California Trail Wardrobes

slat bonnetBecause wool breathed and afforded better protection against the sun than cottons or linens, pioneer women who traveled west in wagon trains were advised to wear wool-fabric dresses with the hems raised 2-3 inches above the norm for easier maneuvering, and to sew lead shot into the hems to keep the full skirts from billowing in the prairie winds. For headgear they wore sunbonnets, an expanded version of their ordinary cloth day caps. These protected their faces but severely limited peripheral vision because the piece of fabric that circled around the face from ear to ear was deeper in width, stiffened with heavy quilting or flat slats of wood, and projected beyond the wearer’s face. Wings or flaps stitched at the sides and back covered the neck. Men wore flannel shirts, thick pants reinforced where they came in contact with a saddle, knee-high boots large enough at the top to tuck the pant legs inside, and a broad-brimmed hat.  Emigrants were also advised to pack bar soap for laundering, large needles, buttons, good linen thread, a paper of pins, and a thimble.

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