This is a photo diary of my costuming "travels"; where I've learned and struggled to make historical costumes for myself. They're not always pretty, but always fun. most of the time. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can find me on Facebook, or have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**

About Me

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HI, my name is Val. I'm a member of Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, Dean Emeritus of 2018 Costume College; member & Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, a representative of the San Diego History Center, & an honorary member of SITU (Someplace in Time, Unlimited) in Seattle. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of one.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Researching an Idea: 1870s Princess-style Dresses (1876-79)

Last year this 1875 dress caught my eye, and I immediately wanted to make it, as all us Squirrels tend to do. At first it looked like it was all one piece, with the Princess seam lines down the front. I loved the inset piece of contrasting fabric down the center front. I could see a lot of ideas that would work with it, with different fabrics and trims.
I started by cropping a smaller view of the bodice area, and then noticed something. It wasn’t all one piece, it was a long bodice over a skirt but well designed to draw the eye down. I could see at the bottom of the row of buttons that it was cut off there. That was an awfully long bodice. 

I began to gather my fabrics I could use for making it. I’d love to do the brown floral silk here but haven’t found a good solid color for it yet. I had a lot of the teal silk taffeta, so I found a matching Chinese brocade on etsy for it. That was supposed to be made last year but I got backed up making something else. And so on. 

But then I came across another seemingly all-one-piece dress, and this time it really was. In looking close-up, I wasn’t seeing a separation of bodice and skirt. So, voila we have a Princess-line dress. I noticed the same look in some wrappers but there was a difference. A Princess-line dress is entirely long panels of fabric that are seamed all the way down to the bottom of the hem. The wrappers only had darts that fitted it closely to the waist so it looked similar. 

So now I wanted to find out more about these dresses because I found THIS fashion print and now have the fabric  and black lace to make it. 

And just what is a Princess-line, or Princess dress? They are associated with Charles Frederick Worth, who introduced them in the early 1870s in honor of Princess Alexandra of Wales. And if it looks like the Natural Form dresses, you’re right. Because those were all the rage up to 1880. They were very popular for the young girls too. I had actually saved a photo of Princess Alexandra to my folder showing one of these dresses, not even thinking of Worth or it being attributed to her. But she had the body for it.

There was even a “house dress Polonaise cut in a Princess shape” (1878). I guess everyone was jumping on the bandwagon. But this one kind of goes back to my original pursuit of the long Basque bodice over a skirt-look.
So getting back to what I thought was my idea for a Princess dress (oh my, that sounds lovely), it turned out most of the ones I liked LOOKED like Princess lines but weren’t really. It was an optical illusion.


I didn’t like the Natural Form look on me the one time I made it. The long droopy apron in the front was just not flattering on me. But I’m liking the busy-ness of all that stuff in the middle, and you can add ruffles and bows and all kinds of stuff.
But there’s no patterns out there right now for this look. So I need to cobble something together.  I think I can use the back of the Truly Victorian tea gown #432 for the Watteau train I want, but to get the front will require a little more work. 

I need to first decide will I make it all one length, aka Princess line, or go with the Basque bodice over the skirt version? I figured I could lengthen Truly Victorian’s Bodice #225, but I would want to cut out a square neckline on it. Then I could use their skirt #225 with just a train. And yes, trains in the 70s was a thing.
                                                                 TV 423                                                          
TV 225
These are going into my “Make Me”, aka “The Squirrel’s Play Box”, planning file for when I can manage to slip them in between other dresses I still want to make. It’s not a priority at the moment but I have the fabric, and the idea, so all I need is to add a pinch of time.

                                             Decisions, decisions. 


  1. hmmmmm.. the tea gown pattern or the separates? I say one of each, lol! Can't wait to see what you do :)

  2. Pretties! The black and pink gown is on my todo list, but extremely far down it (as I have none of the fabric, patterns, or undergarments, and have a number of other things which have to come first...)

  3. Hi! Lovely project, made a princess overdress with separate skirt last year, turned out lovely with all the laces, ribbons and bows :) Check out the pinterest board with tons of princess gowns, princess overdresses, etc... patterns from periodical lady's magazines.

    1. Thank you Melinda. I'd love to see what your dress looks like. I also follow your patterns Pinterest page. I unfortunately need to use actual patterns, as I can't grade them up.

    2. Thanks for following my pinterest board :) I love your blog, too! Must say your dresses always turn out lovely :) One thing I noted, while observing the first inspirational dress is, that the whole lining might be made in princess form, but the front patterned silk insertion is arranged on it like a separate bodice with skirt. Because the side of the solid fabric is a whole long gore รก la princess. So, my suggestion is, to buy a princess line dress pattern, make the lining accordingly, then play with the fashion fabrics to create different shapes. Knowing you, either will turn out perfect. have a nice day :) P.s.: Pics of finished dresses are on my pinterest board, too.

    3. Thank you for sharing that information, Melinda. I most likely will try not to make it too hard for myself, but still have it look good.
      And yes, I found your dress photos too. :)

  4. Fellow squirrel over here! Oo I just love the second dress down, under the "not real" section. Gorgeous!

    1. Greetings fellow Squirrel! We must all inspire each other in our Squirrely moods.


I would love to hear if this was any help to you. Pretty please!