Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Company

Top 10 Reasons You Need to Make a Petticoat (or Three)

Petticoats are indisputably important to mid-century fashion! Here are the top reasons you may want to consider adding one or more to your list this year:

10: If you like to walk easily, petticoats help. The layers of fullness baffle one another at the waist and hip, which helps them hang away from your body a little bit further down your legs. Two or three layers of skirt are less prone to wrapping entirely around your legs during movement or with wind, too.

9: They’re an ideal “practice” garment. You’ll practice seams, simple hemming, gathering, waistbands, and closures, and if your stitches are uneven, or you have some wonky seamlines, who cares? And imperfect petticoat is still historically accurate (not everyone sewed perfectly then!), and eminently functional.

8. They cross economic boundaries. Working class women need petticoats; so do leisure class women, and the basics of construction are the same for each. Petticoats are one wardrobe item that can easily span a wide range of economic levels for your impressions, so they’re very multi-use.

7. Climate Control. Petticoats shield you from heat, as well as from cold. In fact, if you do cool or cold-weather events, you might want a quilted petticoat or a wool petticoat, as well as your regular cotton petticoats. (Learn more about cold-weather petticoats at The Academy @ Home Forum, or do one of the projects in The Dressmaker’s Guide.)

6. Creating the silhouette. The mid-century look is essentially an inverted triangle (bodice) on top of a bell of skirts. You can’t get the bell without the petticoats for support! This is an era where even robust figures add a bit more upholstery to the hips through petticoats. Just remember: everything below your waist is skirts, and no one can prove otherwise! Relish the boof! Just about any impression could use another petticoat.

5. Creating a tidy waist. Notice, that said tidy, not tiny. Mid-century torsos are controlled and tidy, and look small by comparison with the skirts. If you don’t have petticoats, you can’t get the skirt boof, and without skirt boof (see #6), your waist won’t look as tidy as it could.

4. Protect your dresses with petticoat layers. Though petticoats are hemmed just a tad bit shorter than your dress skirts, they’re going to take a lot of abuse from shoes and ground when you move around. Petticoats, combined with starching, pressing, and nice facings on your dresses, all work together to protect your hems.

3. Individual expression. I know, it doesn’t seem that stacks of white petticoats are anything terribly interesting at first glance, but just consider the wide variety! Petticoats with plain hems, or whitework hems, or quilted hems. Horizontal tucks, vertical or diagonal tuck insertions, sets of tucks large and small. Whitework insertions, puffings, and braidwork on the “for show” petticoats. There’s a white petticoat to delight any personal inclination, and then you get to wear it, too.

2. They’re dirt cheap. Even splurging on great fabric (try Kona or Egyptian cotton for petticoats that will last decades), you’ll spend between $5 and $25 for a plain, gathered petticoat, and only slightly more to embellish it with some gorgeous tucks that add body around the hem. (The low cost makes petticoats a great addition to loaner gear, too. Even a merchant-row make-do dress will look more historically correct if it has nice petticoats for support.)

And the number one reason to make petticoats?

They Did. In trying to replicate the look of the Original Cast, we’ll do best when we use the systems and shapes they used. Petticoats are an integral part of the wardrobe for babies, toddlers, girls, and grown women. Without them, we just don’t look like They did!

If you need just one more reason to make yourself some great petticoats?

You don’t need to go out and buy a pattern. You can get a free basic petticoat pattern here on The Sewing Academy, or try The Dressmaker’s Guide for petticoats beyond the basics!

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About The Sewing Academy
With a focus on the 1840-1865 era, The Sewing Academy is your home on the (internet) range for resources to help you meet your living history goals!

Elizabeth Stewart Clark has been absorbed by the mid-19th century for over 20 years. She makes her home in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, four children (from wee to not-so-wee), far too many musical instruments, and five amusing hens.

Email Elizabeth Or call 208-523-3673 (10am to 8pm Mountain time zone, Monday through Saturday)
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