Friday, November 16, 2018

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Vlog: The 1830s Bustle!

Howdy! We're deep, deep down the #1830s rabbit hole, working diligently on our gowns with much haste in preparation for our trip to Dickens Fair in San Francisco on December 15th.

Abby has been very responsibly recording her progress for our new vlog #SewingIsHard . Here is the most recent video on the 1830s bustle (yes, bustle!) and how she made hers. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018


Book Review: The Workwoman's Guide by A Lady, 1838

Hey there you lovely costuming creatures, you!

As many of you know, Lauren and I are currently up to our eyeballs in all things 1830s. Yep, we're both busy ladies trying to bust out entire 1830s ensembles for our little adventure out to San Francisco for the Dickens Faire in mid-December.

Me sporting my new "Bustle" that I made using the descriptions and guidelines from WWG (Plate 11)

While the 1830s is a relatively new time period for us (Lauren's made one other 1830s dress, and I've randomly done a lot of research into the 1830s over the years), figuring out construction techniques and pattern shapes has been relatively easy because of a little pink bible that has all the answers. Seriously. All. Of. Them.

The slightly obnoxious pink cover of the best book, ever. 

The Workwoman's Guide by A Lady (1838) is a primary source on all things sewing in the 1830s, and is easily accessible for us modern wannabes today. I was first introduced to the book a few years ago, during my time at Colonial Williamsburg. There, I was lucky enough to buy myself a hard copy in the museum book store, and it has become a well loved, highlighted, and dog ear'd addition to my costuming book collection.

While hard copies are a bit difficult to find (seems like the publisher went out of business?), you can easily look through WWG on Google Books (bonus: it's free!).

In the book you'll discover extensive information regarding everything from basic stitches, shopping practices, sleeve patterns, and bed hangings. While some of the information isn't all that helpful, (like I will never need to know how to make church seats.) the information on dressmaking and accessories is a damn gold mine!

Here's a quick breakdown on dressmaking and millinery items in the book -

1. Corsets and Bustles (Plate 11)
2. Caps, Bonnets, Hats (Plate 15, 19, 20)
3. Collars, Collarets, Pelerines (Plate 13)
4. Sleeves! (Plate 12)
5. Gowns (Plate 14)
The Workwoman's Guide, Google Books
Gown information from The Workwoman's Guide, Google Books.
With most of these plates there are follow up instructions on how to draft your own, except gowns, because, at this time, gowns were custom made to the person. However, while they don't give drafting instructions, they do provides directions on how to drapes or create the different bodice styles that you see in the plate (and yeah, it's basically every gown you've ever seen in a portrait or fashion plate), information on grain lines, design choices, trimmings, and construction. It's all there. And let me tell ya, all the information provided has been so incredibly useful on making our 1830s gowns. Who would have ever thought side pieces were such a big deal? Or how important grain is for the shoulders? (Spoiler Alert: Grain line is everything.)

Lauren's simple wrap-front bodice, based on instructions from Workwoman's Guide
There are a couple of drawbacks to the drafting instructions to be aware of:

1. They use nails, quarters, half yard, and yard measurements. It's not the biggest deals - so long as you know that 1 nail = 2.25 inches. Just keep your calculator at hand, cause you're gonna math all over this thing. The author addresses this in Chapter 2 of the book.

2. There can be patterning issues, I had some issues with one of the bonnets in the book, and while I take part of the blame (I have a big head) part of the issue was a 180 year old patterning mistake.

The good: The bonnet looked just the like one in the plate. The bad? It hurt my head and didn't really fit once it was made up in buckram and pasteboard. :/ 
The Workwoman's Guide  is an incredible historical resource for any historian or costumer, as the information is useful for time periods outside of the 1830s. Just reading the chapters on stitches, fabric, and shopping practices creates the sensation of time travel and secret knowledge that so many of us are hungry for.

So, if you're wanting to join us on our 1830s caravan of fluffy puff n stuffs, check out The Workwoman's Guide, and you'll be set to get started!

Until next time!
Abby (& Lauren) :)
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Thursday, November 1, 2018

Podcast Episode 24: Abby & Lauren's Top 5 Costuming Books

Hey Everyone!

We're back with a new quick little episode of the podcast, where Lauren and I chat about our top 5 costuming books. While it's difficult to pick favorites, we did our best (even though Lauren cheated a little bit...hahahahaha).

A small sample of Abby's book collection

Our Favorite Books (in no particular order):

1. Kyoto's Costume Book(s)
2. Norah Waugh's Cut of Women's Clothes
3. Nancy Bradfield's Costume in Detail
4. Norah Waugh's Corsets and Crinolines
5. Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion
6. Florence Montgomery's Textiles in America
7. Jean Hunnisett's Period Costume for Stage and Screen

If you want to see everything that is in Lauren's library click Here.

We hope that you enjoy this episode, as we recorded it with new microphones and I battleaxed my way (more like stumbled) through Adobe hopefully the issues with sound have improved. I'm not a professional and I'm very much a beginner with this software, but I do hope it has helped!

Until next time!
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Monday, October 22, 2018


1790 Redingote Inspiration and Percolation

Redingote, c. 1790, LACMA M2009.120
Friends, I haven't wanted to sew for awhile. Burn-out is a real thing, especially failing miserably on the last two 18th century gowns I tried to make (the irony). So I'm giving myself a break (in France) and letting the inspiration rekindle whenever it likes.

That being said, while I don't want to touch a needle and thread right this moment, I am thinking of new garments I'd like to make for next year. We have two trips/events planned for next year that will need some 18th century clothes, and with a grand total of two ensembles that still fit me (and you're all sick of that yellow dress, I know), it's time for something new.

I have a lot of fabric I've been marinating. One is an olive and buff striped taffeta that feels like a striped redingote. I made a redingote for my wedding gown 5 years ago and have always loved the style, so perhaps it's time for another.

Bless you, LACMA, for the many high resolution photos of this dress! Redingote, c. 1790, LACMA, M.2009.120
My silk isn't as interesting and varied as that used for the LACMA redingote, but it's reminiscent.

Wouldn't we love to stumble upon a silk like this someday? For now I have much simpler striped taffeta that will have to suffice. Redingote, c. 1790, LACMA, M.2009.120
LACMA published a gridded pattern for this garment a few years ago here. There is a PDF download with notes as well as the grid, which will be hugely helpful in draping and patterning.

I'll be sure to post progress photos as I go along later this year. <3
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Friday, October 19, 2018

Podcast Episode 23: Cheyney McKnight on African Hair and Headwraps

Hi Everyone!

Abby here with another episode of Fashion History with American Duchess. This episode has been long overdue, and we're so incredibly excited to share it with you! Last spring, we met up with the lovely Cheyney McKnight of Not Your Mommas History to discuss African and African American Hair, Headwraps, etc. in the 18th and 19th centuries.

As always, Cheyney is a wealth of knowledge, and we were completely blown away by her story telling and information. Just a fair warning, I get really emotional at one particular part in this episode.

During the episode, you'll notice that Cheyney discusses quite a few images, and you'll find them below:

An Overseer doing his duty near Fredricksburg, Virginia by Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Ca. 1798, Maryland Historical Society 

The Old Plantation, John Rose, 1785, CWF, 1935.301.3

Free Women of Color with their Children and Servants in a Landscape, oil on canvas painting by Agostino Brunias, ca. 1764-1796,  Brooklyn Museum 
Free West Indian Dominicans, Agostino Brunais, c. 1770, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Marguerite-Urbane Deurbroucq by Pierre-Bernard Morlot, 1753, Musée de l’Histoire de Nantes

Miss Breme Jones, 1785-87, John Rose, 2008.300.1, CWF
Thank you so much for listening and we'll see you next time!

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

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Spring2019 - A New Pattern for Simplicity - 1790s Gown and Open Robe!

Ann Frankland Lewis - 1794. LACMA
I'm excited to officially announce that we've developed another new historical dress pattern for Simplicity!

Since first partnering with Simplicity several years ago I've learned so much about developing patterns for the commercial world. It's *so* different than making patterns for one's self or a niche group and trying to do historical dress patterns for mass printing has been a particularly big challenge.

We've had our ups and downs, certainly - all part of the learning experience. I'm pleased that, with this knowledge and experience, I can now work out the kinks more effectively and produce better patterns.

Emily Seriziat, 1795, Jacques Louis David.
This time around, with the growing interest in the 1790s, and the ongoing love affair with Jane Austen and the turn of the 19th century, I'm working on a late '90s round gown + open robe.

This pattern will be very easy for beginners and offer easy adjustments in its design. There is no tricky stayed-waist fitment, no confusing-and-required period construction, and the results should be flattering and elegant to everyone. As always, there will be machine-sewing instructions in the pattern envelope, but you can easily and quickly put together the garments using the hand-sewing techniques in "The American Duchess Guide."

Gown, French. 1795-1800. via
The pattern will be out in the Spring 2019 Simplicity pattern book, which gives plenty of time to make the gown and/or robe for Summer Jane Austen and late 18th century events. <3

If you'd like to see all the patterns we've done with Simplicity, visit the "Books & Patterns" section on our website.
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Friday, October 12, 2018

Episode 22: Part 2 with Jenny Tiramani from the School of Historical Dress

Hi Again!

Abby here, fulfilling my promise from last week that we were going to release the second part of our conversation with the incredible Jenny Tiramani.

This week's episode is just a continuation of what we were discussing last week, and some great details about future books from the School of Historical Dress (omg sooo excited!), and just other lovely goodness.

So sit back, relax, and have a listen!

Oh! And for the love of everything good and educated --- buy Patterns of Fashion 5 now! Only a few more weeks until we can get our hands on it -- hooray!

Until next time (hopefully next week, cause woo boy, do I have a lot of podcasts to publish!)


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Monday, October 8, 2018


The "En Fourreau" Myth

In our modern world there is much of the past that has been obscured. Looking through the lens of time, especially when you have to peer through the film of the Victorian era, the ways of the past get hazy, sometimes completely lost. We lose knowledge and understanding of ways of life, of work, of dress, of speech. This is why we can never truly be 100% historically accurate.

We tend to apply our own knowledge and understanding to things in the past. We call these "reenactorisms." Reenactorisms start nobody's-quite-sure-where-or-when and persist doggedly, sometimes for generations.

One such reenactorism is the ubiquitous term "en fourreau." It's used to describe a pleated back English gown or night gown wherein the back pleats are cut in one with the skirt. The term "fourreau" is an 18th century French term relating to dress, but doesn't appear to relate to the back pleats of a gown.

The New Pocket Dictionary, 1784 [1]
The Complete Vocabulary in English and French, and in French and English..." 1785.
In its simplest translation, fourreau is a frock. (It also relates to an envelope, sheath, as a scabbard, but also of a, um, horsey bits). The fourreau describes children's dress, but in the 1780s is seen in description of women's fashionable dress as well.

Children's dress described in Cabinet des Modes, February 1786. The description, the plate, and my translation. Cabinet de Modes is available on Gallica (click through for link)

"The little girl seen from the front is dressed in a taffeta frock trimmed with gauze and a gauze apron."Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Francais, 1780. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 44.1482 [2]
The fashion plates depicting adults use the word "fourreau" (or "foureau") in many different ways. Here are the plates:

From Cabinet de Modes, December 1785, with my translation. I have purposefully not translated "fourreau" here because it can mean several things - is this a frock? a sheath? a kerchief? I leave it to you to make your own determination.

..." a simple Foureau d'Agnes, Amadis sleeves"
Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Francais, 1784. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 44.1567

"A Foureau gown with a single tail (train), the sleeves rolled up."
We may be tempted to believe it means the bodice and skirt are cut in one but the mid-1780s is way past the fashionable period for pleated back gowns. Cassidy of A Most Beguiling Accomplishment interprets/translates this to be that the back is pleated.   Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Francais, 1784. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 44.1584

"Fourreau gown, the sleeves rolled up, the edges of the dress turned in front with braids and buttons..."
Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Francais, 1784. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 44.1580

"...wearing a gauze fourreau with a striped belt..."
Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Francais, 1785. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 44.1624

"...she is dressed in a caraco and taffeta fourreau..."
Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Francais, 1786. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 44.1643

"A Levite gown with a foureau bodice/waistcoat..."
Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Francais, 1779. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 44.1417

Additionally, The Lady's Magazine of 1789 notes -

It's such a shame we can't see what Lady's Magazine was really describing!

*Cassidy Percoco has also translated and listed more fashion plates from various sources mentioning "fourreau" and its derivatives on her blog A Most Beguiling Accomplishment. You'll see there are even more descriptions and plates that confuse the meaning of "fourreau," for instance, a child's gown described as a fourreau but with no back fastening and a supporting description that it fastened in front (1780); also a Levantine gown (1779) described as having a pleated back, but with no image of the back to illustrate how.

Just to confuse you, the pink gown is described as a fourreau. Gallerie des Modes, 1780. (not the description written on this plate, but the description in text describing this plate - you can find this on Cassidy's blog (at link).
As you can see just through observation, none of these garments gives us a conclusive definition of what a [un] Fourreau gown or en fourreau part of a costume is. As with so many 18th century things, especially in the 1780s, it's all over the place.

 I have yet to find a definitive primary source identifying "fourreau" or "en fourreau." as a pleated-back English gown or Night gown (but if you have, please let me know in the comments!). There are secondary sources aplenty, though. Janet Arnold labels a gown from The Gallery of English Costume as both a polonaise and "cut en fourreau," but does not list references.[3] Costume Close-up tags the 1770-85 gown with the term, "This style is called en fourreau, or the English back," with no citation. Grandaddy C. Willett Cunnington repeatedly describes and assigns the label to illustrations in Handbook of English Costume in the Eighteenth Century, but not a single primary quotation in his book actually uses the term to clearly describe the back pleats of an English gown. It remains a mystery where Cunnington got this definition.[4] Norah Waugh indexes "fourreau" as a tie-back gown in the late 16th century and later in the late 19th century. Waugh does not assign the term to any of the 18th century pleated-back gowns in The Cut of Women's Clothes.[5]

Interestingly, Cunnington consistently uses the term "corsage en fourreau" to describe the back pleats. This term appears in the Gallerie des Modes fashion plate depicting the Levite gown (above). Norah Waugh and Abby Cox both cite primary evidence defining "corsage" as a soft, un-boned bodice, commonly worn beneath fly-front gowns like the Polonaise, Levite, and Turque. A corsage en fourreau is more likely to be a back-closing, close-fitting bodice based on the child's garment and worn by fashionable ladies in the third quarter of the 18th century.

As for the rest, it's quite inconclusive. It's one of those wibbly-wobbly-18th-century-timey-wimey-fashion things.

So, my friends, how do you think this misuse of the term arose? Have you seen any primary evidence linking pleated back English gowns with this French word? Can we stop calling them en fourreau gowns now?


[1] There are many dictionaries with the same or similar definitions - "Royal Dictionary Abridged" 1715, "Royal English Dictionary" 1729, and "The Royal Dictionary" 1771. (Google Books)
[2] Another Gallerie de Modes et Costumes Francais plate, also 1780, describes "This little girl is dress in a frock [un Foureau] of painted toile trimmed in bands and the pulled up a la Polonaise" Museum of Fine Arts, Boston44.1483
[3] Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen's Dresses and Their Construction c. 1660-1860. It is well-known now that the Polonaise is its own specific garment - in fact, Norah Waugh in Cut of Women's Clothes, 1968, states this clearly, contradicting her contemporary Janet Arnold. Without citations in Arnold it's very difficult to substantiate her label of "en fourreau" as well.
[4] Cunnington, C. Willett & Phillis Cunnington, Handbook of English Costume in the Eighteenth Century. 1964. Great Britain. pgs 114, 121, 125, 274, 276.
[5] Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Women's Clothes: 1600 - 1930. 1968. New York.

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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Podcast Episode 21: Jenny Tiramani & Patterns of Fashion 5 Book Release, Part 1

Hi Everyone!

Hooray! A new podcast episode! This week's episode has Lauren and I sitting down with the incredible Jenny Tiramani from the School of Historical Dress, to discuss their newest publication Patterns of Fashion 5: The content, cut, construction and context of bodies, stays, hoops and rumps c.1595-1795 which is available for Pre-Order now! (and at the time that I wrote this -- they have just over 1000 copies left, so...yeah, get on that y'all. You're going to want this book)

We've already pre-ordered our copies -- and we're *so* excited!

In addition to discussing the publication (and future books), we also got to hear Jenny's wonderful story of how she inherited the Janet Arnold collection and archive, her inspiring career journey, and more! We had such a great time chatting with her, that we ended up going on for over 2 hours, which means that we ended up breaking up our interview into 2 parts! Tune in next week for the final installment with Jenny.

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Monday, October 1, 2018

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Simplicity Patterns Now Available on

Hi! This is just a quick announcement to let you know that we now have all of our American Duchess Simplicity costume patterns available at, woo!

You'll find Simplicity 8161 and 8162, our first patterns for the 18th century inspired bodice, gown, petticoat, and stomacher; and the chemise, bum pad, and stays.

Simplicity 8161 and 8162 available on

Also available in Simplicity 8411 for the 18th century inspired robe de cour gown with the fully boned bodice, full skirt, and very large side hoops.

Simplicity 8411 available on
Lastly, Simplicity 8578 and 8579 are available, starring Abby in the Robe a la Francaise from "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking," and a full set of historically accurate 18th century underpinnings (shift, stays, and side hoops) to get you started. Remember, you can use the patterns with the machine sewing instructions OR use the instructions in our book to make the gown, petticoat, and hoops by hand using 18th century methods.

Simplicity 8578 and 8579 available on
We've added some nice combo deals - get a discount when you order patterns together, and also enjoy a little discount when you order the patterns with our book.

Insider Information - we may be adding another Simplicity pattern to the lineup early next year, woo! 
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Friday, September 14, 2018

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The State of the Book (2) Address

Abby works on Cynthia's (Redthreaded) hair while I photographs each step for "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty," coming July 2019.
Hi! I've been a pretty terrible blogger again this year, but I have a good excuse this time. We've been working on our second book, "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty," for the entire year thus far.

Behind the scenes with Nicole (Diary of a Mantua Maker) for the 1781-83 hairstyle and accessories photos.
While we've been sharing parts of our journey on Instagram stories, I realize we haven't really shared much about our explorations and projects on our regular IG and FB feeds or here on the blog. So...without further ado...

A quick description of what you can expect in the new book...

We're including original 18th century recipes and how-to's in the book, so you can make your own natural beauty products.
...original recipes for pomatum, powder, rouge, and lip salve, and the tools of your toilette...

...various methods of curling and for various types of hair, including Asian and African hair...

We've worked with as many hair types as possible in the book - here Jasmine is being coiffed a la 1780.
...full how-to's of hair styles from the 1750s to the 1790s and all the cushions and stuff you need to create them...

We're including patterns and tutorials for making the necessary hair cushions to get those great heights in the 1770s - here Laurie Tavan reveals the secret, a giant "donut" hair cushion.
...patterns and tutorials for accessories for every hairstyle, including caps, hats, a calash bonnet, lappets, and a pouf... lots of meaty essays about hygiene, styling, trends, and myths. Woo!

The infamous calash bonnet in progress - we give the pattern and a step-by-step guide for this tricky yet epic piece of head gear.
We're finishing up the manuscript now to meet our September 30th deadline, followed by all the photography, illustrations, and patterning a couple weeks later. Then the book will go into editing and layout, ready for release in July 2019. That seems like a long time from now but a lot of work goes in even after the manuscript is written. There will be a pre-order opening sometime in the next 6 months, darlings - we'll let you know!

We're very very excited for the second book. It's meant as a companion to our first book, "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking," and we hope you find it useful and fun. <3

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Monday, September 3, 2018

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A Little History of "Vienna" Victorian Congress Boots

With the release of our shiny new "Vienna" Congress Boots this season, we thought we'd give a little history of this interesting, rather special kind of footwear.

In the US the elastic-sided boot was known as the "Congress Boot" or "Congress Gaiter." Elastic-sided boots were patented in England in 1837 by J. Sparkes Hall but the elastic wasn't particularly good. Vulcanization was developed in 1839 by Goodyear but the resulting improved elastic does not appear to have been used in ladies' boots until the late 1840s.

The Met, early 19th century elastic-sided shoes. 13.49.37a,b
Shoe Icons - high cotton shoes with elastic at the sides. This is likely an example of "shirred goods." 1840s
There were two types of elasticized fabric used in congress boots - one was the true elastic web made from vulcanized India rubber thread, which is most like what we have today. Boots with the elastic webbing date from the 1850s (England) and the 1860s (US). The other type was known as "shirred goods" and was made of stretched rubber threads, running horizontally, that when "released" drew up the fabric they were sewn into for a shirred or puckered look. Boots with shirred goods are contemporary with the elastic web boots, with the web being the preferred method presumably due to stretch, recovery, and longevity.

Shoe Icons - 1860s-1870s elastic-sided boots in brown glace leather, AKA "bronzed kid." This was a *very* popular leather for women's shoes and boots and unfortunately isn't made today, but we got as close as we could with our patina brown colorway.
Nancy Rexford notes that the congress boots (with inferior and then better elastics) were worn in England for 10 years before they made their way to the US around 1847. (Women's Shoes in America, 1795-1930, pg. 206).

This coincides roughly with Queen Victoria's coronation in 1838. J Sparkes Hall was a bootmaker to Queen Victoria and claimed the Queen "walks in them daily and thus gives the strongest proof of the value she attached to the invention."

An interesting page from "Der Bazar: Illustrirte Damen-Zeitung, Volume 7," 1861, showing a variety of congress gaiters with bows and other decoration.
After 1847 congress gaiters were very popular for ladies - with restrictive clothing, people needed to put on their shoes and not worry about laces coming untied. Bending down in corsets or tight clothing isn't comfortable, polite, and sometimes not even possible, so the 18th and 19th centuries saw several alternative fastening methods for shoes - buttons, buckles, elastic - contemporary with shoe strings (laces).

The popularity of congress boots continues through the 1870s but the function of the boots begins to shift from being a fashionable style to being more for outdoor or practical use only. By the late 1880s congress boots for ladies are not considered the height of fashion but they were still being made.

Here is a page from the 1886 catalog "Grand Magasin du Samaritain" showing two congress boots with the more fashionable side-buttoning boots. They were still hangin' in there in the mid-1880s in Paris, which is known to be a fairly fashionable place. ;-)
There was a bit of a revival in the 1890s and turn of the 20th century for the "Ladies' Up to Date Congress Shoe," but it faded out fairly quickly. Elastic-sided boots continued to be made in the early 20th century but were relegated to "comfort shoes" and were not at all seen as fashionable for women. A quick bimble through Zappos today, however, will turn up a variety of congress gaiters, now commonly called Chelsea Boots, some very fashionable. Now that's a footwear style with staying power, 170 years old!

American Duchess "Vienna" Congress Gaiters in black or patina brown - true, glorious reproductions perfect for the 1850s, Civil War, and bustle periods.
Our new
"Vienna" Congress Boots
are available in
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