Civil War women were hot. Literally. Women during the era wore up to 17 garments— even in the summer.
“In the summer we’re smart enough to stay in the shade,” said Paulette Grune, who recreates the fashions of the 1860s. “We also wear cottons because cotton is a natural fiber and it can breathe.”
Grune will present on what life was like for Victorian women during the Civil War era at the South Tahoe Public Library July 13. The event is meant to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
“Most of what you see or hear about is based on military and battles. When you hear civil war, that’s what you think of,” Grune said. “My program is based on a lady’s point of view, what went on in her life, how she managed her home, how she raised her children, that sort of thing.”
Grune, a seamstress by trade, recreates all her own Civil War-era fashions. She often presents them to schools and groups.
“We talk about makeup, we talk about hairstyles,” Grune said. “We talk about how many times a lady was expected to change. It could be once if she were poor. It could be four or five times if she were middle class or wealthy.”
Grune’s presentation centers around her wardrobe. As she doles out information on the ladies’ lifestyle, she casually puts on the many layers of a typical Civil War women’s outfit.
“I saw her performance last November at Camp Richardson,” said Denise Haerr, volunteer programs coordinator with South Lake Tahoe’s Friends of the Library. “She begins in her undergarments and tells about the life during the Civil War as she dresses. The entire audience was spellbound.”
Though much of the spectacular fighting of the Civil War was farther east, Grune maintains that Nevada, her home state, had a strong connection to the conflict. Much of the reason Nevada became a state was to provide silver for the Union, she said.
Grune has been participating in the Nevada Civil War Volunteers for nearly 30 years. The group’s mission is to educate people about life during the Civil War.
“If there’s a way that I can, I try to support ongoing education,” Grune said. “That’s what are charter says. We are to educate the public about life during the Civil War— not the battles, but life as it happened.”