Dr. Anderson, 1862 Dressmaker Design Development

Real People in sketches by Artist of the Time

These were drawn of what people really wore, and are the best reference for the real women being considered for depiction:

1862 Specific

From a straight construction viewpoint, every woman’s garment, be it evening or day wear, looks the same for this time.  To get it even more exact, we select the year 1862 because it is very easy to define.  At this time the crinoline hoop was at its peak while it was still symmetrical, and before it became ovoid like it would by 1865.

It was still clearly the Mid-Victorian era, as the factors leading to Late Victorian were being developed (science of dyes, weaving, printing processes with the rise of fashion houses, the at home sewing machine, and a change in social attitudes towards clothing towards acceptance of mass production notably), but were not quite there yet.  In 1862, we still have the clear and defined lines and silhouette of the Mid Victorian era, without confusion of bustles or crinolettes; or with the former flounces and layers.

What we see consistent are the lines of the bodice, simple and the same day or night:  a wide “bertha” with shoulder seams over the shoulders, well fitted bodice, pointed center, 2 pieces, and specific seaming.  The only look different because of options in decoration and about 12 types of upper arm sleeve shapes.  Essentially they were all much the same for day wear or evening wear.Notable Real Women of the Day

The country had grown, and there were many types of women n many locations with many occupations.  Key people though in the political, social, and economical worlds at the time stood out, and influenced fashion.  Notably, as per the previous page describing the history of the fashion of the day there were European and American women influencing fashion.

Suffragette Elizabeth Stanton, for instance, was a fan of the Reform movement which aimed to remove corsets.  Following are a few real women worth noting for their fashion influence – either bringing it “up” to the ideals of teh day, or “down” for straight function.  These generally indicate High Fashion of the day, or court or formal wear at least:

1858 Harriet Johnson, niece of Buchanan who acted as first lady
1855 Isabella of Spain
1855 Eugenie of France, started high fashion of the day
Eugenie in Court Dress in 1853
Queen Victoria with family in 1852 – the other key to high fashion
1850s Princess of Astoria
1860s Harriet Tubman as depicted in media today
Elizabeth Stanton late 1860s. The “low” of “high” fashion to make a political statement
Only photo of Harriet Tubman. This bodice has been colorized many different ways
1864 Princess Carlotta of Belgium
1862 Mary Todd Lincoln
The 1862 Day dress of the Empress of Austria
1862 Duchess Castro Enriquez
1862 or 65 Princess Mathilde Bonaparte
1860’s Louisa May Alcott
1862 approx Elizabeth Stanton
1860s Mary Todd Lincoln Dress
1862 Mary Todd Lincoln silk dress
1860 Madame Spranza.. appears to us to be closer to 1856 by the ruffles
1860 Isabel (of Spain?)

We have selected from the whole world of garments in museums, those which fit the character and the tastes of our customer.  Note the similarities in design, shape, color, tailoring, notions, details, and how closely even day wear resembles the “standard” we outlined at the top of this page regarding waist, skirt, fabric, colors, and shape.

A very select collection of examples that are similar to the ballgowns she first liked.  Included are possible ways to cover the exposed neckline for modesty.



1862 Specific

WE are going to limit discussion on undergarments as there are extensive research sections on two other ensembles: 1866 and 1868.  Click on the dates to see the documentation.  Instead, we show examples of the most typical that would have been worn with daily or evening apparel in 1862.  Notable of course is the crinoline hoop; in 1865 it was at its largest ovoid shape.  We choose the 1862 symmetrical but 165″ circumference for this project.








Crinoline Hoops



Footwear – Shoes and Boots

This will be an 1862 project.  It was in the deepest part of the war when the characters she is most interested in portraying were very involved in and out of the war effort.  It is also a very clear fashion era that is easy to explain, because all the garments were based on the same construction, with only decoration and color changes.

After discussion with Dr. Anderson, we have selected based on her depiction, character, location, and personal preferences, along with evaluation of what would be appropriate for this character, the following key extant examples in photos, portraits, and real garments from which to draw inspiration for this custom design.

  1. The first thing she needs to do is pick whether it will be a day or evening dress.
  2. Second is her color scheme.

From there we will finetune the design, using the basics we know already of undergarments, structures, key features for 1862.

We put these “spreadsheets” together so Dr. Anderson could print them as attachments.  These group the examples above for easier comparison.  We refer to these when discussing options:


Initial Ideas for Ball gowns including compilation using favorites from above:

Day Dresses

Favorite examples for a high middle class such as Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker currently under consideration with possible fabrics (checks and stripes!):

Fabrics for Daydresses

A Day Dress Then

At this point Dr. Anderson decided to portray Elizabeth Keckley, First Lady and wife of Abraham Lincoln the President’s dressmaker.  This narrowed down design decisions really fast.  Mrs. Keckley did not go to the ball, or at least not as an invitee.

Yes, she was there, as biographies and fiction describe the relationship between the two women.  We know she dressed Mrs. Lincoln before events.  We know she was on hand to help in case of wardrobe challenges.  We also know she sneaked out and went home whenever the opportunity arose, mostly because before a big even she had multiple deadlines for her many clients and went without sleep for day son end.

Therefore, this must be a day dress, but not just any day dress.  Like all dressmakers in history, the woman in private dressed for comfort and ease in sewing long hours.  When meeting clients or participating in events, she had to play the part of the lady – complete in the latest fashion, but as they say in today’s job interview “just one step below her employer”.

  • What this means for Design
  • This meant she would have:
  • the same fashionable silhouette she gave her clients
  • the same attention to detail with quality in construction technique
  • the best fabric and notions she could afford, which probably would be somewhat low in value since her bio says she had to wait for payment until after delivery for a commission.   Just like today, prepayment barely covered the cost of materials, and the designer had to put in long hours in consultation, travel to meetings, design, and planning, before getting any money.
  • this kept the dressmaker somewhat poor.

We can assume then she might have one or two fine dresses to go to events, and that was IT.  It would be the best she could manage on small income, and squeezing in between her other projects for customers, as well as taking care of life in getting preparing food, etc.  Mrs.  Keckley reportedly lived in the house of a family at this time, which would allow her to time to not meet all her daily needs, but the life of a woman, a single woman, would be full 24 hours a day.

It might have been that someone else made her garments for her!

Real Historical Women and Garments

We look first at the only photos we have of Mrs. Keckley herself.  They have been colorized based on interpretation of black and white photos to determine these two ensembles were purple and gray, or both possibly a mauve or light purple.  In the Lincoln museum, we see her in gray silk taffeta with black or dark navy blue trim.

Mrs.  Keckley

Sketch at the time she was working for Mrs. Lincoln

Keckley still fashionable in about 1891

Keckley in about 1896
Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln” features Mrs. Keckley. It is interesting to see how they dressed the two women.

From these we see a focus on the line of the garment – EXCEPT – she’s not wearing a crinoline!  It was the time of the largest crinoline ever, yet she’s only wearing a petticoat.  That is most likely because it was not PRACTICAL for a dressmaker who lived in a small house who had to find her way to the White House, and into a room to dress a woman in large skirts – to wear them herself.

This is perplexing though, since she is obviously knowledgable about high fashion, and capable of producing it.  These are formal portraits that she posed for, and one assumes a person dresses up in their finest for a formal portait.  If that is the case, she should have been wearing a crinoline.  Her skirt is a bit too long, as if made for a hoop, and it is the ovoid shape of 1865.  Perhaps she was caught offguard and told “we must have a picture of you”, and was just there working, so this was her work ensemble.

Queen Victorian and daughter Beatrice went into immediate black for mourning, establishing the mourning industry. Victoria wore black the rest of her life, while Beatrice eventually got on with her life after 1861

Time of War & Mourning

We must remember it was the middle of a war though, and materials, fabrics, and hoop boning was probably hard to come by.  The South where the hoop was widely worn was being decimated by this time, and perhaps there was not access to “proper undergarments.

The other issue is to wonder exactly HOW Mrs. Keckley learned what high fashion was.  Prince Albert died in 1861, and Queen Victoria, fashion leader of the world went into mourning from that day for the rest of her life.  Victoria wore the fashionable silhouette, but in black crepe or silk.  She began the whole mourning industry with its dictates at the time.

This meant fashion would defer back to Eugenie of France who was working with the fashion houses and was advising Victoria anyway.  Eugenie was young and influential at the time, and she was the one who brought the crinoline such favor around the world.

It is most likely Mrs. Lincoln used every possible means to collect information on the fashion of France from every resource available – and at the time she got it.  She might though have been behind the times due to war embargoes and limited communications to the White House.

Most likely, Mrs. Lincoln was a bit out of date despite her efforts.

This Keckley design and build for Mrs. Lincoln is in the smaller size of Mrs. Lincoln’s early days, and with the layers indiciating it might be from the 1850’s. Note that despite careful design, its construction is not crisp and sharp in seams and junctions, and ruffles are uneven. Granted she had to do it all by hand and in a hurry on a budget, but it just seems kind of (pardon us Madames Lincoln and Keckley) “cheesy”.

Home Made Hand Made

Upon inspection of the Mary Todd Lincoln garments, we see one very outstanding feature.  They are obviously homemade.  Not just hand made, although the sewing machine was in homes in Europe by 1861, but HOMEMADE.  Seams are not sharp, edges are somewhat fudged, trims are cheap and used sparingly, and the level of craftsmanship compared to what was coming out of Europe (and what we are capable of at this time with our equipment and availability and technology) was rather poor.

Sorry to historians to sound arrogant now, but these were garments made by someone through trial and error; asked to copy something a customer saw to the best of her ability with limited resources, and to make it personal and special.

Examples of Keckley’s Work

Looks like Mrs. Lincoln asked Mrs. Keckley for an exact replica of Queen Victoria’s dress, except Mrs. Lincoln didn’t have free access to the fine laces of Belgium and England and didn’t have a war embargo limiting her supplies


Here are as many examples of Mrs. Keckley’s work that we could find, include the above that she herself wears.  What we find in common for all of them is:

  • They seem to have been made in a hurry
  • Materials are not very costly, especially trims, laces, and notions (compared to the Europeans)
  • They all kind of look the same; trying to make the waist small and the shoulders large to create the ideal “hourglass” silhouette of the day out of a chubby and shortwaisted woman
  • You can almost feel the struggle between Mrs.  Lincoln asking for “more more more” lace, flowers, fluff, and frills, and Mrs. Keckel (whom in her own garments shows an almost austere and highly structured and tailored preference) who is pulling back the frills and “fluff”.
  • The results are florals and laces in key spots, with fabrics that have a broad field of solid color.
  • The real key to her design is always a high contrasting trim or line, almost always some sort of a straight line in the trim, around the neckline, over the hip, or somewhere that makes and angle or sharpness in contrast to so much puffiness.

We reserve judgement on quality of design or construction, but after years of studying the fashion sources such as the Worth Fashion House in Paris and others at this same time, we feel these garments are definitely a homemade best interpretation of high fashion at the time.

Kudos to Mrs. Keckel for finding a way.  It’s just too bad Mrs. Lincoln didn’t send her to Paris to study with the pros for a while.

Mary Todd Lincoln’s Dresses


Checks, Stripes, and Solids

After studying the Lincoln dresses, all we have of Mrs. Keckel, and trends at the time (see the “Fashion Page”), we have selected these extant garments and photos of real women to represent possible designs for the Mrs. Keckel ensemble.  These are consistent with the Keckel design features for Mrs. Lincoln.  What these all have in common are:

  • Small patterns, narrow lines
  • Simple lines of the dress
  • Tailored and minimal ornament or trim; mostly highlighting construction features such as sleeve or cuff areas
  • Full crinoline skirts
  • Pleating at waist
  • Waist line of the day
  • 2 piece:  bodice and skirt
  • High neck, buttoned with optional collar
  • Nice buttons
  • Belts optional

Prime example of Mrs. Keckley’s own Tastes

We can speculate on what Mrs. Keckley’s personal tastes vs. her client’s were all day, but this dress for Mrs. Lincoln, probably the most notable to historians along with the floral ensemble above, seems to stray so far from her usual designs, that we can only assume Mrs. Lincoln finally said “do whatever you want” for this one.

It has the solid color with linear trim, sharp and angular high contrast trim, rich fabric, and lack of froufrou or lace and fuss that seems to be the tug and pull of her work for Mrs. Lincoln.

It is from this we can draw a simple design for Mrs. Keckley’s day dress.  In this summary, we find we are not too far off the Spielberg movie design – although we’ve come about it in our own way! Interestingly, after seeing their design, and coming to the conclusion to follow the features of the purple dress above, we found this Queen Victoria day dress after the fact.  It would be nice to combine the concepts.

What we Need for Accurate Portrayal

  • Tailored
  • High contrast trim or ornament that features construction details (shoulder, waist, sleeve, cuff)
  • Predominant color; solid preferred
  • Silk taffeta – rich in color and texture
  • Well fitted
  • Somewhat humble like a servant would wear rather than a great lady

What we Want for Personal Tastes and Functional Needs

  • Wear a hoop so only 1 petticoat needed
  • Small print or design so Dr. Anderson is not overpowered by design
  • Tailored to suit taste
  • Make waist small
  • Cover the neck
  • Rich in detail
  • Fits with existing corset
  • Color that she likes and that looks good on her
  • Color different than the other ensembles we’ve made for her
  • Cost down by finding least costly fabric
  • Use trims and threads in stock to keep costs down

Given the research above, and research on the Fashion History and Historical Context pages, we select these key real photos and extant garments to draw inspiration from.  This will be followed by designer’s choice of fabrics that meets the criteria just above:

The tailored and evenly spaced large checks, plus being black and purple looks just like Keckley would wear with the trim on the bottom. She would probably add piping to emphasize back and front and sleeve seams.


The ruching on the bodice intrigues us to do something special. she’s not wearing a crinoline either. We doubt though Elizabeth would have enough time to make a fancy bodice like this for herself, so the more tailored look is more logical than this


Mrrs. Keckley herself, she has lots of fun trims on the sleeves and center front with a false collar. While this is plain silk taffeta, we can probably take it down from being so formal to include checks, and put some effort into a nice belt and cuffs. Note she never has anything in her hair or a hat.
We like the solid background with minimal checks on this and the high contrasting black trim. We have lots of black lace in stock plus some beaded black trim. this color scheme in pink or coral with black would be “very Keckley”.
We just like the color and pattern on this, although the upper wrap is confusing with the fringe. We can do this if it’s a black and something color like the ballgown fabrics above


A less fancy version of this looks very Keckly with its purple and black. We especially like trimming out the bottom of the bodic and skirt, but not so much the fancy down the arms and skirt that are overwhelming the poor girl
This is your basic day drress with a perfect fit. Aim for this silhouette and a nice fabric, and you really don’t need much more for a working woman. Do it in silk taffeta checks and it will look fancy, especially with a nice lace collar.
Love the simplicity and tailoring of this with the sharp contrast and buttons matching the trim. If we use a solid color, would love to do this.. but by machine please.
The title on this page was “you’d never guess who is this woman’s godmother”.. and then no more.. so who is this? A lovely check over a crinoline, but the skirt is still too long. Perhaps high fashion in America was to wear your skirts too long or no crinoline. Doesn’t make sense, but the color scheme is lovely although this doesn’t fit her so well.. it’s like she’s wearing someone else’s dress and the photographer posed her so it would look like it’s fitting (and that someone else is much taller)


These are designer favorites from among what is available.  Except the blue stripe which is cotton, they are all silk taffeta:

These black, blue, tan combos will actually read as a kind of beige from far away. They would be wonderful to work with black and beige as contrasting trims and fringes whcich we have n stock, and they do look good on Dr. Anderson
We actually like the pink the best, but the ensemble we just made Dr. Anderson is that color, so let’s do something different. This green, gold, pink check looks like a picnic cloth up close, but reads as a nice pink and green from a distance. There are some vintage pink and green trims we can get, as that was a favorite color combination at the time. The bit of cross weave in gold brings this to the color range that looks good on the good Dr.
While the cotton cuts the cost waaay down, we just don’t see Ms. Keckley in cotton, even a lovely one like this which is an accurate reproduction Civil War print. It just seems kind of dull – not rich compared to the blue and green check with it. This check is our favorite for the project, although we can’t figure out which kinds of buttons or trims to use with it.. a design challenge if we pick this one
Purple is the logical choice for an exact interpretation, plus we can use all our wonderful black trim and fringe and velveteen we have in stock. I wish they had a “Lavender”, or something pale that had a little more “umph” in it. The Eggplant seems a bit dark, and the lilac too wimpy.
Arsenic green on the left would be very appropriate. The Blue lagoon is correct for the time, and especially nice with black trim, although it has a sheen that marks it as a modern fabric
If we want to be quite accurate, we’ll use this Dusty Violet which actually has little ribs in the texture, with black trim – and somewhat duplicate the one photo of Mrs. Keckel with the trim design
Here’s that fringe we have in stock again

After discussing with Dr. Anderson, she has selected the following as guidelines for design.  Next will be design sketches and recommendations for undergarments, structures, and accessories.

Note:  We build from these sketches; will put together the final selections along with undergarments and structures onto one page for reference and pricing next.



Replications of Keckley’s Own Work

Based on the analysis above of Keckley’s work, tastes, and the only 2 photos from the 1860’s we have of her, here are two possible REPLICATIONS (meaning will look exactly like hers) and available fabric options:

Based on her Portrait:

Based on her sculpture in the Lincoln Museum in Springfield:

Silhouettes’ New Designs based on Keckley’s

Simplified for Modern Interpretations, pus a new Work Dress too

1A – closest visual representation:

1B – close representation but in fabrics other than silk:

2A – straying from replication, this is typical of what Keckley would have worn daily and not at the White House:

4A, 4B – We put together the accurate replication with features we liked, brought it “down” to a working dress that can be made in ANY desired fabric nicely, so it is actually a compilation of all the designs above for a daydress:

Undergarment & Accessory Selections

Go with any of above designs

Cap sleeve or no sleeve low over the shoulder plain and simple cotton chemise
Her own silk corset or a new on in a pastel similar to this which is the correct shape for the era
Long split cotton drawers with tucks and druffle
Simple petticoat over hoop. Depending on final selection (work dress vs ballgown), will be tucked or undtucked, may have one ruffle instead of broiderie lace as this example. This is the shape though (shown over a hoop)


We recommend a braid hair piece wrapped around the head to give it more fullness and period correct shape, but not a wig nor a full hair piece.  Wrap like any of these.  We can provide a wig though.

From our regular supplier, the first is a full head wig (in any color!), and the others are clip on braids and curls which are inexpensive and probably all we need for this project (available in select colors):

After talking about it, Dr. Anderson likes this if we make a daydress:

(she has been forewarned it looks a lot like “Arsenic Green”, although today’s green dyes are very safe!)

Arsenic green extant 1860’s gown
Another extant Arsenic gown and cartoon from France at the time. Women wore them anyway! And women and their dance partners died.. from being dyed…

These extant gowns do make us think we might use a neutral or light colored fringe instead of all coordinated.  They liked their high color contrasts in the early 1860’s, especially designer Elizabeth Keckley.

BallGown Final Development

After discussion of the above, and after Dr. Anderson had real fabric samples in her hands to look at, we made some decisions on the type of ensemble this should be.  We studied all of the books including Mrs. Keckley’s autobiography, watched all the movies where she is depicted, and made the following decision:  it must be a day dress.  It must be a day dress that’s so beautifully tailored to fit, with detail to trim, and high fashion of the exact date, that it might as well be a ballgown.

Cost factors also came into the decision.  A ballgown uses over 16 yards of silk taffeta and 12 yards of 28″ lace plus more!  A day dress uses “only” 9 yards of fabric and no lace, with trims that can be more easily found today.

A few other decisions:

  • Pale lavender silk with black or dark purple trim


  • Purple and purple or green and blue checked silk with coordinating trim to be decided
  • 140-50″ hem circumference (for large hoop, but less fabric than ballgown)
  • Possible unique trim configuration as per examples
  • Short bodice with tapered center point (not long like some of our designs above)

Here are the extant gowns from which we draw inspiration; some for trim detail, some for fabric, and some for the overall “look”:

Trim and edging concept; overall shape, but Dr. Anderson’s 1898 depiction has a similar zouave jacket, so we might build this in purple with a different bodice

A simpler design for daily wear, from this we take the use of large checks and the crocheted collar; both very “doable” for this project, as well as the interesting sleeve detail
Fringe! An additional mantle like this if we use fringe on the bodice would be a nice touch, and a scarf rather than a fanchon bonnet could keep the cost down. Trim over the skirt seams is a nice touch, as is the embroidery and waist scarf on the white one. from this we also take the idea of the subtle checks or stripes
One of two favorites, this in purple with dark fringed trim would be just fine
Zouave jacket again we don’t want, but this shows what a floral printed silk would look like in the same concept, and the use of a same color trim – very nice
From this we take the overall shape, but mostly the trim concept which is soooo Keckley! This and others require engageante sleeves and crocheted collar, which makes it less formal wear and more daily wear
We have the feeling if Keckley was to design herself a ballgown or high end formal wear, this is how it would look. To our minds a bit overdone and garrish, her personal tastes ran this way with the high contrast trims and lots and lots of lines. The mantle cape and waist sash are really nice, as is the unique scalloped edge. This was a fashion plate. We wonder if it was ever built? Yet, this is one of our favorites because it covers the neck, but is essentially a ballgown which resolves the decision between day dress and ballgown
This is the Princess of Russia’s real gown, and we take from it the concept of a lace overlay with lace on the bodice. It takes the elements of the ballgown into daily wear, although it doesn’t seem tailored and fitted enough to suit the Keckley characterization
We should just bilt this. It is nearly perfect in every way. Add a mantle and fanchon bonnet, and it’s there. Problem is finding striped silk taffeta. Perhaps in a solid or in the green and blue silk? The other nice thing is it doesn’t require engageante sleeves or a lace collar, keeping the cost down. There are no photos of Mrs. Keckley with those accessories, though she must have worn them with daily wear. Dr. Anderson also prefers smaller sleeves and a tighter profile with a higher waist. These sleeves are more appropriate to both Dr. Anderson and Mrs. Keckley. Design will be based on this silhouette, although we might get a bit crazier with the trim.

The final project will include:

  1. Bodice
  2. Skirt
  3. Fanchon Bonnet
  4. Hoop
  5. Petticoat
  6. Chemise
  7. Split Drawers
  8. Crocheted Gloves
  9. White Collar

(She already has corset, stockings, boots/shoes. Hair is too short for hairnet.  Engageantes possibly if option of pagoda sleeves selected)

And the Decision is..!!!

(With small checked lining, ribbed silk taffeta, abalone shell authentic cameo, midnight blue (almost black) silk taffeta for the linear trim, and beads on a ribbon).  We will build the larger sleeve with a lace over cotton engageante with matching lace and cotton removeable collar. (not shown here)

Click here to go to the main page with the finished project (next)

Click here to go to the historical context page

Click here to go to the fashion history page

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