Expanding the 19th Century Wardrobe–Victorian Style

“The Impeccable dress of Nancy Cunningham Luckie, a free black woman, shows no discernible difference from ensembles typically worn by her white counterparts.” ~Staci-Catron-Sullivan, author of Women In Atlanta

Civil War Womens Fashion

Drawing of Civil War era
ballroom dress

Initial findings suggested that free women of color wore very simple clothing made of cotton with small patterns.  However, after selecting Lavinia Flagg as my Living Historian persona, I have learned that free women in the State of Georgia wore fine fabrics, such as silks and wool with large prints.  As an example,  Louis De Vorsey, author of The Plantation South, states, “When the Civil War began, Flagg had accumulated an estate worth over $25,000, a respectable sum for those hard-dollar days, and his wife Lavinia lived unusually well for an African American in those times of slavery.”

Thus, I do believe that the dress code for free women of color varied based on social climate.  Because Lavinia was known as a personal female confidant to Mary Ann Lamar Cobb, wife of Governor Howell Cobb, Lavinia perhaps was allowed to attend social teas and sewing circles due to the wealth Wilkes had accumulated.  This financial status coupled with the fact that Milledgeville was a 19th century urban city created the ultimate backdrop for fashion.

Featured is a 1862 photograph of Nancy Cunningham Luckie, free woman of color and wife of Solomon Luckie who ran a barbershop and salon at the Atlanta Hotel. The Victorian dress that Nancy is wearing is a wool silk blend.  Picture is courtesy of Staci Catron-Sullivan, author of Women in Atlanta.