How to Pack a Trunk in 1870…

At some point in our lives we learn the best way to pack a suitcase…maybe.   Whether we learned it from a parent, an instructional tutorial, or through trial and error, efficiently packing a suitcase is a much desired skill that makes the difference between being prepared or being caught without some needed item.  When you take into account all the restrictions placed upon modern travelers, properly packing a suitcase is almost an art form in itself.  Except when on the way home from a trip….then everything just gets shoved in and quickly zipped up!

But if you are planning on traveling for a major historical event, and need either advice or some tips, then I’ve got you covered!  I know that using a steamer trunk on a plane isn’t feasible – probably not even if you drive in a car.  But between large, compartmentalized suitcases, or even large tupperware containers,  proper storage can happen.  And when you need upwards of 15 items per ensemble, organaization is key!

To learn how a woman in the 1870’s should pack for a journey from author Annie Frost, read on:

“To pack a trunk neatly, everything should be laid out in readiness, neatly folded and sorted, the light articles divided from the heavy ones, and a supply of towels and soft wrapping-paper at hand. Spread a thick, clean towel over the bottom of the trunk, and place upon it the hard, flat things, such as the portfolio, workbox, jewel-box, music books, writing-desk, and boxes; take care to fit them well together, so as to be level on top, filling in crevices with such small articles as will not be injured by compressment, as stockings, towels, or flannels….Never use newspapers in packing, as they will certainly ruin whatever clothing rubs against them.



An early Louis Vuitton trunk

In packing shoes , it is best to have a shoe-bag, or two pieces of calico bound together and divided into pockets, each large enough to hold one shoe.  Spread this flat over the bottom of the trunk, if there is room left by the flat, hard articles.



A trunk with an ironing board…brilliant!

Over this first layer spread another towel, and then put in your flannels, linens, such dresses and petticoats as will bear pressure, and any paper boxes for gloves, handkerchiefs, or perfumes.  On top of these put the more dressy petticoats, and handsome dresses, unless your trunk has a tray in the lid expressly for this purpose.  If the trunk has no bonnet-box, put your bandbox in near the top.  In the tray put collars, muslins, handkerchiefs, and a supply of writing paper, and envelopes, a box of sewing materials, your laces, ribbons, gloves, parasol-box, veils, and any light articles you may wish to carry.


An advertisement for a trunk with tray…

Under-clothing of all kinds will look much better at the end of a journey if folded instead of rolled, and will pack quite as easily.  Shawls, cloaks, sacques, and veils should be folded in their original folds before packing; gloves should be drawn out smooth and put in a glove-box.  Collars and cuffs must be lie in the tray or, better still, in a paper box.

Leave always room in your trunk for a bag to receive soiled linen, if your journey is to be a long one.”


Source: The Art of Dressing Well: A Complete Guide to Economy, Style, and Propriety of Costume by Annie Frost (1870)


I personally like to use containers such as this for storing full gowns on longer trips.  Especially if certain gowns require specific accessories.  Everything gets packed up in the appropriate container then placed in the back of my car.   While I do get minimal wrinkles, it is easier then having huge gowns hanging on hangers which can pull and stretch the shoulder seams – especially on one piece gowns.

Storage Container


This cube is great for hat storage…and car travel.

Cube container with lid


While I have yet to fly for an historical event, I have done plenty of car travel.  Have you flown for an event?  I would love to hear your tips and tricks!  Comment below!

2 thoughts on “How to Pack a Trunk in 1870…

  1. Lovely post, thank yo so much for sharing. I’m a huge fan of the subject of traveling in decades and centuries past and have been lapping up all of recent posts on such with gusto!

    Big hugs & happy Sunday wishes,
    ♥ Jessica

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