Memorial Day Fashion;Vivandiere, women of valor & panache

To honor the fallen, I thought it best to honor the brave women by their side as they fell.

The Vivandiere.

Vivandiere Uniform


As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am taking a course in U.S. History, through Reconstruction, fascinating . As a resource we were instructed to visit the Smithsonian’s site, The Price of Freedom. A marvelous resource.  I stumbled upon the Vivandiere, sometimes referred to as the Cantinieres. The Vivandiere were young women who accompanied soldiers providing “creature comforts”, yes, I had the same impure thought; from my brief research, most of the young ladies were of fine virtue.

What they did provide was companionship, though they carried about a distinctive flask of wine or brandy ,which they dispensed as needed, I imagine  their greatest gift was the gentle touch so absent from combat. It sounds sexist and perhaps patronizing, but I can imagine the comfort a woman’s voice brought to a fallen soldier, his blood darkening the soil beneath him.

Fallen soldiers


Sept.-Oct. 1862

The costume I chose from the Smithsonian site is from our Civil War, Union side. From another source (, I understood both Union and Confederate women were engaged as Vivandiere. I found the costume both visually striking and familiar. It reminded me at once of early bathing costumes of the mid to late 19th century, often favored by fashion reformers and Suffragettes.

Bathing costume 1870

The trouser element of course had it’s practical value, but I believe the wearing of the Vivandiere costume was perhaps an acceptable expression of feminism; granted the role was stereotypical, dispensing coffee, tobacco, and feminine charm, but this was brandy to a bloodied soldier, not tea to the vicar.

Vivandiere Items

Housewife sewing kit of blue wool with needle, thread, and buttons. Tobacco twist. sugar bag, coffee bag, and metal can., circular lamp, and camp stove.


Whatever the inclination of these  special woman, I felt it appropriate to honor them.

Kady Brownell

of the 1st (later the 5th) Rhode Island

from Frank C. moore’s “Women of the War “, 1866.

Happy Memorial Day


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