A Young Woman's Everyday Clothing c. 1820

The following is a basic wardrobe for a young woman (or girl) in the 1810s through early 1820s. Most of these garments are based on original research or extant pieces in museum. This is a general everyday clothing guideline.

A very wrinkled shift from the Stephenson House wardrobe. Made from Kannik's Korner shift pattern.

Shift – A girl’s or woman’s loose-fitting, basic undergarment. Elvira probably owned several shifts because she wore one next to her skin every day. Shifts helped to protect outer garments from sweat and body soil, and were laundered frequently. They were made of linen, muslin, light-weight wool, or linsey woolsey.

Reproduction corset from an extant garment. This corset was worn by a prepubescent girl.

Stays or Corset – Stays were a close fitting undergarment that enclosed the wearer’s torso. They were stiffened with whalebone or cording during the early 1800s. Some stays laced closed in the front, while others laced at the back. They were a foundation garment that provided support to the outer clothes, and also helped the wearer maintain good posture. Stays were worn by women, girls, and young children.

Bodice petticoat.

Petticoat – A petticoat is similar to what we call a skirt. It could be worn with a working jacket, called a short gown (short, loose, T-shaped jacket with a drawstring at the waist), or under a full gown. Because women’s styles were high-waisted in the early 1800s, petticoats would have needed a bodice or suspenders to keep them at the fashionable waistline. Elvira might have worn a corded petticoat under some of her gowns to give her skirts a bell shape. She also might have worn a quilted petticoat in the winter for warmth.

Betsey from the Stephenson House wardrobe.

Betsey – A Betsey was a shaped piece of fine linen, muslin, or lace, worn by women and girls over the neck and shoulders to fill in a low-cut neckline. This garment is sometimes called a chemisette, tucker, or dickey.

Reproduction gown of an original owned by the Missouri Historical Society.

Gown – In the early 19th century fashionable gowns were high-waisted, full-length dresses. The bodice (or top) was short and did not sit at the natural waist, but under the bust. Some gowns fastened at the back, while others closed in front. There were different ways to close a gown: simple drawstrings, hooks and eyes, buttons, or straight pins. Gowns were made of silk, cotton, linen, or light-weight wool. White would have been a very fashionable color for a young lady, but printed cottons were also very popular.

Yellow spencer over a muslin gown.

Spencer – A spencer was a short, close-fitting jacket worn over the bodice of a gown. Made of wool, cotton, muslin, or silk.

Red wool cloak.

Cloak – A simple, unfitted wrap for cold weather in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Cloaks usually extended from the neck to the knees. Elvira would have worn a cloak with a bonnet and gloves. Cloaks were usually made of heavy wool, but cotton and silk were also used. Red was very popular.

Clocked stockings (left) and plain stockings.

Stockings - Stockings were close-fitting coverings for the foot and lower leg, similar to modern knee socks. Stockings were knitted by hand or on professional knitting machines. Made of silk or cotton thread, and also wool yarn.

Pelisse – A high-waisted coat worn by women and girls in the early 19th century. Made of cotton, muslin, silk, linen, or wool. (Not pictured)

Two bonnets from the Stephenson House wardrobe.

Bonnet – A head covering that framed the face and usually tied under the chin. Made of silk, woven straw/wheat, or wool.

Day Cap
– Day caps were head coverings worn by women and girls to dress their heads without having to style their hair elaborately. People did not wash their hair as frequently as we do today, so caps also helped protect the hair from everyday dust and dirt. Day caps could be very simple or very elaborate. Styles depended on many things: age, occasion, time of day, station in life, and type of work performed. Made of fine linen, muslin, cotton, or lace.

Mitts or Mittens – Mitts were elbow-length, fingerless gloves made of linen or silk. They could be sewn from woven cloth, or knitted. Mitts helped keep the wearer warm in winter and protected skin from sun in summer. Mitts also protected the wearer from abrasions during work.  (Not Pictured)

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