My first foray into the wonderful world of the 18th century has already made its appearance all over my social media, but here it is officially!
You may have already seen my new 18th century stays, but in case you missed it, you can read all about them here.
It’s kind of amazing, considering the amount of Revolutionary War reenacting that goes on, that it’s taken me four solid years to jump into this particular century, but once I was ready to get started, I had lots of decisions to make. With a large time-span at most of the events I am likely to attend, I first of all had to pick a smaller span in which to focus my research. I ended up focusing on the early 1780s, since it is it is a silhouette I particularly like.
In the 18th century, I will be primarily demonstrating as a wig-maker: so a trades-person, but one who works in a highly valued and fashion-related trade. Therefore I was aiming for something not overly fancy or ornate, but definitely fashionable and neat. I started by looking through paintings and fashion plates, looking for women with similar ideas. I was particularly inspired by the two plates below. The first is from 1778, and is described as a cook from the provinces, who has just begun to take on the elegant airs of Paris. The second is of a governess in 1780.
I fell in love with that cook as soon as I saw her. There’s just something about her little bows and peplum. “Pert” is the first word that comes to mind, but in the best possible way! I found the governess when I decided I wanted to do a short jacket and petticoat combo, and started narrowing my research even more. I love that the two employ basically the same shapes. but show how much variety you can get out of simple garment forms.
I settled on a Pierrot jacket and petticoat, and since I found a fun red and white stripe cotton for cheap on Fashion Fabrics Club, I decided to base the details of my first outfit on the governess plate.
By the time I got my stays done, I had one week left to make the actual outfit, which was a bit nerve-wracking. I knew I could get the petticoat done in very little time during the week, so I used the weekend to blaze through as much of the jacket as possible. I wanted to drape the jacket, but I obviously can’t drape on my own body, so I hemmed and hawed a bit until my friend Meredith made a genius suggestion. She and I are very similar sizes, and crucially, are both 5′ tall with very short waists. In my stays, padded out in a few strategic places, Meredith made an excellent body double! We spent Saturday afternoon draping and putting together the jacket.
By some stroke of luck that hadn’t attended me in the build up to making this outfit, this process was incredibly fast. I had help from a couple of extant pieces in order to see what the pattern shapes should be, and ended up with a simple pattern of center back piece, side back piece, front piece, and shoulder strap. I’ve got to say, I love the 18th century shoulder strap. It makes draping and construction so easy!
I am an idiot, and managed not to get any pictures of Meredith in the stays for the entire several hours that she was in them, except on my Instagram story, so those are gone forever…
We draped with the lining fabric (white linen left over from a pair of Brandon’s trousers). Here I am cutting out the second center back piece from the original draped piece:
I also cut and sewed the jacket together as we went. I had to sew it by machine to save time, but it is constructed using the ingenious method I learned at a Burnley and Trowbridge workshop, wherein the lining and fabric are both sewn at the same time. Why we stopped doing this, I will never truly understand. Bag lining is the worst. But I digress.
And the front pieces:
With the main body of the jacket together, we decided it was high time for me to give it a try. I ended up making a slight alteration to the side seams, but other than that we were good to forge ahead! Meredith had a go at placing the shoulder straps:
And then of course, I remembered that I had wanted a zone front, so I tore the fronts back off again, but it was all ok. We had all the shapes we needed, and (most of) the difficult part was over.
When I got the jacket put back together, and the shoulder strap linings attached, I spent ages staring at 18th century sleeves. It’s always scary jumping into a sleeve design you’ve never worked with before. Luckily, I found that Janet Arnold had patterned the perfect sleeve on one of the gowns in Patterns of Fashion 1, or I might have been stalled by indecision forever. It even had a similar gathered cuff detail to the one I wanted!
The grid underneath is the original from Patterns of Fashion, the one on top is my final altered piece. It looks crazy, but it makes a nice shape! The scoop on the bottom right comes up over the top of your forearm, while the v on the right gets sewn together so that it cups your elbow.
I really liked the way 18th century sleeves are set, but I won’t tell you all about it myself, because Koshka the Cat has a wonderful post dedicated solely to that, which you can read here. Long story short, the bottom of the sleeve is sewn to the body of the jacket as per usual, then the top is pleated to the shoulder strap lining seperately, making it really easy to adjust the pleats to your liking.
At this point, it’s just a matter of finishing off edges. The lining and fabric edges are folded up towards each other, with the lining just slightly shorter than the fabric, then the whole thing is top stitched in place.
Once again, Koshka the Cat has a fantastic tutorial for putting together an 18th century petticoat. Mine is made to go over a split false rump, and pleated smoothly in the front half, and gathered in the back for extra floof to help achieve that 1780s silhouette.
I was cutting it very close on time at this point, so of course I had to have one major disaster. I had pressed up the hem, all ready to stitch, and decided to try the petticoat on to check the length. It wasn’t until this point that I realized that I had gathered the (shorter) front half of the petticoat, and pleated the back, which resulted in a bizarre and unflattering silhouette… So off came the waistband and all that work had to be done again.
After wasting all that time, I was down to just a few hours before I really needed to go to bed so that I would be conscious for Market Fair, so I prioritized my details: Hat trimmings and breast knot, peplum ruffle, sleeve ruffles, hem ruffle. The hem was last because it was big enough that I could either get just the hem ruffle done, or everything else.
On Friday night, I trimmed out my straw hat with peach ribbons and white flowers, and made a lovely little bow for the center of my neckline from the leftover ribbon. That would at least give me a bit of fun even if nothing else got done.
After that, I started on my first ruffle. Time was getting very short now, and I had to hope that I could do it quickly, because once it was part way on, I would be stuck doing the rest, no matter now late I had to stay up.
The peplum ruffle has a narrow hem, the top edge is pressed to the back, and a gathering stitch run through both layers.
I had to stop here for Friday night, but after the event on Saturday, I managed to move one more step forward. The sleeve cuffs are made by pressing under both edges of a tube of fabric, gathering both edges, and then stitching each edge to the sleeve. I really like the way these turned out!
I got started hemming the hem ruffle, but quickly realized that hemming, gathering, and attaching a ten yard ruffle was just not going to happen that night.
I took some photos at the event with no hem ruffle. I still love the way this outfit turned out! Market Fair was freezing cold, so I spent most of the time wrapped up in shawl and gloves, but I can’t wait to wear this next spring!
My wig is the one documented in this blog post. If you’re interested in acquiring your own handmade, human hair, and endlessly customizable beauty (or you’re just interested in seeing more of what we do), check out Custom Wig Company!
I enjoyed wearing this so much. I already have many more 18th century ideas bouncing around, and there will be more outfits coming next year!
PS: The Hem Ruffle!
It turned out to be a good thing I waited on this, because it took me aaaaaages to get it together.
Like the peplum ruffle, the hem ruffle has a narrow hem, and is then pressed under at the top. This one has two rows of gathering: one 1/2″ below the folded edge, and one another 1 1/2″ below that, creating a ruched band between the two rows of stitches when the ruffle is attached.
Sadly, I’m not sure I’ll get to wear the completed look again between now and Kalamazoo Living History Show in March!