Friday, July 12, 2019

An Overview of 1830s Fashions

The 1830s are hot this year, and the Guild is planning it's first ever 1830s picnic for next spring! For those unfamiliar with this fun and wacky period of fashion history, here's a quick rundown of what Romantic period clothing looks like, specifically the period covered by our picnic.

1825 - 1830

We're just starting to see the transition away from the columnar styles of the Regency to the fluffier looks of later decades. Skirts are only slightly fuller at first, but sleeves are starting to gain volume. The waistline is starting to creep downward, but is still higher than the natural waist. Dresses are more highly embellished with ruffles, trims, fabric manipulation, and other decorations. 

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Dress, American, c.1825

As the decade comes to a close, the skirts gradually become fuller, and the sleeves gain volume. The waistline is still worn high, but it moves closer to the natural waist, and is tied with a sash or belt. Embellishment slowly decreases on the skirt and more focus is placed on the bodice.

The Met Museum
Dress, 1826-1829

The Met Museum
Morning Dress, 1827-1830

1830 - 1834

Skirts and sleeves become very full. The waistline sits just above the natural waist, and is often worn with a sash or belt with a large buckle. The neckline grows wider and lower, with the sleeves worn off-shoulder. The full sleeves, called Gigot sleeves, were supported with stuffed or boned sleeve supports called "plumpers". Skirts gradually become wider and fuller, but are shorter than previous decades, ending at the ankle. 

Victoria & Albert Museum
Printed cotton day dress, 1830-1834

Bodices come in a variety of flavors. Plain bodies are common (see above), as are pleated and gathered bodices.

Dress with Gathered Bodice
Met Museum, 1832

Silk day dress with pleated bodice, c.1830
The Met Museum

When outside of the house, bonnets and pelerines (also called capes) are worn to protect the skin. Fashionable bonnets had tall crowns to accommodate the escalating hairstyles of the time. Pelerines were wide to cover the shoulders. They could be made of the same material as the gown, or they could be made of delicate embroidered lace. 

Printed Cotton Dress with matching pelerine
Augusta Auctions

Pelerine of embroidered tabby, 1825-1835
Augusta Auctions


Pleats really started playing a big role in fashions during the latter half of the 1830s. Sleeves, bodices, and skirts could all feature decorative pleating. The sleeve would still be cut with the same pattern, but some of the fullness might be taken out at the sleeve head by use of decorative pleating. Necklines grew even wider and lower. 

Met Museum
American Wool and Silk Afternoon Dress, 1835

The Met Museum
Evening dress, c.1835

1836 - 1839

In 1836 fashion changed dramatically. The enormous voluminous sleeves that had been so popular were pleated down both above and below the elbow, leaving only a portion of the sleeve at it's fullness. Bodice styles and skirt lengths remained unchanged, only the sleeve suffered its fashion defeat.

The Met Museum
Dress c.1836

As the decade went on, skirts dropped to floor length again. Necklines were still open, but started to slowly move upward again, away from the drastically wide styles that had been popular only a few years before. Pointed waistlines started to come back into fashion.

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Woman's dress c. 1837

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Dress c.1838

As the 1840s approached, the focus shifted from soft round shapes to creating "long, pointed Gothic angles" (C. Willett Cunnington). Skirts remained full and floor length. Sleeves could retain some lower fullness, but continued to deflate. Bodices were close fitted and fanned gathering and pleating remained popular.

The Met Museum
Dress, 1840s
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Dress, American, c.1840

Get The Look

Ready to make your own 1830s outfit? We have compiled a list of great resources that will get you started on your journey!

First and foremost, Workwoman's Guide by A Lady published in 1838, is the best primary source for 1830s fashions and patterns. The book is full of instructions, diagrams, patterns, and drafting instructions which will help you create an entire outfit from the inside out. The book has been uploaded online, and is available for free through Google Books!

The American Duchess "Sewing is Hard" YouTube series has several videos about 1830s costume:

Patterns and Tutorials:

  • Laughing Moon has a pattern for Regency and Romantic era stays
  • Black Snail Patterns also has a pattern packet for 1830s undies that includes stays, chemise, corded petticoat, and sleeve plumpers.
  • Redthreaded makes beautiful 1830s stays if you don't feel like tackling them yourself.
  • Truly Victorian's 1830s dress pattern has rave reviews and produces beautiful results.
  • Past Patterns has a wide selection of Romantic Era patterns for both men and women.
  • Historical Sewing has a workbook available for making Corded Petticoats.
  • Amazon Dry Goods carries several patterns for the period. The patterns aren't sorted by year, though, so you'll have to look through each page on their site. 
  • Butterick B5832 is a decent late-1830s/early-1840s look. The bodice pleating is weirdly asymmetrical, which would need to be altered to achieve a more correct period look.
  • McCall's new M7988 from Angela Clayton is a fun 1840s dress, which could be adapted for early styles. 

Other Bloggers:

It's always helpful to read about what other costumers have done in constructing their own ensembles. Here's a compilation of the blog posts we've found most helpful.