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; Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, and a representative of the San Diego History Center. 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.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Recreating an Extant Gown; Mrs. Hughes or the Shop Girls

Last month while trolling ebay I came across an extant gown that looked in pretty good condition, close to my size, and a decent price, $65. It had a look of elegance but not fashionable. It reminded me of a dress. But where?

It looks black but its navy blue with narrow grey pinstripes. When it arrived I found the fabric to be scratchy and thin. I’ve never felt a lightweight wool but that’s what it reminded me of. I also thought it might be a working class dress due to its material. But the collar and vest insert is definitely real silk. The dress is all one piece, loose at the waist, and the only closure is where the front overlaps the vest. The belt on this photo from the seller looks kind of twisted but it drapes around the dress and ties in the front but on a larger waist than they had.  It has narrow shoulders so I can’t get it over the shoulders of my dress form to see its full size. Which means I can’t try it on. The collar looks to have been added on later or rather quickly as it’s just basted with large stitches, and not very well. I guess it made it look better and seems right for it though.
There are two buttons on the black collar just below the lace one, and used to have two buttons on each cuff but they’re gone. The cuffs are most interesting. Instead of an actual cuff, the fabric is folded over into a pleat, tacked down, and buttons sewn on. Now it occurs to me that given the larger width of the sleeve, this could be taking in the lower portion to narrow it down. Just an idea but on my own sleeves when I’ve had this problem I’ve just taken in the seams to narrow mine down. Might be worth trying.
The bottom of the skirt was the only place that showed real damage. There are some holes worn on one side and a small one in the back. The hem, which is already 6” deep, also had another 6” strip of the navy silk sewn to the end of it so it had a 12” deep hem. Wow!  I took the silk portion off because a large chunk of it was missing just about where the holes were so maybe someone stepped on it and ripped it? I’ll never know. But the salvaged piece of silk will be nice for covering new buttons on a dress.
I’m not real familiar with this time period about 1910-1914 so I asked for some help dating it on a vintage dress group. Suggestions ranged from 1912 to 1916, with the suggestions of it being an older woman’s dress for the later date but hanging on to earlier styles. Hmmm. I was more interested in the date of its style. So I kept looking. I found a similar one on Pinterest from the Norway Museum dated 1916 though. Pretty close.
It did remind me of something Mrs. Hughes on Downton Abbey would wear. Suitable for the Head Housekeeper and keeping with her somber attire. So I decided to name it Mrs. Hughes’ Dress.
My plans for this dress was to copy it for a pattern. Since it’s close to my size, it wouldn’t require a lot of sizing up. I’m currently up in Washington State visiting my Mom, who is a Pattern Drafting Extraordinaire. So she’s currently working on that and trying to get me to stand still long enough to make a muslin off of me to transfer to that and resize it. Not an easy task as I don’t hold still very well. I think I was the same way when I was a youngster when she made me dresses then.

Last night while reading a blog on Mr. Selfridge,  I saw this. THAT’S IT! That’s where I saw this dress. Or at least reminded me of it.
Agnes’ dress was much plainer but love her hairstyle. I think I need to share this with my wig stylist.
When I get around to making my copy of the dress it will be in a much more comfortable fabric. In fact I already have a couple pieces of suit-weight stripped fabrics that look a lot like the original. I’ll probably look more like Mrs. Hughes than the lovely young shop girls though.

This is part of the reason I’m up here in the Pacific Northwest, playing dress-up at the Port Townsend Victorian Festival, and button shopping at the vintage button trunk show in a local store. I was wearing this dress in the fashion show too, along with some of my friends. More on that later when I get home and download my photos from it. 


  1. Oh what fun!! I love the dress you got from eBay and can't wait to see your version!! I adore Mrs. Hughes. She is beautiful and so very honorable. Your dress well be fantastic!

  2. The collar was tacked on because it is removable to wash and starch.
    The style of the neck is called the Armistice style, for obvious reasons.

    1. Thank you for the information, Marilyn.

    2. Oh, to be basted so it can be easily removed for washing and starching makes sense, because they did that in the 18th century too!

      How neat that you get to work with your mom on these projects and that she drapes!


  3. You looked great while shopping and you will probably look great in the dress after your new original as well!

    1. Thank you. Its' always sharing what I've made with the store where I purchased the supplies, whether it be buttons or fabric. The ladies there were very excited to see the buttons on my dress I'd bought last year.

  4. The sleeve is the same as the long sleeve in Past Patterns #6053 - a 1913-14 dress. I'm using the pattern at the moment to make a housekeepers frock. Though for an alt-universe character. I'm hoping that Downton Abbey's popularity will make it more recognisable as a housekeepers ensemble

    1. Thank you, Ista. Every bit of info helps, and I too want to keep Downton Abbey alive. I've barely started on my inspirations from it. I hope we can do a Downton tea one of these days.


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