Finished Project- 18th Century Inspired Natural Form Dress

If you’ve been a long time blog follower you’ll know by now that I love “throwback” styles. I love when fashion references itself, and the Natural Form era of the late 1870s-early 1880s had some fantastic tailored garments that would harken back to 18th century menswear.

Now, lest I get corrected that this dress is Victorian (as has happened with past posts)- YES, I know the Victorian era is the 19th century. What I’m talking about here is the mash-up of 18th century styles with 19th century fashion. For example:

Source: Met Museum Promenade dress ca. 1888 (I believe this is actually early 1880s)
Emile Pingat French Designer
Ensemble by Emile Pingat, 1885 Paris, Shelburne Museum

And so, if you remember the first attempt at a historical gown after having a child, circa 2018, you might remember my first take on this now finished dress.

As you can tell by the look on my face, I wasn’t too pleased with it. So I spend a few months in 2020 fixing this up so it could become a dress I would be proud of. I finished just before Halloween, 2020, and this is the result of the transformation:

I realize the changes may not make a lot of sense to some, but there were little things I did that made me like the way it ended up.

The things I didn’t like about the first version, which was wrapped up as quickly as possible for Costume College that year, were little things that I felt would pull it into more the “antique clothing” vibe than the “costume” vibe. I didn’t like how low the neckline sat. I didn’t like that I didn’t have time to trim the lace and applique it to the vest front properly. I didn’t like the way the hoop hung, and the droop of the front skirt. I didn’t have enough trim to take it to the fancy level I wanted. I didn’t get to add lace to the cuffs. I didn’t get to put the buttons on the cording of the cuffs and the pockets. I felt like the pockets were too high on the jacket back. All of these things I addressed in the finished version.

First was snipping away the background net from the lace, This lace was an edging, and I applique’d in to the silk taffeta vest front. Previously I had edged the welt pockets and vest front in antique metal gold-tone braid by whipping two strands of cord to the edges by hand. I still liked how that looked.

After this I moved the faux pockets on the back jacket down. I didn’t feel like they were flattering at waist level, so I dropped them down to be more in-line with natural form era gowns.

Next I added antique jet trims to the edges to add a little more glitz. I also drafted up a quick little dickey to wear under the neckline so it brought it up to a more Victorian standing neck. I wore a brooch at the front to cover the hook and eye opening. And I added some antique jet trim to the high heck to mirror that on the jacket.

After this was done, I added the buttons. I didn’t want the thread loops to get caught on the buttons while sewing on the jet trim!

And at the end of all of this, I decided I needed lace on the cuffs, so I soaked some antique lace, attached it to some rayon seam binding, and carefully hand-sewed that in to the cuffs so it could be removed for laundering, if needed.

This was all a ton of handwork and took me ages! I also altered the hoop skirt underneath to not be a full oval but a partial oval, which really helped with the effect. Sadly, I don’t have any photos saved of this process! But this is a previous look at the hoop back. Instead of an oval it turned into more of a “U” shape. I also added a few tucks to the overskirt to help with drape and added an antique trim on top of the tucks.

This project really meant a lot to me to finish. It proved to me that not only can I still sew, but I can still sew well. It proved that I can make a large project after having a child and it doesn’t need to be left behind as life progresses, but found in snippets and moments that feed the creative soul.

It proved that I can look and feel good inside my own body- which may not be the same size or look as it was when I started this blog in my mid-20s, but that I’m still here, I’ve survived, I’ve grown in skill, and I’m still darn good at what I love to do, when I set my mind to actually finishing the projects I’ve started.

That’s a big lesson to learn. And I’m thankful this dress is the representation of that personal growth.

Wishing you all the best.



6 Comments on Finished Project- 18th Century Inspired Natural Form Dress

  1. PepperReed
    January 24, 2021 at 2:57 pm (3 years ago)

    Beautiful!!! It’s so nice to update a not-great garment to the next level. Good Job!

  2. Mary
    January 24, 2021 at 3:43 pm (3 years ago)

    I’ve been following your blog for years and admire your skills. Your sewing creations have been top notch, and you’ve hit the stratosphere with this novelty 19th century dress. GORGEOUS. It makes my mouth water.
    You indeed have something to offer all of us. Enjoy your wisdom.

  3. Dori Garbutt
    January 25, 2021 at 8:48 am (3 years ago)

    Your ensemble is Brilliant and Lovely. Oh! My! Yes! Learning to appreciate one’s body configuration post-children AND with the passing of years, takes effort and tons of self-love. Applied over and over! <3

  4. Nicole
    January 25, 2021 at 1:10 pm (3 years ago)

    It’s so beautiful and you look so elegant! I’m glad that you were able to make the changes to it that made you happier about it. Sometimes things just don’t feel “right” for some reason, so it’s nice when you can hit that sweet spot.

  5. Serena McDonald
    March 18, 2021 at 5:01 am (3 years ago)

    The first Museum photo was pretty, the second Museum photo was also pretty but your photo was the prettiest by far. It’s stunningly gorgeous, I love all the photos. So good.

  6. JessiCat
    March 23, 2021 at 1:21 am (3 years ago)

    I’ve been following your blog for years, but never commented before.
    You did an amazing job with this dress and the changes you did to finish it, it’s stunningly beautiful.

    And the last part of your post moved me to tears.
    Thank you so much for what you do and sharing it here and therefore being an inspiration to others!

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