Friday, August 5, 2011

1860's Wrapper - The Pajama Pants and T-Shirt of the Mid-19th Century

Since making my own wrapper last year I have come to love this versatile garment. I truly don't know how I got along without one. It is just so handy since, with it's adjustable drawstring waist in the lining and loose belted front, I can wear it with or without a corset, with or without a hoop, for set up or tear down at events, for cooking, for early morning activities at events where I have no yet had time to get properly dressed. A wrapper is a fantastic item to have and I was so pleased when my friend Laura agreed to let me make one for her.

This one is made in the same style as my green striped wrapper - that is, one that looks like a dress from the back and the sides but has a loose fitting front that is cut all in one piece - the skirt and bodice are not separate. The excess fullness in the front is pleated into the shoulder and the waist is loosely fitted with a tie belt - so, it is very very flexible in sizing. There is a semi fitted lining inside the wrapper that fastens separately from the outside layer.

I didn't trim my wrapper very much and wanted to trim this one to look more wrapper-like. Many extant wrappers of the 1860's are very loud - almost gaudily so - so, although I didn't want something clownish looking I did decide to go for loud trim.

I used bands of an orangey-brown cotton for wide swaths of color on the skirt, and a smaller scaled version for the full bishop sleeves. The buttons down the front are purely decorative and are made by gathering circles of the cotton over metal washers. The full length opening on a wrapper make it distinctive from an ordinary, common dress which usually opened only to the waist or to just below the waist.

It is the popular thought, based on current research, that wrappers were used mainly as private, in-home attire for relaxed, casual occasions and sometimes for use as a working dress for hard manual labor. Wrappers exist in everything from the humblest cotton to fancy silks with expensive trim. The wrapper spanned social class and found a useful, functional place in the wardrobe of many women from many geographical, cultural and social backgrounds.

Hopefully this one will be useful to Laura in her reenacting journey and I hope she has as much fun wearing it as I had making it!



  1. Beautiful! I think you managed to get it loud enough for a wrapper, but not so much as to make it loose in loveliness :)

  2. I can't wait to wear it! I'm telling you, I'm like a walking portfolio for you if you ever start a seamstress business. ;) Thanks again for making it for me Sarah! I do love my comfy pants and t-shirts! :D

  3. I am so inspired to get my sewing area up and make a dress form my my odd body! For now it will have to be in our room....Lovely wrapper by the way!
    Amber (S&S Forum)

  4. I have been wanting to make one, and now you have persuaded me to do so! It looks wonderful and did you say pajama pants and t-shirt - then that is perfect! We all need a bit of a dress down option don't we!?!?!

  5. Perfect :)
    I love your work... You are so inspiring!

  6. That is beautifully done! It really does look like the illustrations from the old Godey books.

  7. Sarah,

    I was looking for a dress to make for my costume in our church's annual Christmas play. This year it is western in mid 1800's. I found your wrapper dress, and I think this would be good for my body type. Did you use a pattern? My mom has been sewing for 40 years, so I have a seasoned teacher. Any referrals you have for patterns would be greatly appreciated!

  8. Hi Anne!

    This was a really quick and easy garment to make up. If you have a basic Victorian bodice pattern, you can alter it for a wrapper by widening the front bodice and cutting it in one piece with the skirts - the back, and sometimes the side front of the bodice also, would still be cut as a normal dress.

    For a ready made pattern, KayFig has a great wrapper pattern that many have successfully used and loved. It's available at It is the same style of wrapper as this one. I have heard great reviews for it!

    Good luck! Your Christmas play sounds so fun.


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!