The Ladies' Tea Guild

Friday, July 22, 2011

How to make a gored skirt from the late 1860s.

Petit Courier des Dames, 1868.  Cathy Decker.
Pre-Raphaelite costume tips are forthcoming, but in the mean time, let's have a snippet of useful information about 1860s fashion.  Everyone is familiar with the fan-shaped hooped skirt, wide sleeves and narrow flounces of the 1850s and the bell-shaped hooped skirt, coat sleeves and wide flounces of the early 1860s.  However, there is a transitional style that came in after 1865, leading into the bustle of the 1870s, which I find very attractive.  It was called the "Empire" fashion and was named after the Second French Empire (which began with the crowning of Emperor Louis Napoleon (descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte) and Empress Eugenie at that time) and the fact that the style was thought of as an "exact copy" of the fashions of France during the time of Napoleon Bonaparte.
La Mode Illustree, 1867.  Tara Maginnis.

While this style did involve smoothly fitted bodices with slightly raised waistlines that were straight instead of pointed, and smoothly gored skirts that lay flat except at the back where they were pleated and extended at the hem to a short train at center back, like the earlier "Empire" (English Regency) fashions, unlike them, these later styles were worn over crinoline, so they weren't exactly the "shortest, scantiest skirts" ever seen in the Western world.  The style was very popular in England, and for house and country wear in the United States, if the fashion magazines can be believed.  It was especially popular because the older wide coat and bishop sleeves could be taken in and made into slim coat sleeves, and the pleated and gathered skirts could be taken apart and made into the newer gored style, creating a stylish costume with comparative ease.  This practical fashion seems to have lasted for 5 years, varying the look with similarly-gored over-skirts, until the growing bustle necessitated a change in the cut.  While there are good patterns for this transitional style, those of us who want to make a "Second Empire" style dress can use our existing 1860s patterns to advantage for the bodice, simply raising the shoulder seam to the joint of the shoulder instead of a few inches below it, using the "round waist" option instead of the pointed one, and following these directions from Godey's Lady's Book of 1865, originating with none other than the famed Madame Demorest:
Godey's Lady's Book, June 1865.

"Most of the dress skirts are gored, and Mme. Demorest's method of goring is as follows: Fold over six inches on each side of the upper part of the front breadth, graduating this down two-thirds of the skirt, baste this down.  The next breadth set one inch below at the bottom, and sew the straight edge to the bias line of the front breadth.  Fold a gore of eight inches on the farther side of this breadth, and so continue all around the skirt, setting each breadth one inch below at the lower edge.  By this method you have a handsomely gored train skirt without cutting up the material." 


Kathryn Ross said...

Oh! I'm so thrilled to find your site! So lovely - and informative - I am hungry for vintage fashion details. I am a dramatist and do re-enactment events for my hometown history group - we celebrate 150 years this coming week - so I do a lot of period attire plus, I bring inspirational speaking programs to lady's groups using vintage fashions, hats, and accessories to illustrate spiritual truths from a Biblical perspective. I look forward to visiting your cheerful cup often as your newest follower!
Miss Kathy

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

Hi, Miss Kathy!

Welcome to the site! Your work sounds so interesting, and very similar to a lot of the work that I do. When I'm not planning events for the South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild, I am a school program Interpreter at a local history museum, a freelance writer, and a historic dressmaker. I also fit in re-enactments and Victorian fashion shows when I can. Good luck on your work, and feel free to comment and ask questions!

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)