An Introduction to 1850’s-1860’s Working Gowns Sewing Course

Ok.  This lesson title isn’t exactly meant to create something fancy out of work clothes.  But I also strongly feel that there needs to be some context and background into creating any historical garment.  And while it is often more exciting and fun to learn and create those extravagant evening gowns of the 19th century, they are not always practical for those getting involved in living history.  Women, except for those of the upper crust, worked.  And they worked hard.  Another reason why there are so few original “work gowns” are because, just like today’s leggings, they were common, worn to threads, and wasn’t exactly an item that you wanted to keep for generations.  And I actually think that makes them even more interesting.

When I began sewing, I began with Regency era first…as that is, in many ways, the easiest decade to create.  After I felt comfortable with that era, the very next gown I made was a simple 1860’s day/working gown.  Because despite the amount of yardage needed, these gowns are not that complicated to make.  And now 15 years on the other side of that first gown, I have made over a hundred of just working style gowns.

But before we start learning how to make one, lets take a look a closer look at what a working gown is.  A working gown, which can also be called a laundress, simply is a gown that allows you the flexibility and ability to complete often labor intensive activities.  Usually made of cotton, linen, wool, or some sort of blend, these gowns are simple in design, feature parts that allow for greater body and arm movement, and are usually worn just with petticoats (although this gown we will be making can be worn with a hoop.)  They can be either one piece or two piece gowns with either short (less common) or bishop style (very common) sleeves.  The appeal of the bishop is they can be rolled up for warmer days as well as left down for cooler days.  All my work gowns I create (including this one) has bishop sleeves.  Even if I’m wearing it in summer.  Simply because it seems rather wasteful to create a gown meant for work that can just be worn one time of the year.  However, if you would like a short sleeve gown, send me an email, and I will be happy to help you create the pattern!  Now, on to the examples!

This gown is such a find, as it is an original and really shows the simplistic style of an 1860’s work gown.  This particular gown opens in the front as it is one piece.  Another interesting feature of this gown is that it is slightly longer and fuller in the back suggesting that this gown may have been worn over a hoop as a day gown.

Lavender Cotton Dress c. 1860, From the Irma G Bowen Clothing Collection  University of New Hampshire

This photograph is another example of a simple style gown.  This one also appears to be one piece or a blouse tucked into a skirt with a high waistband.  The sleeves are a more fitted coat style and as a result would not have been adjustable in length.  Even though many women wore their “best gowns” for photographs, I feel this young lady didn’t have many options due to the small amount of fabric in the skirt portion. Leading me again to feel that this gown was meant for a variety of purposes.

Photograph of a young girl c. 1860.  Source unknown

This next image, mostly like of a freed African American women given the date and location of Maryland (which was a border state during the Civil War post Emancipation Proclamation) is another amazing example of a work gown.  This one interests me as it is possible the sleeves have removable under sleeves.  This is a fantastic option as then one can wear whatever sleeve length is best for the weather.

This in another fabulous example of not only a work dress (showing rolled up bishop sleeves) but also a work apron.  If you are looking to recreate a complete working ensemble…right here people! 🙂

Photograph of Working Woman c. mid to late 1860’s Source Unknown

The following photographs just highlight again various types, styles, and patterns of working gowns.

Laundress pictured with a newer style of a crank washing machine.  c. 1860’s 

Photograph of Women (and a young man) doing laundry.  C. late 1850’s Source Unknown

Inspired to create your own working gown???  Excellent!  Then let’s get started!  Click HERE to begin the Working Gown course.

BONUS POST Dressing like a 1860’s Woman: The Order of Clothing

2021 Edit 

 *While this post is over 10 years old, it is still a great visual source for the proper layers to an 1860’s ensemble.  Enjoy a young mid-20’s Aimee! :-)*


There can be a bit of confusion of all the various items one should wear when dressing as a 1860’s lady, and in what order all of these items belong. I have created a picture tutorial of what I humbly think (based on research and practicality) the order of events should be when dressing. Hope this helps!
Step One:
Put on stockings and garters.

Step Two:
Put on chemise and corset. Lace up corset as tight as you can but make sure you still feel comfortable and can breathe normally.

Step Three:
Do your hair. I find that this is the best point to create one’s hairstyle. This way you have the basic foundation of clothing on, yet you can still move fairly easily.

Read More

Video Series: General Overview of Fashion 1800-1820 (Sample Membership Post)




The full post featuring videos on the first half of the 19th Century (1800-1855) will be published on June 14th, 2021.  


Every so often, I will be asked by a museum or living history group to give a brief, but encompassing talk on fashion from the 19th century.  That is a rather tall order to talk about a hundred years of fashion….as there is just SO MUCH to talk about.  However, for those who really have no idea about the fashion of the 1800’s, this is such a great way to start.  A person can see the subtle, and not so subtle changes, of fashion which came about through political, social, and mechanical changes/inventions.

I decided to record myself giving this roughly 45 minute talk, but broke them up into smaller videos.  That way a person can watch and rewatch any section they want based on personal interest.

The videos will be divided up into the following decades:

Video 1  Regency (1800-1820) and Romatic Era (1820-1840ish)

Video 2* Early Victorian (1840-1855)

Video 3*  Victorian – Age of the Crinoline (1855-1869)

Video 4*  Victorian – The First Bustle (1870-1879)

Video 5*  Victorian – The Second Bustle (1880-1888) and The Edwardian Era (1889-1900)

*Videos coming out in future posts.


To start off, we will begin with the Regency Era.  While this era is rather short, politically speaking, it is probably one of the most recognizable styles due to the enduring popularity of Jane Austen novels.  But how many of you know about the Romantic style???  Watch to find out!




I hope you enjoyed this sample post from the 19th Century Living History Membership.  Want to watch the other videos coming out over the next several weeks?  Join now!

Video Series – Planning Your Next Historical Sewing Project

New Year. New plans and new goals.

So to celebrate, here is a video highlighting and explaining how I go about planning and preparing for a new project. AND I am sharing with all of you the handout I use while planning and researching for a gown.

As always, thank you all of your continued support and encouragement! If you are new here…welcome! Please take some time to check out my About page and explore the many topics on this blog. From recipes to patterns to videos and reviews, there is lots to read about and try!

While I will continue to pop on here every so often, make sure you are following me on Instagram (@aimeevictorianarmoire) and Facebook (@aimeevictorian) for daily posts, videos and more.

So You Want to Try Vintage Sewing?

Alright, today’s talk is all about vintage sewing!  When I was planning out my talking points, I only had a few highlights to go over.  But jeepers, put that camera on record and the words just flowed! So join me as I go over what is vintage sewing, how to find patterns (both modern and vintage), along with special tools and fabric needed!

Helpful Links:

Missed last week’s chat on Historical Sewing?  Check it out HERE!

Want to see how to take a modern sewing pattern and adapt it for a more vintage look?  Check out my video tutorial HERE!

Recommended Vintage Inspired/Reproduction Pattern Companies:

Wearing History

Mrs. Depew

Decades of Style

Vintage Dancer


There are, of course, numerous other businesses out there that create vintage/vintage-inspired patterns!  If you have a favorite, please share it below in the comments! 🙂  

So You Want to Try Historical Sewing?

Last week, we talked all about my process of creating and designing historical gowns.  But that led many to ask:

“How do I get into historical sewing?”

“What if I’m new to sewing?  Can I still start?”

And the answer is ABSOLUTELY YES!  Join me as I chat about what exactly historical sewing is, some easy beginning patterns and pattern brands to try out, along with tools you will need!  ***Hint – you probably already have everything you need! 😉


Helpful Links to Get You Started:

Videos on various types of patterns available:

Intro to Patterns from Books

Intro to PDF Patterns

Intro to Paper Patterns 


After a little research, looks like the Dating Fabric book is back in stock!  Click HERE.


Favorite Blogs to Follow for Advice and Inspiration:

American Duchess

The Dreamstress

Before the Automobile

Wearing History

Historical Sewing


There are of course many, many other wonderful blogs and costumers out there, but these are my number one go-tos!

Join me next time for a chat all about vintage sewing! 🙂



A Little Chat on the Historical Designing Process

“Aimee, how did you make that?”

“Did you just follow instructions?”

“Wish I could figure out how to design a gown like that!”

Well, I’ve been listening and have decided to share the process I go through when I design a historical gown.  From original inspiration to my next steps, you will learn about what books and patterns I go to first for help along the way!

Let’s get going!

Have another topic you would like me to chat about?  Dying to know some of my construction or designing secrets?

Leave a comment below! 🙂

PS: The book I was referring to is Fashion: The Collection from the Kyoto Fashion Institute. 🙂