A Basic Anatomy of Working Garments of the Federal Period: Women

Garments worn by working people were made for comfort and durability. A female doing physical labor such as working in the fields, laundry, cooking in the kitchen,  gardening, would have worn garments that allowed for ease of movement. One combination of clothing worn by working women was a  shift, corset, shortgown, petticoat and apron. 


Shift:
· Loose fitting garment worn next to the skin as underwear.
· Short sleeves.
· This item was washed more frequently than outer garments.
· Made of lightweight linen or muslin for summer and heavier linen, and  flannel (which is light weight wool, not our modern flannel) or linsey woolsey for winter wear.
· Drawcord at neckline.
· Length ranged from knee to mid-shin.
· WHAT NOT TO DO – Women, regardless of social status, would not have worn this garment without something over it such as a shortgown or dress. This was considered an undergarment and no respectable woman wore it exposed.
· No ruffles by this period. Avoid pre-made shifts that have large ruffles at the neck that ‘swallows’ the throat and ruffles at the sleeve ends. A shift with short sleeves will be more comfortable under a shortgown or dress and is more appropriate than the shifts sold by most historical clothing companies.
· The Woman’s Shift, 1790-1820 pattern from Kannik’s Korner is the historically recommended shift.


Full length corsets worn by two historical interpreters at the 1820 Col. Benjamin Stephenson House
Corset:
· Essential to the fit of the outer garments and maintaining a Federal Period silhouette.
· Fitted to individual wearer. This item cannot be purchased ready made.
· Lightly boned half-corset, fully boned half-corset, or full length corset with boning or cording for support.
· Full length corset has a wooden busk down the center front.
· Half-corsets usually laced up the front. Full length corsets laced up the back.
· Traditionally made of nankeen (a canvas-like fabric).
· White or off-white during the Federal Period.
· Provided back support while maintaining the high-waisted silhouette.
· Type of corset worn depends on body type and what is comfortable.
· WHAT NOT TO DO – If you are going to have a corset made, make sure the pattern is for 1800-1820. This is very important to remember! Victorian or Rev War corsets will not give the proper silhouette…they are completely different. Corsets were made for each individual body and garment being worn...they are not universal to all periods. It must be fitted to you!


Shortgown, petticoat, apron and turban.

 Shortgown:
· Made of linen, light weight wool or printed cotton.
· Loose fitting.
· Cut on the fold as one piece. Lower peplum and lower sleeve were often pieced.
· No inset sleeves.
· High waisted with or without a drawcord.
· Length  ranged from a few inches below bust line to mid thigh.
· Pinned closed at neckline.
· WHAT NOT TO DO – Shortgowns with inset sleeves are not appropriate for the Federal Period. This style tends to be more 1760s. Also, no French or English bodices! These garments are not historical but unfortunately remain popular among many reenactors.

Petticoat:
· Made of linen or light weight wool.
· Fitted waistband with ties at back to close garment.
· High waisted with sewn suspenders to keep it under the bust line.
· Length ranged from mid-shin to ankle bone.
· Petticoats, as a rule, did not have pockets built-in. Some petticoats had slits in the sides with a pocket worn on a cord around the waist underneath the garment.

Apron:
· Usually made of checked fabrics (small checks) or white.
· Full bodied, bib-front or simple waist tied.
· Made of linen, muslin or wool.
· Tied at back with small cording.
· Protected petticoat and shortgown from soiling.
· Useful in hauling wood, picking up hot pots, wiping a child’s face, cleaning off a table, etc.

Reproduction day caps in the Stephenson House wardrobe. 

Day Caps:
· Head covering worn by women of all social stations.
· Ranged from very simple construction to very ornate.
· Made of fine linen such as ‘lawn’ or handkerchief, batiste or fine muslin.
· An alternative for a working interpretation would be a simple kerchief or turban.
· Kept hair clean when working in dusty or dirty areas.
· Older ladies tended to wear day caps regularly.
· Covers modern hair styles and bad hair days
· Fashionable accessory as well as a practical garment.
· WHAT NOT TO DO – the stereotypical ‘mob’ cap. This is a cap cut in a large circle with a drawstring at the crown. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG! This is not a period cap under any circumstances.

Stephenson House interpreter wearing a large neckerchief on the outside of her dress and tucked into her apron waistband.

Neckerchief or Modesty Cloth:
· Large triangle shaped cloth used to fill in the neckline.
· Colors: white, checked or printed.
· Lightweight cotton, muslin, linen.
· Worn on inside of shortgown or outside over shoulders.

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