Late 1830’s to Early 1840’s Ball Gowns

The idea for this project was to construct two beautiful ballgowns quite differently, while still having them look good together. Since the idea was to have the dresses look nice together, I decided to combine both of these dresses into one blog post.

 I started by making my own, the old gold colored one, on a whim between projects. I had bought the fabric a while ago because it was on sale for only $10 a meter! From the moment I saw it I thought ‘1840s’. It sat around for a month or two until I had time to make it.  I was originally just going to base it on the 1839-45 dress in Janet Arnold’s ‘Patterns of Fashion 1’, just to sort of ‘get it done’, though inspiration struck me otherwise. I had instead looked to various museum dresses and fashion plates. I wanted sleeves with the fullness moved down, as it started to be in the late 1830s. I had seen this look before countless times. I thought that this design would be a hit or miss, but in the end I’m pleased with the way the design turned out. The skirt features knife pleats in the front and cartridge pleats are in the back, it is connected to the bodice with secret hand stitches over the piped bottom edge of the bodice. The peacock feather I got years ago at a petting zoo as a kid, I liked the way the colors contrasted with the silk, so I decided to incorporate it because I knew that they were used in this era. The white feathers are ostrich feathers that I simply picked up at my local fabric store, thinking that just the peacock feather would look too empty. The decorative buttons on my sleeves and the front of my bodice I also picked up at my local fabric store, they are imitation oyster shell and brass.

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The dark rose pink dress I made for my sister. It features a real hand made lace bertha dating back to the 1800’s, though the exact year was not stated. I would assume it dates back anywhere from the 1830’s to the late 1860’s because that is when evening necklines lowered over the shoulders and any other shape of neckline would not quite work with the shape of the bertha. The double puff sleeves were inspired by a few fashion plates I saw from this era when trying to decide on the sleeve design. The skirt is double box pleated all around and connected to a waist band. The waist band connects to the bodice with four large hooks on the bodice and eyes on the skirt. At this time period most skirts were still sewn onto the bodice and the detachable skirt was just starting to become popular. I decided to make it detachable in case I wanted to attach a different style of bodice one day. The dark blue bow and choker are velvet fabric and ribbon which I happened to find in the exact same color. The broaches on the bow and choker are actually a set of earrings I had laying around. For the earring on the choker I used wire cutters to cut of the sharp tip of the earring after the backing so that it does not stab into her neck. I then used a strong glue to keep the earring and backing together so that it doesn’t fall of the choker. I also used a little glue on the backing of the earring on the bow to ensure that it does not fall off.

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Both of the dresses I pattern drafted myself to our measurements. The bodices are both flat lined in a strong white cotton of medium thickness. I left the inside boning channels exposed so that the bodices are more easily adjustable, as was most commonly done in this era. My gold skirt is also flat lined due to the thinness of the silk. My sisters skirt has a regular lining because her silk is stronger. Flat steel boning in the bodice keeps it smooth and rigid, as well as the flat steel boned corsets we are wearing underneath. Crinoline cages were not worn until 1856, so starched corded petticoats are mostly what gives the skirts volume, along with regular petticoats.

All in all I am thrilled with how these dresses turned out. I find that they complement each other well, without looking like they were made to match, as was intended. They will actually be used for a personal music video I am working on, along with many other of my creations, which is why i was so concerned about them looking naturally well together. Mission accomplished I believe!

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