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Local History

Civil War Fashion Show to Showcase Period Styles and Passionate Reenactors

Often, fashion shows are a platform for the new, the different, and the excessive. For KSMU’s local history series, Sense of Place, reporter Emma Wilson previews one event that may be better described as an “old fashion” show, where guests will discover history through the fabrics of our ancestors.

With the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War upon us, a multitude of programs and events are popping up around this region to celebrate and pay tribute to our local Civil War history. As part of the Springfield-Greene County Public Library’s annual literacy program, The Big Read, a Civil War Fashion Show will be one of the first in a series of different types of events highlighting local participation in that war.

“I’m a living historian and Civil War reenactor, I’ve been in the hobby for about 12 years”

That’s Becky Paschall, a long time Ozarks resident and Civil War-era fashion expert. She says that when she was approached by the library to organize the fashion show, it was a great opportunity for her and her community of reenactors to bring their work to the public.

“We have lots of friends that are involved in the hobby and we all like to share our history and our clothing. And a lot of us make our own clothing. And so we like to share, show what we have done, and show how things were worn back then.”

Civil War reenacting is a hobby Becky shares with her husband, Brent, who will also be participating in the fashion show. They showed me four of their personal period costumes that they will be using in the show, three of which Becky sewed by hand using the same techniques that were used in the 1860s.

“[I] have two examples here for men’s clothing. And actually during this time period, guns changed more than clothing. Men’s clothing was really pretty simple.”

Brent holds up a tan, sturdy looking, rough wool coat that has buttons from the high collar all the way down the front and a darker, patterned strange-looking shirt with a low, scooped neckline and slanting pockets. This peculiar garment would have been worn by a Bushwhacker, a non-regimented southern fighter. Paschall says that the shirts were designed this way because bushwhackers were usually mounted on horseback and couldn’t carry large firearms.

“Those pockets are angled so that you could, in the pockets, put two pistols and be able to reach into the pockets while you’re on a horse to pull them out,” Brent says.

[Sound: rustling fabrics]

“And most ladies wore something like this, this is a simple work dress.” The work dress is long and heavy. Becky says she used 10 yards of fabric for this dress alone and 14 yards for the other dress she brought with her, which is a burgundy ball gown.

“And you have to remember, people had about—if they were very fortunate—they had about three outfits. They might have a summer dress, a winter dress, and a Sunday dress or something nice to wear to an event.”

She says that the ball gown is a departure from what she usually wears at a reenactment, seeing as only the wealthiest Missourians would have owned such a fancy garment. The couple agrees that wearing the clothes of the time and participating in reenactments brings them closer to their own history and creates an opportunity to share it.

“The rewarding part is getting to share our history with people. A lot of time history—they don’t have the time in school to focus on every aspect of history. And we get to actually bring history alive.”

And that history will come alive in the fashion show will be held tomorrow at 10am at the Library Station and again at 2pm at the Midtown Carnegie Branch of the library.

For KSMU’s Sense of Place, I’m Emma Wilson.