Ca. 1866 Brown Gown - A Close-Up Look

 Hello, everyone! It’s Cassidy, Mimicofmodes here, on Twitter, on Tumblr, on Reddit, and on Etsy. 

Anyway, I have a small but fantastic collection of historic clothing. Antique historic clothing, not pieces I’ve made. A few of the pieces I bought myself, at thrift shops and on eBay and Etsy, but most of it was very kindly given to me several years ago by a blogging friend, Natalie Ferguson. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the chance to do anything much with them – but I’m so excited to be able to share them with the world this way!

My collection ranges from a late 18th century shift to a 1980s cocktail dress, with most pieces from the early 20th century. At first I thought I could show you this gorgeous Edwardian evening skirt – the bodice apparently didn’t survive, or maybe it was sold separately at some point – but it’s very delicate. I wouldn’t want to put it on my dress form. I also don’t have a large enough space on the floor to lay it out! However, I’m moving this winter, and I should have enough space to show it to you then.

Then I thought about a simple blue day dress from the same period, but I started to put it on the dress form and it absolutely didn’t fit. This is a gown for a very small woman – my dress form is much smaller than me and it was still too big. I definitely need to get or make myself a very thin dress form to display my antique clothing. Actually, I made a pair of very small dress forms at my last job, the St. Lawrence County Historical Association, because we only had old store mannequins to display clothing on. Although store mannequins are a lot smaller than the average woman today, they are still much more robust than the very petite women whose clothing we generally still have. If I do decide to go that route, I’ll be sure to do it on camera so you can all see how it’s done.

Back on topic. In the end, I decided to show you one of my favorite pieces from Natalie’s collection: a silk taffeta day dress from 1866 or 1867. Let’s take a good look at it, starting with the bodice.

[Sorry, no script for the detailed look at the gown - I extemporized]

This plate has perhaps the best comparison image for this gown that I can find. It’s from Peterson’s Magazine, the color plate for November in 1867. From left to right, the third and fifth gowns feature the same paired sleeves: the second is actually a gown worn with a paletot, or a coat, over it. The third is a “house dress of Havana brown silk trimmed with ornaments in gimp and jet. The loose Venitian sleeve is lined with quilted white satin and worn over a tight silk under sleeve,” and the fifth is described as a “morning dress of black velvet scalloped and bound with black satin. Petticoat and tight sleeves of crimson silk. The large Jewess sleeve is also lined with crimson silk. A band of fur passes around the neck down the front and across the top of the sleeves.” The band of fur shows where the braid on the bodice of my gown would probably have been placed originally. “Venetian sleeve” is a term that I’ve come across for a long, hanging sleeve in this and earlier periods, but “Jewess sleeve” is a new one to me, and I don’t know what distinguishes it from the Venetian. In a previous issue, the editor noted that “The wide loose sleeve has not been as much worn during the summer as was expected and as the autumn approaches the close sleeve will most probably be the most popular. Still the Jewess sleeve is very suitable for dresses of heavy material and paletots and is by some very much liked: it is a wide open sleeve made round slightly pointed and very long.” 

In March, the magazine had stated that “Over the tight sleeve the wide Venetian sleeve is frequently worn,” and in May, included a “house dress of black silk over a blue silk petticoat. The tight sleeves are of blue silk with black lozenges on them and the loose sleeve is of black lined with blue.”

Another key aspect of this dress is the peplum or overskirt. Overskirts of one kind of another started to appear in fashion plates in 1865, and by 1866, they’re extremely common. These two plates from Godey’s Lady’s Book in late 1866 also show the fitted sleeves that match the shape of the undersleeves here, the natural waistline, and the elliptical shape of the hoop underneath the smooth gored skirt.

By 1868, the hoop was shrinking, which helps to set an end date for the original wearing of this dress. Trains went rather out of style in daywear as well, so this skirt simply couldn’t be worn fashionably. However, when the bustle began to be worn in late 1869 and into the 1870s, there was new potential for the outfit. A bustle would lift up the back of a long, gored skirt, taking up the excess fabric.

A narrow V-neckline also became acceptable around this time in daywear. It seems very plausible to me that the bodice could have been altered this way in order to update it, since the way the neckline is finished doesn’t seem at all in line with normal 1860s practice – and since normal 1860s day necklines were much higher.

I hope you enjoyed this look at one of the gems of my collection! I hope to turn this gown into a pattern, reversing the later changes to allow people to make it up as it was originally intended to be seen – although since the V-neckline seems to have been an early alteration, I’ll probably include an option to do that as well. But first I have to finish cleaning up the Regency spencer pattern I have out with testers, and work on a different 1860s pattern, and then I will probably want to do another period, as I like to keep everything mixed up. You can count on seeing it eventually though.

Thanks for watching! If you enjoyed this video, check out the others, and please like and subscribe. Join me again next time when I discuss the 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, both in terms of costuming and film theory, once I figure out how to edit in clips underneath my own audio.


  1. Dear Cassidy,

    How happy I was to see you feature the late sixties dress, and to take us through its alterations over time. I had loved that dress but had never been able to read it in the way you did, and it thrills me no end that you plan to make a pattern of it. Always thought it was a handsome design and of a type that few costumers or interpreters have made use of.

    Loved reading that it could have been laid aside after 1866-67 and then picked up and renovated with that pretty vee neckline in the early 1870s. By then, would pleating the peplum at the back give it some lift over the bustle? Would you call the color a cuir (leather) or a tobacco? I've read of both colors in fashion magazines of the era.

    Again, it thrills me to see the pieces I donated loved and shared knowledgeably with the world...

    Very best indeed,
    Natalie Ferguson

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