Late 1890s separates

I made this outfit for a Victorian ice skating event last weekend (for my birthday, you know! The only way I can force my friends to spend time outdoors for any span of time in the delightful winter cold - by pleading "But it's my birthday!!" and looking pathetic).

Originally I had very grand plans to make a nicely-trimmed Ageless Patterns 1898 suit from a really snuggly plum wool-cashmere I have...but by the time I got enough of the new underwear done, I knew I wouldn't have enough time to do the suit properly, so separates and a cape were plan B. (Actually the cape was plan C...I really prefer outerwear with sleeves when it's a Thing in period, but I ended up with 3 days to make a jacket, and that isn't really doable for me. Capes are much quicker!)

A small group of friends and I went to lunch at City Tavern, and afterward headed down to the River Rink at Penn's Landing.
Not quite the right time period, but we're fond of the food!
Skating was in fact not much fun at all - it was a gorgeous clear, cold day, and there were approximately a million people on the ice. And I forgot my skates so I had to wear the fugly rentals! Boo. And there is exactly one picture of me skating, as far as I know.
I can, however, confirm that long skirts and petticoats really don't impede skating in the least! Not that I thought they would, but it's always fun to test out "so how did they really manage X activity?" The late Victorians were quite sporty, you know! Hiking's up next I think. ;)
And later there was cake.
And now for costume details! I did get decent pictures of the cape when I wore it Saturday but not really of the shirtwaist, so I went out this morning to get a few pictures in the park. I can safely report it is colder today than it was on Saturday! Almost everything else was still warm, but I almost froze my poor little hands off. Much tea is now in order.
First, the outerwear:
The hat's a velveteen-covered buckram form that I made from Lynn McMasters' Belle Epoque pattern. I deliberately tried to not go matchy-matchy, as the guiding principle for this outfit was "actual me if I happened to live in 1898", rather than the slightly-more-fashionable-and-put-together I try to go for in most of my costumes. I tend to prefer skirts and tops to dresses, and my purse doesn't always match my coat. ;)

All that to say I decided to make a brownish-orange hat! It's trimmed with cobalt blue moire ribbon, natural ostrich drabs, and two duck wings. Wings and birds were very big in the 90s - most of which are not easily obtainable today (with good reason!). These wings are byproducts of other industries, though, so I personally don't mind using them. Your mileage may vary, of course! :)
Admire the background of lovely almost-exactly-contemporary-to-my-dress houses in the background of my park pictures. Thanks, people who live in expensive Victorian homes!

It's intended to be worn basically flat on the head, but my short pins combined with wind has led to some listing to port! I really need to get a couple of 12-inchers for this hat, but it hasn't happened yet.
The cape is made from my own pattern - by which I mean I pretty much drew chalk lines all over the fashion fabric til I had something that looked good! I think it works out to about a half-circle, that I fitted with shoulder darts. And no, I didn't match my plaids at the side seams. This drives someone I know mad, and that's half the fun!
The cape's made of three layers: heavy cotton flannel plaid (I know, cotton flannel...but it's apparel weight, not quilting, and I don't know of anywhere you can buy a nice wool tartan for $4 a yard, so I compromise), regular cotton flannel interlining, and brown/blue shot silk dupioni for lining. I always like to line winterwear in silk when I can; it's very insulating and makes it much easier to get sleeves on and off!
It closes in front with three hooks, and three frogs on top of that. The frogs look cute but they are an absolute nightmare to fasten and unfasten for some reason, especially with cold fingers. I may have gotten stuck in it briefly this morning...
Bonus deranged hat, which I prefer to think of as "jaunty", ahem
The collar is rather fab, if I do say so myself! 1890s collars are in fact very good ear-warmers. This one's lined in rabbit fur, and just reaches the bottom of my ears at the side. I could easily have made the collar an inch taller and not looked too ridiculous (notice I said too), but at that point I think I'd have wanted to wire it, and the millinery wire I have on hand is too heavy. This one is interlined with one layer of drill canvas and two layers of silk organza, and padstitched to hold it together, which works very nicely!
And underneath the outerwear...
Wearing gloves with a shirtwaist and skirt looks very silly but it was cold!
I used - well, started with - the old Butterick companion patterns, 3417 and 3418. They of course take some tweaking if you're looking for accuracy (yes, let me get right on that zipper in the skirt), but the shapes are quite decent starting points if you have some familiarity with late Victorian construction. I already had the skirt pattern on hand, and found the shirtwaist pattern on etsy for $4, so I decided to make my life easier and go with that!
The shirtwaist is made of silk taffeta - unlined in the body, and lined in the sleeves and collar with lightweight brown cotton. Not that I've ever seen that in an extant, but it made sense to me, as those are the only bits that will actually touch skin and silk doesn't love skin oils.

I cut down the sleeve puffs pretty considerably. The pattern envelope shows cute little perfect-for-1897-to-99 puffs, and believe me, that isn't what you get! They're pretty much full-fledged mid-90s puffs, although without the support. I took 4" out of the width initially, and then hacked about 3" off the top while putting it together. Let's say it together: always make mock-ups! (I didn't. Hence the hacking.)
The pattern doesn't call for the waist ties, but probably 95% of extant waists I've seen had some kind of drawstring at the waist, which makes sense!
I chose to put a drawstring in the back waist and have the twill tape thread through a buttonhole at the side seam to tie in front. Not a common treatment but I did see it on one waist!
The waist did actually come out just a titch small - it pulls at the upper back annoyingly. I blame the French seams I put in the sides, as it's a rather fray-happy taffeta. I don't like French seams! Usually I do flat felled but I didn't really want stitches to show on the outside so I did French seams instead. That's what I get. I really ought to take the sleeves off and scoop the armscye just a liiiitle bit more in front as they're a tiny bit on the pinchy-armpit side...but they didn't bother me while skating so that's not super high on the list.
 I used the collar from the pattern without mocking it up...will not be doing that again! I have a thin neck and the collar as-is made me look very turtle-y. Not great! So I put the thread bars alllll the way over to make it fit, which makes the angle from the top button to the hooks very awkward, but it works well enough.
The skirt is pretty much as basic as you can get! It's wool-cotton flannel (80/20 if I recall correctly), lined with cotton sateen. After a lot of peering at skirt diagrams and patterns from the period, I decided to tape the side-back and back pattern pieces together. They're on a straight seam, so there's no real reason not to put them together. And most back gores seem to have been larger than the fronts or side fronts at the time, which wasn't the case with this pattern before I taped it together.
Also, if you cut the pattern having folded up 3" at the hem and you're my height, you'll still get a sweep at the back. Not quite what I was going for, sheesh! I could have cut my hem 0.75-1" longer and still have been perfectly fine (I specifically had skating in mind while marking a hem), but that's a bit of a running theme with my skirts in general. I like short skirts! Probably because I'm a chronic own, not so much anyone else's, heh. You won't see this length in fashion plates, but it's reasonably common in turn-of-the-century street photography, so I'll still defend it as practical! ;)
Inside-out skirt: I was very diligent and tacked down all the seam allowances, though you can't see it. You'll notice the waistband's faced with brown cotton; usually I do a self-fabric waistband just folded over, but I didn't really need to deal with another two layers of that flannel. I already had to sew the waistband over the back pleats by hand as it wouldn't fit under my machine!
It's hard to see because everything's white (which is not quite period but I had a lot of the sateen on hand and it is nice for linings), but inside the hem you've got the sateen skirt lining, an 8" band of cotton crinoline, shaped to the skirt panels, and a narrower cotton muslin skirt facing, which I cut on the bias so it didn't have to be shaped to the skirt panels, and could be eased without taking too many big ugly tucks!

I'm very pleased I took the time to make and apply that band of crinoline interlining - it really does make a difference! Crin is good for the softer post-sleeve collapse years, and I wouldn't hesitate to use regular buckram if I were making one of those aggressively-shaped mid-90s skirts. There's buckram in the hem of at least one of the Janet Arnold 1890s dresses, which is where I got the idea.
As you can tell from the dress-dummy photos, a proper petticoat is just as important to getting the right shape (Mabel's got no legs to fill out a skirt, but even so it looks very sad and flat) - I made that new one with two tiers of eyelet ruffles at the hem and that's fairly plain for the period if you look at petticoat adverts! They were very fond of tucks. I am not very fond of tucks.
And here we have the back of the skirt, with the famous butt-pocket. Butt-pocket, you say? Why yes! Well, what's a girl to do when all the remaining pleats/gathers in her skirt have traveled to the center-back, so a pocket in the side seam (if she's even got a side seam) would gap most unattractively and show weird lumps if she put anything remotely bulky in it? Make a pocket in the CB seam!

Yeah, I thought it was hilariously weird too. But both the just-about-turn-of-the-century dresses in Janet Arnold have them, so I figured they must be on to something. Okay, sure, we'll try out this weird butt-pocket-thing.
It took til I was actually putting it together for the penny to drop - the pocket opening's actually in the placket, so it can still lay flat while you're fishing around in there for your hanky or trolly fare or whatever. Aha! I put a snap at the top of the placket flap since I was distrustful of its tendency to get wadded up.
Pocket! It's not as nice as an 18thc pocket, but I can put a surprising amount of modern necessaries in there without my butt looking weirdly lumpy. *grin* Yes, you do have to be mindful about not sitting square on top of it if you've got stuff in it, but it's no more difficult to move out of the way than a bustle IMO. So...I'm a butt-pocket convert, is what I'm saying.
Just a last couple photos...
With my American Duchess carriage boots! And ruffly petticoat.

I think I'll be doing more of the late 1890s when I have a chance; I think it's personally rather flattering, I do love me some separates, the hats make me happy, and it feels quite modern! Yes, despite the long skirts and petticoats. In sensible shoes I really don't think there's much of anything I couldn't manage in this type of dress that I can manage in modern clothes. Besides ride a horse astride, of course. ;)


  1. Aha! I totally get the butt pocket. I will have to incorporate this next time I have a chance to sew 1890's. Now I'm all inspired to go learn about this. (I've been looking at 1890's evening recently... I'm slowly venturing forth into Le Belle Epoche!) I love all the details you shared! It is a lovely outfit!


    1. Thank you! And the butt pocket is genius - I highly recommend it, haha. I've really liked what little I've done of 1890s, so I shall also highly encourage everyone else to go forth and make 1890s! :D

  2. Hooray, you look so fab!! I love ice skating in 1890s, and your plaid cape is so so perfect :) I have never thought to use silk lining in outerwear-I'll definitely have to try that.

    1. Thank you! I love using silk for lining coats etc...besides being insulating, it means your dress sleeves don't get wedged up in your coat sleeves, as it's more slippery! Not that that's an issue with a cape, haha.

  3. Amazing photos, you look gorgeous (:

    CM | XIII.


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