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 favorite colonial element is the petticoat- it adds so much to the structure of a full dress!
I love the colonial undergarments it was so amazing all the clothing hey had to wear underneath it all. Thanks
love the cloak!
Those dresses are really pretty!
I love the closures on colonial clothing.
I love the straw hats that the dolls wear. They are adorable.
I love the Colonial Day Dress and the long Capes. The long capes always gave them such a nice flow.
i love stays
I love it all, the gowns, the hats, the capes.
I think the idea of a stomacher is great because you can change a plain dress to a fancy dress or give variety to your wardrobe even though you have few dresses.
I love capes! I wish people wore them more nowadays!
Thank you for a wonderful blog on 18th century fashion. The clothes are beautiful…I like even the working class dress. Aren’t we lucky, though, that we do not have to wear it!! It does look rather uncomfortable! I love historical drama and may get into these historical patterns yet.
They are both very cute. I can’t choose. I pick both dresses! Colonial Gown if I absolutely have to choose.
I like the whole look. Even their every day clothes look like formal wear to me!
All the outfits are fantastic, but I love the long cape with the big hood!
I love the full skirts and how the stays create a special look in the front silhouette.
I love the Buster. So fun and cute.
They are both very cute. I can’t choose. I pick both dresses!
I love the capes – my goal is to someday sew several of the caroling cape outfits and have the American Girl dolls in them as a Christmas display!
I like the fancier dresses and the cloak! They were sure girly girls in those days.
I love period doll clothes, especially dresses with very full and puffy skirts.
I love colonial undergarments, especially stays. I wish I could wear them nowadays—my posture needs it!
I love it all but especially the petticoats, undergarments and aprons.
I love the cloaks women wore during this time period.
I love the Colonial Day Dress. When I think of colonial garb, this is what I think of!
I like the open front dress with petticoat. What a great idea! Change out the look (or weight) of a garment just by changing the petticoat.
I love the comfort and practicality of shifts and petticoats. Perfect for everyday activities. They can be dressed up by using fancier fabrics and adding stays. I just wouldn’t want to wear stays though.
How fun is this! I love history and would love to win!
My favorite fashion period is the 18th century. I love most of the garments for that period and enjoy sewing them.
The stays and petticoats are my favorite but feel intimidated to do them even though the instructions of the patterns I have are really good, but think I am the one that will not have a fabulous project done… will love to have a class on a follow up doing 18th century clothes
The undergarments are so intriguing. Not sure I would be able to wear all those today.
I’ve always thought it would be great to have a long cape with a big hood.
I think my favorite piece would be the stays. They are so detailed and intricate. They are just an amazing wardrobe piece in the whole ensemble!
They are all great patterns. I am going to use the Colonial Gown but use the sleeves from the colonial day dress. Would be interesting to see how others mix patterns.
I like the Colonial Undergarments. They were cute
These are phenomenal period costumes.
I like the petticoat.
the stays and petticoats intrigue me~
I’m always a sucker for a lovely set of stays and petticoats, but my fave isn’t even there! Need a good pattern for her POCKET! Where else will she stash all the necessary little things of life but that indispensable little bag she calls a pocket?
The gowns are my favorite. So elegant! I also like the gowns and shawls.
Love the day dresses but they’re all stunning!
I like the gowns and aprons. There are so many options for detailing a gown. Ruffles, trim, sleeve length, closure details – it can all be personalized. I also like that attention was given to the simple apron
I’m a big fan of the 18th century fashion (even made my own dress, years ago). I like the stays, but my favorite clothing piece is the “robe volante”. I love Keeper’s Dolly Duds and Thimble and Acorns patterns because of their historical accuracy. Each is a little History lesson!
My favorite element is the front-closure gown worn over everything, but the stays and layers of petticoats are also fun to sew. At least for dolls! I’m not sure I’d still love wearing/sewing the miles and miles of fabric for myself! ;-)
I really loved the way that they spruced up their old gowns by just adding a new false front. When you don’t have the materials for an entire new dress, just add a new accessory, right?
I love the petticoat element and adore the colonial capes
I love the hooded cloaks but also the stays— while they may have been uncomfortable to wear, they would certainly help with better posture! With all the bent-over-the-computer work done these days, many of us could use some…
I love gowns from this era! The details on these dresses are beautiful!
I’ve always liked the prints used during this time period and the total look.
I love the dress with the slit to show the petticoat. There are so many choices for a different look every day, if you make different solid petticoats to go with a print dress.
I love the gowns. No end to what can be done with these
I love all parts of historical clothing especially the hats!
I adore the stays.
I want to learn how the over bodice with the stays is done.
I really like gowns and lace edged sleeves
Love the designs which appear to be historic for the time period
I loved how they used petticoats and how everything was so modest and beautiful ❤️.
I like the gowns or dresses. They look so beautiful.
I love the straw hat and petticoats. I also think the stays are pretty!
I love the detail of the Underpinnings, stays and petticoat. I can’t even imagine having to wear all those layers and then go out and walk through the muddy or dusty streets! Thank you for the informative history.
The gowns are my favorite. Make thwm simple or dressthem up withruffles and trim
I belong to an 18thC dance /historical group. I love making period gowns to dance in. I also have a number of American Girl dolls in period costumes to show the different classes of dress at the time. We use them when we are having teaching events. This is totally my time period :)
For me, it’s always the jackets and vests that add the perfect completing touch to these beautiful outfits. I also enjoy the “hunt” for the perfect fabric.
I like the Peonies dress but it is hard to decide. They are all cute.
My granddaughter is only 11 and a huge history buff. I know she would enjoy dressing her AG dolls in these clothes.
I like the fullness of the dresses.
stays and lace edged sleeves
I love the colonial dresses with the skirts! So elegant!
I like the petticoats the best, but I really like how feminine they looked then. I know that’s not what we do now, but I suppose we like what is unique to us.
I’m with Christine. I love the pink skirt, white petticoat and flowered vest.
I love both the Colonial and the Regency periods of clothing. I’m just glad that I don’t have to wear, wash, and iron all those layers myself! The gown is my favorite feature.
Wow! Beautiful clothes and my favorite dress with the adorable straw hat!
I love the bodice details, the stomacher can be so much fun to adorn and swapping it out can totally change the look of the dress.
I really like the quilted petticoats of the period, as well as the various embellishments. Not being American, I tend to prefer French fashion of the period.
I love the petticoats and floral patterens.
I just love the beautiful petticoats!
The Ivy cloak is beautiful!
I love this time in history. I’m so happy that I can make clothes for my Doll!
I like the Pilgrim pattern, in part for its variety – a bonnet, apron, dress.
I love this time period it brings back the history of our country, i make these to teach history to the children in my neighborhood
my absolute favorite period of costume! It makes me want to do stop motions of my dolls being costubers :)
I love the way you can mix and match so many pieces. You get such a big wardrobe that way.
I have to pick a favorite? I absolutely can’t! I want to make all of them. I love period clothing! Everyone was dressed so much more elegant than we are today.
I love the look of the colonial dresses with the fitted bodice and big skirt. Granted, I wouldn’t have wanted to wear it, but I really love the look of the dresses.
I am so excited about this post! My goal is to make a period outfit for Elizabeth. I love the fashion from this era. the fancy dresses are so amazing.
My favorite element is the cloak – I think they look very elegant and warm!
This is one of my favorite periods for doll patterns, there are so many wonderful ones. My favorite picture is the one with pink petticoat and floral stays.
I like them all, and especially the 18th century. I enjoyed this read. Thank you.
I actually like how they used the peticoat to give a contrasting color to whatever dress they wore. It’s quite genius as far as color combinations in dress go :)
I absolutely love cloaks!
I really like the first picture with the pink skirt (petticoat) and white blouse, but don’t see a pattern from Pixie Faire for that outfit. Is there one? Thanks.
November 17, 2021
I love the Colonial Day Dress and the long Capes. The long capes always gave them such a nice flow. The long capes looked so velvety n soft.