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Attire for early 1800s

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Cathy Stephens
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We encourage formal period attire at our December Ball because it adds so much to the period atmosphere. However, no one should miss the ball because they don't have an extensive vintage wardrobe.

If you prefer not to come in costume, ladies may wear a modern skirt and blouse or dress (preferably long and full), and men may wear a modern tuxedo, dark suit, or dress slacks and sport coat. Whatever you wear, don't forget your smooth-soled shoes for dancing. (See our suggestions for dance shoes.)

Here are our suggestions for what to wear, for both ladies and gentlemen. In addition to comments on period dress, we provide hints for how you can approximate the look with modern clothes.

Note: For 19th century balls that have special themes, you might want to come in a costume that reflects the theme.

Ladies' 1814 costumeLadies' 1807 costumeLadies
Dress for ladies in the first half of the 19th century ranged from high-waisted gowns with long, simple lines to gowns with low, pointed waists, large sleeves (in the 1830s) and full,wide skirts.

Fabrics in the early 1800s were usually soft muslins, some figured or embroidered, and silks. Gowns were high-waisted and closed in back with buttons or strings, later with hooks and eyes. Skirts were gathered at the top, smooth across the front, and more full in back. Elbow length white kid gloves were worn, and jewelry was simple, such as pearls or a locket on a chain.

Ladies' 1821 costumeLadies' 1828 costumeSilks, nets and satins were favored in the 1820s, the waistline became medium-high, and skirts more A-line in shape (gored and not gathered). More decoration was used on the bodice and skirt hem. Gloves and jewelry were similar to the previous decade.

In the 1830s, the waistline started medium-high and ended low and pointed. Skirts became much fuller. Sleeves were full and wide and dropped. A great deal more decoration was used. Gloves were shorter.

The 1840s continued to have low, pointed bodices and fuller skirts, but smaller sleeves. Short gloves were worn.

Hair throughout this period sported curls, braids, ringlets -- more Grecian in style at the start of the 1800s, piled on the head in the 1820s, then worn more to the back and sides in the 1830s and 1840s.

To recreate the look of the early 1800s, wear a simple scoop neck cotton nightgown with short puffed sleeves, and tie a ribbon under the bust, doing it up in the back. Add decoration to the bodice and hem to give a more 1820s look.

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Men's 1830 costumeMen's 1810 costumeGentlemen
Men's formal dress during the first half of the 19th century began with a high-cut coat with tails, worn with a colorful high cut vest, knickers and hose. The coat and pants would be of different colors, for example, a robin's egg blue coat, with tan knickers and white hose, worn with a brocade vest, and a jabot or stock at the neck.

Men's 1850 costumePants became long, though still snug, in the 1830s, and color was still interesting. Black was seen more frequently.

By the 1850s, the style for formal dress stabilized to tail coats similar to today's, worn with a vest and black trousers. A stock or cravat was usually worn at the neck.

White gloves were always worn.

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What to Wear to Other Period Events
Follow these links for our suggestions for dressing for other period events:
Mid to late 1800s (Victorian)
Ragtime (1910s)
1920s and 1930s

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