Fashions for America’s Forgotten War

July 11, 2012

The War of 1812

I was wafting around the house in my newly thrifted Edwardian outfit when my father (who normally takes no interest whatsoever in my costuming endeavors) looked up from his book and asked, “Are you doing something special for the War of 1812?”

I had been so excited for all the Civil War and Titanic events that the Bicentennial for the War of 1812 had completely slipped my mind! It seems that much of the country has forgotten about it as well, jumping straight from Revolution into Civil War, but what about the 50 years in between? That’s a huge gap of time to be glossing over, especially considering that the War of 1812 was a continuation of the war for an independent American nation.

Three important facts about the War of 1812:

1. Americans were still fighting the British for rights and territory. It was hailed as the “Second war for Independence.”

2. It took place from the very north in Canada all the way south to New Orleans and lasted until 1815. This is the war in which the British burned Washington, destroying the newly built White House and Capitol.

3. Every time you sing the National Anthem of the United States, The Star Spangled Banner, you are singing about the Battle of Fort McHenry which happened in September of 1814.

All of these things transformed the United States from a bunch of rebellious former territories glommed together to a Nation. Why have we forgotten all of this? Maybe it’s because the War of 1812 isn’t as clear-cut as the Revolution or the Civil War. Both the US and Canada claimed victory and Britain was too preoccupied with the looming shadow of Napoleon.

The Canadians, in fact, are quite excited about the whole affair and have been having reenactments and events all year (insert enormous amounts of jealousy here)! During the War of 1812, the US fought against British bullying, but we also invaded Canada in an attempt to take valuable land. Canada fought the land grab attempt and pushed the invading American forces back.
In addition to multiple battle-lines and boundary disputes, the war was plagued also by poor communication, muddling the reputation of soldiers and politicians. The Battle of New Orleans, for example, happened after the US and Britain had made a peace agreement. The War of 1812 was generally a very riotous ride!

Maybe the war wasn’t as crazy and alligator-filled as Jimmy Driftwood and Johnny Horton make it sound, but 1812 and the years that followed are really interesting. Since I am top-heavy, finding a Regency dress that flatters me is somewhat of a challenge. I’ve never really costumed this era except for the occasional “Jane Austen-esque” tea party dress. However, I want something a little more hardy than a ballgown. Here are a few 1810-1815 outfits that I’ve pulled up for possible inspirations:

I love the military inspirations on this pelisse/redingote. It’s perfect for remembering the war. The large fur muff and hat are beyond fabulous, but it’d be a little hot in the fall.

I really love the white gown with the little pink ruffles around the bottom. Towards the end of the Regency era, gowns when from being relatively simple to having more decoration around the hems. These are English dresses, too, so would they be considered traitorous? : )

Something other than white! This is a beautiful silk dress from about 1810 (according to the Met), but it has a lot of characteristics of later 1814-15 fashions. The slate-blue is gorgeous as is the ribboned trim around the sheer puffs. Plus, it’s American made, meaning it actually existed on US soil as the battles raged, which is amazing.

A fashionable seaside walking dress with the most adorable ruffled pantaloons I have ever seen! She looks quite comfy in it as well. Even if I don’t live by the sea, I could certainly wear this to the lakeshore. Also: no defining empire waistband.

An English fashion on the left and a French fashion to the right. It’s nice to see that even though the two countries were fighting, they could still peaceably share fashions. I am nowhere near good enough with a needle and thread to dream of sewing anything this nice just yet, but I love the scalloped hem and slashed puff sleeves. These are later in the era, toward the tail end of the war, but I really adore the colors and fit! Also, look at their tiny shoes peeking out from under their skirts.

It’s a little late for the actual bicentennial event (June 1st); however, there is still plenty of time to pull together an outfit, if not to wear to an event, at least to accompany my father out shooting with one of his treasured flintlock rifles in remembrance of the forgotten War of 1812!

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