Category Archives: Research

Some specifics on historical fashion

Historical Maternity gowns

I recently received an inquiry in response to a post I did a while back about historical maternity wear. In reference to this gown: c. 1850s (source Augusta Auctions)


Question: Is this a dress that a woman would have worn during the day, at home? If not, is there a better example of that? How would the woman who wore the dress have described it–what language would she use? For example, what would she have called the material from which it is made? What would be the word for such a dress–is it a day dress?

Answer: The term “maternity” in reference to clothing did not come into popular language until the 1950s-1960s. However, evidence of publicly marketed “maternity clothing” can be traced back as early as the ready made mail order industry of the 1900s. During the mid half of the 19th century, there were no specially made garments for pregnancy. Pregnancy was simply adapted to. As a result, clothing of this period worn during pregnancy retains its same name- i.e. day dress, morning gown (or wrapper), evening gown, etc. The gown shown above is a silk day dress which was meant to be worn at home, in public, or when receiving visitors.

During the first two trimesters of pregnancy women continued to wear their pre-pregnancy clothing- including corsets. By the third trimester women began to adapt their clothing by adding additional panels (as seen in the gown above), taking out darts, and temporarily enlarging dresses anyway possible with the intent that the gown would be taken back in after childbirth. Corsets were loosened as well.


c. 1855 wrapper (source Kerry Taylor Auctions)

Today, people often associate the term wrapper with maternity wear for this period. However, according to The Dictionary of Fashion History by Valerie Cumming, et al, a wrapper is a loose, robe which might be worn in bed. During the 1850s, the wrapper was also worn during the morning hours before a lady fully dressed in her corset, petticoats, etc. It is quite possible the term gained its association with mid 19th century maternity wear because by the last trimester of pregnancy, middle and upper class Victorian women stayed at home (i.e “went into confinement”) and most likely wore their wrappers for the better part of the day. However, a wrapper was not a garment meant to be worn outside the home, in public, or when receiving visitors.


A Fellowship!

To my absolute surprise and wonderment, I am excited to announce I have been awarded a fellowship from the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums to attend their 2013 international conference at Hale Farm and Village in Bath, Ohio! I cannot wait to meet other museum professionals who share my passion for rural heritage! Awesome!

Picture 8

But even more exciting is I really do have a special place for Hale Farm and Village in my heart. Here is an excerpt from my application letter explaining why:

… I grew up in Northeastern Ohio- not far from Bath. My passion for history and living history was born from a childhood visit to Hale Farm and Village when I was six years old. It was a trip my mother took our Brownie girl scout troop on. I still remember the childhood excitement of getting to “visit the past” and all I knew was I really wanted to live on that farm too. I also remember the sadness I felt when we left and did not understand why we too could not keep livestock and dress like the interpreters. A few years later, our family moved from Ohio to Tennessee. However, my childhood experience at Hale Farm would serve as the cornerstone of a life long path.

And so for the first time in over 20 years, I’ll be headed to my old stomping grounds! I wonder just how Southern I have become? I’m sure I will find out!

In the meantime, have a look at these Cool conference going ons:

A behind the scenes tour of Kent State Museum’s costume collection

Getting up close and personal with dairy cows and the proper way to milk ’em!

18th century chocolate making- from roasting your own beans to creating creamy chocolaty confections!

19th century clothing construction techniques- both mens’ and women’s

Historic livestock breeds- including hands on sheep experiences

Historic gardening and recipes- including how to make cider

Amish History

Sidesaddle riding

And now off to work on orders so I can reserve a little time to stitch something up for myself to wear at the conference!

To learn more about ALHFAM, visit their website at

For the full conference line up:

New historical patterns from Butterick


Butterick has released some gorgeous (and pretty darn authentic) new patterns by Nancy Farris-Thee this season! While Simplicity seems to have had the upper hand on market for the past few years, it looks like Butterick might be giving them some competition.



Butterick Pattern #5901

Over the past few years, Simplicity has been catering to Victorian era sewers and I am excited to see Butterick picking up on an era well overlooked amongst almost all pattern makers:

The ROMANTIC Period!

B5832-1 B5832-2  B5832  B5832

Butterick Pattern #5832

With all the hoopla about the upcoming 150th anniversaries of the American Civil War, the market has been flooded with tons of Victorian era stuff. Now Simplicity seems to be moving on to the Steam-Punk market. However, Butterick’s release of this beautiful Romantic era gown makes me wonder if the next big thing is going to be the 1830s and 1840s!

I do hope so!

Happy sewing everyone!

Careers in Costume- job postings

Looking for a career in Costume? I stumbled upon this site the other day. There’s multiple job postings across the nation. All levels- from costumed character positions, summer internships at Colonial Williamsburg’s dressmaker’s shop, and full design positions!

Go to: Jobs in fashion
Do a search for “costume” in the “what” box

View current positions!

Great weekend finds!

This past weekend, I visited the local used bookstore. I always cruise through the fashion section to see if they have any books on historical clothing or textiles. This particular bookstore used to have a section dedicated exclusively to historical clothing, but since it is not a big genre for them anymore, they did away with it a few years ago. So now I typically skim the fashion/cosmetology section in hopes of finding something useful. This week I did!
I am always looking to expand my historic textile knowledge so I picked up a few books on the subject.  My most exciting find was Queen of Fashion. It has been on my “books to read list” for quite some time.
I also visited a local children’s consignment sale. It is a HUGE sale and only happens a few times a year. I found these adorable navy blue suede mary-jane style shoes for my little girl. They are made by Gap and are perfectly authentic for historic impressions. She can wear these with any of her 1800-1890s dresses!
Overall, it was a great weekend for great finds!