Rebecca Armstrong, 1881 Design Development

Choosing the Elements

Brides wore the High Fashion, Tailor Made styles and silhouettes of the day.  It’s as simple as that.  Just as they did today, they chose what appealed to them, what they could afford, what they could obtain, and what could be done in the time allotted.

Time was the key in this project, with less than 3 weeks to complete 9 pieces (plus accessories by Rebecca) typical layers of the era, plus research, which normally takes 10-14 weeks total, we had to make quick decisions.

The second limitation was the ability to get the fabric and notions in time to have time to sew.  That meant buying on line, sight unseen, without fabric samples, for a project that would require 16-17 yards of 54″ wide fabric plus edgings and lace.

The fastest way was to take the knowledge out of our heads that is now documented here on the prior pages, and to look at extant garments plus fashion sketches from the era, to pick and choose the elements desire.

Bridal Gowns



1880 Silk Damask



Ballgowns & High End Day Dresses


What the bridal gowns, evening wear, and high end day dresses have in common illustrated above (and from what we researched on the previous pages):

1.  Color – highly saturated (intense), but WHITE for weddings!  Or at least a version of white, ivory, gold, silver, or pale blue

2.  Silhouettes – cuirasse bodice with flat front, smooth curvaceous sides, very full back, fitted bodice

3.  Draping – layers and fullness

4.  Fabrics – top quality silks predominant: damask, brocade, and taffeta

5.  Lots of big bows – back, sleeves, collar, bodice

6.  High or low bodice – square neckline or large “U”

7.  Hair will be the key – will it be the late ’70’s with ringlets and softness, or the more severe and bun like look of the early ’80’s?

8.  Bustle

9.  Lots of lace

We draw inspiration from Rebecca’s examples of Josephine’s walking dress and performance dress (right):

And these others:

From this she likes the tailored train with the long bodice peplum and back drape
From this she likes the lace underlay and the saturated colors as well as the monochromatic rich color scheme and taffeta draping
From these designer takes the one color with draping and pleats to create visual interest, somewhat like a marble sculpture. It also shows in a real garment what a full figured and full breasted call will look like in this silhouette, and also gives ideas for how to trim the train; how it will look without bonnet
Designer takes from this the off white/beige silk on silk concept of a very sleek and tailored look. We love the long pleats in front, and the man’s vest like front apron drape. The whole thing comes together beautifully in line and sophistication
Designer was considering this bodice lace detail until Rebecca said she wants a completely open neckline
This is ideal. Like the all white gown, this one color scheme in a muted non-white tone with the feature in the same hue but less intensity ribbon or bow center front is excellent, as are the types of finish on the drapes and train.
Considering different ways to integrate lace into the trains and drapes
Rebecca just loved this as it was. It was this that inspired the purchase of what we thought was going to be mainly ivory or off white with some gold and silver. The silhouette with flat drape in front and tucked in sheet lace was the inspiration for the final design
Probably the most influential, this is the Empress of Russian’s real gown shown in portraits too. It showed how the draping with the small front apron, and pleating works in a unified look even with a somewhat wild and crazy silk brocade.
The clean and simple look of the monochromatic ensemble is what we wanted ideally. Again the longer pleats were attractive to the designer, as was the longer drape, but Rebecca wanted to keep it closer to the Josephine example with the short, flat front apron drape
The bodice lace and train with texture gave us inspiration for this somewhat 18th century look. If not for the long corset, we could swear this came out of the mid 1770’s.
Showing the damask silk in a single fabric design kept drawing both of us. Again, the long flat front, although this bodice was longer, with the full train. It would have shown how to do the lace and apron drape of the blue/green modern one that Rebecca liked, before we reduced the amount of fuss in front



Rebecca’s choices were:

  • Entirely open neckline
  • Short and flat front apron
  • Butterfly bow in back
  • Wig and no bonnet
  • Shorter corset than period, for expanding interpretations for future, and for comfort and movement during the wedding; but waist cinching and bust lifting to make cleavage
  • Lace, and she picked from what was in stock
  • Monochromatic but not WHITE!  Ivory, off-white, gold, silver, etc. fine
  • Basic as advised undergarments
  • Tall reproduction boots with 2″ heels
  • Her own floral bouquet
  • Full lace in back
  • Preferred drop shoulder ballgown

Designers preferences (and of necessity due to time and availability & ability to fit from a distance):

  • Cinching corset
  • Fabric as purchased quickly
  • Lace and buttons from stock (Mother of Pearl domed shank)
  • Use of available gently worn undergarments as possible to save time
  • A bit looser fit of bodice to accommodate not having fittings; reduce the risk of being too tight
  • Focus on that smooth, curvaceous silhouette with round hips and full lifted breasts
  • Top quality construction including handmade button holes, special details, and some extra special features
  • All silk
  • Full bodice, no drop shoulders without body to fit and drape

It will be necessary to use as many as possible.  Fortunately, Silhouettes had them!  In the right size!  We only needed to make the corset:


  1. Combination (or drawers and chemise)
  2. Stockings
  3. Corset – cinching LONG type ideal with spoon busk
  4. Corset Cover
  5. Petticoat – straight front; full back



Wigs, Hair, & Bonnets

Wigs available through our supplier

By quick means, there was only online shopping from those suppliers that could get everything into Silhouette’s hands within 4 days.  Only one came through (4 weeks later, still waiting on one that seems to be lost):

Fabrics – damasks, taffetas, brocades in silk.  These are just some of the many, many, many we considered:

Lace ideas to coordinate with the fabric ideas:


Note on draping: Must do it correctly!

Fabric:  in the end it came down to which supplier could guarantee delivery on time, that we knew always had quality, and a price we could afford:

Closest photo to what it really looks like

The only problem was, the top one is what we thought we were getting; subtle gray, beige with mostly ivory.  The next was what we got: GOLD and BROWN with YELLOW silk taffeta!  It was fine, the texture was fine, the pattern was fine, the gold and silver shininess was fine.  The only problem was that it was not monochromatic as planned, so it ended up with more contrast and was a bit “manic” in the end result compared to the original concept.

Final Sketches

From all the quick research, selection, preferences, and availability of time and materials, this is the final design:

Garments will include:

1.  Combination – white or black gently used (white preferred with longer legs)

2.  Corset – new, white basic cinching; shorter than period recommends

3.  Petticoat – gently used white with 6 layers of ruffles and full back; MOP button closure

4.  Corset cover – white lawn gently used with low bodice and peplum

5.  Tournure – “turning bustle”

6.  Skirt – of brocade silk; trained and short pleated

7.  Bodice – of brocade silk and lace on collar and cuffs (minimal and classy)

8.  Front apron drape – small and flat fronted; high like in photo of Josephine (above), with full lace or tucked in lace in back.  Able to wear with or without further draping

9.  Butterfly drape – of 1883, detachable for party after

10.  Wig by Rebecca (bonnet in the future)

11.  Stockings – cotton/lycra over the knee

12.  Boots – by Rebecca

13.  Cameo necklace from Grandma

14.  Butterfly theme

(use the fabrics as necessary for cohesive look.  Rebecca later chose skirt, bodice, butterfly in brocade, but there was not enough fabric, so the butterfly and apron drapes plus trims are in taffeta.  Linings in ivory taffeta like the lace)


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