Rathbone Mansions
Historic New Orleans Hotel, Steps From the French Quarter
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Insiders Guide of things to do, eats and drinks in New Orleans

Rathbone Mansions Insiders Guide

With its unique, vibrant history, award winning chefs, craft cocktail bars, and party atmosphere, there's no wonder NOLA is consistently ranked one of the best cities to visit. We've got you covered with insiders' tips on the best places to visit, eat and drink during your stay. Click through our blog for suggestions, current events and truly experience New Orleans like a local.

New Orleans has a unique, vibrant history, award winning chefs, craft cocktails galore, and a low-key, Southern fun atmosphere. There's no wonder NOLA is consistently ranked one of the best US cities to visit.  We've got you covered with tips on locals' favorite spots to check out during your stay. Scroll through our blog for suggestions, current events and truly experience New Orleans like a local.

 

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The Glory Days and Beyond

Very often I find myself using words that are familiar but, if questioned as to their meaning, I really don’t have a tried-and-true answer. This applies to the adjective, “antebellum” – so here goes: Officially, the word antebellum can describe the time just before any war, but it’s usually used in reference to America’s “Civil War” – and comes from the Latin phrase “ante bellum, literally “before the war.”

 

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THE ANTEBELLUM PERIOD IN NEW ORLEANS

 

This period is considered to be after the War of 1812 (when Louisiana entered the Union as the 18th state) and ends just before the Civil War in 1861 when it joined the Confederacy. 

 

In the antebellum era, cotton emerged as the South’s major commercial crop, eclipsing tobacco, rice and sugar in economic importance. This in turn, led to the establishment of large plantations that had hundreds of slaves. Full disclosure: When my husband Peter and I were in Curacao (an island in the Dutch Caribbean) we viewed a typical plantation from a short distance away. It consisted of the owner’s palatial home high on a hill with the tiny, dirt-floor slave homes down below. To me, they didn’t look fit for a dog to live in, let alone a family. 

 

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MOVING INTO THE CIVIL WAR, 1861-1865

 

It’s interesting to look at women’s fashions during this period. For example, the ideal waist size was 15 inches (remember the famous scene in Gone With the Wind when Scarlett is getting her corset laced up by Mammy).

Traditional Victorian hoop skirts were embellished with ribbons and bows

Traditional Victorian hoop skirts were embellished with ribbons and bows

 

Hoop skirts were considered the height of fashion. In fact, formal gowns could use up to 25 yards of fabric. (Scarlett just tore down the green velvet draperies in Tara so Mammy could make a dress to impress Rhett).

 

During the day, the dresses that females wore were high-necked. It was unseemly for one to show skin before the late afternoon. Moreover, pale skin was the style, so necks and shoulders had to be covered. It also meant that parasols were carried everywhere.

A fabric umbrella called “a parasol” was used for protection from the sun

A fabric umbrella called “a parasol” was used for protection from the sun

 

White was a popular color in warm weather. Black was worn often due to the high death rate during the Civil War years. Again, rebellious Scarlett thought she was too young to be a widow. But, peer pressure reigned so she wore a black mourning dress to a charity ball in Atlanta. The dashing Rhett won the right to dance with her in front of a horrified crowd. (I love this movie!)

 

The South has hot, humid summers so handheld fans were a popular accessory for females. These could be simple paddle fans made of palmetto leaves or six-to-10” folding fans adorned with colorful designs.

 

TAKING A PEEK AT UNDERWEAR

 

The only way to approach this is to say: MANY LAYERS. The first was a soft cotton or linen chemise worn with drawstring drawers trimmed in lace or ribbon and ending just below the knee.

 

Then came the whalebone corset laced in the back to accentuate a small waist, followed by many petticoats, a crinoline or crinoline cage hoop skirt to create a bell-shaped skirt. Speaking of petticoats I can’t help but mention the scene where Mammy says, “Lawd, Mist’ Rhett, dat ain’ nuthin’ but mah red silk petticoat!” That’s both a touching and hilarious moment in the movie.

 

The Civil War years are long gone but it’s still fun to take a look back and see how much things have changed.

 

CLICK HERE To hear “Tara’s Theme” from Gone With the Wind.

 

Shaun Nelson-Henrick