Columbus has been the state capital since its beginnings on a high ridge in central Ohio in 1812.
Looking back to the early days of the town, it is easy to conjure a stereotypical image of how the founders of the city appeared to each other.
The easy image is of a band of "buckskin men." Dressed in clothing made from deer hide, these men shaved infrequently and bathed less often. They were accompanied eventually by women dressed in plain gray, homespun dresses, who, without makeup or adornment, often were as strong and tough as the men with them.
While people like these certainly were in every frontier town, most early Ohioans, in fact, were more fastidious in their dress styles and personal hygiene.
Columbus might have smelled a bit fetid with no sewers and pigs running free in the alleys, but its people looked and smelled a lot better than their town.
In short, they brought with them to Ohio the styles of the places they left behind.
Early local historians described in detail the appearance of the people of Columbus in the early years:
"Among the striking articles of male attire worn at different periods were the queues, knee breeches and buckles, and ruffled shirts, of which the Virginians and Kentuckians, especially among the earlier, wealthier and more dignified citizens were fond.
"A blue dresscoat with brass buttons completed the outfit and is said to have been highly becoming. ... In the progress of events, the queues and knee breeches were abandoned, and the shirt ruffles were reduced to lower terms, but the blue coat with its brass buttons lingered into forties and even the fifties.
"It has perhaps never been improved upon as a keynote in the harmony of apparel for gentlemen of befitting age, manners and complexion."
The ladies were pleasantly dressed, as well. In 1833, a traveler from the East wrote home to a friend:
"The society of married ladies is decidedly superior to that of any other part of the state I have visited. It is not my intention to panegyrize nor even describe, but they in general possess grace, beauty and no small fund of information. The younger class of females in these respects resemble their mothers, but with some exceptions ... "
Some of those exceptions were worth noting in more detail:
"To make record of the multiplied whimsies of fashion which have rippled the surface of society during the lifetime of the city would occupy more space than the importance of the subject justifies, but a few of these whimsies have been of such exceptional grotesqueness as to deserve passing notice. One of these was the so-called Bloomer style or "reform" of female attire which began to attract attention about 1851.
"On July 4 of that year, 31 young ladies dressed in the abbreviated skirts prescribed by the reform marched in procession at Battle Creek, Michigan. During the same month and year, the presence of several 'Bloomers' was noticed on the streets of Columbus. The merits and demerits of the style became a subject of animated discussion in the newspapers, one zealous advocate, evidently a wearer of trousers, making this captivating presentation of the affirmative side of the case.
"We have heard many complaints of the ladies of the Capital City for their backwardness in adopting this new and decided improvement in dress: but their hesitation is over, their false delicacy overcome. ... On the whole we cannot for the life of us imagine what immodesty the most fastidious can possibly see in a dress which appears to us so simple and so beautiful.
"On the other hand, the opponents of the reform criticized the new costume as 'inconvenient, undignified,' and not consistent with the 'modest apparel enjoined by the Apostles.' ... Occasional 'Bloomers' were seen in the city as late as 1859."
Before this, a new fashion had appeared among the ladies of Columbus:
"In 1855, great hooped skirts were among the contrivances adopted by the fair sex for keeping men at a distance. They were not always effectual in this respect, albeit fashionable, and well adapted to magnify the territorial importance, if not the charms, of their wearers. After having waxed enormously, the hoopskirt eventually waned, until the opposite extreme was reached and the geometrical relations of the sexes again became normal."
The clothes Columbus residents wore were a reflection of the nature of the people who wore them:
"A helpful spirit was cherished among the pioneers, and to be neighborly was esteemed by them as an indispensable social virtue. If a barn or a house was to be put up, all the people round about came to help raise it. The sick received all the consolation which kind attentions could offer. The misfortune of a reputable citizen, however humble in station he might be, was taken to heart by the entire community."
It would seem that that spirit is with us still.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.