I had no gowns for a Hamilton-themed ball, so this called for making my own (because I am not just going to rent a gown, that would be the easy way out!). The options for this included everything from the late 1700s through the Regency era. While I did have ample Regency attire, I decided this was my chance to take a stab at a 1760s-ish dress.
I wanted an excuse to finally channel the opulence of the French court, ok? Isn’t it every little lady’s dream to have pocket panniers and powdered hair? No? Alright.
For this project I acquired a floral fabric (in the form of an IKEA duvet) so I could reuse the outfit for informal 1700s events too. I relied heavily on the American Duchess blogs, podcasts and pattern from Simplicity.
Besides the pattern and fabric, I needed boning. Luckily I had a bunch from a failed dress in high school (yes, I have dragged that boning with me since 2007). I used the light but thicker plastic kind for the panniers. When I altered the front of my dress immensely (which I will detail momentarily) I needed to keep the front opening stiff, but didn’t want to get boning, so I glued two zip ties together and sewed those down. It worked fine for what I was going for.
But back to the dress. First I made the panniers, since I assumed (rightly) it would help me see how the skirts should look.
I used a thrifted (and heavily bleached and cleaned) sheet for the panniers, pocket and underskirt. Make sure you follow the instructions for the pockets! It’s a game changer and lifesaver for events.
For the underskirt and overskirt I cheated. I didn’t use the American Duchess pattern for that part. Instead I made a simple petticoat and did the same thing for the overskirt. (I know I should be ashamed.)
You’ll notice I left the front unpleated on the underskirt and overskirt. It was the keep with the silhouettes I saw on the costumes of the era. A lot of making this costume was taking time to look at garments from the period. Many museums have online catalogues which let you explore the various fashions of the era and let’s you feel more confident as you sew.
I also look at modern costumers (Instagram has so many good accounts to follow) and looked at their work for inspiration.
The hardest part was the top. I still have things I want to redo and finish about it, but it was ball-ready when I needed it to be and that’s all I can ask for.
I measured my (corseted) body and looked at the measurements on the pattern. My body is curvy and petite, so standardized fitted things are difficult for me (a challenge that has really left me frustrated with clothing construction since I started sewing as a child).
Pro tip: It is easier to take a garment in than to let it out, so cut a size up if you are concerned! I cut the pattern size that would fit my widest part the best. From there I needed to take it in, while maintaining the same shape that the garment would need.
The big change I made to the pattern was the top, I didn’t want to work with grommets and lacing, so I made the front open instead. This is why I made improvised boning from zip ties and added bows down the front (to hold it closed and be a frivolous detail).
After hemming the raw edges, I was ready. The panniers came untied a couple of times (it’s the cheap ribbon I used, I’ll definitely replace that), but a collapsed pannier wasn’t a huge issue. The dress held up really well besides that, plus it was easy to dance in.
When I need to use this dress again I will definitely add details to the neckline, change out the bows down the front and add snaps behind those bows to keep the bodice extra secure.
Overall, it was really satisfying to know I could make this kind of a dress. It felt really overwhelming, but it felt super fancy once I put it on. I felt like the fabric was super breathable for dancing and was just all-around gorgeous. I have a lot of room to grow as a seamstress, but this was a project that boosted my confidence.