Clothing in New Mexico and the Southwest circa 1912

Was Clothing Different in New Mexico? A Brief Analysis

Certainly, clothing was different in New Mexico; clothing everywhere was subject to regional variation, especially in places with substantial cultural intersections. But in the course of my research, I found that clothing in New Mexico around 1912 was not as markedly different from clothing elsewhere in the United States than I had expected. In the local photographs and newspaper advertisements I surveyed, New Mexican men are often seen wearing three-piece suits, though working men sometimes lack a jacket, and can sometimes be seen without waistcoats as well (though this was considered somewhat indecent). Likewise, New Mexican women are typically seen in dresses and separates like those worn elsewhere in the United States. Both sexes seem to have kept up with east coast fashions to whatever degree they could afford it, with simpler and less modish clothing for people with low incomes.

There’s a common belief that women in the West “must” have worn corsets less than women in cities back east, because it was too hot, and corsets were not practical. But in my experience, for women of a, shall we say, buxom variety, it can actually be more comfortable to wear a corset, with evenly distributed bottom-up support, rather than a modern bra, with support coming in from straps which hang from the shoulders and a narrow band around the chest. Historically, corsetry is not synonymous with tight-lacing, and it need not be painful, dangerous, or even particularly uncomfortable. I have personally worn a corset while in the heat working outside, and it made very little difference, as long as it was made of natural fibers (which breathe), fit well, and was laced properly, not too tight or too loose. So, Western women could have worn corsets. Did they?

My survey of early twentieth century photographs of people in New Mexico and the Southwest indicates that corsets were worn with roughly the same incidence in this region as elsewhere in the United States. Which is to say, they were worn by most women, most of the time, with the exception of some elderly women, some very poor women, and women otherwise socio-culturally outside of any concerns about Euro-American fashion. In the latter category, photographs of Native Americans taken in the early twentieth century often show people in what appears to be the traditional dress of their people, or, in some cases, a romanticized version of traditional dress; unsurprisingly, in these images, none appear to be wearing corsets. But among Euro-American and Hispanic women, the corset appears to have been as common in New Mexico as anywhere else.

This is not to say that clothing in New Mexico was the same as anywhere else – regional variations played a role, more so than they do today, even. Regional variations are particularly marked among the lower rungs of society; unfortunately, these are also consistently the least documented parts of society. It is difficult to find pictures of working class people, subsistence farmers, and the like, especially pictures in their everyday working clothes rather than their Sunday best. Because of the comparative scarcity of such images, it’s difficult to make a broad analysis – the sample size is too small. Hopefully, I will be able to increase my pool of study material and do further research on this subject.

As a general framework, though, my research so far indicates that it is reasonable to assume that clothing in New Mexico circa 1912 was, for many people, much like  clothing in the rest of the United States, particularly among the upper and middle classes of both Anglo-American and Hispanic descent.

Image Resources for Clothing in the Southwest

NM Newspaper Articles About and Advertisements for Clothing

Hispanic/Latino Clothing in the Southwest circa 1912

  • 1912 Project: New Mexico, a Pinterest Board of mine, with a collection of images and links, including many of people who appear to be of Hispanic descent and of people known to be of Hispanic descent (such as photographs of the Amador family of Las Cruces).

Native American Clothing in the Southwest circa 1912

Clothing in the Southwest in Other/Various Time Periods

Note: if it has an asterisk*, there is a tutorial, how-to, or pattern on the other side of the link.

Back to the site index for Researching 1912 Clothes and Making or Faking Them.

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2 responses to “Clothing in New Mexico and the Southwest circa 1912

  1. Being from New Mexico, I love this article with all the links.

    • Thanks! 🙂 And, I didn’t know you were from New Mexico, Jen! Whereabouts? I’m doing my master’s in Las Cruces, and then we’re planning to move to northern NM next year; my fiance is from Corrales. It’s funny – since I met Zachary at Hampshire and started hearing all about New Mexico from here, it feels like I hear about it all over the place – I suppose I’m just paying more attention now.

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