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Clothing

What do these photos tell you about the clothes they wore?

Woman In Print Dress (1900)

This photo was taken about the year 1900 on a farm in Weld County. The woman was wearing a print dress and a white apron. The dress had ruffles at the yoke or shoulders.

Woman In Print Dress

Photo: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

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Long dresses with long sleeves were very much in style during the 1890s. Women wore long sleeves even during the summer. Aprons also were an important article of women’s clothing. They wore aprons to keep their dress clean when they worked around the house. Aprons had many other purposes as well. Click on IN THEIR OWN WORDS to find out about other uses for aprons.

Their Own Words

Mother's Aprons

"Mother's dresses were made with tight bodices and full skirts. She also wore checked gingham aprons. The number of things she could use these for was endless. One unforgettable sight was seeing her coming toward the house with the hem of the apron gathered in one hand. She might be carrying apples or plums or turkey eggs or baby chicks, or perhaps freshly picked corn or cucumbers. Indoors the apron was handy for grasping hot pans or taking something from the stove."

Source: Hazel Webb Dalziel, "The Way It Was," Colorado Magazine, 45 (Spring 1968): 119.

The Brown Family (late 1800's)

This photo shows a well-dressed, middle-class family of the 1890s. They went to a photographer's studio to have the photo taken. They obviously wanted to look their best.

The Brown Family  (late 1800's)

Photo: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

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The women in this photo wore dresses that were very much in style. The mother is wearing a long, full skirt with a tightly-fitted short jacket called a basque. Her daughters also are wearing jackets that match their skirts and blouses with frills. Sleeves puffed at the shoulders were popular during the 1890s. The man seated is wearing a suit with a vest. The other man is wearing a long, double-breasted coat called a sack coat.

Their Own Words

"[Clothes are] one of the interesting changes in our life. You look about the same now whether it’s morning, afternoon, or night. But then you didn’t. If you went to church, you didn’t look like you did Saturday at home. If you went to a party, you didn’t look that way. You were dressed up. It was an entirely different affair. You had your party clothes, and you had your regular clothes. Now, you just have clothes!”

Source: Jesse Fitzpatrick quoted in Maria M. Rogers, ed., In Other Words: Oral Histories of the Colorado Frontier (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 1996): 91.

A Farm Family (late 1800's)

This photo was taken on a farm in eastern Colorado in the late 1800s. It shows the kind of clothes that farm families wore when they dressed up. The little girls are wearing matching print dresses. The man on the right, who is wearing a work shirt without a collar may have been a hired hand who worked on the farm. Farm families often included their house, outbuildings, and teams of horses in their family photos.

A Farm Family (late 1800's)

Photo: Colorado Historical Society

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The clothes worn by most farm women and children when this photo was taken were home-made. The woman in this photo probably bought dress patterns and fabric at a dry-goods store for her and her daughters' dresses. After cutting out the cloth, she would have sewn it with a sewing machine or by hand. Sewing was an important skill for women in the 1800s. However, men bought most of their clothing ready-made from racks in stores.

Their Own Words

“Clothing by this time [1890s] was being manufactured in large quantities, especially for men and boys. But girls and women had to make their own clothes or hire a dressmaker. . . . The materials were mostly gingham and calico and each of us made her choice. Then she [the dressmaker] measured us and jotted down the figures in her little book. For winter we wore all-wool dresses covered with gingham aprons. . . .”

Source: Hazel Webb Dalziel, “The Way It Was,” Colorado Magazine, 45 (Spring 1968): 118-19.

A Ranch Family

This is a photo of a Colorado farm family. The women and girls dressed up to have their photo taken. The men are wearing their work clothes.

A Ranch Family

Photo: Colorado Historical Society

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The women and girls in this photo are wearing a variety of styles of clothing. The young girl is wearing a long, striped dress with puffed sleeves. Her older sister is wearing a somewhat shorter dress covered with a pinafore. The mother is wearing a calico dress that had a white collar. The older woman has on a dark, striped dress. The woman at the right also is wearing a dark dress.

Their Own Words

Calico Dresses

"One time Mr. Fisher took a pail of potatoes to Walsenburg, and there sold the potatoes for two calico dresses for me. Of the greatest pride were these two dresses to me. To have two dresses at one time, and these both of calico, placed me on a high level among the people of the frontier."

Source: Cynthia Fisher (1934), CWA Interviews, Doc. 344/13. Colorado Historical Society.

A Ranch Family & Hired Hands

The people on the ranch in this photo are dressed in different kinds of outfits. The women and at least one of the men are somewhat dressed up. The women probably did not wear long black dresses everyday. The man on the right is wearing a white shirt and tie. However, the cowboys in the picture are wearing cowboy work clothes.

A Ranch Family & Hired Hands

Photo: Colorado Historical Society

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Cowboys wore practical clothing that suited their work. Like the cowboys in this photo, they wore long-sleeve shirts to protect their arms from the sun, broad-brimmed hats, and high-heeled boots. The hats kept the sun out of their eyes; the boots' high heels kept their feet from slipping out of the stirrups when they rode. Two of the men in the photo also are wearing leather chaps. Chaps protected the cowboy's legs when they were riding through brush.

Their Own Words

A cowboy named Broncho John explained why he wore broad-brimmed hats and high-heeled boots:

"When the wind is blowing the sand like hot shot in our faces we would suffer greatly but for the protection afforded our eyes by the big-rimmed hat. When the mud is flying from the heels of stampeding cattle or the terrible hail storms of the plains are pelting upon us, these hats are the best friends we have. . . "  

"Many people ask me why the cowboys wear such high heels on their boots. . . . The heels on our boots are often two to four inches high, sloping greatly toward the sole of the foot. This is to keep our feet from slipping through the stirrups in times of danger; they are also kept in a comfortable position when riding. Our boots are made to ride in, not to walk."

Source: From Broncho John H. Sullivan, Life and Adventures of the Genuine Cowboy (1896). Western History Collection, Norlin Library, University of Colorado Library.