Upon arriving at Fort Leavenworth, the Mormon Battalion volunteers were issued a uniform allowance of $42 to purchase cloth and have a uniform made. At this period of time, there was not a stockpile of uniforms available. Each soldier had to hire a seamstress to make his uniform. In lieu of purchasing a uniform, the Battalion soldiers opted to wear their own clothes and send a portion of this allowance to their families and the Church to purchase supplies for the trek westward.
In describing the clothing worn by the Mormon Battalion enlistees, it is imperative to remember the period of history involved is 1846-1848. It is important to appreciate that the clothing styles of the 1840’s were not always the same as those of the Mormon pioneer emigrants of the 1850’s. Clothing styles varied based on fashion, practicality and acceptability. The Mormon emigrants in Iowa at 1846 were comprised of farmers, tradesmen and businessmen from the East and upper Midwest, e.g. New England, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio as well as from Southern States: e.g. Tennessee, Kentucky, the Carolinas, and Mississippi. Many of the Saints were also immigrants from the British Isles, Europe and Scandinavia. The Saints brought with them their culture and clothing styles from the type of work in which they were engaged: farming, accounting, animal husbandry, architecture, bakery, blacksmithing, carpentry, cooping, coal-mining, masonry, metal work, merchandizing, printing, shop keeping, teaching, etc. The prosperity the Saints experienced in Nauvoo brought the latest fashions of the day from cosmopolitan cities, such as St. Louis, for both men and women. Even under emigrant status with temporary lodgings at Council Bluffs, the Saints were still style-conscious.
Cotton – Widely available, comfortable to wear
Linen – Strong vegetable fiber from flax plant, 2-3 times stronger than cotton. Linen absorbs moisture and removes perspiration, and when dries out it provides a natural cooling. Linen is also resistant to moths and carpet beetles. Linen/cotton blends are durable and comfortable to wear.
Wool – Wool is very durable and will outlast clothes made of cotton. Wool is a good insulator from exterior heat sources, e.g. open fires. Wool also breathes, allowing excess heat generated by the wearer to escape. Wool will not burn, but rather smolders and smokes when exposed to fire, but immediately goes out when removed from the fire source. Military jackets and trousers were made with wool cloth.
An important historical feature of early 19th century men’s clothing is that the men did not wear pants! Men wore trousers. The term pants is a shorten form of pantaloons, which were women’s underclothing. The trousers worn were typically made of course linen or canvas-type material or wool. Trousers had to be durable because of the outdoor labor and farming work most were engaged in. Travel on horseback also required a durable cloth to endure wear by the leather saddle or riding bare horse back. The period style for trousers was a double broad fall design. A front flap was secured in place by an array of buttons. When the style changed to a single vertical fly with multiple buttons, Brigham Young declared this new style as obscene. The loose-fitting, pocketless trousers were most commonly black, brown or gray in color.
Trousers were held in place by suspenders (also called braces) over the shoulders. Waist belts were not used (no belt loops). Suspenders attached to trousers via buttons and leather binders. Suspenders were usually made of non-elastic linen. Suspenders were also considered underwear, so in public, men wore waistcoats or vests to cover the suspenders. As such, period waistcoats were sometimes collared and had round-edged lapels in contrast to the later style vests that were collarless with straight-edged, notched lapels. Waistcoats usually had 1 or 2 front pockets. Brigham Young instructed the Battalion enlistees to always wear their vests.
Men commonly wore a frock coat over the vest. Frock coats were generally thigh-length, collared and with broad lapels. Some styles had the front cut to the waist.
The shirt style was generally a long, pull-over tunic with the front slit closed by 2 or 3 buttons, reaching over the thighs in length. The sleeves were loose and blousy for comfort (non-binding). The sleeve seam was about 3-4 inches down the sleeve from the shoulder. The wrist cuff was closed with a single button. Shirts were generally made from cotton muslin or courser linen material. Shirts either remained natural off-white color or were dyed. Calico prints were also common.
Period hats were varied and functional. European immigrants could sometimes be identified by the type of hat they wore from their country of origin and the type of work in which they labored. Wool wheel or forage hats were common among laborers. Farmers and laborers wore broad-brimmed hat of various designs made of wool felt or woven straw. White-collar businessmen often wore a top hat or other styles of broad-rim felt hat.
Period shoes were made of leather in a high boot form or an ankle-cut brogan or bootee with a square toe. Shoes were straight last style, which meant there was no right or left shoe, both were the same. Any one shoe could fit on either the right or left foot. Soles were made of leather or wood. The soles and heels were secured to the upper shoe by either nails or wood pegs instead of being stitched together.
The Latter-day Saint women were very style conscious of the latest fashions from the East. 1840- period dresses generally were made with cotton fabric or wool. Materials were solids, checks, stripes, and plaids. Prints had with no more than 3 colors. Colors were subdued, not bright: blues, greens, reds, yellows, browns, gray and black. Darker colors were preferred because they hid the dirt better than the colors. The sleeve seam was off the shoulder. Dresses were ankle-length and the sleeves wrist-length. When the buttons were in the front of the dress, the buttons were on the left and button holes on the right so a second person could button up the dress. Two pockets were joined by a string and tied around the waist under the dress as a separate garment. Access to the pockets was via a slit in the dress side, waist-high. When the women got to San Diego, they found the Garibaldi blouse and full skirt to be popular. Piping in the arm seam was a popular and practical feature in more formal or evening dresses. Women usually only had two dresses, one for daily work and another for formal settings, such as Sunday. The precious fabric from replaced dresses often ended up as curtains or quilts.
Women also wore bloomers or pantaloons, and up to seven petticoats. One of the purposes of many large petticoats was to carry yards of fabric to be used for bedding, sheets, curtains, bandages, etc., instead of taking up room in a handcart or wagon. For day wear, when an apron or pinafore was worn, it was secured around the waist with a tie and the top bib pinned to the dress front. Aprons were not tied around the neck, as this would be a waste of valuable fabric. In the evening, the bib could be unpinned and the bib was tucked under the bottom half of the apron, for a more formal look. Nursing mothers could quickly unpin the bib when her infant was hungry. Shawls worn over the shoulders were very popular beginning in 1840.
A colonial style linen day cap (mob cap) was worn on the head when indoors. Outdoor hat ware was commonly broad-brimmed straw hats with a ribbon chin tie. In the cities, these hats were often decorated with ribbons or feathers. The fabric sun bonnets characteristic of the Mormon pioneers traveling across the plains of Nebraska were a product of necessity, invented for protection from the sun and elements as the pioneers crossed the plains in the 1850’s. Thus, the sun bonnet worn by the pioneers is not Battalion-period appropriate.
Period shoes for the women were black or dark brown and included elastic-sided boots or button-up boots, with no more than one-half inch heel. Shoes styles went from a wide toe in the early 1840’s to a more rounded toe in the late 1840’s. Once again, the heel was no more than one-half inch.