A few months ago, I had a master plan to use the leftover yardage from Georgina, my 1858 cotton print day dress, to make an evening bodice in addition to her current day bodice for versatility and washability. Luckily, I was able to complete the bodice and a new hair crescent before my life exploded in June and I was smothered under an immense amount of work. I am pleased to have work, don’t get me wrong, but I was so exhausted by the end of the month all I could do was sleep and be disoriented! I’ve just come back from a vacation and feel like I can peer out from under my rock and join the world again! So, to celebrate constructing historic clothing for myself rather than other people, here is a post about a really neat addition to my historic wardrobe! And it fits into the current HSF challenge #13: Under $10, a bonus since the HSF challenges haven’t lined up very well with a lot of my projects this year.
Pattern: I began with Past Patterns #701 but altered it extensively to fit me, to have pleats and gathers on the exterior, and to have an evening neckline. The sleeve pattern was drafted by me.
Year: c. 1855
Notions: Thread, plastic wire ties for boning, hooks and eyes, and cotton cording.
How historically accurate?: Based off of historic examples, constructed with accurate details… I think the only compromise is the plastic boning, which I used because I didn’t have the right length in metal, and because plastic is easily washable (and I want this to be a garment that can be washed easily–that’s part of the goal in having a cotton evening bodice!).
Hours to complete: I have no idea… 32 hours maybe? I really didn’t keep track at all on this project.
First worn: To a mid-19th century ball in June (one of the few moments of respite in my crazy month).
Total cost: About $3 for approximately 1 yard of historic cotton print and a lot of stash materials, which count as free, since I have no idea what I paid for them at this point! Let’s call the total about $8.
As you know, I like things to be tidy. All of the seam allowances are either hidden between the layers of fabric or nicely finished. There are plastic bones in the darts and the side seams. The bodice is machine sewn and hand finished. (One amusing mistake is that I cut the lining with a center front opening for fitting purposes (and left lots of seam allowance, as you can see) but then forgot to leave seam allowance in the back… So the lining doesn’t extend all the way to the folded edge of the print, but it’s all covered up so no one will ever know and it fits just fine… it’s just one of those amusing things!)
The bodice closes with hooks and bars. I wanted to use metal bars but make sure they wouldn’t been seen, so I let about ¼” of the print extend past the points of the hooks to create an overlap. I also left extra print extended past the bars, in addition to all the seam allowance, in case I want or need to adjust the size of the bodice in the future. The bars are especially hard to spot on the print, but if you look carefully on the left you can see them. The neck and armsceyes both have very narrow cording.
I had very specific inspiration for this dress, since you don’t see too many cotton ball gown bodices. Here the specific examples which I referenced: sheer white bodice, sheer peach bodice, blue and white striped bodice, yellow and white bodice, floral print bodice, and purple print bodice (this last has a matching separate pelerine shown worn over the bodice, but the “off the shoulder neckline” in the description tells us that underneath is an evening bodice).
The defining design details were obviously the low neck and short sleeves, but there were other common details as well, such as double puffs or pleats to trim the sleeves, tubular sleeves without very much fullness at the top or bottom, 1.5″-2″ waistbands sitting on the outside of the skirt waistband, and gathered or pleated fullness on the fronts and backs (no darts on any of these cotton bodices). Some of the bodices have a yoke around the top so that only the bottom portion of the bodice is gathered, but this look says “young girl” not “grown woman” to me, so I opted for a bodice without a yoke.
In terms of construction, to have enough fabric in the print for the pleats and gathers on the print fabric, I first constructed and fit the lining. Then I separated one side of the lining to use as a pattern and added width to have space for the pleats I had planned. Once I had cut the print, I reassembled the lining and mounted the pleated print on top. From there on I treated the two layers as one.
As I’ve looked at 1850s images and fashion plates in comparison to early 1860s, especially, what I’ve noticed is that the 1850s really attempted to make a woman’s head look round or wide, whereas by the early 1860s the styles begin to grown upward and become vertically elongated. Here are some great examples of the round 1850s hair look: from 1851-53, c. 1855, from 1857, another 1857, yet another 1857, one more from 1857, and one from 1859. Here’s a super wide 1850s style and here is an example of the different shape of the early 1860s. The very round shape is what I was attempting to complement my 1850s bodice.
How? Well, I put gel right at the roots of my hair while it was still wet and then encouraged it to stand up from my head rather than being pulled back. I let it dry like that and it stayed all day. Later in the day, I styled it for my 1940s Anne Adams dress photos by brushing it out (and brushing my hair when it’s dry makes it big!!!). There was lots of added hair spray for that style, so when I went to restyle it there was plenty of fullness and air in my hair. I puffed the fronts and pinned them up and behind my ears then did a big roll with the rest.
The finishing touch was a new hair crescent that I made specifically to complement the colors in the cotton print. The crescent is made up of fully wired millinery flowers in ivory, some of which I dyed to be pinkish. Each extension is a singular stem and I just twisted them together until I liked the result. Lastly, I sewed a hair comb in the center to help attach it to my head and stabilize the wires. Each side also has a bobby pin to secure it to my head so the extended bits don’t flap around while I’m dancing.
I’m super pleased with the end result: the bodice, the hair style, and the hair crescent! Oh, and the pictures (thanks!). And I had a marvelous time at the ball–it was one of the class of events which makes me feel radiant and at which I really enjoy myself (compared to those when I’m grumpy and grouchy at the world). And all the smiling and dancing gave me a lovely natural rosy glow in the pictures. The aloof face is my attempt at a 19th century portrait face (it took a long time to capture a picture then, which is my rationale for why everyone has a generally serious face!). You had to pick something you could keep still for a long time, and a big smile is hard to maintain without movement or looking staged.