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:
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.