Behind the Beautiful Dress: Making Cloth and Clothing in the 19th Century

A Road Scholar Program by Erika Holst

History Extra 19th Century Fashions Images

May 5, 2021

It is hard to overstate the role of textiles in early American life. For families, the making of textiles and clothing required countless hours of labor. On the other hand, the purchase of textiles could consume a large portion of the household budget. For the nation, textiles drove the American pre-Civil War economy. They provided a money-making opportunity for a few and exploited the labor of countless others.

History Extra 19th Century Fashions Images

Above image is published in the HistoryExtra article: “Stitching the fashions of the 19th century

This presentation will explore cloth and clothing production in the 19th century and textiles’ impact on pre-Civil War life in Illinois. Attendees will learn the following:

  • How the cotton economy impacted the home production of textiles
  • How the cotton economy involved the entire United States
  • How the ready-made clothing industry grew out of the American textile industry
  • The labor involved in making and caring for 19th-century clothing

The presentation will highlight examples of garments and artifacts from the Illinois State Museum’s collections. After the presentation, attendees will explore the parallels between the 19th-century garment industry and today while pondering questions such as:

  • Who makes my clothing?
  • Under what conditions do they labor?
  • What happens to my clothing when I am done with it?

This virtual Zoom event is free and open to the public. Registration is required.

For more information, please contact Roz Topolski at

Learn more about Erika Holst, this program, and how to book it.


Vernon Area Public Library