1883 on Sale – Milly

Mildred “Milly”, Shopkeeper

Cotton fringe on the apron, with coordinating, but neutral (doesn’t show dirt and easy to clean) will be perfect for an interpreter who spends many hours in their costume. This character would mix and match bodice, drape, skirt, & overskirt to vary the basic simple outfit

An older women who was conservative with her money would often splurge on pretty lace or ribbons for her undergarments. We recommend pink silk and a hand-crocheted cotton flat lace for this character

Dyed cotton prints are most appropriate for this character
Mix and match dyed cottons for the different parts; bodice, skirt, drape, etc. would be typical in this era, as would mixing types of fabric such as silk and cotton
We have many natural pearl, bone, wood, plus metal buttons in stock to choose from, including a rare set of 1883 marcasite bodice buttons
Garments of the pioneers and settlers were often of simple calicos, ginghams, or simple dyed prints in mid-range colors that would not show dirt so well
More mix and match prints and solids are available in stock, or let us research and find you something special
Calico, gingham, plaid, stripe, check, or solid; all are appropriate to this character, place, & time


Character development is not specific to a real person, but based on women of the time and place. Mildred “Milly” is considered “old” for that time, perhaps in her mid-forties.  She has raised her children, been widowed, and her youngest is only 10.  She has always completely run the family store; it just took losing her husband for everyone to recognize she’d done all the work all along.

She doesn’t regret anything; having lived frugally to survive this long, she appreciates the help her children and grandchildren can now give her so that she has some leisure time and expendable income for the first time.  She would keep her old, comfortable clothing, but “spiff” it up with new ribbons or lining, or something inexpensive so she could feel pretty.

Like a good pair of shoes, her clothing are friendly, comfortable, and never confining.  She owns very few items, but those are practical, durable, and suited to her work, lifestyle, & location.  She enjoys seeing what the young gals are bringing from the east, and what they are trying, but is happy to keep it simple.

Under the influence of her loving daughter-in-law and the other young ladies in town, she does bend a bit to add the stylish drape, and possibly even a bustle pad for special events, although they make her feel a bit silly.  She sticks with her apron, or an apronlike drape since at every social function, she ends up being the one to set up, serve, & clean up.  Milly will live her days in comfort & joy because everyone around her is a friend.



  • 2-piece dyed cotton day dress of basic design, fitted at the bodice
  • Gathered (not gored) skirt with front flat & fullness to the back; preferably skirt & bodice of same fabric; fabric is spared due to frugality, so the skirt is not as full as is stylish for the time
  • Practical pearl buttons; the minimum necessary for modesty, & she would button up all the way to the chin
  • Dress up over-drape apron with fringe so the same dress can be worn to all occasions
  • She would put her money into a good, durable, mid-color range or printed apron that could take a lot of spills & washings
  • No blouse would be worn

ACCESSORIES (By customer, can quote hats separately)

  • Hair well pinned in back & high; pulled severely back into an old-fashioned knot or bun made from a tight braid; never ever caught down or much out of place, and certainly no bangs or wisps
  • She wouldn’t wear a hat, or if she did, it would be a plain, straw poke bonnet 10+ years out of date with maybe one silk ribbon tie to hold it on in the wind
  • Watch on a  pendant chain
  • Practical low ankle button up boots
  • Heavy cotton hand-knit stockings with garters at the knee
  •  She would have an 1860-70 shawl or capelet from her mother or grandmother to wear for very special occasions, as well as a hand-knit shawl of heavy wool for winter outerwear (we can provide this from locally sourced wool on request)
    Brussels lace 1870 beaded capelet & shawl. Milly might have inherited her grandmother’s antiques brought over from Europe when they came to America

    1873 American wool shown on exhibition of American crafts in Europe at the time; 1864 (right) would be typical of the style of knit/crochet our character would have done for herself and her family to keep warm


  • Older fashioned short chemise with pantaloons; these would have faggoted lace with ruffles & silk ribbons
  • She would wear 1-2 petticoats with plain ruffles on the bottom in 2-6 layers to hold the skirt shape out
  • The 2nd petticoat would be quilted and fit closer to the body for warmth in winter
  • Petticoats to be cord tied at the top, with fullness pulled to the back (no button or waist), or with a drop waist and drawstring
  • No corset cover would be worn, although for winter she might add one in wool for warmth
  • Her corset would be the shorter, 1875 type that had been worked over to let it out, rebone, or change it through the years. It might be of plain wool, cotton, or linen fabric with a nice durable lining, but she might have splurged when she first bought it and have it of a plain silk brocade or couteil for durability over time
  • It would be simply or half-boned; used more for modesty & warmth than shaping
  • No understructures would be used, although she might have a small bustle or bustle pad when she dressed up to hold out the drape, since her drape would be made of minimal fabric, and because she would be of the mindset of fashion that was now out of style (bustles were popular before and then again after 1883)


Simple chemise with pantaloons, slightly out of fashion,would be our character’s choice. She would probably have sleeves to prevent chafing because she works hard in her dress


Split pantaloons with hand crocheted cotton lace


Corset would be very basic, with a flat busk, but with some lace on top


One petticoat with enough rows of eyelet lace to keep the skirt wide of the legs would be all that as worn by this character

Mineral Park, Arizona in 1880

Women of the American Old West had to be resourcefulto cope with the elements that surrounded them: the harsh conditions, lawlessness, & living in an age where there were few amenities. Some women took to the gun as readily as any man, while others made lives for themselves apart from dignified society. But for women who made the trek west with their families, their lot was in raising children, running a household (that included food processing, candle & soap making, spinning, weaving, knitting, etc.), establishing schools & churches, & occasionally, warding off Indian attacks. Some were deeply involved in human & voting rights (the suffragette movement).
Design & depiction of fashion of Western America fashion must put all those odds & ends together, along with what is known about influences, environment, availability, attitudes, culture, values, & assumptions about the person or people being studied & depicted. There are whole professions, notably Anthropology, which study these factors. Yet other professionals such as Museum Curators spend whole lifetimes gathering & studying the clues of fashion.

For our purposes for depiction, we must trust the research of those professionals, & draw the best conclusions we can based on which facts are known, but add Grandma’s stories to breathe life into our depictions. Our projects will assume fashion for depiction is based on one of the factors below.

Pioneer home 1880’s

A) Fashion and/or the concept of fashion of the day was physically carried from the east coast (originating from the same influences as Easterners), & then modified or adapted to suit the culture, time, place, or activity;

This starts with the assumption whatever the current trend of the east is being carried west, & will focus on those factors which would cause them to be modified; e.g. materials, patterns, or communication unavailable;

It means fashion will almost always be 1 or 2 years out of style compared to the east;

Designs based on this assumption will end up being modifications of whatever was in style in the east a couple of years prior to the depiction.

B) Clothing was origined out of local materials; e.g. furs, leathers, & therefore based on the same influences as men’s fashion such as evolution of the cowboy ensemble, almost strictly for function;

These projects will be researched & developed per project by specific region, working with our subcontractors who specialize in indigenous materials;

The American Cowgirl in particular demands research into male clothing & its adaptation for women.

C) Fashion design & clothing was a combination of above; e.g. western innovations like denim jeans which arise out of functional need; yet using modern technology of fabric, dye, & production that comes from the east which combines local availability of fur, skin, or locally made fabrics or materials (such as spun or woven yarn) with those of mass production or import;

This will be the result of very specific character of research, since it combines extensive historical data as to fashion of the day PLUS the specific geographic region including all aspects of the time & place;

It cannot be generalized.

D) Design & construction of garments comes of native, ancient civilization inspiration, influence, or actual use;

Silhouettes intentionally chooses not to develop “D”, as the world of ancient & Indian cultures is vast & complex, & can take a lifetime, although influences of such will be considered with characters where that is pertinent;

We will refer customers to appropriate professionals who can help them with this.

1884-86 Pioneer Day Dress


“Mid 1880’s” in the American West (Wyoming). Western rural/ranching distant from society. Materials, notions, fabrics would be out of date due to limited shipments and access to goods, information, or updates. As many things would be made or bartered nearby as possible; e.g. leathers, furs, simple cottons. Women would know of fashion by word of mouth or through periodicals which would be local and/or sporadic

Depiction of the Sundance Kid era with Etta Place (and Anne Bassett and similar of the “outlaw era”) would be 1899. While 1899 was definitely a non-bustle era too, the fashion was very different, especially corsetry (1899 uses the long, controlling corset that pushes the woman’s bust forward into a monobosom, while 1883 is a waist cincher to the hips but not over them). The alternate “High Fashion” proposed accommodates that: it is an 1883 fashion, but made through design, fit, and components to appear to be the later 1899 garment, the main difference being the skirt which would be an inverted “tulip” in 1899, whereas it is a straight line with a drape in 1883.


We have intentionally selected 1882-3, because the “fishtail” bustle era had just ended, and it was a short period of simple draping over the rear end with no bustle before the large “horse hind” bustle would take over late 1884.

Early 1880’s western women


The other advantage of the era is that a very inexpensive, plain cotton 1 or 2 piece dress was worn for daily use AND for dress up. Draping methods in 1883 were numerous and anything from a simple roughed over apron to elaborate folds & bows in the back were acceptable. This means one dress could have several different drapes to serve different needs & still be completely historically correct.

Bodices could be 2 piece with inserts or chemisettes instead of full blouses, which allows flexibility in the costuming, & ability to clean just worn inserts the same as they would have at the time, while leaving the main garment unwashed.

Using interchangeable aprons, skirt overdrapes, collars, cuffs, & petticoats allow the interpreter to use the same basic gown for 2-3 different interpretations, and to keep the cost down for the initial purchase, while adding pieces as desired as time goes on and more interpretation ideas are thought up. Hot summers, wind, and cold snowy winters would need two garments per woman plus 1 dress up.

1885 American pioneer

Basic garments need to be very simple and uncharacteristically plain for the era. Typical at the time were extremes in use of trims, ruffles, fringe, etc. These people would have been much more efficient in use of their clothing than those to the east.

Economy would mean wearing the same bodice and changing the skirt by function (e.g. split skirt for riding, but long dress with overskirt for dress up). Accessories and especially sentimental jewelry hats and bonnets would be key to changing for activity and keeping up with style. Small accessories would have been imported, but hats and bonnets most likely locally made.

Footwear, though not in general fashion, would be tie up the front ankle high boots with a flat to 1″ heel, cotton stockings over the knee or held with garters to keep the corset down and the stockings up.


1882, what the real, every day Madame looked like

Using plain (unembroidered or detailed) fabrics of the era and simple patterns also allows us to make the garment fast to meet tight deadlines. Use of cottons also allows under or over dress for the weather. Please note it is our goal in this business to give the wearer the most authentic experience as possible. This means everything from undergarments up need to be of the same material, design, cut, and method of wearing that would have been in 1883.

1883 back of suit

For that reason, we recommend taking the time and cost to do the authentic corset, although we are quoting a theatrical corset to save time and money. While our corsets are designed for the modern body, and do not attempt to shape the body as they would have at the time, the authentic corsets are made of natural fabrics which breath and react to conditions and weather.


Theatrical means “non-authentic” materials & construction. If theatrical is selected, it will be made of polyester/cotton with metal powder coated and/or plastic boning. Because these will not give authentic feeling, we recommend selecting all historic garments.

Some pre-made ruffles and ribbons may be of synthetic materials due to the prohibitive cost of silk and embroidery and the time required for hand detailing, although the latter is available on request. 100% cotton or silk thread will be used for all hand stitching. This era was machine sewn including mass produced trims and details. Machine sewing and embroidery will use polyester thread for durability.

1879-80 plaid
1880 from Lord & Taylor department store
1885 Pioneer print (note later collar, dropped yoke, & drape)

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