Ravenclaw 1870s Gown 1: Research and Design

When anyone asks “what is your dream project?” I can’t answer because of all the bustle dresses battling in my mind. There is something about the more-is-absolutely-more level of detail, and the unique silhouettes that gets my creative juices flowing. This dress started as an idea that we were batting around at work several years ago: Hogwarts themed bustle dresses! Hogwarts houses are a fun bit of inspiration because they are associated with three different things: a color scheme, an animal, and a personality type. Now, if you’re going to design a Hogwarts house themed dress, you obviously have to start with your own house. In my case: Ravenclaw, hands-down. So for Ravenclaw, that means:

Color scheme: Blue and Bronze (yes it was blue and silver in the movies, don’t get me started)

Animal: Eagle

Personality type: studious, bookish, intelligent, witty, driven by knowledge above all

It was fun to imagine a muggle-born Ravenclaw witch paying calls to her muggle family while sporting her house colors. I’d imagine Victorian witches pioneered the idea of hiding wands inside of umbrellas.

I started by digging through photographs of extant dresses from the early 1870s for ideas of ways to use color, and for bird and feather-like details.

Those tiny knife pleats around the neck are wonderfully feathery, but the real kicker here are the wing-like foldbacks of the overskirt front. I knew I wanted an overskirt, but there was something about the apron-y look of many of them that just didn’t stand out to me for this dress. The overskirt here was a breakthrough for me.

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Dress, early 1870s, from the Irma Bowen Textile Collection at the University of New Hampshire

This dress gave me the perfect swallow-tail back to go with my winged overskirt!

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Walking Dress, 1870-1875, The Met

I love the amount of contrast bias edging on these ruffles! This photo also shows just the silhouette I’m going for.

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Dress, 1870, Kent State University Museum

I love the skirt trim on this–knife pleats on the bottom, scallop-y shapes on top, with what seems to be a velvet ribbon in-between.

Day dress, American, ca. 1870-75. Silk faille and velvet.
Day dress, American, ca. 1870-75. Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington

I’m having trouble finding the exact documentation on this dress, but the shapes look right for the time period, and that feather-y trim everywhere was too good to resist looking at!

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I also looked at lots of fashion plates in books like this one:

https://sep.yimg.com/ca/I/yhst-137970348157658_2475_370847942
You can find it here.

And I’ve been absolutely loving the book Embellishments: Constructing Victorian Detail, which not only has wonderful detail shots of extant gowns, but also teaches you how to create some of the most common yourself! Unfortunately, it seems to have gone out of print, but you can find used copies around. Edit–the author has since let me know that a few more copies of the book will be available when they come back from an exhibition at the end of August! Keep an eye out for them here.

https://i2.wp.com/www.schaefferarts.com/dev/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/EmbellishmentsCov72-tilted.pngAfter putting all of this information into my brain, and stirring it around, this is the design I came up with:

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I wanted to keep the bodice plain–a bit uptight and schoolmarm-y, and then make the skirt magical and bird-like.

It will be made in Midnight Blue and Cocoa Brown Silk Taffetas with Navy Cotton Velveteen details. All of the fabrics come from Renaissance Fabrics.

I’m currently working on bringing the underskirt into being, and in the meantime you can read all about the making of my Victorian understructure:

Chemise and Drawers

Corset

Bustle and Petticoat

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9 thoughts on “Ravenclaw 1870s Gown 1: Research and Design

  1. Wow Hannah wouldn’t awesome design. I have been watching your costumes and wigs that you or your mom have posted and I am so impressed. Keep up the good work and keep me informed of what you’re doing I love to see the pictures

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  2. This is such a fun idea! I’m really looking forward to seeing your progress on this, the feathery details you’ve sussed out are very clever. And now I totally want to make one too – we could be Victorian Ravenclaw buddies! Lol

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, thrilled to see you’re getting useful stuff from my Embellishments book! Always happy to see the “children” it spawns. It helps keep the dresses alive! Your design is lovely, and your work as well. Can’t wait to see the finished gown!
    (Also, the book is -almost- out of print. I’ll probably have a couple dozen come back to me after the current exhibition involving the dresses closes at the end of August.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a wonderful book! It’s so great to get really up close and personal with dresses that we so often only see full-length views of, and the information about how things were made, rather than just what they looked like, is invaluable! The amount of images and information you packed into that little book is truly impressive. I’m glad to hear that there will be a few more new copies available, and I hope people take advantage of them!

      Liked by 1 person

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