We’ve put together the ultimate guide to help you make a historically accurate late-eighteenth century look for your 18-inch doll, focusing specifically on the period between 1770-1790s! Whether you’re creating a formal look (which in colonial times was referred to as “dress”) or a more working-class look (referred to as “undress”), you’ll be sure to find something to make for your doll from our pattern selection. Colonial womenswear had several key components: the undergarments, the gown, the shoes, the cloak, and the accessories. In the 1770s, girls started dressing like women as early as age five, so these components will add up to a great look for any age of colonial-clad doll.
Bonus Giveaway: After reading this post, scroll down to the bottom to leave a comment telling us which colonial outfit element is your favorite! Enter to win a $50 Pixie Faire Gift Card too, details below!
Colonial undergarments consisted of several different elements. The shift was the first layer worn and was a long shirt made from white linen that was worn down to the knees. The second layer after the shift were called stays. Stays were basically a type of corset that were filled with a stiff material (most often wood or sometimes even bone) which would help the colonial ladies maintain perfect posture. The petticoats were worn over the stays. These were large underskirts that would often be visible through the center of the gown. During the winter, extra petticoats (made from wool) would have been added to help the colonial lady stay warm. Occasionally, in the aristocracy, hoopskirts were worn to give the outfit more volume as well. A final undergarment worn by colonial women would have been a pair of woolen stockings that were worn up to over the knee.
(*Pictured above is the Thimbles & Acorns 18th Century Underpinnings.)
A colonial-style gown was the primary focus of the outfit. Because of the lack of ability to mass produce clothing, each gown was fairly unique and fitted perfectly to the wearer. In the lower classes, gowns (and other types of clothing) would have most likely been made either by the wearer or a close member of the wearer’s family (i.e., a mother or a sister). In the upper classes garments may have been outsourced to a tailor. Gowns were most commonly made of natural materials like wool, cotton, or silk (for those who could afford it). Most gowns were fairly plain with minimal decorations, but upper-class ladies would often embellish their clothing more. Gowns would be fastened by laces in the front and feature a slit that would expose the petticoats. The sleeves of the gown would usually extend down towards the elbows and sometimes featured ruffles to dress it up.
(* Pictured above is the Thimbles & Acorns Enfourreau Gown)
No outfit would be complete without the perfect pair of shoes, and a colonial outfit was no exception! Shoes during the colonial period tended to be very basic and made of woven materials or leather. Fancier shoes were made with silk and featured embellishments but were only available to the upper classes.
Cloaks were the outerwear of choice for colonial women. They were made of heavy wool and worn during the winter months. Cloaks went over the shoulders and would extend down to the waist, or more likely, down to the ground. They would clasp at the neck and sometimes feature a hood as well.
The final component to the colonial outfit would have been accessories. These accessories might have included an apron, a cap (or a mob cap), a hat, a fan, gloves, and/or jewelry. Aprons were usually made of linen and were worn by the working class as a protective layer over their gowns. A cap was made of linen or cotton and was used to manage a lady’s hair and to keep it clean. A mob cap was a type of bonnet that had a more decorative flair than the basic cap. Hats were worn with wide brims to protect colonial ladies from the sun. They were made of straw, silk, or felt and were often decorated with things such as flowers, ribbons, and feathers. A fan was typically carried by upper class ladies. Gloves were worn in all types of weather and spanned from the elbows down but exposed the fingers. Jewelry could have been as simple as a ribbon tied around a lady’s neck but as decadent as a string of pearls or a silver hair pin.
Colonial Colors and Prints
Common colors for the late 1700s included ones of the raw materials or ones that were produced easily from natural dies (for more information about natural dyes you can take our Natural Fabric Dyes Master Class Video Course here). The color black was symbolic for humility and was easy to produce naturally in wool from black sheep. Blue and grey were often worn by servants because they were sourced from cheaper dyes. The colors orange, red, and brown were all produced from madder root. Orange and red were symbolic for courage, whereas brown was symbolic for humility. Green was easily sourced from lichen and vegetables. Yellow was made from weld and symbolized hope. Common prints used for colonial clothing would have been very organic like flowers or vines and occasionally more geometric prints like plaids or stripes. You can take a look at the links below for our suggested fabric choices!
Cascading Floral from Colonial Williamsburg
Olive Brushed Wool from Mood Fabrics
Lightweight Linen from Mood Fabrics
Pastel Green Georgette from Mood Fabrics
The Colonial Time Period Pattern Collection for 18-inch Dolls
Pixie Faire offers a wide variety of eighteenth century-inspired patterns but to start check out these patterns below! You can also learn more at our past blog post on Betsy Ross here for information on this amazing colonial hero.
We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment and tell us which colonial element is your favorite!
Katie & The Pixie Faire Team
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We’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment and tell us, Which colonial element is your favorite?
--The Pixie Faire Team
My fav is the pink shirt with floral top. Love these dresses. My mother’s side of the family date back in Mass. to the 1600"s
I like the outfits that have a v-shaped front bodice area.
Thanks for including all this information. I didn’t know that kids wore adult clothes at age 5. I’ve often wondered when I saw some of the patterns if the doll wasn’t dressed too old for her age. Now I know.
I love all of the clothes of that era; would love to have lived back then. (Except for not having showering facilities.)
The underpinnings are fun and the cloak is sumptuous. It makes me want to see how they could be included in today’s fashions.
I love stays, i just think they’re genuinely lovely pieces of clothing
My American Girl doll involvement began when I was asked to make clothes for Elizabeth, Felicity’s friend, who belonged to my grandniece who lived overseas. Her mom was going to use Elizabeth to help teach her daughter American History. I loved all the dresses but had to develop some patterns of my own because I hadn’t discovered Pixie Faire yet. I was working off the original American Girl doll patterns. I fell in love with the under garments, especially as I discovered how they changed over time. I especially love the pockets and back then had to design my own, as well as a cloak. I even developed a habit using the dress pattern from American girl. I have bought most of the Pixie Faire patterns, and plan next to make stays for the dolls in my family. Dressing the dolls in period clothing is a wonderful way to teach our children American and family history.
I love the stays!
I love the underwear especially the hoop skirts. Actually I love all the Colonial Fashions. Colonial Williamsburg is my favorite place to visit.
I love the underpinnings. It has always fascinated me how the early undergarments were made for function and fashion so many years ago!
Hats from this period always have fascinated me. an inside cap and hat as a pair especially.
I love the petticoat
Oh, the cloak is my favorite, & I hope it has a hood.
My favorite is the cloak. I love the look of the back of the garment.
I am a fan of the embellishments. Being able to dress an ensemble up or down with fanciful elements would have been good fun! I enjoyed this article, thanks!
The cloth bag is adorable. She can put her sewing in it and take it with her.
I love the historial accuracy of the patterns.
My favorite element of colonial fashion were the shoes! Usually uncomfortable they were a vehicle for embellishment that indicated status and personality. It was a subtle way to avoid being seen as frivolous or vain, as highly embellished clothing would provoke, but still provide an avenue for fashionable expression.
Also a hangover from England was the manner of “making the leg” where a bow was executed while putting an elegantly shod and hosed foot forward. thus giving a proper occasion to display ones fashionable footwear!
The cloak is my favorite!
I love the underwear that gives the wearer such a distinctive silhouette in Colonial time period. Thanks for this guide – it’s helpful!!
My favorite is the cloak. So many pretty patterns!
I am with Sherril who posted earlier today-it is all about the cloaks for me! Not only were they practical, but I also consider them to be elegant. And, they still have a place in today’s fashion world.
I love the clock – especially with a hood. So elegant!
I own all of these patterns except one, and have to say that several of them are beautifully done. But if I have to choose the colonial element I love best, I’d have to go with Thimbles & Acorns’ 1770s En Forreau’ Gown. This look instantly transports my imagination to the time period, and stands out as a splendid example of why sewing for dolls can be so very rewarding.
I was teaching summer camps at Valley Forge, and got to dress up in Colonial garb. I thought it was pretty neat that the shoes could go on either foot and petticoats and shirts were adjustable. So if you were pregnant, there was no need to make bigger clothing items. My favorite style element from that time period would be the fancy fabrics that and rich colors used by the folks that could afford it.
For dolls, my favorite design element is lacing/drawstrings for closure and fit. Pins were also historically important, but not suitable for dolls for children’s play.
I love the front closure stays they wore.
This is one of my favorite fashion time periods. I love the colors, and the way that each piece of the dress can mix around with others.
The look of these historic clothes is great. Too much fabric to wear for me though. I’m a jeans and T-shirt kind of gal. I’d love to make some of these outfits for my dolls though.
I love the dresses!
I love the Betsy Ross Bundle! I just love to sew vintage items.
Colonial fashion is what drew me to the dolls as a child. Loved the bit about fabric dyes and what colors folks would have worn based on social position.
I like the cape with the hood.
I am amazed at all the clothing that the women wore during the Colonial period. So much weight to carry around just to be dressed.
I am fascinated by the stays and how they were made. But I’m glad that we don’t have to wear them.
The muted natural colors and the prints they used on the skirts and dresses have always appealed to me. I love the simple elegance of the women’s clothing in that time period, even if I’d rather not wear it myself, lol.
I love the millenary wear of the colonial era.
I love them all! What a wonderful selection of historical patterns.
I love the embellishments, especially lace on the sleeves.
I like the undergarments
I love the stays built into the dress. Looks adorable!
The stays are what I find most interesting. Clothing throughout history is so interesting to me.
I would have been thankful for a shift if I’d lived back then. Good posture is so important. My most favorite part, though, is the cloak. Warm and cozy…
I love the petticoats.
I love the colonial dresses. Of course the musical, Hamilton, has piqued my interest in colonial costumes. Skills and time are a barrier to my 18" Hamilton cast.
I like the fitted gown with the petticoats.
Very interesting article. Thank you.
I adore everything about colonial era fashion, and have ever since I discovered Felicity when I was a child! I love all the details but I’ve always loved the dresses with stomachers. I think it’s cool how you can switch out the stomachers and get a different look for the dress, like with Felicity’s Christmas dress.
I love how feminine and regal they look but carring all that weight around with you and the tight corsettes wow thank goodness we can create it but not to wear ourselves. Thanks for the opportunity fingers crossed good luck everyone.
Love all the undergarments and petticoats.
My favorite part of the colonial period is the stays. Very interesting. Amazed that print,and color determines your status. I love the petticoats.
I really don’t have a favorite. I actually like them all. Thanks for the chance to win!
The pocket/panniers would probably be my favorite accessory. Though the stomacher to change up dresses is clever too.
Growing up doing creative medieval renactment I liked Felicity’s clothes because early on there weren’t vendors making appropriate clothes for AG dolls but I wanted my dolls to join in on the fun. (And I was young and not good at drafting patterns)
I love the colonial dresses, especially the ones wit the floral fabrics.
I love the petticoats made from natural fibers.
I love history, and I’m currently learning a lot about the colonial period! I’ve not yet made colonial doll clothes, but this really has me ready to try!
My favourite element would have to be the stay. Depending on how the gown was cur a portion of the stay would be seen above the neckline of the gown adding just a hint of pattern and/or colour. To me that is a bit romantic.
I majored in Historic Preservation in college and the 18th century – especially the clothing – was MY THING!! My favorite item is the stays – with a very close second the Polonaise Gown.
I love the En Fourreau Gown. It reminds me of the colonial times.
I love the wide brimmed straw hat! Ladies knew even then to take care of their skin!
I would have hated the stays! But thank you for this giveaway.
I love all the patterns. They are all so beautiful. Thanks
My favorite piece of Colonel wear would have to be the cloak. That being said I really love the patterns that have been created for the dolls, the stays, dresses and other pieces are all so cute. I am wondering if I would love them as much if I had to wear them everyday?
I loved reading this post, and enjoyed the pictures of the times. So glad as a woman that I don’t have to wear this stuff.
I LOVE all of the beautiful dresses!
I love this era for doll clothes ! I esp. love the petticoat. I always make 2 of them to go with each robe or “dress”.
The underpinnings are my favorite, they’re such fun!
Love the Ivy cape
The dresses are very pretty! Thanks for the chance to win this!
I like all of it! Thank you very much for the giveaway!
Thank you for all the information in your post. I am fascinated by how some dressed during all the eras. I think I like the over skirt and the hats best. As fascinating as this is I am glad I don’t have to dress in all of those layers.
The Colonial clothing fascinates me. All the underpinnings! Good grief, it seems as though it could take thirty minutes just to get your underwear on! I am making the Pretty Pilgrim out now and having a blast! Change the fabric to get other time periods!
My favorite is the gown with the petticoat showing and the cute straw hats. I don’t see how the ladies wore those tight stays all day. It reminds me of the uncomfortable girdles we used to wear to hold up our stockings before the days of pantyhose. Ugh.
The underpinnings and the bonnets
I love the colonial style although it would be a lot to wear! I like the colonial dresses if I have to choose! Thanks for all the wonderful information and patterns! Wish I could meet up with some girls to form a sewing club!
I like very much all these underpinnings. These costums are so cute. Thank you to show us all that big wardrobe because it is my absolute favorite period of costums specially all these beautiful dresses.
I love the colonial look with the petticoat layers.
I love the “Colonial Hoodie”. I am a sucker for hoodies and the flounce on the back of this one is so adorable!!
I love the hats! So many creative possibilities.
I just love the underpinnings! How cute are the little stays!! I was always in love with Felicity and all of her amazing period clothing! Just order my first Felicity of ebay. I always wanted one as a kid. So fun!
Thank you for this post and giveaway. I love all items in the 18-th century fashion and it looks like I have all your patterns covering the late 18-th century. I’m mostly intrigued by the underpinnings by Thimbles & Acorns.
I love the Peonies period dress.
I like all of the elements for a complete look I’m fascinated with how people dressed in different eras.
I adore the caps and cloaks from this time period
I love all the underpinnings.
My favorites are all of the underpinnings. The little stays are just so cute! I love all of the little period costumes!
i just really love that style and think those ladies were tough to wear all that. i do not get much sewing done but am collecting so when i retire i can sew. my sister and i work together and sew clothes for her grand daughters. I love your patterns. Thank you
I like all the elements of the colonial dress especially the colonial dress.
I love the fancy ball gowns as a whole. I also love all the details in the fabrics used to make the gowns.
The sleeves are interesting and can be plain or fancy
My favorite element of colonial dress is the straw shepherdess or “bergere” hat worn tilted forward and adorned with ribbons and flowers. So feminine and flirty!
I like all the elements, but especially the cloaks.
I love the stays in printed patterns, they’re so pretty.
The stays to be sure, but I love all the clothing from the past!
I love the En Fourreau gown. The opening in the front gets me! The peonies dress with the opening is gorgeous.
I love the shifts! But my truly favorite part of this was the links to actual patterns and fabrics and all the detail of the clothing from start to finish as this is my favorite time period.
Thanks for all the information. I just love the colonial fashions and love tat you have the petticoats!
I love the petticoats and the layered look that was worn in that era.
I really love the combination of a frilly white cap under a delicate straw hat. ❤️ Also love those stays!
November 17, 2021
all the clothing seems interesting and quite elaborate. I like the cape best; it doesn’t look too hard. thanks for your insight.