Wives & Daughters: An Historical Note

It was definitely fashionable to moon and brood…to make every scene sadly sentimental. Full skirts…tiny waists..shoulders drooped downward like champagne bottles. Girls were helpless…fraught with mystery! In truth, their dresses were so cut that it was impossible to raise the arm more than a few inches from the sides. The vocation of dressing assumed lavish proportions under the stimulus of the Emprese Eugenie.

Mary Julian Glover, The Little Sampler: Costumes, 1947

The late 1820s signaled the end for the Regency or Empire style that had dominated women’s fashion for the past 25-30 years. Waistlines had lowered to just above the natural waist, skirts had taken on a more full, triangular shape and sleeve volume had increased considerably. Ornamentation on a grand scale (particularly on ball gowns) was also popular. Though large gigot sleeves were popular, their reign in the fashion world was destined to be short-lived. Tending toward the ridiculous, they collapsed into tighter sleeves by 1835.

Gowns of the period are characterized by triangular skirts (though the straight-cut skirt held out by petticoats was not uncommon by the mid ’30s), with fullness usually centered at the center back, or sometimes the sides and center back (creating a smooth front). Shoulder lines are usually dropped from the top of the shoulder to an angle on the back of the bodice, sleeve heads are usually gauged, and waistbands of 1.5″ to 2″ widths are seen.

To create a truly period look, it is advised, as with most all historic costumes, you start with the proper undergarments: chemise (or shift), stays, drawers, and petticoats. Stays of this period were often heavily quilted with minimal boning (it would have been whalebone in the early 19th century), conceivably making them quite comfortable. If you are not a stickler for authenticity, a few petticoats (or a corded petticoat and a cotton one) should suffice to give your gowns the buoyancy to suggest the Romantic silhouette. (None have to be worn at all actually! I wear my 1830s gown without any petticoats to prop out the skirt.)


Miss C. is a self proclaimed clothing addict with interests ranging from Regency finery to the sophisticated 1950s. She enjoys studying costumes both in films and books, and has enjoyed being able to write for ITF and watch a great movie at the same time! When she is not immersed in such pursuits, she enjoys working on her website, which is about–what else– historical fashion!

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