Happy Birthday America!

For those of us in the United States it is a day of celebration. It is the 243rd anniversary of the day we became a nation, the day our first Congress came together and stood up to King George. But I’m not going political with this post, I’m going to reflect a bit on change and how we’ve celebrated over the years.

Let’s face it, this happens in the summer here in the United States and summer is a time for us to enjoy getting outdoors. Up here in Michigan we’re at the peak of summer and we do go all out to make sure that we have soaked up plenty of sun before we have to face another winter! So how have Americans celebrated this day over the last 243 years? Picnics and Barbeques have ALWAYS been a favorite way to gather and celebrate summer happenings. But those picnics have changed over time. Not the least of which was how people dressed. You knew I’d connect this to my favorite topic of fashion didn’t you? In the late 1700s men were still wearing knee breeches, wasitcoats, and cutaway style coats. Ladies, would have shown up with skirts to the ground, overskirts, and rather closely fitted bodices – or redingote. Hats and parasols were a must as well. I’ve included a photo of a fairly typical look of the time for summer below. The practicality of serving “picnic” food reflected that. Chairs would have been scattered about under available trees or any other available shade. Long tables and benches would have been used for large gatherings but these benches were NOT attached to the table.

As we moved through the 1800s towards our 100th birthday fashion changed but in reality did not change that much. Americans still wore many layers. Women wore long skirts and men waistcoats and jackets but there trousers now extended to the knee. Ladies strove to protect their complexions from the sun – so there were those hats, parasols, and looking for shade again.

This is a reproduction 1840s gown I wore for my son’s August wedding. I “only” had a corset and 2 petticoats on under it. However, as would have been typical of the time period, it was made of very lightweight cotton and had elbow length sleeves.

It wasn’t until after WWI that fashions began to relax a bit more and women became less concerned about sun exposure. But a summer picnic would still have seen women in dresses and men in layers. Below are typical “casual” summer wear images from the 1930s. What do you think? Want to head out today in any of those looks?

So let’s fast forward…when did fashions go more casual? It was after WWII and reflected social change in the country. Women had done men’s work during the War Years and got used to wearing “slacks”, hosiery wasn’t readily available so they started to get used to going bare legged, and the idea of having a tanned complexion was no longer seen as a social faux pax. I remember heading out for breakfast gatherings at the beach every summer holiday as a kid. Yes BREAKFAST! My paternal grandfather and his siblings began this tradition somewhere in the late 1940s or early 1950s when their children (my dad and his siblings and cousins) were little. I suspect it also meant they could get the “good” spots and tables at the beach parks, have a fun day, and still be home for evening chores (at least one farmed) and be ready for work the next day! By the time i was part of the festivities it was the early 1960s. Imagine 5 or 6 picnic tables placed end to end covered in a variety of red and white checked tablecloths. The “aunts” as we called them would be laying out so many kinds of baked goods it was mind boggling. All the moms would be unpacking the picnic hampers and stacking the plates near one end of the tables where a couple of the “uncles” were manning camp stoves where bacon and scrambled eggs were being cooked. They were experts at placing them so the wind was not blowing sand into the pans! Meanwhile, the kids and dads were playing in the sand and down by the water. When the call went out everyone ran to the tables, slid onto the benches, and eagerly dug in. Oh right….what sort of looks were we all wearing? While I don’t have any family photos of these outings on hand below are images that would have been typical. Bathing suits with terry coverups, shorts, tshirts and button front shirts, pedal pushers that would be very much in style today (think capri lenth skinny pants!), and I’m sure some of the aunts were still wearing lightweight casual summer dresses.

So there you have it! Picnic attire throughout the years. You know how modern clothing works – sundresses, shorts, skorts, tshirts, etc. Whatever you are wearing, wherever you are gathering I wish you all a safe and fun day. Oh, and for those working be safe out there! Final note – this is the first 4th of July in nearly 40 years that my husband is not working! We thought there might have been one other somewhere about 20 years ago but are not sure – the party we were remembering may have happened on another day NEAR the 4th!