American Civil War Ballgown - In ProgressBack to Colleen's Costumes

In Spring of 2005, my theatrical costuming class at Fullerton College is working on Civil War from the skin out. Here is what I am working on.


After much research, I determined that the style of Civil War era gown I liked the best was the Elliptical look. This was the transitional style between the standard round hoop and the bustle. The hoop is flatter at the front of the body and sweeps back to the rear. The hoops are oval, rather than round, and the body of the skirt, seen from the side, looks triangular.

My favorite extant gown is daywear found in the book In style: Celebrating fifty years of the Costume Institute (The Metropolitan Museum of Art bulletin) by Jean L Druesedow. I absolutely love the look of the pique, which is a medium weave cotton. I found the picture on a search through the fantastic Tweedlebop Real Women's Clothing site.

Much as I love the day dress, I decided that I don't have the time to invest in getting the soutache trim on the gown, and I have more opportunities to wear a ballgown. So I decided on the same shape in a ballgown.


Chemise and Drawers

Combination When you're working from the skin out, you start with underwear. This is the Past Patterns Chemise and Drawers. I used cotton/poly eyelet fabric. I probably should have used 100% cotton, but this was so pretty, I couldn't resist.

The corset was designed by Mela Hoyt-Heydon. I made it in a workshop class taught by her.

Not a good picture of me, but you get a good idea of the underwear.

Elliptical Cage Crinoline

hoops Here is my elliptical cage crinoline, which holds up the skirt.

I need to add a bustle pad to keep it from drooping in the back. I need to sew the veritcal tapes to the horizontal hoops. I need to add a ruffle to the bottom.

Of course, this is not normally worn over jeans. ;)


I just finished a petticoat to wear over the elliptical hoop.

One of the functions of a petticoat is to create a smooth line for your skirt. When your skirt is on, you shouldn't be able to see the lines of the hoop. The petticoat, or several petticoats, soften the line.

I intend to put a pink ribbon around the ruffle, and perhaps some other lines of ribbons across the front, if my petticoat needs to be stiffened at all.

petticoat front petticoat side petticoat back


For my ballgown, I purchased blue dupioni silk, that looks very similar to this.

I seem to be clinging to the idea of the pique day dress. I just found this blush colored pique. The actual dress calls for white cotton pique, but I hate the idea of white. I absolutely love the thought of a very light pink cotton pique. It will be fabulous with the black soutache. I ordered a swatch of the blush. Now I can only hope that a)it's the color I'm looking for, and b)there are still at least nine yards left by the time I decide.


I'm using the Truly Victorian TV247 1865 Elliptical skirt pattern. It's the same pattern I used for the petticoat, so I'm not envisioning any trouble at all with this. I just need to find the time to sew it.


I put together the skirt, and I'm in the process of hemming it. Here are photos of the skirt pinned for hemming, but otherwise complete:

I seem to have hemmed it a little short. The slip shows on one side. But I think that the trim I put around the bottom will cover it nicely.


For my ballgown, I'm using this pattern.

For my day dress, I'm using Truly Victorian TV443 1861 dress bodice. It seems to be just the thing to alter to fit with what I want.