

Described by Rose as representing “the epitome of 1862 ladies,” Jill Hartsgrove modeled a dress that incorporated a large plaid design. Rose explained that while women often wore small plaid designs, a large plaid tended to appear “more in upper middle-class dresses.”

As women and children modeled period apparel, Rose discussed how clothing defined social status. Middle- and upper-class women wore more expensive materials, such as silk, and lower-class women made their clothing from common materials. “Proper” women covered their heads with bonnets or other head gear, according to Rose; a woman who went bare-headed and espoused particular clothing styles might be considered “a fallen dove,” a euphemism for “a loose woman,” she said.

Early in the show, K Hartsgrove modeled the undergarments that women “would wear … under our hoop” skirts, Rose said. Worn “for privacy,” a chemise would lie beneath a corset “to keep the body oils off it to keep the steel [ribs] in the corset from rusting,” she explained. Other “women’s unmentionables,” as Rose called them, included an over-petticoat and pantaloons.

Four uniformed Civil War re-enactors explained their uniforms and accouterments. Clad in a gray uniform, Neal Donovan V of Brunswick asked the audience which army he represented. “Confederate,” an older woman replied.

Donovan responded that his uniform accurately portrayed the gray uniforms worn by the first Maine infantry regiments sent to war in 1861. He belongs to a re-enactor unit named for Co. A, 3rd Maine Infantry Regiment.

In 1861, the company was known as the Bath City Grays. “They were the upper crust of the City of Bath,” he said.

Portraying a captured Confederate soldier, Steve Henry of Winthrop was marched on stage at bayonet point by Neal Donovan IV of Brunswick, who portrayed a fully equipped Union re-enactor. Audience members listened closely as Henry, speaking in a Southern drawl, explained how the clothing that he wore was produced during the war.


Portraying a Florida sutler and his wife who were traveling to Maine were Phillips residents Todd Olson (center) and his wife, Becky (right). (Brian Swartz Photo)

He fielded many questions, as did Todd and Becky Olson of Phillips. They portrayed a Florida sutler and his wife traveling to Maine during the Civil War. A sutler was a merchant who sold non-government-issued goods to Union soldiers, Todd Olson explained.

Clad in travel attire, Becky Olson explained how such clothing “was worn by women of means” in 1862.

Scheduled to last two hours, the Civil War Fashion Show ran over 30 minutes as audience members asked detailed questions. “We love an interactive crowd,” Rose said afterwards. “It makes a connection for them and for us.

“Part of what we do is teach,” she said. “These are questions they may not get answered.”
Rose indicated that the Maine Living History Association would like to hold similar fashion shows elsewhere in Maine. The association “is not Union, is not Confederate,” she said. “It’s Maine, the spirit that was Maine then.”

For more information about the MLHA, email hq@civilwarmaine.org or log onto www.civilwarmaine.org. For more information about the August re-enactment at Good Will Hinckley School, log onto gwh2012.civilwarmaine.org.

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.