At the Bicentennial Fashion Show in New Albany this weekend, I learned that the best thing about women's fashion in the early 1800's was the temporary abandonment of the corset in favor of the Empire style dress with sleeves that were puffy at the shoulders. This allowed for a more natural waist and far less discomfort.
The style you wore was an absolute reflection of your place in society. If you had a boudoir full of beaded dresses and gauzy gowns and you were aware of the distinction between morning dress and evening wear, then you'd have been considered middle to upper-class. And no respectable woman would leave the house without a hat or bonnet.
Men would often wear tailcoats and knee length britches over stockings. Longer hair was popular - especially if one had curls. After about 1804 when Napoleon Bonaparte became emperor, the style for men became more casual with the introduction of trousers.
After seeing how our ancestors wore layer upon layer of stifling clothing (without the modern washing techniques we take for granted today) I now appreciate the fact that I never have to wear a heavy dress, a bonnet, and gloves when it's 100 degrees out. I can't wait for next's year's Bicentennial Fashion Show when I get to see fashion from the mid to late 1800's. Stay tuned!