Dance History Alive!
and Nancy Bloom
We would be happy to bring dancing to your children! See our home page for more information.
historically accurate colonial period clothing is very
complicated. It can be a fun challenge for those with much
experience in the fabric arts, if they have instructions and period
garments to compare with the instructions. There is more information about that in the bottom half of this page.
you are trying to costume children for "Colonial Day" at school, then
you are trying to give them some feeling for how eighteenth century
clothing was different from twentieth century clothing, and you are not
trying to be historically accurate. Below are some suggestions on
how that can be done.
Colonial Costuming for ChildrenWhen
reenactors are dressing their children (both boys and girls) they have
them wear dark shoes and dark socks, so that they aren't really
Here is a link to an article on making imitation eighteenth century clothing for children. Below is some additional advice on how it can be done. Personally, I would go with knee britches
(short pants) for boys. And you're best off with a blouse and
skirt or long dress for a girl.
long socks and short pants. If you do not have short pants, roll
up a pair of long ones and tuck the ends into knee-length socks (soccer
socks work well). Add a loose cotton shirt, and a vest if you
have one. You can make buckles from cardboard covered with
aluminum foil, and stick them over dark leather shoes (shoes work
better than sneakers for this). (Waistcoats - what we call vests
- of the period were long and got shorter throughout the 18th
century. By 1775, they were down to the hips, so if you are
planning on a vest, you want to aim for a length to the hips.) I
went to a men's formalwear thrift shop and bought a man's vest and used
that, which worked for a kid after I pulled in the extra width.
So you can think of vests as a lovely, and optional, accessory.
They were very fancy during the period. All boys and men wore
hats - tricorns (called 'cocked hats' back then) are available for
purchase or you can make one. If you live in Eastern
Massachusetts, there are various places that sell tricorn hats.
Here is a YouTube video about how to make a tricorn.
can wear long skirts and loose blouses, or fancy dresses that reach the
floor. (The important thing is to cover the legs, elbows and
head.) A shawl, apron and a mobcap or straw hat are perfect
accessories. Even a lace doily pinned on top of the head
works. Ballet slippers and dress shoes with straps or buckles
look similar to early footwear. Stay away from sneakers, sandals
and flip-flops - definitely will take away from an eigteenth century
Mobcaps are not exactly period-correct for the
eighteenth century, but they are easy to make, and give a period
feel. Here are instructions for how to make a mobcap:
a circle of fabric (22-24 inch diameter for an adult, 18 inches for a
child). Two inches in from the edge of the circle, punch holes
every couple of inches. Insert a ribbon or string through the
holes to use as a drawstring. Put the cloth on the head that's
going to wear it, pull the drawstring, tie a bow and you're done.
Here's a link to a page from Colonial Williamsburg that tells you how making a mobcap can be used as a math project.
Here's info on trimming a woman's straw hat if you have the time and interest.
Hats were usually worn over caps when women were outdoors; caps were
worn all the time. You will have to click on the link on top that
says "Hats & Bonnets".
Here's a link that shows pictures of various things women wore, which uses eighteenth century terminology.
a girl wishes to know what stays were, the closest modern equivalent
would be a sports bra. The whole point of stays and bum rolls and
panniers and other such undergarments was to mold women into the
fashionable shape of the period. The nineteenth century name for
stays would be a corset.
Pockets are interesting - most modern
girls are used to having pockets in their jeans. Women DID have
pockets back then - but they were a separate garment that tied around
the waist, usually under the petticoats (which had slits so a woman
could reach her pockets) so that women could carry things they needed.
Historically Accurate Period Clothing
For more information about making your own historically accurate period clothing, see
For women's clothing:18th Century Women's Clothing Layers
For men's waistcoats:18th-century-waistcoats
Here are some good books on the subject:
Clothing Does Make the Man; A Guide to Men's 18th C. Common Clothing, by Cathy (Kate) Johnson
Common Clothing 1730 - 1820, by Cathy (Kate) Johnson
Whatever Shall I Wear: a Guide to Assembling a Woman’s Basic 18th Century Wardrobe, by Mara Riley.
are also sutlers (peddlers of period clothing) who sell ready-made
period clothing. Be aware that many of them sell clothing from
different periods and places, and that you will want to choose items
that are correct for the place and period that you are trying to
represent. They are also fairly pricey. Here's a link to
a list of them.