Fashions in History

Length: 11+ weeks
Content-type: Text-based
Age/Grade: 3rd – 12th Grades
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How to Use This Course

Fashions in History is a multi-level multidisciplinary study for young ladies, focusing on women and children’s fashions from the 18th century to 1910. In addition to readings on the main topic, the study contains optional readings on dolls and 19th-century culture for students of all levels, conversations about museum and archival topics, historic needlework, historic recipes, coloring pages, practice in computer skills, vocabulary, clothespin-doll-making projects, and a short course in hand-sewing and embroidery. Any part of this curriculum may be used to supplement a regular history or home economics course, or it may be used as an elective course.

Course Introduction

You can thank or blame my 7th-grade teacher for this course. It was she who assigned a class project on antebellum US history. One of my friends decided to cook an antebellum meal. Another classmate built a toothpick model of a log cabin with cotton in the chimney to make it actually smoke (to the delight of the class). Thanks to my grandmothers and great-grandmother, I could already sew and do various kinds of needlework, so my project was to make two antebellum-style doll dresses. Back in those pre-Internet Dark Ages, we actually had to go to the library, which was a thirty-minute trip from my rural home, and check out books in order to do research. I didn’t even know that people wrote books about historic costume. I had simply assumed that women in the past either wore hoopskirts or the nondescript calico dresses seen on the Little House on the Prairie and Bonanza television programs. At the library, however, the librarian put into my hands a book, a rather substantial tome titled 20,000 Years of Fashion. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was wrong; people had worn LOTS of different styles. Looking through the book, I soon became fascinated by historic clothing.

Not many people homeschooled back then, so I had few opportunities to continue to study old clothing in depth. Later, however, I went to a boarding school where the teachers encouraged us to pursue our interests. One even gave me the chance to make a historic costume for an independent study. In college, I studied history, worked in the archives, and then went to graduate school and became a museum curator. I no longer work in a museum, but I curate a small private collection of artifacts. People can visit the collection and study old photos and clothing, sit on the world’s most uncomfortable couch (a 1920s reproduction of a Victorian sofa), and read issues of Godey’s Lady’s Book.

Buy why should you study historic costume?

Even if you don’t want to be a museum curator, a professional theatrical costume designer, or a history professor, there are many reasons why you might benefit from or use a knowledge of fashion history:

  • Enjoyment (Some antique clothes are honestly pretty funny.)
  • Making costumes for “pioneer days” events
  • Dating your family’s photos and paintings
  • Understanding the past better
  • Learning vocabulary
  • Understanding history and historical literature better
  • Gaining perspective on our own culture
  • Being more conscious of why you dress the way you do

This course contains eleven lessons, plus this introduction and optional crafts. In these lessons, we’re going to focus on 19th-century fashion, although we’ll look at the 18th century a little to gain some perspective (history does not occur in a vacuum), and we’ll finish with the 1900s-1910 as an epilogue. Along the way, we’re going to learn a little history and vocabulary, read about historical dolls, do some crafts and sewing, and look at some antique dolls and actual pieces of clothing.

  • Parent/Teacher Information
  • Student Introduction to Course
  • Lesson 1: 18th Century
  • Lesson 2: 1790-1810
  • Lesson 3: 1810-1829
  • Lesson 4: 1830s
  • Lesson 5: 1840s
  • Lesson 6: 1850s
  • Lesson 7: 1860s
  • Lesson 8: 1870s
  • Lesson 9: 1880s
  • Lesson 10: 1890s
  • Lesson 11: 1900s
  • Additional Sewing and Craft Projects

Any part of this curriculum may be used to supplement a regular history or home economics course, or it may be used as a half-credit elective for high school students.

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