Mid-Victorian 1840s-to-1860s ReFashioning

The original, made last year.

So you all think I haven’t been sewing…and you would be sortof right.  Little bits at a time, little projects (that turn into massive projects), and here’s one of them.

See the results under the cut ….

My pseudo-1840s-whatever dress I made last year had some major problemos.

  • The bodice overall was too long, so it pushed up and rumbled in the back.
  • The front point was just bizarrely long, and took a wild curve off to the right.
  • The collar was off-center
  • The top of the bodice was too blousy
  • The bodice overall was too big
  • The cuffs….just weird
  • And I never put hooks and bars on the bodice and skirt to keep them held together.


Originally I just thought I’d take in the side seams and cut the point in front a little shorter, then replace the cuffs and collar with lace, but then I went to eyeball some possible directions in Costume in Detail: Women’s Dress 1730-1930.

There were three gowns I liked…

This is from the 1840s, my original intention for the gown.  It has the pleats in front, and the wings on the sleeves.  I like this dress very much, but I did not know what to do for the neckline.  Flattering though it is, does one fill it with a chemisette, or wear a pelerine-thingy?  Sacramento in September is hot, and the idea of wearing a pelerine just….no.
Dress 2 here is from 1859.  The pleated front is similar to what I tried to do on my dress originally, and this example had the straight waist.  I didn’t want to replace my sleeves with bishop sleeves, though, and all in all I did not find this as attractive as the other two choices.
Dress 3 is 1865-66, and just charming.  It doesn’t have wings, but it does have decoration.  It also has the slim, shaped sleeves, the straight waist, and the buttons I wanted to keep.  And that trim is cool.

The last is what I decided to go with.  I wanted a straight waist, to keep the wings, and the sleeves, and to work with the existing buttons.

So I started cutting….

And here’s what I’ve got going so far.  I cut off the point and shortened the waist.  I took in the side seams, and also picked out all the pleats in front and replaced them with double darts on both sides (and they were MASSIVE darts!).  I’ve ripped off the collar and cuffs, to replace with understated crochet-y lace, and added the brown pleated trim, as you can see.

Trim inspired by the drawing – it’s not as deep, but has that same “yoke” effect.  Overall the bodice fits way way way better.  Cuffs are forthcoming.

The cuffs are not done, obviously, they need trimmings, which will be the brown pleated plus the lace.  I had not originally planned to put the pleat trim at the waist, but I ended up cutting the bodice WAY too short, so I had to dig around for a scrap of the plaid fabric, extend the waist, then cover my frankensteining.  Luckily the “fix” is in the inspiration drawing :-).

This gown hasn’t been out this year, but I’m planning to wear it to Gold Rush Days in Old Sacramento, the first weekend of September.

Now back to your regularly-scheduled historical shoe obsessing…


  • Anonymous

    August 9, 2011 at 3:33 AM

    I like the changes, the first incarnation looked later era to my eye. (Granted 1840's is not my area!) The straight waist and trim gives it a much bolder feel and cements when it was from.

  • Robin's Egg Bleu

    August 9, 2011 at 2:58 PM

    Dress is wonderful! Have a question about your fabulous shoes! I am planning to begin construction on a bustle gown, which is a first for me in that era. I have Robert Land two toned boots which are fine for mid-century, but don't even want to consider using with a bustle. I've been thinking about your Devonshires because I think that although it's a century earlier, there do seem to be some similarities between them and later Victorian shoes. Do you think they would be appropriate with a bustle?

  • Lauren R

    August 9, 2011 at 6:48 PM

    Thanks ladies. Even if it's still kindof "meh" it's SO much better than it was!!

    Robin's Egg – you are right, the later Victorian evening and formal shoes were very inspired by 18th century models, and even moreso the more you go towards Bell Epoque and the early 20th century. The heels were essentially the same, but we see a more pointier and longer toe. Buckles for shoes, in the Victorian era, lost their chape and tongue pieces, like you see on 18th century shoe buckles, and usually had a tension bar that slide onto the straps of the shoe, but they did seek to achieve the same look, and also a look of their own, with filligree designs, or marcasite cutwork. There are some good examples out there for sale for really quite reasonable prices, that you can slide onto the latchets on the 18th c. shoes, if they are 1.25" wide or so.

    Long-winded diatribe on historical buckles and shoe shape aside, though, I do think the 18th century shoes would work for late Victorian – I would wear them with a bustle gown, yes 🙂

  • Emily Kate

    August 9, 2011 at 9:50 PM

    Ooooh I love the new look! I have always had a weakness for pleating 🙂
    I love all three concepts. The first two dress ideas reminded me of costumes from the BBC North & South… now I want to abandon my bustle dress and crack out my 1850s/1860s patterns!

  • KittyKatt

    August 10, 2011 at 9:08 AM

    One compliment and one comment: The dress looks fabulous now, and is very pretty, even to start with. I am noticing on the collar of the remodeled version that you might want to pick up the brown a little bit somehow. As it is now with just the white, the collar does not appear to be visually balanced, since the box pleating on the "yoke" is so visually overpowering. Just a hint of brown at the neck should correct this… (merely my opinion, of course)


  • Lauren Hairston

    August 10, 2011 at 2:40 PM

    Your description of the original dress made me laugh! Could anything else possibly have been wrong with it? 🙂 You'll have to post photos from Gold Rush Days.

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