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18th century working clothes

Posted: Tue May 02, 2006 7:20 pm
by kate/bob
could anyone point me in the direction of an idiot's guide to making 18th century working women's clothes? I've googled it but have only managed to find stuff about fashionable clothes.


Posted: Tue May 02, 2006 9:26 pm
by frances
Can you give me some more information so I can give you detailed advice. Are you talking of clothes for a trade, (more respectable) or peasant pursuits like milking a cow or taking the milk in buckets around the streets in a town. Are you on the youngish side, or of more mature years - the older women would have continued to wear the clothes they already had, i.e. they would be more likely to be out-of-date. Indoor or out-of-doors. Are we talking 'working' as in the oldest profession. Summer or winter.

Generally you would wear a linen chemise, corset (stiffened with straw or reeds), and jacket. A skirt (matching the jacket or not) and petticoat (quilted in the winter) and the skirt may be open at the front, or not. You would probably have a fine linen shawl with a flounce. Your jacket may fasten closed at the front, or it may be open with a matching stomacher, depends upon the date. You might be wearing an apron, depending upon what you are doing. Your hair would be covered by a cap, often elaborately frilled (say if you were a ladies maid). Shoes would have small heels and maybe metal buckles at the front, particularly if you are wearing Sunday best.

The poorer people would buy their clothes at slop shops, second-hand shops. So the garments could be ill-fitting, patched or be enlarged with a slightly different fabric.

To point you in the right direction I do need more information as to who you are and where you are going.

Posted: Wed May 03, 2006 7:47 am
by kate/bob

I'm going for less than respectable, fallen on hard times. Any ideas where I can find patterns or instructions on how to make them and what sort of fabric the various layers should be make from?


Posted: Wed May 03, 2006 3:32 pm
by Karen Larsdatter
Wasn't there some indication that the women released from poorhouses were sometimes given (among other things) a leather bodice to wear? (I'm only half-remembering something I'd read on the 18cWoman mailing list, though.)

(To some extent, you'd have to follow up on Frances' question above -- fallen on hard times how? Do you sell goods in the street, or :shock: your virtue?)

Beyond that ... I've found the JP Ryan patterns pretty easy to work with (you might find that the women's Basic Six Piece Wardrobe will suit your purposes best).

Here in the U.S., there are newspaper ads for runaway indentured servants & slaves; these most often describe the garments that they were wearing (or had stolen) when they ran off. Did they have those sorts of advertisements in England as well? I've found these from Ireland, too.)

In terms of other online resources, there's Mara Riley's Costume Page and 18cNewEnglandLife, the aforementioned 18cWoman mailing list, etc.

Posted: Wed May 03, 2006 4:19 pm
by kate/bob
We've decided that for fun we're going to be a bunch of brigands, so I'm going for low life thief at best!

I've had a quick look at the JP Ryan patterns and that seems like a good way forward. I'm in my mid 30s and looking for summer clothes if that makes any difference.

Posted: Wed May 03, 2006 4:45 pm
by Shadowcat
There is an extant leather corset mentoned in "A History of Underwear" by C. Willett Cunnington and Phillis Cunnington. I believe it is said to have come from a workhouse. However, I have not read anything else than their comments.

The "Pennsylvania Gazette" runaway information is very useful, but American, not Irish as your link would seem to suggest, Karen.

There is a helpful book on ordinary clothes in Canada too, French Canadian, I think, but I can only remember the name Suzanne - not the rest of it. That might give you some references to what garments looked like, as I think there is a list of clothing with drawings. Helpful for the more obscure terms, and some of them are American not British too. (Some confusion for example re the American use of the term "short gown" where we tend to call it a jacket, or any number of other terms, such as caraco!)


Posted: Wed May 03, 2006 6:42 pm
by Karen Larsdatter
Shadowcat wrote:The "Pennsylvania Gazette" runaway information is very useful, but American, not Irish as your link would seem to suggest, Karen.
Whoops -- sorry about that! (Why did I think it was from Ireland? I guess I was paying more attention to the domain name on the site, or something.)
Shadowcat wrote:There is a helpful book on ordinary clothes in Canada too, French Canadian, I think, but I can only remember the name Suzanne - not the rest of it.
Suzanne Gouse, maybe?

That reminded me -- well, the French reference, anyway -- of the French boatswoman's outfit (1793) on The Northern Society of Costume & Textiles' website -- though that boatswoman was likely a more honest woman than Kate's brigandess interpretation will end up being! :lol:

(There are some pretty good books on 18th century garments from here in the colonies, though; I've got Linda Baumgarten's What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America at home, and it's quite good. There's also Sharon Ann Burnston's Fitting & Proper, but that's mostly clothing from Chester County, Pennsylvania -- and quite a lot of those garments may have been worn by Quakers.)

Fitting & Proper does have a pattern for mitts, I think; and those would be an excellent (and useful) accessory for the female brigand-to-be. :D There are several other commercial patterns for mitts, too (knit mitts or linen mitts).
Shadowcat wrote:(Some confusion for example re the American use of the term "short gown" where we tend to call it a jacket, or any number of other terms, such as caraco!)
We actually refer to other garments as "jackets" or "caraco" or "pet en l'air" or "manteau-de-lit," etc., depending on style, etc. Jackets tend to be more fitted than a short gown, and more likely to use buttons or lacing to close in the front (short gowns, for the most part, seem to have been just pinned in the front, though IIRC there are some examples with ties in the front -- though those might have been early 19th century). Whether short gowns (as opposed to "jackets") were worn in England or not, I'm not sure -- it doesn't seem entirely unlikely, but on the other hand, it's not like I can point to extant examples at the websites for the V&A or at the Museum of Costume.

Here are some articles discussing short gowns:

Posted: Wed May 03, 2006 7:10 pm
by steve stanley
The Gousse book is "Costume in New France from 1740 to 1760"...can also recommend "Tidings from the 18th century" by Beth Gilgun....speaking to She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed..(who says they don't come much lower class than her..)...basics are 2 drawstring petticoats,shift,stays,bedjacket & coif/cap..when trying to do reasonably authentic low-life tatty gent's waistcoat & hat have been added.

Posted: Wed May 03, 2006 8:20 pm
by Shadowcat
The bedjacket referred to in Steve's post is yet another term for "short gown"! (Karen's "manteau au lit" - showing off me french!)

I have been researching 18th century quilted bedgowns, a different garment again - more like a negligee.

I think "short gowns" were worn, but the name wan't necessarily used. See Anne Buck, "Dress in the Eighteenth Century" for more help, especially what the poor wore, in one chapter.

Posted: Wed May 03, 2006 10:35 pm
by Foxe
I suspect I'm stating the glaringly obvious here, but do keep in mind the exact time period (the 18thC was nearly a hundred years long you know!), and the location you're coming from.

When someone says "18thC" to me I think of the early part, because that's what I'm familiar with; here we have had advice ranging from mid-18thC Canada to very late century France.

Even for the working classes fashions changed dramatically over the 18th century, and also varied from country to country, so do keep in mind the details.

Posted: Thu May 04, 2006 3:03 pm
by kate/bob
we seem to have settled on the north west coast of England / south west coast of Scotland between 1740 and 1770. We're going to be smugglers / corrupt excise men / thieves.

Posted: Thu May 04, 2006 3:50 pm
by m300572
north west coast of England /
Liverpool bay area? Shell suits and curly wigs ehhh? ehhh?? ehhhh???

Whats the event, where and when?

Posted: Thu May 04, 2006 7:17 pm
by steve stanley
'Twas always an idea of mine to do John Paul Jones's raid on the Scottish coast...sort of Pirates meet AWI...& it Happened!

Posted: Thu May 04, 2006 8:43 pm
by frances
I would think about a combination of men's and ladies clothes - i.e. whatever you could have laid your hand on, bearing in mind that some would be stolen, some bought when you are on land at slop shops. So, the odd garment could be quite posh with embroidery and flounces. Another item could be too large and a bit patched. Maybe top it off with a man's hat with some pretty ribbons around the edge, to show you are a female. For ease of movement I think male breeches rather than a skirt and petticoat would be acceptable. I suggest boots rather than feminine mules with heels. One advantage of what you are planning is that noone will criticise your outfit!

Have a look at the patterns in Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion. That will give you the basic shapes for your top half. Whatever you do, have a lot of fun with it.

Posted: Fri May 05, 2006 8:44 am
by Tod
"None will critise your outfit". I wouldn't count on it :wink:
If you are going to play a woman dress as one. Excise men would have to mix with the general public and women dressed as men in any way would be totaly unacceptable. Smugglers existed all across the country and wouldn't want to stand out from the crowd, for obvious reasons. As for thieves, one of the biggesat areas of crime was the theft of clothing, although not in rural areas, but again you wouldn't dress as a thief.
Look at Hogarths paintings and you will get a very good idea of the poor, although it has to be remembered some are some what cartoon like.

It does depend on how to want to portray what you are doing. If you want accuracy with costume its a lot easier than many other aspects of re-enactment. Many 18th century clothes still exist, and there are plenty of pictures. A way to think is that the poor dressed like the rich but in a poor and out of date way.

You might try contacting the Mannered Mob, they are part of Lace Wars ( they have a lot of info on womens clothes.

I hope this helps. By the way if you PM Wina MacPod she has some patterns form around 1740 -1750.

Posted: Fri May 05, 2006 11:55 am
by Moose-Abuse
steve stanley wrote:'Twas always an idea of mine to do John Paul Jones's raid on the Scottish coast...sort of Pirates meet AWI...& it Happened!
To miss-quote Mr. Jones

"I haven't even started re-enacting yet!"

Sorry couldn't resist it.

AWI privateers were one of the ideas we had but hanging off of rigging and throwing grenades into holds sounds a bit dangerous to me.

As we have members with family histories of wrecking/smuggling and HM Revenue Service we thought that a general Brand of Brigands sounded the way to go.

It's all a bit of fun really but being re-enactors we thought we may as well do it as authentically as we could.


Posted: Sun May 07, 2006 6:26 pm
by Foxe
Moose-Abuse wrote:AWI privateers were one of the ideas we had but hanging off of rigging and throwing grenades into holds sounds a bit dangerous to me.

Posted: Tue May 09, 2006 8:43 pm
by Mark P.
If your interested in smuggling in Scotland in the mid C18th it might be worth trying to find some of the Wyre Forest Press books if you do not have them aleady, they were published in the 90's I think so only available second hand now.

I have the one for Strathclyde but they also mention seperate booklets covering Greenock, Ayrshire, Bute and Kintyre on the back cover.


Posted: Tue May 09, 2006 9:41 pm
by Moose-Abuse
How interesting. Didn't know about those. All I have is a couple of the Ayrshire Archaeological Society's monographs about the Shipping trade in Ayrshire 1689-1791 and Smuggling and the Ayrshire Economic Boom of the 1760-1770s.

Posted: Sat May 13, 2006 12:05 am
by Karen Larsdatter

Posted: Tue May 23, 2006 6:25 pm
by Peanutsmum
I have used the JP Ryan patterns and found them to be OK. They do tend to come up a bit small so I'd say if you go with them check the fit before cutting your best fabrics! The patterns Tod mentions are good also, I've used them too.

Posted: Fri May 26, 2006 11:03 am
by Tuppence
For materials wool and linen.

For very basic shapes Janet Arnold (but bear very much in mind that she's really dealing with the upper class clothing that's survived).

For research there are some very good books around, including the cunnington "ocupational costume" (although it doesn't cover smugglers / excise, specifically,. it does cover quite a lot of ordinary occupations, both male and female (and as stated above, anyone invilved in smuggling on either side would be trying to pass as an ordinary person).

Women might have dressed in men's clothing if actually carrying out 'smuggling', as there are a couple of vague records of women who dressed in men's clothing while travelling / working (and female miners took to wearing men's clothing), but it wasn't viewed as socially acceptable, (even a hundred years later it was still frowned on), and unless you could explain it, it'd be a dead giveaway you were up to no good.

Another option is distressing of course. Although it's not an easy thing to do, you can get some stunning results by faking the age of clothing.


Posted: Tue May 30, 2006 9:36 pm
by nutmeg_bec
I heard Gerry Embleton used (still does?) to ask builders to wear his clothes on site before they were used for his display models. It's such a rough trade (hard on them I mean), that the clothes became worn very quickly. Only once did he have any problems... the wearer very kindly had the doublet & hose dry cleaned before giving them back!