A Passion for Fashion . . . and Giveaway!!!

Women have always been drawn to fashion, and the Texas frontier was no different than any other setting. From wealthy ranch wives to schoolmarms to women working on the farm, females shared a common thirst for fashion. Practicality won out for slopping the pigs or hanging out the wash, but for church, a picnic, or party, every woman wanted to look her best. And with the advent of fashion magazines becoming readily available through the post, a woman need not live in the fine cities of the east to know what the latest styles dictated.

Harper’s Bazaar, Peterson’s Magazine, The Delineator, and Godey’s Lady’s Book were some of the favorites during the latter half of the 19thcentury.











My favorite era to write about is the 1880s. Early in the decade, we see lovely slender silhouettes. The bell-shaped skirts of the Civil War era had been left behind and the bustles of the 1870s had not yet made their comeback, so the style of the day exemplified grace and elegance. However, the tight-fitting style wasn’t always practical.

This sample from Godey’s (at left) shows the slender lines, layered flounces on the skirts, and the vibrant colors women of this time period enjoyed. The women on the ends are wearing the snug fitting basque bodices that extend to the edge of the hips while the dresses on the women next to them exemplify the longer polonaise style bodice that becomes more of an overskirt as it drapes past the knees or even the ankles.

Below is a fashion plate from the September 1881 issue of Peterson’s Magazine. Note the tiny, corseted waists and gathered, draping fabric across the hips and upper leg area of the two models on the right. This horizontal draping was very indicative of the early 1880s. Some of the most popular fabrics included silk (lightweight for eveningwear, faille, lampas, and gros grain varieties for walking dresses), wool (merino, cashmere), satin (often brocaded), and velvet. Of course, women with a more modest budget had to make do with linen, muslin, and calico. Yet in the hands of a capable dressmaker, the results still translated into fashionable ensembles.

So what 1881 fashion best describes your personality?

  • The fine merino wool walking dress – You like to wear the latest styles, presenting an elegant, refined, and professional image.
  • The calico work dress – High fashion is just not practical for your everyday life. You’ve got too much to get done and prefer being comfortable while you’re doing it.
  • Britches and cotton – You’ve got a bit of a rebel streak in you. You’d rather be off with the boys fishing, riding, or doing anything outdoors. Skirts of any kind are just a hassle.



Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of my first release, A Tailor-Made Bride. In this story, my heroine, Hannah, is a seamstress who always keeps abreast of the latest trends while finding ways to adapt them to the lifestyle of the women in Coventry, Texas.


A Tailor-Made Bride was a 2011 RITA finalist for Best First Book as well as a finalist for the 2011 National Reader’s Choice Award.


Website | + posts

For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.

56 thoughts on “A Passion for Fashion . . . and Giveaway!!!”

  1. It’s March in Nebraska and I have been “dewing” all day.(Ladies don’t sweat…..they dew) At least that is what my Home Ec teacher said as she was trying to teach us to be ladies. Now what I have been doing is sweating and I can not imagaine how bad it would be if I were wearing any of these dresses! And yes 80 degrees in March is very unusual around here.

  2. Britches and cotton would be more my cup of tea I think. As hot as its been this year I would cutting them britches off and be a shamful women I am sure. I think I would roast in these dresses.

  3. I rarely wear a dress or a skirt. I’m very down to earth and like to keep active. I would have to go with the britches and cotton. I can’t imagine wearing a long dress every day.

  4. Great post,I remember back in the 70’s early part no less,,,when bell bottomed pants came out my Dad had a fit,lol,,an in high school I wore”hot pants” to a dance with blue stockings an white go go boots,I love dressing girly then but not so much now that im older,I go for comfort,thats old age for ya

  5. This is such a fun post, Karen! And the fashion plates are lovely. There’s nothing I like more than dressing my heroine, even more than finding clothes for myself.

    I’m a calico dress girl (look nice but be comfortable), but since I work in an office I’m forced into the merino wool walking dress. :o)

  6. Hi, Connie. Victorian fashion was not built for hot weather, that’s for sure. All those snug fitting long sleeves and layers of cloth. I think that’s why the wore so many undergarments. It was a protection against that “dew” from staining the outer dress. 🙂

  7. You’re making me laugh, Quilt lady. I can just picture you running around in a pair of cut offs, showing off those bare legs and causing so much scandal those corsetted, overheated Victorian women would be swooning for sure. Ha!

  8. Hi, Laurie. You sound like my kind of gal. I rarely wear a skirt or dress anywhere but church. Yet there is something about these 19th century dresses that draw me in. I think it’s my love for fairy tales and how they epitomize romance for me. You just can’t have a fairy tale without a big fancy dress at some point. 🙂

    That’s why today’s girls get so excited about prom. It’s a chance to become a fairy tale princess for a night.

    But my practical side would eventually get tired of those long skirts. I have no doubt.

  9. Vickie – I’m with you on the comfort thing. Especially when it comes to shoes. No stillettos for me. I prefer boots with cushiony soles. I have a pair of 19th century shoes passed down to me from my grandmother, and I have no idea how women actually wore them. They are so narrow and pointy. At least they offer good ankle support. Of course, they also look to be about a size 5, and I’d never be able to squeeze my size 8s into that.

  10. I love looking at fashion plates from this era, Kristen. The styles are so elaborate and gorgeous. It puts me in a romantic mood every time.

    I’m fortunate to work in an office where calico casualness is acceptable. And on Fridays, we can even sport the britches and cotton. Woo Hoo!!! I love jeans on Friday.

  11. Can I say “none of the above”? I don’t believe I’d be very comfortable in women’s clothing. And somehow I believe it would be even more scandalous back in a frontier setting than it would be today. 🙂

  12. What a fun post, Karen! I absolutely LOVE the dresses that your heroines wear on the covers of your books. Stunning!!

  13. This is a tough one. I would be a combo of calico work dress and britches and cotton. I love pretty dresses and I love comfy clothes as well. So both really. I would love to see our modern day all dressed up:) Just for a day:)

  14. Thanks so much for sharing the fashion plates.. I grew up in an 1870’s home where the closet was about 3 feet wide & deep.. had the old wire hooks still up with a newer clothes rod installed. Had the same in college [old dorm, very old one of the first on campus].. but heck ordinary women had 3-4 dresses and always, always, wore aprons – plain & fancy…

  15. Tnks for this fascinating post. Cotton is my favorite since it is soft, comfy and practical. Dresses for special.

  16. Hi Karen! I just started A Tailor made Bride and am LOVING. It! Yep, I’d be the Calico Queen. Practical is my middle name, except when it comes to having a little bling! I love me some shiny stuff! Haha! Hope you’re doing really well. Would love to see you!

  17. Mary – I imagine I’d be the same.

    Kevin – I guess I’ll have to ask if you’d be the frock suit with top hat and vest type, the more casual sack suit type, or the cow hand with the worn denims and scuffed boots type. No one wants to see you in a dress, I’m sure. 🙂

  18. Sarah – So fun to see you here. They really found the right dress for Tailor-Made’s cover. I saw the initial photos after the cover was finalized, and Hannah was wearing plain calico. It just wasn’t right for her dressmaker status. I’m so glad they kept looking, because the dress they ended up with was perfect!

  19. Hi, Tina. I’m with you on the comfort thing. But it is nice to dress up every now and then, isn’t it? I’m thankful I don’t have to wear long skirts every day, but it’s awfully fun to do for special occasions.

  20. CateS – I’m so jealous of your 1870’s house! I would love to live in such a place (fully refurbished of course – I’d still want air conditioning and good plumbing. ;-)) And you’re right about those aprons. Ladies did everything they could to take care of the few dresses they owned and make them last. The cleaner they could keep them, the less often they had to be washed. And washing back in the days of scrub boards and wringers was murder on clothing.

    Thanks for stopping by today!

  21. Hi, Ellie. Cotton was certainly the most practical fabric. Of course it came in many forms and textures: calico, gingham, damask, denim, flannel,even the fancier poplins,sateens, and velvets are all made from cotton. It was the most versatile textile.

    Although for us casual folks we just like the simple straight forward variety. Thanks for posting!

  22. I really enjoyed this discussion of fashion and seeing all the ladies comments. My preference would be calico and if someone like Hannah was around to give my bolt of cloth a little dress up, I think I could knock my man dead with a sweet calico number. I like the strong, hard working type, who still know how to be a gentleman and come to a ladie’s aid like Jericho. Thanks for the opportunity at a copy of one of my favorite stories 🙂

  23. This is actually how I began reading your books!!! I saw the cover of a tailor made bride and couldn’t resist in picking it up. I read the back of the book, bought the book and am HOOKED!!

    I love the dresses from this time period, they are so beautiful, probably uncomfortable to wear, but so pretty.

  24. Hi, Heather! Thanks for coming by today. I would so love to try on some of these 1880s fashions. Even if it meant donning a corset and all those layers. I don’t think I’d want to do much more than sashay around at a fancy event, but it would sure be fun for a few hours!

  25. I am the calico work dress kind of girl. But I really can’t imagine wearing any of the women’s fashions. All of them just seem hot, uncomfortable, and a hassle to put on and take off.

    I read a lot of historical romances, and it really is quite fascinating to look at the changing men’s and women’s fashions.

  26. Oh! How I would love to play “dress up” in the 1800’s dresses! Parade around the house and pretend I’ve just stepped back in time. 🙂 I really love the dress on the cover of “Tailor Made Bride”. I wear dresses anyway, so I don’t think that would be the uncomfortable part, but the corset! I like to breathe. lol

  27. You’re right about those changes in fashion, Cheryl. Every decade is so different. You have the big bell skirts of the Civil War era, then the slender style of the early 1880s, then the gigantic bustles of the late 1880s, then the huge puffy sleeves of the 1890s. The changes were so radical every few years. Ah – the price of fashion.

  28. Hi, Tabitha. You and I should get together for a fashion show. I would love that.

    I attended a workshop once with a lady who had enough corsets to hand out to everyone in the room. No men around, of course, but we just put them on over our clothes anyway. She showed us how to lace them from behind. It was quite an experience. Did wonders for my posture, though. I sat up straight for the whole workshop!

  29. A most interesting and enjoyable post today. I love dressing up but alas no one does anymore and it used to be a norm. I had such pretty dresses, especially sun dresses and now just wear boring old pants.

  30. Hi, Pearl. I wear pants most of the time too, but I kept some of my old dresses from high school dances and had the pleasure of seeing my daughter wear one to school for a Victorian costume. Not that my lacy 1988 dress was all that Victorian, but it was fun to see it get some use after hanging in the closet for over 20 years!

  31. Not much for dresses… so I guess my choice would be Britches and cotton… some of those dresses are amazing, but I would not want to be rigged up in one.

  32. Hi, Colleen. Those dresses would certainly restrict one’s movement. Now we know why gentlemen were bred to open doors, carry parcels, and retrieve dropped handkerchiefs. Women had trouble doing things like that for themselves when they were all gussied up.

  33. I would be a calico kind of girl but I love casual dressing at home like shorts or sweats and t shirts. When I go out I usually wear jeans unless I need to dress up.
    Don’t enter me in giveaway as I already have this great book.

  34. Miss Kallie – Thanks for stopping by today. My kids and I love to have jammie days where we stay in our jammies all day long. Especially over the holidays. It’s the ultimate casual at home dressing. 🙂

  35. I have seen pictures of my grandmother and my dad’s aunts in their 1890’s everyday dresses and I am so glad I do not have to wear those styles! Just imagining long sleeves, long skirts and a wood stove hot enough to bake bread in those tiny pioneer houses on a hot day in July—–makes rebelling and wearing britches and cotton to work outside sound good.

  36. Karen, what an interesting post. I love looking at pictures of women’s fashion in the 1800’s. The clothes are so pretty. I can see myself decked out in the walking dress, but I’d have a calico dress ready for days when I had to do laundry and such.

    I LOVED “A Tailor-Made Bride.” It had so many humorous scenes and I loved the names the hero’s helper gave the wagons and buggies. So funny!

  37. Hi, Linda. Thanks for you kind words about Tailor-Made. So glad you enjoyed Hannah and Jericho’s adventure.

    I have several books and websites full of these fashions. I, too, love looking at them. Puts me in a dreamy, romantic state every time.

  38. Interesting article on women’s wear. I loved the look of the clothes but don’t know if I could have handled the very trim waisrs and corsets. I am all into femmine comfort.
    I like the cover on your book and it sounds really good.

  39. Thanks, Joye. It just goes to show that media have been glorifying thinness for hundreds of years. Of course these fashion plates were drawings, so they could nip those waists in even smaller. And have you ever seen their feet? Tiny little things. Now we know where Barbie got it.

  40. I’m definitely the Merino Wool Walking Dress kind of woman – I love fashion and love reading fashion magazines – though most of them have become so full of ads – but I also have a lot of things I’m always doing so the calico work dress would be practical. Not really into outdoor things so I’m definitely not the britches and cotton. Thanks for the giveaway!

  41. Britches and cotton for every day practical and you could move. But with one or to high end fashion dresses, that were simple but elegant complete with parasol! Thanks for the article and pictures.

  42. I’ve always been a 1800’s girl that loves my horses! Ask any of my friends they’ll tell ya that I’m a country girl that always is carrying a 1800’s book. I talk, walk, act, and look like a cowgirl with a little bit of my own flare. I loved Karen’s books, especially, A Tailor-Made Bride. I think I’m a mixture of all three types. I wear my Merino type to school and other places or just when I feel like I wanna. When I get home or when I have a day off, I wear my casual/calico clothes, great for getting comfortable! Then when it’s time to get down and dirty and get the work done, I throw on my britches and cotton shirt, usually plaid! I love my fashion but I like my casual comfort! My parents say I’m a Ellie May Clampett at heart and strength! I love my britches and cotton shirt, great for work and when I want! I think that Karen Witemeyer is the all time BEST author! She has a true passion for her books!
    Thanks, Hannah Shuff,
    The country girl

  43. Liz – You must be the kind of woman who looks good in anything. I’m envious! 🙂

    Maria – Yay for the merino walking dress! We needed some more votes for that one.

    Rosheen – So glad you thought to bring the parasol! We wouldn’t want to freckle, now would we? Heaven forbid! 😉

  44. Hannah – What a sweetheart you are! Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed my stories. I love your country girl’s heart. You can’t find me without an 1800s book under my arm, either. Love it! Thanks so much for stopping by today!

  45. I love the cover for this book. It says so much about who the two characters are and what their relationship is. I really like her dress. It has been on my Wish List since it came out.

    Of the three styles you mentioned, I would probably be the calico work dress person. I fit the profile for being a bit of a rebel and being outdoors, but have discovered I can do it almost as well in a skirt or dress. They are also a bit more comfortable.

    I love looking through old fashion books and going to exhibits of historical clothing. What always amazes me is how tiny the shoes and clothing are. You don’t realize how much smaller people were a century or more ago until you stand next to a manikin dressed in period cloths.

    Thank you for an interesting post.

  46. Hi, Patricia. Thank you so much for you kind comments about Tailor-Made Bride and the cover. It’s too bad you didn’t win the giveaway copy, but I know that it has been discounted at both Amazon and Christianbook.com, so you can get a copy pretty cheap these days. Or you can ask your local library to purchase a copy. I hope you get a chance to read it soon!

    I like your outdoor spirit and your interest in historical clothing. It is fascinateing to see the differences in styles and in the sizes of people wearing them. You are so right about those tiny feet. 🙂

Comments are closed.