General goals: To help students gain a better understanding of the Klondike Gold Rush time period through discussion of clothing worn at that time. To help students realize how their concept of "normal" is influenced by the customs of their time.
Curriculum links: Applications of Social Studies: It is expected that students will draw simple interpretations from personal experiences, oral sources, visual and written representations.
Introduction: Ask students if they think people dressed the same way in 1898 as we do now. (If you have been reading books about the gold rush with the class, you may link this discussion to one of the characters.)
Activity: Examine Klondike photos with the class. Ask students what they notice about the clothing people are wearing. Keep a list on the chalkboard of the similarities and differences noted by students. How would it look to see someone dressed in gold rush clothing in their school? What might people from the gold rush think if they saw the clothes we wear today?
Useful information for teachers: Though hoop skirts and corsets were falling out of fashion by the gold rush, it was considered indecent for women to wear anything other than long skirts - a "proper" woman had skirts at least at ankle length. Grown women wore their hair up, and were expected to wear a hat when outdoors. A man was expected to remove his hat indoors, while a woman could leave hers on. Girls could wear their hair down or in braids. Klondike women were among some of the most liberated in terms of clothing. For practicality's sake, many wore skirts that were above the ankle, or even wore men's clothing, especially for physical activities such as mining. Cycling was becoming a popular sport in the western world and specialty clothing was common for that and other strenuous activities. Women were perhaps less swayed by fashion norms than they are today. Many women made their own clothes.
Conclusion: Have students divide a sheet of paper in half. On one half they are to draw a picture of a person dressed in gold rush clothing. Under the picture they should write one sentence describing something they have learned about fashion from the gold rush. On the other half they should draw a contrasting picture from modern times and write a corresponding sentence about today's clothing.
Extension: If you live near a museum or historic site that employs costumed interpreters, consider contacting them to arrange for your class to visit the site, or for someone from the organization to come to your classroom in costume and discuss the clothing of the era they represent.