1885 German Farm Wife, Melissa Urick

Melissa Urick

(Era 1881-1887)

“It was 95 degrees & humid, but I’ve never been so comfortable in my life as in full Victorian dress including corset!”

The original costume was developed for Suzi Sellers, and is currently worn by Melissa for interpretation.

Experience designing, building, living, and working in this costume was the reason Silhouettes was created. Suzi was employed at a working 1880’s German dairy farm in northern Illinois as a docent & day camp teacher for children.

Under direction of anthropologists, all worked using authentic materials, bred animals, tools, plants, & buildings. They grew & harvested their own food; hitched & drove the team, and worked the potato patch – all in period costume.

After mucking & whitewashing the barn. Suzi with a student in the costume the anthropologists loaned until she could get her own made

Men & women worked alongside at the Volkening Heritage Farm & Spring Valley Prairie Restoration in Schaumburg, Illinois. Under the supervision of a team of anthropologists, they did the activities, cooked, ate, planted, harvested, stored, processed, bred animals, & managed the farm EXACTLY as it would have been on a dairy farm owned by German immigrants in 1885.

Suzi was in charge of weekend tours with visitors, and week day camps for children ages 7-14. In full Victorian costume, all male & female interpreters (playing their correct gender roles) and teachers grew, harvested, prepared, & served the food (while teaching) ON TIME (or the anthros would get upset).

They milked the cows, planted the seed, dug potatoes, mucked the barn, fed the stock, bred & birthed the stock, rotated grain in the bins, gathered eggs, gave tours in the prairie, sewed, made rugs, cleaned house, repaired buildings, drove the wagon, churned butter, blacked the stove, weeded the garden, gathered rose hips while the dew was still on them, & never figured out how the fox was getting into the henhouse – all in absolutely AUTHENTIC COSTUME FROM THE BUM UP.

All of this in 100 degree 90% humidity, & all had never been happier.

Click here to go to Melissa’s Historical Context page (next)

Click here to go to Melissa’s Fashion Design & Design Development page

Continue to see the finished project below:

This ensemble included:

  • 1-piece cotton day dress with standing collar, gathered sleeves, & pearl buttons
  • kitchen apron with drop bib front
  • chemise
  • ruffled petticoat
  • (laced ankle boots, white cotton knee socks & pendant watch by others)

Well loved & worn for real work, this now retired day dress of a farm wife was practical, used as little fabric as possible, & yet was stylish for the day
Note the slight inverted “V” of the back and front; a nod to style of the era

Only 13 instead of the era correct 23 pearl buttons were used. Buttons would have been 1/4″ instead of these 3/8″ (we are not so patient in the 21st century)
An “old fashioned” chemise with faggot lace, ribbon, and machine embroidery would be a typical “splurge” for a woman of the era who was otherwise totally practical. This ensemble would normally be worn with at least a half-boned corset, but that was not required by those in charge of this project
The petticoat had a cord tie, and the gathers were pulled to the back for a flatter front and fuller back to simulate some sort of a bustle shape. The hem was made hugely adjustable including pleats so the petticoat would work as fashion evolved

The petticoat has a huge hem with pleats for adjustment according to fashion, pus a drawstring waist to put the fullness where it is preferred. Later petticoats would have a flat waist band and a drop waist to accomodate the flat front and smooth lines of the Edwardian era
We switched boots to the higher fashion button up due to size
Drawers were Kristi’s from the 1860’s.. still in style in the ’80’s and just the right length too
Mississippi mother of pearl buttons of course
Heavy ruffles on the bottom keep the straight shape with full bottom


Fashion Show March 2018, Cody, Wyoming


Click here to go to Melissa’s Historical Context page (next)

Click here to go to Melissa’s Fashion Design & Design Development page

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