Gingham is a medium-weight balanced plain-woven fabric made from dyed cotton or cotton-blend yarn. It is made of carded, medium or fine yarns, where the colouring is on the warp yarns and always along the grain (weft). Gingham has no right or wrong side with respect to color.
…When originally imported into Europe in the 17th century, gingham was a striped fabric, though now it is distinguished by its checkered pattern. From the mid-18th century, when it was being produced in the mills of Manchester, England, it started to be woven into checked or plaid patterns (often blue and white). Checked gingham became more common over time, though striped gingham was still available in the late Victorian period. [Source] (emphasis added)
According to Reference (History), the answer to the question: “What did pioneers wear?“, is that “girls’ dresses or skirts and blouses were typically cotton with gingham or calico designs. The girls wore an apron over the outfit and pantalets under it. Women wore simple, floor-length cotton dresses with long sleeves and high necklines“.
We know women (or perhaps only young women) wore gingham. But why?
I’ll offer several reasons.
First, I sew. I know textiles, at least as far as are available today. I understand the difference between natural fibers (cotton, wool, linen) and synthetic (polyester, rayon, spandex, etc.). I know from firsthand experience the ease of sewing with natural fibers and how a cotton dress wears. I also understand yardage (how much fabric is required to make a dress)…and that the price per yard makes a difference. I know that some fabrics are simply well-suited to work clothes vs. dressy-New-Year’s-Eve-on-a-cruise-ship-only type dresses. Because I’ve sewn since age 11, learned from my mother (who learned from her grandmother), and had a wealth of hands-on experience, I know what fabrics are suitable to what purpose (pants vs. blouse vs. curtains) and can visualize a design or pattern made up in any given fabric–and how it will look on a specific person.
Pioneer / Frontier / Average people in the Old West needed affordable, durable clothing that would wear well, survive washing after washing, drying in the sun (or heat behind the stove in the winter), repeated ironing, be suitable to the climate and weather. Despite all this, ladies have always wanted to be fashionable and look their best. (Some things–especially about human nature–were no different in Victorian America than they are today.) Gingham is highly suitable for a dress–and at the high yardage count required to make a long-sleeved, full-skirted (long) dress for a woman, 11¢ (or 4.5¢ by 1895) was a good bargain. The pattern would help hide wear (thinning) and stains an apron failed to prevent.
The Montgomery Ward Spring and Summer catalog of 1875 shows the price per yard (in cents) of various types of fabrics. Two different qualities (probably weights) of gingham are listed in the image in numbered lines 4 and 5.
This 1875 (reproduction) shows “ginghams” at 9 cents per yard, only slightly more than “standard prints” or “best prints”. Compare to this “chambrays” at nearly triple the cost per yard. Chambray was a cotton fabric used frequently for good men’s shirts and fancier dresses.
11¢ per yard. Wow.
What cost $0.11 in 1875 would cost $2.44 in 2016.
Granted, fabrics then (including this gingham) were not 44/45-inches wide, as they are now. Today’s cotton gingham is well more than $2.44 per yard. Even at twice the width, the gingham is more than twice the price (adjusted for inflation).
An antique (circa 1880) gingham (pink and white) listing on ebay, stated the fabric was 26-inches wide.
The 1895 Montgomery Ward Spring and Summer Catalog shows “Fancy Check Ginghams” and “Dress ginghams” at 27-inches wide, and some apron ginghams at 33-inches wide.
By 1895, the Montgomery Ward company found bulk buying of textiles allowed them to slash their prices to nearly half what gingham had cost twenty years earlier:
GUNSMOKE & GINGHAM
Last year, 4 out of the same 5 authors published a similarly titled anthology: Cowboys & Calico. Very Old West-sounding and romantic, too. We wanted a title that would match Cowboys & Calico, so we opted to go with the familiar and true-to-history gingham. Cowboys and Gunsmoke definitely put us in mind of the hero, while Calico and Gingham represent the heroine. Cowboys & Calico was only in print for 3 months (by design), but we intend to leave Gunsmoke & Gingham together in a box set for a longer period of time.
In my story within Gunsmoke & Gingham, my heroine, Elizabeth, wears a blue gingham dress the one day (Independence Day!) she dares move away from her usual plain, drab gray dresses. That blue gingham dress shows her personal decision to take a chance on Morgan Hudson, and the possibility that she might find love and romance of her own. The dress is symbolic in more ways than merely the colors. Elizabeth still selected a fabric that was functional, versatile, and infinitely wearable. In comparison, her mother (who plays a significant role in the story) wears (a ghastly) purple silk.
I rather like Elizabeth. I hope you will, too.
If you’ve not yet read The Gunsmith’s Bride, within the anthology: Gunsmoke & Gingham, allow me to introduce you to the characters by sharing with you the opening two chapters. You can read them right here, free!
See some really cool gingham dresses on this book’s Pinterest Board!
Copyright © 2017 Kristin Holt LC