When The Dress No Longer Fits (Mid-19th Century Edition)

A few months ago, I had a post with the same name that focused on two Regency dresses that had experienced closet shrinkage. The post was centered around what I did to make them wearable again. Around the same time I was battling the Regency closet shrinkage, I encountered the same problem with two of my older mid-19th century dresses as well. Boo!

It took me awhile to do anything about the problem and even longer to post about it, but here we are.

There was a time when the back edges of Evie’s bodice met from top to bottom. In fact, if you look at the pictures in this post from 2013 you’ll see that there was even excess fabric around the waist (yikes, but that does mean my waist has expanded a fair bit!); however, by February 2016, the bodice looked like this:

Uh oh! That wasn’t going to do for wearing at a ball! So I brought my corset and bodice (plus the other bodice I’ll mention shortly), got all laced up, and had a friend measure the gap between the back bodice edges and take pictures for documentation (so I wouldn’t forget the measurement, because let’s face it, my memory is pretty terrible sometimes).

Then I pondered my options. There was no way to let out the seams on this bodice, as the fabric has scarred at every point the needle and thread passed through. Plus, I didn’t leave much seam allowance anyway. Given my limited options, I decided that a placket was the best way to go. Many extant dresses using lacing as the method of closure on bodices and I’m sure that ladies in the 19th century changed sizes, too. I went on a hunt and couldn’t find an example of a bodice with a placket showing between the lacing, but museums have the benefit of being able to put their collections on forms rather than real people, which allows for easier adjustability to have the lacing edges touching. (If you know of any examples of a bodice laced with a placket under the gap, please let me know!) Anyway, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to assume that some ladies in the 19th century used the same method I did to allow adjustability in their bodices.

In addition to the placket, I also had to extend the bertha to bridge the gap. For that I was able to unfold my seam allowance, respace my gold ruffle, and cover the remaining gap with a rosette of gold like the one on the front of the bodice (another instance of the benefit of saving all the scraps from a project–this finished off the gold bits I had leftover from the original construction). Thankfully, these changes worked. I wore Evie to a ball in March 2016 and was happy as a clam. The placket was hardly noticeable and now the dress is much more adjustable!

The second bodice was for the dress named Annabelle, which was made in 2011 (and worn again later in 2011). This bodice also closed all the way down the back when it was made. Well, that’s not the case any more. Actually, a few years ago I’d already converted the closure from being hooks and eyes with folded over seam allowance to lacing with less seam allowance folded over in order to eek out a little more space, but that just wasn’t enough. By 2016, here’s how we were looking. It was time for a more drastic update.

I did the same thing I did for Evie, adding a placket and regathering the bertha to make it span the lacing gap. It took me about two years to get to it, but the result is that I was able to wear Annabelle to a recent ball in October, with a back that looked like this.

Not bad! The only thing I want to change is making that top edge actually stay matched rather than the one side riding up. But that’s a minor change. Overall, I’m pleased to be able to continue to wear this dress!

There we are–two more examples of how to fix the-dress-no-longer-fits problem! It was incredibly lovely to receive comments on the Regency post that other people also experience closet shrinkage and have already adapted their clothing to deal with it or are now inspired to do so. It is my hope that continuing to post about this topic will encourage others come to terms with their own changing size as well as ideas for how we can all deal and move forward while still being able to wear our finery.

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About quinnmburgess

Quinn M. Burgess creates reproduction and costume historic clothing. Her inspiration has a strong foundation in history: historic dress, social history, and material history. With the addition of clothing construction knowledge, her passions converge in an imaginative world of creative history that she loves to share with others.
This entry was posted in 1850s, 1860s, 19th Century, Costume Construction, Hand Sewn Elements, Social History and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to When The Dress No Longer Fits (Mid-19th Century Edition)

  1. Helen Fratena says:

    Now if you can just offer suggestion to deal with time shrinkage!

  2. Margaret Pearce says:

    I always put a “modesty panel” in laced dresses, just in case of “closet shrinkage” or lacing coming loose when wearing. I would guess it would have been common, to allow for pregnancy, or other weight gain, even that time of the month.

  3. Joy Smith says:

    I am in love with the shape of your hoop!! And I need a new one! Where did you get it?

    • Thanks! Unfortunately, I can’t point you to a ready-made source. I made mine from scratch, using dimensions from a patent c. 1860 for the circumference of each hoop. And unfortunately I’ve misplaced my research in the ten years or so since I made the hoop, so I can’t even give you details about what the patent was. 😦 I wish you the best of luck in finding a hoop shape that you like–if you have time to make one that’s probably the best way to get it just right. 🙂

  4. Caroline says:

    Genius! I think the dresses look great! I can’t imagine there wasn’t some way to account for weight change in the period. On the other hand, if one wore fitted dresses everyday, one would know if they were getting a little tight on a day to day basis. Unlike us, who lace up once in a while and… Surprise! Too tight! Gosh that is the worst 😦

    I know the dress in this link is later, and I don’t know if it was something added later or by a museum for display, but here’s a back lacing bodice with what seems to be a panel:

    http://www.signorfandi.com/2013/05/house-of-worth-dresses-for-sale.html

    Cheers!

    • Thanks! That’s an interesting panel at the link, because as you pointed out it’s hard to tell if it’s original or added later. The difference in fabric makes me think it was added later, but that’s just a guess. Before I made it to that picture I got a bit distracted by the fabulous fabric and the flowers on the dress! 🙂 Thanks for sharing it!

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