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Monday, June 13, 2016

Color Me Surprised

As a cowboy action shooter, I try to make my costumes accurate to the period--though I don’t go all out like some [check out the costumes in the chow line to the left!].  Accurate to the period, to me, has always meant a blouse and skirt that would have been worn in the 1860s, in the same color family. I have an outfit in shades of blue, one that’s green and ivory---you get the idea.

Well… While at a cowboy shoot this past weekend, I met a man whose company, James Country Mercantile, specializes in reproducing clothing from the mid-1800s to 1910. And the colors astounded me. Here’s the period-correct pin-top apron that I bought (to go with that blue ensemble I mentioned before). Isn't that wild?!

Now, we’ve all seen the black and white photos of the period showing men in coat, vest, and trousers, many times in various patterns, and of women in their shirt waists in coordinating or matching patterns. What I didn’t know is those colors and patterns, to a modern eye, DON’T MATCH AT ALL!

In the Victorian period, color in your clothing demonstrated your wealth.  If a man wore a suit of all brown, it meant he was a dirt-poor working stiff!  When a man donned a garish mix of paisley and checks and flowers in four different colors---well, ladies, he was the one you wanted to hustle to the altar.

My dh has a pair of shooting pants that we lovingly refer to as the missing awning from a mercantile.  In period-correct costuming, to demonstrate his wealth, he’d add a yellow paisley shirt, a brown and red vest and an orange coat. I shudder to consider what the combination would actually look like. Rather like this, I imagine:

Bill “The Butcher” Cutter (center) from Gangs of New York

In Cowboy Action Shooting, you can also dress as your favorite character from a B-Western movie.  Here’s my favorite, ever (so far)--that's Beefalo Brun on the left.

Or maybe it's Fort Hays Preacher in his color-correct Lone Ranger getup on the right.

I must admit, I’m just getting started on this line of research, so expect to hear more.

Tracy Garrett


  1. Tracy, I had seen hints of this with a friend who sells period clothing. Additionally, I had a costumer for a show, who did such research and it surprised me. Who knew?

    Thanks. I look forward to more on this interesting subject. Doris

    1. Because both of my grandmothers--and their mothers--dressed conservatively, I suppose I assumed everyone did. That'll teach me!

  2. Tracy,

    I had an "ah-ha" from reading your article. In the Disney movie Cinderella (Kenneth Branagh version), Cinderella's father wears plaid trousers, green neck scarf, blue long-tailed coat, and a paisley/brocade reddish and gold vest. Now I understand the garish combination of colors. He's a well-to-do merchant with property. Makes sense now. Thank you. *grin*