March 28, 2012

Colonial Unmentionables for an Adult Lady

To give the robe a la polonaise it's proper shape, we must begin with the correct foundational garments. ;)

The first thing every lady puts on is a shift--a loose, slip-like garment to absorb body oils and sweat. Mine was made using the free instructions here.

I used a white cotton sheet from the thrift store and trimmed the wide neckline with Wal-Mart cotton lace. Green ribbon makes it adjustable, so a bit of lace can peek out from my dress neckline.

Next come the stays--the eighteenth-century corset. I used the half-boned stays pattern from J.P. Ryan. It was pretty easy as long as you followed the directions carefully (altho I have made stays before so that probably helped), and the stays are very comfortable and give a lovely accurate shape.

Twenty-four (?) hand-stitched eyelets...phew!

Mine are actually a bit too big; the back edges are not supposed to meet up and they are rather loose on me--but that was the smallest size! It does make the colonial outfit quite a bit more comfortable than my Civil War garments though. ;)

I used plastic zip ties in place of boning; the stays are made from natural colored linen (pants from the thrift store!) and lined with scrap cotton. I cheated a little and used polyester blend quilt binding for the edges, which isn't accurate, but oh well.

After the stays the lady would tie on her pockets. I have two, made from scrap linen & leftover quilt binding. These are really easy to make without a pattern; there is a lovely site here with more info on pockets.

To give the gown its bustled shape (quite in vogue during the 1780s), a bum pad (or bum roll) must be worn. (Panniers were from a previous decade.) I think this was my 3rd attempt--the others were either too fat or too thin. Again, scrap linen. ;)

And finally over all of that, the lady would tie on one or two petticoats. In the interest of saving time, fabric and money, I multi-purposed and wore my Civil War petticoats under my colonial gown, so unfortunately I don't have a colonial-style petticoat to show you.

Lastly, a lady would not be completely dressed without her cap. I drafted mine using my head measurements based on this reproduction from the Silly Sisters. It has a lovely pleated ruffle around the edge. Since my cap covers most of my hair, it would be considered quite modest and appropriate for everyday wear. Basically, the smaller your cap was, the fancier the occasion and the less modest you were being. ;)


  1. I really enjoy your blog and appreciate all of your research. The pockets are a very clever idea and I wish I could use that concept nowadays. Did the dresses have slits in the side seams so that you could reach in from any dress you had? Were there slits in the petticoats too?

    I just love your blog.

  2. Hi Judy! Thank you for your kind words. :) The petticoats and skirts were made with two-part waistbands that tied one on top of the other, like putting on an apron the regular way and then tying another one on backwards. This created a slit to reach the hand through, although I think some ladies may have worn their pockets on the outside of their gowns. You can see what I'm talking about more clearly here:
    and also here:
    I hope that helps. :)

  3. I've checked out the links and kind of wish I could have such a handy pocket/purse without looking too unusual. In high school in the 70's when panty hose were invented, we would tuck personal items into our hose tops, so that we wouldn't be seen taking our purses to the bathroom with us. Saved some embarrassment for us. I also enjoyed reading that the dress construction was such that it could change sizes nice.

    Looking forward to your next post.