A Late Date with the 1830s

Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum, 1835.

Is it finally time to venture into the 1830s? I’ve talked about it for years; I’ve seen my friends do incredible 1830s gowns and even reproduce the wacky and wonderful 1830s hair. And all along the way I’ve been touched by a little jealousy….those 1830s ensembles sure look fun!

I’ve only ever made one 1830s dress and it, well, it really wasn’t. I did a few things wrong, such as cutting the sleeves way too narrow and using a front closure (in my defense, I had no one to dress me at the time, so this was a necessary adjustment, but not historically accurate. I no longer have this dilemma).

But that weird red cotton dress was loads of fun to wear (plus I have a lot of fabric to make a new bodice proper) and I think it’s time to revisit the experience.

2014 – My only 1830s dress could have been better…luckily I have enough fabric to make a new bodice, which will be a good mock-up for a version in silk later on.

What scares me a little is that I’ve spent *so* much time in the late 18th century that now I feel trepidation at taking on a new period. What intrigues me, though, is the similarities and differences to be discovered between the last quarter of the 18th c. and the 1830s. We still don’t have the sewing machine in the Romantic Era, and there was only a generation or two between Georgian mantua-makers and those of the 1830s. How were skills potentially passed on, improved upon, and did any fall into disuse?

So. Here we are again.


Beret sleeve, why can’t I quit you? LACMA, c. 1830


  • Rosa

    October 26, 2017 at 8:56 AM

    I wish you lots of luck and courage! I feel with your trepidation, I'm working on 1830s sleeve supports and haven't yet gathered the guts to start working on toile for a bodice…but dayum, are the 1830s fabulous! The dresses! The hats! I'm so looking forward to your gown, you're gonna rock it:-)

  • Evie

    October 26, 2017 at 3:37 PM

    I've so far only done a little late 18th and early 19th but am about to make an entire 1897 Worth-esque ballgown from the skin, out, so I feel you on the trepidation of a new era! Ridiculously massive sleeves for the win!

  • Meg

    October 27, 2017 at 6:18 AM

    Actually the sewing machine was first invented in 1790, used in leather and similar applications frequently by 1814, and first marketed for home use in 1844. So in some in some respects your statement is true, a home sewer would not have had one at that time, but there were sewing machines extant. Sorry, just that I'm a sewing machine lover and my pet peeve really wanted a walk!
    Anyway, what I really want to say is you really make lovely dresses so I'm sure whatever you make will be lovely. I have a few 1830s-ish fabrics and patterns in my stash that are whispering at me whenever I enter my sewing room. Sigh, so many eras of beautiful clothes, so little time!

    • Lauren Stowell

      October 27, 2017 at 7:16 AM

      The sewing machine does not appear to be in use by mantua-makers in the 1830s, though there was a failed attempt by a French tailor that pre-dates this period to use a version in garment manufacture. As is the case with most world-changing inventions, they seldom spring into existence in perfect form. The sewing machine certainly was used to manufacture clothing surprisingly early in the 19th c. but not as early as the 1830s. Even when the more practical Singer did become readily available, mantua-makers were resistant. That tradition continues today with real couturiers continuing to sew all or most of their clothing by hand.

      It always fascinates me how early many technologies were first developed. For instance, there is a still-operational electric car that dates from the 19teens, here in the National Automobile Museum, but as we all know, viable fully electric vehicles have only been refined and made widely available fairly recently, a century later.

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