Historical Costuming: 1840s day dress and bonnet

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

After what seems like years I’ve finally finished my 1840s costume. I completed the dress months ago but the bonnet languished unfinished until recently.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

Underneath all of this, I’m wearing my Victorian undergarments (including four petticoats!), silk stockings and brown leather ballet flats (not exactly period accurate but close enough for now).

Let’s talk about this dress:

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The pattern is Laughing Moon Mercantile #114 with some minor adjustments. I made View B but with the flat back of View C. I added velvet ribbon on the sleeves based on some extant dress which I can no longer find online. The sleeves of View B are actually three layers (difficult to see in this print), the uppermost layer is pleated three times, hence three rows of ribbon.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The rose print fabric came from Joann. Is it period accurate? Not exactly, but I have seen red and white cotton extant dresses from the time period.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

I also had to sew several more rows of gathers in the center “fan” front at the waist to rein in all that excess fabric. From other reviews I have read, this seems to be a common fix.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

Other than that, the dress fit me quite well out of the envelope with the exception of some ripples on the back. Not sure if that is due to my corset or if I simply need to slice off some of the length in the back.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

If I were to make this pattern again in View B I would choose a much thinner fabric. The fabric I used was too thick at the armhole seam (this style has very dropped shoulders). With added piping, that seam had 5 layers in it!

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The skirt is cartridge pleated. I did this so long ago now, back when I was a beginner at costuming. If I were to do it again, I’d make my pleats smaller and tighter.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The dress closes in back with hooks and eyes so you need help to put it on.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

This “coal scuttle” bonnet is what kept me from finishing this costume. It seemed a daunting task to create an entire buckram and wire framed bonnet from scratch but it wasn’t that difficult to sew when I actually sat down to do it. The pattern is Timely Tresses’ Ada Gray mid 1840s bonnet. It’s mostly hand sewn.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The main fabric is ivory silk taffeta from some website I don’t remember now. The ribbon is also from Timely Tresses. The feather and vintage velvet flowers are from Etsy. The body of the bonnet is lined with linen and gathered white lace. The bravolet (the little skirt in back) is lined in net.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The date I was going for with this outfit is 1847 which is right around the time Texas joined the Union. These pics were taken on a short overnight trip to Leakey, Texas on the Frio River in the Texas Hill Country. I might be able to wear this outfit to some kind of Texas history event but for now, it’s just another fun costume to have.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

  • Holy moly, that’s beautiful! I’m so impressed!

  • The attention to detail is awesome!

  • Very sweet- love it!

  • Caitlyn Myers

    The fit looks superb! And those cartridge pleats! *drool* When it comes to decorating the hats and bonnets that you make, do you tend to mimic specific images you find or “freehand” the decoration using what was popular at the time? (Also, note to self, hats are a great reason to buy those giant feathers that you found irresistible as a kid.) I can’t imagine the number of hours you’ve invested in this ensemble, but from this outsider’s perspective, everything has come together beautifully.

  • Amazing! You look like you’ve come straight from a history book! I love the fabric you’ve chosen, it’s all superb.

  • What a beautiful outfit! I think it looks right on for the time period 🙂 I used to work as a “historical interpreter” (40 years ago almost!) which meant dressing in period costume in a historical house for the summer. So much fun 🙂 I wore a dress very similar to this one except the flowers were a periwinkle blue. I can imagine how much fun it was to make EXCEPT as you got closer to completion and all that fabric to handle. It makes you appreciate how LITTLE fabric it takes to make a modern dress by comparison and why women didn’t have too many of them!

  • Karel Riley

    The bodice front, with those underbust gathers and the waistline detail is so pretty. Modifications of it could be used in modern garments.

  • lisa g

    This dress looks amazing! The pleats on the front bodice are especially cool. Can’t imagine trying to wrestle that much fabric around to make such a dress… Well done!

  • Lia

    The whole dress, but especially that waist, are really incredible. I could see that feature working on a contemporary garment too!

  • sallieforrer

    Fantastic work!! The gathered waist and cartridge pleating are absolutely stunning! I have such a soft spot for the 1840’s, and “practical” day dresses like this one. I think you did a fantastic job on the bonnet as well – love the contrasting color choices in the trimming.