TLA Lady's Page

Starting Out:
Women's Clothing - 1830s Style

by Sandy Kramer

The easiest way to begin your involvement with pre-1840 historical reenactment may be to outfit yourself in a suit of period clothes and visit an encampment for a day. The most sensible and economical way to begin is with a day dress If your outer wear looks fairly correct, what's underneath is no one's business but your own!

The first thing I did when I made the decision to sew a period dress was to look for a pattern. I am no seamstress and needed all the details down on paper for me. (See the list of resources that follows.) When choosing a pattern, also bear in mind that any pattern drawn directly from an original garment was made to fit over a corset and was cut accordingly. Don't let this discourage you. I've found that by taking the finished gown with you to any fairly large department store you can find an undergarment that will not only work, but also be fairly comfortable. I was also pleasantly surprised at how interested and involved the sales staff can get.

All right, you are on your way to becoming an 1830s Texas woman searching for a dress pattern. But what exactly are you looking for? Texas in the 1830s was not the cultural backwater that many people envision it to have been. In fact, especially in the more settled eastern and coastal areas, folks were quite fashionable. New Orleans, with its shipping access to the world was quite near. Women (and men), within their means and abilities, would dress quite fashionably.

From the late 1820s on, the very high waist of the Regency period (watch any Jane Austen movie) has been dropping, until by the mid 1830s it is just a bit above the natural waistline. The high fashion silhouette of a column has evolved into a silhouette that looks much like two triangles balanced one on top of the other at their points. The lower triangle is obviously the full pleated or gathered skirt. The upper triangle, the bodice and sleeves, is achieved by a dropped shoulder line and full upper sleeves which quite often fit the arm closely from about the elbow down.

Dresses from this era have surprisingly few fastenings. Either a front or back closing gown might have a tie at the neckline and waist and a few hooks or pins in between. I personally feel that although this may be historically correct, I prefer to remain fully covered while I work around camp, and opt to sew in considerably more hooks than would have been actually used!

The fabric for such a dress might have been a lightweight wool, linen, cotton, or silk. Buy whatever your budget dictates. A cotton print or solid is perfectly fine, just remember that natural dyes were all that was available, so colors would have been somewhat subdued. This is not to say that you can't have a red gown, for example, just don't choose fire engine red.

Underneath the gown a lady would have worn several petticoats, generally white hose, and soft flat slippers or a lace-up boot for country wear. A shawl, cap, and bonnet would complete your outfit. I would also recommend an apron for camp wear.

With these basic guidelines in mind, come on out and have fun! Just beware... the quest for information can be addictive and may result in a closet full of gowns!

Resources and related sites:


English Women's Clothing in the Nineteenth Century, by C. Willett Cunnington, 1990
The Calico Chronicles: Texas Women and Their Fashions, 1830-1910 , by Betty J. Mills, 1985

The Costume Site
The Regency Fashion Page
The Costume Page

Dixie Gun Works
Amazon Vinegar and Pickling Works Drygoods

TLA Homepage TLA Membership General Rules and Reg.s
E-mail Information To:

Copyright © 1998 Texian Legacy Association.