Fashion History: The Civil War

Fashion History: The Civil War

February 3, 2013

The Civil War has influenced many of our uniquely American institutions over the years. You may not know that it has also influenced fashion and the clothes we wear.

Because so many soldiers had to be outfitted so quickly, the Union army made use of sizes for the first time in clothing history. Having standard sizes made the manufacture and the fitting much more efficient. The use of sizes in industrial clothing manufacture has been used ever since. Nonetheless, I would like to have a few words with the person responsible for inventing Size 2.

And yes, the Civil War also brought us a new look for shoes. The McKay-Blake method of manufacture used machines to sew the shoes and soles together. Previously, the parts were put together by hand. The technology made Gordon McKay a wealthy man, earning the equivalent of $10 million in one year (as judged in today’s dollars). After the Civil War, this process was responsible for about 120 million shoes per year, about half of all the shoes produced in the United States.

One other fashion note, the word sideburns is named after the facial hair of Ambrose E. Burnside, a governor of Rhode Island and a general in the Union Army. The word of course, is an anagram of his name. Something to use for words with friends.

(Photo source: Wikipedia, public domain)