Sunday, August 17, 2008

A closer look, Women's Gowns

First, click on this link for a colorful and informative description of what women's Civil War era ballgowns looked like, including what was proper for certain age groups.

Have you looked at it? Yes? Then we can move on.

The question, of course, is how can we recreate this? How, in a simple, economical, timely, fashion? This is, of course, for those of you who aren't professional seamstresses, and can create anything you would like with a pattern, in record time.

First thought... Ebay. Check it out. There are some decent deals on there. Yes, the best and most authentic gowns tend be very expensive, but you may find something that works perfectly for you. There is a great variety of authentic, and not authentic. It really depends on particular you want to be. For this ball, we are not picky. One bit of advice, though, for Ebay shopping. Be extra sure it will fit before you bid. If the gown was laid flat, and measured, the measurements given will larger than the actual size. Be sure and double check the size with the seller before bidding. Feel free to ask any questions you may have, as we are experienced Ebayers.

Second thought... Making your gown, or, if you know someone, having someone else make it. There are a multitude of patterns online for Civil War ballgowns. The skirts are not difficult to make, and often do not need a pattern. If you are looking for someone to sew your costumes for you, leave a comment and we'll get you a list of contacts.

Sewing is a whole other world. If you are familiar with it, go for it! Below are some pattern websites and historical sewing forums we reccomend.

Sense and Sensibilty

Past Patterns

Truly Victorian

The Sewing Academy





Here is a link to the hoop skirt we have found to work best for us. It is not truly athentic, material wise, but creates an authentic looking shape, and is very comfortable. You may choose a hoop with more, or less, hoops, depending on how large you want your skirts.


Slippers work best. The cheapest route? Buy some at Walmart and ornament them yourself to match your gown.

Jewelry and Hair.

The link given at first explains this well.

Wrist length white gloves, in cloth or kid leather, were considered a ballroom necessity, to be removed only when taking refreshments. Shoes should be fairly flat, with at most a low heel, such as ballet flats or "character ballets," in white or a color to compliment the gown. The shoe can be ornamented with a small ribbon bow in the color of the shoe.

Hair should be worn parted in the center and pulled away from the face, rolled on the sides and pulled into a bun fairly low in the neck. Evening head dresses can be circlets, wreaths, or decorative combs with ribbons, flowers and feathers. Earrings should be dangles, brooches are often worn and short bead necklaces are appropriate, as well as gold bracelets; a matched pair of bracelets is especially fashionable. A small fan or small bouquet also make good accessories. Here is a page with detailed information on hair from the 1860's. Also, a page with photos of hairstyles and hair pieces coming soon!

So, off you go! And have fun!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What is in a Costume

The basics for a woman's 1860's ball gown include the following.

A separate bodice and skirt. The skirt is full enough to cover a hoop, and the bodice is fitted. Remember, they wore corsets then!

A hoop skirt, or crinoline.

A petticoat or two, so that the line of your hoop won't show beneath your skirt.

Bloomers, for modesty's sake.

A Corset? Yes! If you can find or make one. They are very comfortable for dancing in, preferable to our 21st century undergarments. If you do find one, you will want a chemise, or, for simplicity's sake, a modern camisole will work.

Slippers. Not ballet flats, but fitted slippers, that won't fall off your feet. Long stockings are period correct with them, but are not necessary if you must do without.

Accessories, jewelry, handbags, fans, hair styles, etc. I will be doing a post on these soon.

For the men, there are two options, civilian clothes, or a uniform.

Civilian clothes include the following.

A shirt, or blouse, usually, with a high collar.

Trousers, preferably a higher waisted, rather then today's low cut pants.

A jacket, with or without tails.

A cravat, a necktie.

A uniform has similar pieces, cut differently... pants, shirt, jacket, no cravat. Confederate or Union. Our ball is Confederate, but you are welcome to do either.

Shoes. Black dress shoes will work with either one. Tall boots are nice for the look of a uniform, but not always comfortable for dancing.

Hats. A soldier's cap or broad brimmed hat.

Suspenders, or a belt.

"Where do I get all this?", you ask. I will be posting soon with more details.