1866 Pioneer Girl, Fiona Buker

Fiona Buker, 1866 Pioneer Girl

Fiona is currently 12 years old, exactly the dividing line between being a child and being a woman. This has not changed since woman was born. In the 1860’s at this age, Fiona would be preparing for marriage in just a few years, and would be working alongside the women doing the same things they did in preparation. She would also pull the full load of a woman, not a child.

Interpretation of this character is challenging because as the young woman changes, so would her fashion, undergarments, behavior and life change. That is her story; how that would be the same, different, or otherwise today versus yesteryear.

On the sidewalk

Fiona’s intent is to work alongside women and other appropriate historic interpreters at select forts and museums in the western United States, notably portraying Wyoming, South Dakota, and Nebraska where she currently lives. She will depict the role and activities of a teen in that era, including describing the differences between her changing roles as child into womanhood within and without her family.

Click to go to Fiona’s Historical Research time & place Page (1)

Click to go to Fiona’s Fashion History Research Page (2)

Click to go to Fiona’s Design Development Page (3)

Continue below for Fiona’s character and FINISHED PROJECT

1866 FINAL – Leaving Alabama a girl & becoming a Woman on the Western Journey
1880’s FINAL – Settled on the Prairie & a Woman Now

Mother of Pearl dark colored buttons for Fiona’s dress on a single color dyed cotton
Optional larger and brighter Mother of Pearl buttons with Fiona’s dress and apron (white) cotton fabrics
The pioneer dress has pockets, linings, and protective under layers to the hem. Women would replace these cheaper fabrics and protect the outer layer of their clothing rather than replace the whole dress. This authentic Civil War reproduction fabric is gorgeous in itself
The 1860’s bonnet is a soft, corded more reminscent of the earlier 1800’s and the kind a woman would wear all the time. Later we will move into a slat bonnet for prairie use. This reproduction cotton is a bit later than 1865 in its use of 3 colors of dye. It would be special and used in limited quantity, such as an inside bonnet as this is intended to be
Fiona is representing two eras in history – 1866 and 1880’s (general). This is because much of her marketability rests in 1870-80’s interpretation in Western states. All of her undergarments are used and appropriate to each era – requiring her only to make a new slat bonnet and outer dress – authentic to the concept of a girl growing over the same 10 year period into a larger dress and using her garment as long as possible. The apron and accessories are interchangeable too.
Still a reproduction and authentic type of printed cotton to 1860’s, this will work for the 1880’s too. Combined with the same plain white cotton adjustable apron and undergarments, it is perfect for these gorgeous pink Mother of Pearl authentic Mississippi River buttons.
The later bonnet actually uses 18th century authentic reproduction fabrics. This one color repeat print is a gorgeous dress fabric from the 1770’s, but makes a lovely, small print prairie bonnet for Fiona’s 1880’s depiction.


Undergarments are good for both eras. The only changes in reality in the decade between the two representations would be that the drawers would be shorter.. but Fiona will have grown and the drawers will end up just right as we’ve built in alteration tucks and waistband. The petticoat can be made longer up to 15″, and only the chemise will need to be made new. The chemise with its drop shoulders is 1860’s specific, inexpensive, and easy to make new anyway. She will have to move into a woman’s corset.


In reality, Fiona would wear a cast off corset of a older sister or mother. Our corsetierres had debate over how modern, how embellished, how structured it would be. The final decision was to follow extant examples of a lightly boned, age 12-14 corset that would be very simple in structure – more of a modesty vest than giving structure.

It is sized to fit with adjustment to lacing to Fiona’s anticipated size and development for one year; for that reason there are gussets at bust and hips to provide as her bust and hips widen which will create a narrower waist. The narrow waist being the focus of this era, and this corset being to move the organs early in life to accommodate such, this corset can be laced tighter as she grows.

Thus it is made of white couteil with couteil lining for strength in lacing and durability. Absolute correct would be gray with red trim and binding, but we are keeping it simple with some machine embroidery and white on white. Fiona will be charged with getting it sweaty and dirty so it doesn’t look so “shiny and new”.

The modification from extant is that we will had a flat and straight busk at center front so she can get in and out of it with no or minimal assistance since back lacing will stay relatively straight for the first year to accommodate her child’s straight body for awhile.

After the mock up fitting; ready to go

Corset Final Notes: A change of character resulting from the design of the corset

Fiona’s final fit is for a girl 12-14 years old and a bit more developed than she is at the moment. This is fine.

The addition of Fancywork – very appropriate to her era, caused us to re think her character. A western pioneer girl would most likely only have a reworked corset handed down by mother or sister; not the fancy work we have built.

The quality of the work leads us to modify the overall undergarments design to be more fancy too; the petticoat, chemise, and drawers will have some fancy work.

In Fiona’s real life, her family has married into a family from Alabama; complete with accents, deep southern history, and stories galore. Her pioneer is going to come from this heritage. Depicting 1866, just after the Civil War, Fiona’s story will be that her family was very wealthy and owned a plantation in Alabama prior to the war. It will be a family with several generations of Americans preceding the war, so that they have relatives in the West.

Upon the loss of their livelihood and all that they owned, the family picks up and moves to Nebraska where they have family already settled. They carry more than the typical family; thus Fiona may take some precious toys such as her homemade doll, extra petticoats, and some clothing other pioneer girls would not be able to take.

Building gussets
Boning; a mix of German plastic (replacing whale baleen) and metal tipped, with top cording
Fancy work to protect vulnerable bone points
Binding and lacing

This is because they will travel with a caravan of known people – people who share the load and the burden of the journey. For Fiona, that is starting all over again on an exciting journey, because all she really remembers of her life was the time leading up to the war and the war and sorrow itself. She looks forward to a bright new day.

Finished Front. Teen girl with room to grow. We call this the “Carousel Corset” because it reminds us of the carousels of the 19th century.
Fancy work for a girl
Gussets and busk; center and back closure so she doesn’t need a maid
Back; rabbit ear cross lacing
Victorian “tatoos” for a girl.. the Carousel Corset is supposed to be fun and rich for a girl who came from wealth and took it with her on the trail
The cording on top is absolutely historically correct, but we aren’t sure why.. except to finish the top of the bones which are specifically designed to support the side of the breast in front and shoulder blades in back; supposedly because she would not have enough curves to hold it up otherwise, but doesn’t need strong boning for support. It also just looks nice and finished like this. We added some fun fancywork on the gussets which are made with felled seams which (historically correctly) leave the points vulnerable to wear and tear.


Fiona in her teen corset over chemise which should last 2 years in fit. Note the half boning only to the waist, and the flexible gussets on top and bottom. The chemise has era specific drop shoulders and front placket
This is a basic, drop-shouldered teens’ chemise with front button placket. The button is Mother of Pearl from the Mississippi River; authentic to era, and all seams are hand finished


The back of the chemise, while simple in appearance, is carefully designed to fit under the teen corset and petticoat without giving bulk. This bottommost layer of Fiona’s undergarments replaces what would be today’s undershirt.

Split Drawers

1866 drawers replaced panties of today’s young girls. They were split entirely front and back so they don’t have to be pulled down. That allows the top to button in the back while getting dressed.
You can see the split in the back with adjustable buttons to allow for growth.
The tucks – wide and narrow have a functional use in lengthening or shortening for growth but also make the bottom rigid so it stands out from the leg. Not only is this more comfortable as it does not cling, but, combined with a full petticoat, creates the silhouette of 1866 without requiring a young girl to wear the crinoline or structures of the era
Mother of Pear buttons in an adjustable waistband, and real silk ribbon are functional and very, very strong. The entire outfit has every seam finished inside and out, and is made durable by machine and by hand as per the era


Corded & Tucked Petticoat

The bottom of drawers and petticoat have “Broderie d l’anglaise” or as the French called it, “english embroidery”. These function not only for beauty, but to hold the skirt out to maintain its shape at the bottom. This would be the only part of a petticoat seen in public, so they often cheated on the top and put the pretty stuff on the bottom.
This petticoat is half corded with 25 rows at 4 yards each, taking an average of 1 hour to install each by hand. A silk ribbon goes around the bottom. The cording has the petticoat able to hold the dress out as if there was a small crinoline underneath; a complex but logical way for young girls to get the wide silhouette preferred at the time in a very functional garment that could be easily cleaned, and very, very durable. The cords will expand with use and fill the channels more fully so they will never move or come out.
We designed a half-tie waistband to allow for a waist size of 17″ to 33+” so a young girl can go into adulthood with one petticoat. The tucks, while giving the silhouette and holding the shape and making it durable – double for altering the length as she grows. This photo is taken before the one large tuck was added for Fiona’s current height. The petticoat as shown will fit an eventual approximate 5’6″ height woman.


Mother of Pearl buttons; some working, and some “fake”


Note the lovely large piping of self fabric and the authentic lace collar on the upper back of the dress
Sleeves were meant to be pushed up to the elbow when working, and down to the wrist when company came. The ruffle has piping and cording too for adjusting to growth of a young woman, or to accommodate the placement on the arm. These were just for decoration
The ruffled tucks in Fiona’s skirt are designed to maintain the fullness and the 1806’s crinoline like shape, while being completely functional and adaptable to a girl’s growth. Length also depends on the function rather than fashion; shorter for walking on the trail or milking in the barn – longer for dress up.
Adjustment tucks allow for fashion changing or growth



Antique Cameo Pin


Pins and especially cameos were used to close the top of the garment. Buttons are specifically placed lower than modern ones to allow the cameo to actually hold the bodice together. Pioneers and working women would leave the pin off to have a loose collar for work, and put it back on for dress up occasions

Antique Lace Collar

An AUTHENTIC girl’s 1800’s cotton “broderie” collar is removeable, which is good, since Fiona had already outgrown it in 3 months. We will replace it with an adult version.Inset side pockets were a new invention in the 1860’s because the skirts could finally hide the bulk. Prior to that women hung pockets around their waists or underbusts. As with bodice linings and hem facings, these early pockets were made of scraps of fabric from other projects and often did not match at all.


Slat Bonnet

The slats made a “tube” which kept weather and wind out of a woman’s eyes. The slats are of cardboard and removeable with some sewing involved. The crown and apron are adjustable with built in ties. All bonnets have the same elements.

Silk Fanchon Bonnet

Just for fun, we had made this “for ornament only” 1860’s Fanchon hat of silk with silk plaid ribbon. Faith, our tech crew member, wore it during the March fashion show!

Boots, Stockings, & Hair

These are authentic 1880 women’s boots! They are ankle high, and the only thing needed were new lacings, which we made ourselves from reproduction materials. This was the largest pair we could find, and they barely fit 11 year old Fiona. Women’s feet were much, much smaller in reality in history, and much, much smaller. Women were smaller too. Here you can also see the silk ribbon and broderie a l’anglaise detail on her drawers; appropriately untied as an active girl would have it.
We have troubles keeping Fiona still long enough to take photos of anything!


Women would have had a brooch or pendant watch that read upside down. Nearly impossible to find, this one Fiona wears every day in her modern life.

… and Something Special…

A Church Baby was a doll made out of a handkerchief; usually by an older sister for a baby sister. The baby would play with it in church in order to keep quiet. When the baby grew up and married, she would take the doll apart and carry the handkerchief in her wedding. Fiona’s is made of an AUTHENTIC 1880’s hand crocheted linen handkerchief and decorated with leftovers from her undergarments.


Click to go to Fiona’s Historical Research page of time & place

Click to go to Fiona’s Fashion History & Real Women Research page

Click to go to Fiona’s Design Development page

Click here to return to top of page

Click to go to The Buffalo Gals main page