A word or two before diving into section one:
For my “primary evidence” in this section, I will be referencing a body of images as collected by Anna Allen on her website: (http://thegracefullady.com/civilwargowns/cdvs_daydresses.htm). I believe the number of images provides enough of a survey of the “norms” in 1860s clothing so as to be a sound basis for generalizations about the clothing of the time. Generalizations may sound dangerously vague, but a more accurate picture of the past can be shared with the public when re-enactors seek to portray the average person of the 1860s, instead of anomalies.
Juanita Leisch, in her book Who Wore What?, gives an excellent example of this. She asks her reader to imagine being given the task of dressing a mannequin in the style representative of the reader’s time period. The reader would likely choose the “norms” of her society’s styles to portray her time period, like jeans and a t-shirt, and style the hair in a way considered fashionable today. This mannequin would give an accurate representation of the average woman of the 21st century to, say, an alien from another planet, or historians in the 22nd century.
In preparing an historic impression, we should think of ourselves as the mannequin we dress using the norms of that particular society to portray the average woman of the time. This means looking to period sources to discover exactly what the norms are for the period, in our case, the 1860s. This does not mean that I don’t believe in researching special impressions, but they are just that: special. And the re-enactor who takes on a special impression has the duty to inform the public of the uniqueness of his or her impression, so as not to mislead the public.
Lastly, I’d like to make a note on my terminology. I will never say “never”, and I will also never say “always”. There are exceptions to every rule, but we shouldn’t necessarily take those exceptions and run with them. This refers back to my previous statements about portraying the norms of society.