Statehood Ball Update

For the upcoming Statehood Ball, I want to look as period appropriate as possible. And it would be great if I could go on Amazon and buy all the items of my outfit, but shopping for 1860s clothing is much more difficult than shopping today.

My first problem was finding out what to wear. So I did a lot of online research on just how a woman dressed in 1861 when she attended a ball. I found out that the outfit was multi-layered and complicated, but I learned that each of the layers served a purpose.  When getting dressed for a ball a 1861 lady started first with the:


It looked like a nightgown, and protected a lady’s skin from the rough fabric of the corset, and protected the corset from perspiration and body oils.

Next, the bloomers (aka, drawers or pantaloons) and corset:

The bloomers, made of cotton, have an open crotch for taking care of , ahem, business. Once a lady was completely dressed, it was no small feat to go to the loo. With an open crotch though, a lady could simply lift her skirts, have a seat, and, well, you know.

Here’s a back view:

 The corset is made of stiff, heavy cotton twill reinforced with metal stays all around. The ideal fashion line of the 1860’s upper body was a broad chest with sloping wide shoulders to make the waist appear small. The corset did not need to make the hips smaller, but it did need to be supportive of the weight of the crinoline and skirt. So the corsets of the 1860’s were rather shorter than those worn before or after, and less restrictive.

Next: the underpetticoat

The underpetticoat or modesty petticoat, made of cotton, was worn just in case the wind blew a lady’s skirts up, or  just in case she bent over and her hoopskirt went up.

Up next: the hoopskirt or crinoline:

A hoopskirt, made with steel hoops,  holds the skirt out from the body in the desired and fashionable bell shape. Mine has a fabric cover with ruffles to prevent any show of the metal hoops.

Next, the overpetticoat:

The overpetticoat further softens the line of the dress over the hoopskirt. It was a major fashion faux pas for hoops to show through.

And finally, the dress:

Most dresses were actually 2 pieces, a skirt and a bodice. The bodice, like the corset, also had metal boning to give the garment structure. My dress won’t have as many frills and ruffles as the ones above. I just don’t have time unfortunately.

So once I figured out what items were needed to complete my 1861 outfit, I started shopping.  Unlike today where clothing is ready made, in 1861 clothing was either homemade or a seamstress was paid to make it for the wearer. To find 1860s clothing today, you have to look for the little shops online that sell it (mostly to Civil War Reenactors or for costuming in plays) and there aren’t a lot of them, compared to the volume of present day clothing. Most period clothing is stocked or made by request by small shop owners and the trick is to find them online. Once I found the online shops, then I compared pricing and quality, and finally decided on 5 different sources to get everything I needed.

  • I found a shop on Etsy that makes period clothing according to my measurements, so Beth is making my corset, underpetticoat, and bloomers this week, and when completed, she will be mailing them to me. Hopefully I’ll receive them early next week.
  • I ordered my dress pattern from a company called Past Patterns, and as of yesterday, it was in Dayton, OH. This morning, it was in Cincinnati and the expected delivery date is tomorrow.
  • I bought the dress fabric and lace from Joann’s Fabrics in Topeka last weekend.
  • My ordered my over-petticoat, hoopskirt, chemise, and fan from a company called Abraham’s Lady. My order started in Fort Myers, FL on Tuesday and as of this morning it is in Kansas City with an expected delivery date of either tomorrow or Saturday.
  • I bought a pair of short white gloves at an antique store down around the Wichita area last week. Ladies always wore gloves in the 19th century when dancing.

Hopefully, I’ll have all the parts of my outfit by early next week. And while I have the dress fabric, until I get the pattern and all the rest of my outfit, I can’t start making the dress. The dress is fitted with the corset, hoopskirt, and everything else on, so I’m in a holding pattern for now…..

Sixteen days until the ball……

and biting my nails…



Cattle, corn, wheat, beans, mud, snow, ice, and drought. Plenty of fresh air and quiet. Our life is sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes joyous, but never boring.

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12 Responses

  1. Tina says:

    Oh my gosh I am getting so nervous but excited. Can’t wait to see it all put together.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Florida hugs,
    Becca 🙂

  3. Alica says:

    Wow, that’s a lot of clothing and must have weighed a ton! Those ladies must have been sweating by the time they were finished dancing! You might be glad the ball is in the winter! 🙂

    • Suzanne says:

      Harland asked if I would be needing a coat, and I thought about it for a bit. All those underclothes, and I finally decided, “nope, don’t need coat”

  4. Lynda M O says:

    So looking forward to seeing the dress-making experience and of course, the final product. You will be Ravishing Ruby, no doubt about that !~!

  5. Cameo says:

    How about a Cape ? Used to see them a lot in old movies.
    All this sounds like so much fun.
    What is Harland wearing ?
    Looking forward to next post.

    Happy Thursday

  6. Alice says:

    This sounds like so much fun. Thank you for letting us in on the process. I was afraid you would get too busy sewing to be able to take pictures and post about them. I’m with ya! Wish I could help. (Don’t forget about pictures of Harlan while you are in this holding pattern)

  7. Melody says:

    I’ve sewn a pattern from Past Patterns. It was a fun experience, and I mean it. The pattern was well-made, the directions (mostly) clear, and I ended up with just what I wanted. It was a Civil War Union frock coat for my middle son; not quite your ball gown. I envy you, sewing that! I did once sew an 1880’s day dress, but the pattern was made by simplicity of McCalls, not a period interpreter. Good luck!!

  8. Glyndalyn says:

    Looking forward to seeing the dress and (maybe) photographs of the ball. Also Harland. Imagine he will cut a dapper figure in his period clothes.

  9. Amelia says:

    Can’t wait to see the finished product!

  10. Becky L says:

    What an undertaking but fun as well. Hope you can use the dress more than once! Looking forward to seeing your dress and what Harland is wearing as well. Take care and don’t stress…I do when I’m sewing~which I don’t do much of any more.

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