Fashion held an uneasy place in the war years of the North-South conflict in America. The Union and Confederate armies, uninterested in flashy uniforms, chose practical wear, while women remained ensconced in thick petticoats and triangular-shaped gowns. Some fashion textbooks call this the “crinoline period”. Hoops, or the cage crinoline, made women’s dresses billow as they did, and also made mobility more problematic.
Since the North controlled ports and shipping, and therefore received whatever fashion plate publishing there was, women in the South had a harder time keeping up with the modes. Southern ingenuity in refurbishing clothes made skirts and blouses more popular, and reintroduced tight sleeves that had been cut down from the wide sleeves of an earlier fashion cycle.
The beneficial effects of the sewing machine were apparent by the early 1860s. In fact, the number of sewing machines available doubled between 1860 and 1865. Almost all dresses were partly machine-sewn, although they continued to be finished by hand right up to the end of the century. Ready-to-wear developed at a slow pace for women, largely because the fashionable styles that originated after 1860 made achieving a correct fit difficult.
Men were luckier, and a ready-to-wear trade for their garments gained ground after the 1840s.