The Ladies' Tea Guild

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Clothing the Californio, part 3 -- the Mexican period.

Working-class man and women in California.
Monterey State Historic Park.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
After 1824, under Mexican law, the central government basically ignored California, but the Californios were given free trade and loosened domestic business regulations; when the Missions were secularized, some people received large grants of good Mission land from the government, and were able to become self-sufficient and even begin to accumulate wealth.  They used their wealth (in hides and tallow) to purchase manufactured goods that were brought to California on international trade ships every few weeks or so, on average, but most ranch owners didn't live in aristocratic style until much later.  Many of the Native people who had been part of the Mission system stayed on the land and became the servants of the wealthier ranch owners, but by the 1830s, this state of society was still really new and changing.  Americans, English, and other non-Hispanic immigrants began to arrive in small numbers at this time, and generally adopted Californio fashions, taking Spanish names and joining the Catholic Church, as well as becoming Mexican citizens, purchasing rancho land, or marrying into land-owning families and inheriting it.


A ranch owner, his daughter, and his ranch foreman in California.
Monterey State Historic Park.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
Although the newly prosperous ranch owners tried to imitate what they knew of the lifestyle of the hidalgos, or aristocracy in Spain and Mexico, California's remoteness made that difficult.  Fashion, especially for women, borrowed certain ideas from mainstream European styles, but lagged by 5 to 10 years in most details, and retained certain old-fashioned elements much longer.  With free trade, luxurious silks and other manufactured fabrics from Asia and the United States became widely available – Richard Henry Dana's account of his merchant ship's wares from 1834 includes "clothing of all kinds, boots and shoes from Lynn, calicoes and cotton from Lowell, crapes, silks; also, shawls, scarfs, necklaces, jewelry, and combs for the women" -- but the up-to-date styles of making the clothes took longer to arrive. 

Spanish California woman. Monterey
State Historic Park.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
Dana's book, Two Years Before the Mast contains this description of Californio women's dress: "The women wore gowns of various texture — silks, crape, calicoes, &c.,—made after the European style, except that the sleeves were short, leaving the arm bare, and that they were loose about the waist, corsets not being in use. They wore shoes of kid or satin, sashes or belts of bright colors, and almost always a necklace and ear-rings. Bonnets they had none. I only saw one on the coast, and that belonged to the wife of an American sea-captain ... They wear their hair (which is almost invariably black, or a very dark brown) long in their necks, sometimes loose, and sometimes in long braids; though the married women often do it up on a high comb. Their only protection against the sun and weather is a large mantle which they put over their heads, drawing it close round their faces, when they go out of doors ... when in the house, or sitting out in front of it ... they usually wear a small scarf or neckerchief of a rich pattern. A band, also, about the top of the head, with a cross, star, or other ornament in front, is common. ... The fondness for dress among the women is excessive, and is sometimes their ruin. ... Nothing is more common than to see a woman living in a house of only two rooms, with the ground for a floor, dressed in spangled satin shoes, silk gown, high comb, and gilt, if not gold, ear-rings and necklace. "

_Maria de Jesus Estudillo Davis_
by Leonardo Barbiere, c. 1847, Bancroft Library.
While there is some indication that some Californio women wore something like petticoats and un-fitted shortgowns in the 1810s and 20s, there are no images of this outfit; by the 1830s and 1840s their dress included: a full, white linen camisa, with medium-high neckline (no cleavage or off-the-shoulders) – ruffled or not – and elbow-length fitted sleeves (you don't see them much); no corset or stays; dark or colored wool, cotton, silk, or velvet fitted bodice (boned in front) with pointed front waistline and high or medium-high round, straight (high-shoulder to high-shoulder), or wide-V neckline (again, no cleavage or shoulders uncovered), fastening in the back, with elbow-length or wrist-length fitted sleeves -- velvet or silk bodices trimmed with a flounce of wide black lace at the neckline and the sleeves; ankle-length full skirt (plain, or with one single wide flounce in the 1840s) that may or may not match the bodice (black velvet bodices are shown with lighter colored cotton print skirts) worn over multiple petticoats; embroidered white or colored cloth rebozos, black lace mantillas, or mantones de Manila -- embroidered black or white fringed silk shawls -- on the head and around the shoulders; hair parted in the center, smoothed back from the face, braided and pinned up into a bun on top of the head, ornamented with a high carved wood or tortoiseshell comb, or peineta, under the mantilla and perhaps a black ribbon across the forehead; white silk or cotton stockings and black leather or colored satin shoes with low heels (like ballet flats); small gold earrings (hoops or delicate dangling earrings), thin gold chain necklaces, thin gold bracelets, and delicate gold finger rings. By the Gold Rush, however, the huge influx of non-Hispanic women influenced local style so that California women are basically indistinguishable from American women by their dress; they have adopted hoops and corsets, bonnets, and other Anglo fashions. 

_Native Californians lassoing a steer_,
by Auguste Ferra, Bancroft Library.
While soldiers still wore their military uniforms on a daily basis, civilian men's clothing included: a white linen camisa, with front placket opening that can be ruffled or not; a richly embroidered chaleco (waistcoat);  a short, waist-length, chaqueta, or jacket of dark silk, calico, or wool, with long sleeves; calzones cortos, or knee breeches, or velveteen or wool broadcloth pantaloons, open at the side seams below the knee and decorated with gold or silver lace or other trim; white or dark stockings; dark brown deer-skin shoes, heavily decorated; a sombrero Cordob√®s, or stiff black or dark brown broad-brimmed wool or fur felt hat, with a gold or embroidered band around the crown and a silk lining under the brim; wide red sash around the waist; wool serape, made of black or dark blue wool broadcloth with velvet and trimmings (for the wealthy), or simpler, coarser wool, woven with various colors, shaped like a blanket with a hole in the middle for the head. Poorer men wore simpler wool and cotton jacket and trousers, with leather leggings tied on below the knee for protection when riding.  Most men wore metal spurs over their shoes whenever they were outside, since they traveled on horseback everywhere. 


_Woman Spinning (Hilandera)_,
Ecuadorean, Luis Cadena, 1859, LACMA. 
Native men and women dressed more and more like their Hispanic counterparts, the more time they spent in the pueblos and on the ranchos.  Native women in the pueblos or servants in homes are most often shown wearing a camisa and a petticoat, without a bodice or jacket on top; they have a plain rebozo and are often barefoot.  Their hair pulled back in one or two long braids that are hanging down their back.  Native men in the pueblos, or working as vaqueros or cowboys on the ranches, are shown dressed in wool or leather jacket and trousers, with no embroidery or other trim, over white shirt and under-drawers, with a plain wool serape and leather wide-brimmed hat, similar to the Spanish men of earlier eras.  

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)