What would you wear to travel 2,000 miles on foot? During the westward expansion of the late 1800s, American emigrants traveled for months along the California Trail before settling in their new homes. The trail consisted of rocky mountain byways, dusty desert paths, grasslands, and even rivers travelers had to wade across. So, what did the pioneers wear?
Learn about pioneer clothing with us and get answers to the questions everyone asks and even some that may surprise you.
Pioneer Men Wore Loose, Sturdy Clothing
According to encyclopedia.com, pioneer men wore loose trousers and full shirts that were open at the neck and made of cotton or linen. Coats were made of twilled cotton. The boots were heavy and sturdy.
Every man had a hat made of straw, felt, or fur, depending on the weather. Pioneer men also wore leather belts or suspenders.
Pioneer Women Were All About Layers
Women also wore sturdy boots paired with long dresses and sunbonnets stretched over wooden or wire frames. When we say dress, you have to think of the times. Womenswear in the late 1800s was all about layers.
In addition to the overdress of gingham, calico, or wool, a pioneer woman wore a linen petticoat, an apron, and a shoulder kerchief. She may also have worn a warm shawl or a coat in colder weather.
What Did Pioneer Children Wear?
Babies and toddlers on the trail wore simple, loose linen one-piece outfits, similar to a dress or nightgown. However, children aged six and up dressed just like mom and dad.
Children did not wear socks, and most went barefoot.
Did Overland Travelers Wear Pajamas?
If you think about how scarce space was, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that only two or three changes of clothes were brought along for each person traveling the California Trail. There’s no room for pajamas when you are trying to carry everything you need for the trip and getting started in your new home.
Pioneer men slept in their shirts, and women slept in their shifts.
Did Trail Goers Make Or Buy Their Clothing?
Pioneer girls learned to spin around the age of six, which was an essential skill because all clothes were handmade, most commonly of affordable linen, wool, or a wool-linen combination called linsey-woolsey. Like gingham and calico, most cotton fabrics were imported from India and, therefore, more expensive.
Did Clothing Change Once The Journey Was Over?
Once pioneer families settled, they were usually days away from the nearest town. So whatever they could grow, raise, or hunt was used for clothing. Flax, sheep’s wool, and animal hides, especially buckskin, were common materials for clothing.
You also have to remember that not all who made the journey west were already living in the United States. Some traveled from their home countries in Europe. Once they were settled, they could take the time to embroider their aprons and dye their garments in the patterns and colors they were used to once again.
Learn More About The Men & Women Who Journeyed West
Now that you’ve learned a little about pioneer clothing, we hope you are ready to learn more. We invite you to stop by and see us at the California Trail Interpretive Center in Elko, NV, to explore exhibits and participate in activities. Contact us today to learn about upcoming events and start your travel plans.