Fashion Speaks Louder Than Words 30


Shari Fuller, Owner Thimbles and Acorns

When I told the group of junior high school girls in my youth group that I was a fashion designer, the look of disbelief on their faces was priceless.  I have to chuckle at the thought of that myself, as I certainly don’t fit the preconceived notion of what a fashion designer ought to look like.  Shortly after my first child was born, I began losing touch with the world of fashion as my sense of style gave way to practicality.  I dress up a little for the occasional wedding or funeral, but for the most part, jeans and t-shirts have been my mainstay for the last 18 years.  Despite my outward appearance however, I do have a fascination with fashion… historical fashion.  If you take the time to look at the clothes people wore, you will soon discover that fashion speaks louder than words when it comes to telling their stories.   

From the moment I donned my first sunbonnet made lovingly for me by my Grandma, I have had a growing fascination with historical clothing.  At first, my interest was limited to what I read about in my Little House on the Prairie books, but as my reading expanded, so did my interest in what people wore.  Anne Shirley’s puffed sleeves, Sara Crewe’s elegant wardrobe, Meg March’s white gloves, and Dolly Madison’s hats all had a certain charm to them that made my wardrobe seem dull by comparison.  What struck me most was how each period of time had a way of dress that distinguished it from the others.  Before long, I could determine what time period a person lived from a quick glance at what they were wearing.  I had little taste for history when I was in school, or so I thought, but when I realized that the clothing that was so captivating to me was also teaching me about the people that wore them, history became an exciting adventure.

The century between 1780 and 1880 is one of the most interesting periods of time when it comes to historical fashion.  While the United States and Great Britain recovered from the American Revolution in the 1780’s, the French Revolution was looming.  Women’s fashionable dress shifted quickly from the heavy, stiff, and elaborate styles that had been the standard for hundreds of years to looser and simpler styles that reflected the new ideology of liberty and freedom.  The idea of liberty wasn’t embraced by everyone however, because although this meant freedom and equality to the lower classes, it meant condemnation to the aristocrats and nobility.  For this reason, elaborate trimmings and accessories were also discarded as the French upper classes tried to fade into the background… though this wasn’t so much of a fashion statement as it was a means to keep ones head firmly attached to ones body.

This extreme shift in fashion was to be short lived however, and as the upheaval in society began to subside, dresses began to return to more elaborate and restrictive styles.  This time, however, fashionable clothing wasn’t limited to nobility and wealthy merchants.  Queen Victoria, unlike her predecessors, was a model of propriety and greatly influenced the newer styles which were much more modest than in years past.  Perhaps the biggest influence on fashion during this period was the advent of the Industrial Revolution.  Mass production meant more fabric and trims at lower prices, which made fashionable dress attainable to all but the poorest people in society.  In an effort to outdo one another, ladies dresses grew larger and larger, and trimmings became more and more elaborate.

As the American Civil War pushed the expansion of steam powered transportation across the United States, other nations followed suit.  By the time the war came to an end, not only did the American slaves gain their individual freedom, people around the world enjoyed a whole new kind of freedom as travel opportunities opened with the boom of  steam powered boats, ships and railways.  By the 1860’s hoop skirts had expanded to as wide as six feet in diameter, but these monstrosities made poor traveling companions so the great cage crinolines were shed and the excess fabric was drawn up toward the back and draped in elaborately decorated layers.  Fashion had become more mobile, a trend that would continue to evolve as women discovered the liberties and pleasures of being active.

Recently, my work with historical fashion has rekindled an interest in my own wardrobe.  Could it be that a lady still resides underneath these jeans and t-shirts?  You would think that as a seamstress and  designer I would have a natural eye for fashionable clothing…  but alas, my eye is deeply rooted in the past and my first trips to the mall were rather discouraging to say the least.  I felt hopelessly out of touch with today’s styles and because my body had gone through some rather drastic changes over the years, I found myself reevaluating the value of corsets.  Historical fashion interests me because of the story it tells and I just couldn’t find a story in the modern clothes I was looking at… until I began taking a closer look.  I discovered that elements of historical design still exist today and I suddenly found myself having a great deal of fun looking for all those little details in a sort of treasure hunt.  Before long, I found I was reading a new story in the world of fashion, my own story.  Yes, fashion still speaks louder than words.

Let’s see who reads this article to the very end.  I am listing one of each of the four cover dresses from our 1870s Bustle Dress pattern for free on our website today.  First four early birds get the worm… but only one dress per person please.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


30 thoughts on “Fashion Speaks Louder Than Words

  • Amy

    I read to the end. 🙂 I love the article. I am a jeans and tee person too but I love your patterns. Historical fashion is so interesting.

  • Denise

    Awesome article! I love sewing frilly and pretty things for my granddaughter, nieces, and their dolls, but I am a jeans girl at heart. 🙂

  • Jackie Friest

    Hi Sheri!
    I admire your work. Your patterns are amazing. I am always looking to see what you are creating next. The gals you create patterns for are also very talented. I took pattern drafting in university – ions ago – but never really ‘got the hang of it’ so I really appreciate your talent.
    Thank you for the amazing offer of the dresses. I am glad I always read articles to the end!!!!!!
    Jackie Friest

  • Shari Post author

    Thanks Candice! Historical fashion is SO much fun… and I can’t wait to delve even deeper in to the subject and create more patterns to explore with :o)

  • Shari Post author

    Denise and Amy, sewing for dolls is such a great place to enjoy all the frills, fru fru, and past fashions to our hearts content.

  • Vickie

    I really enjoyed your article. I am going to start looking at modern clothes to see if I can see bits and pieces of historical fashion. I love your patterns.

  • Terry

    Jeans and henley’s are my fashion statement (and a sweater on these snowy days). I love your designs. Now, if I just get my school room cleaned up and find my sewing machine…

  • Shari Post author

    You should just pop over for an old fashioned “sewing bee” Terry… I’ll even let you bring some of those delicious treats you keep teasing me with :o)

  • Judy

    What an interesting article and oh so true how our focus effects us. Always enjoy your newletters.

  • Marcia

    I love the fashions of the late 1800’s. However, I am also a jeans and t-shirt girl. Excellent article!!

  • Susan

    Your patterns are simply beautiful. I love everyone.

    I suppose the free patterns are gone by now……..still early on the west coast ;(

  • Shari Post author

    No free patterns this month, just the dresses. Will see if I can come up with another fun special for next month… something everyone can get in on :o)

  • Marie

    Nice article! I have an urgent feeling to get to the mall to replace some t-shirts with something that has a story! I love treasure hunts!

  • Mary H.

    I read to the end, but I guess it’s a disadvantage to be in Southern California this morning. (On the other hand, we haven’t had to face your horrible winter.) 🙂

  • Elsje

    I enjoyed the article Shari, and sewing all your patterns. I find that I am now looking for the extra details to complete the costumes, especially headgear – caps, bonnets, berets, cloches, nurses caps, military headgear, etc. If you ever have time or the interest maybe a pattern with a variety of headwear through the ages might be something you might consider. Looking forward to what you have next on the designing board.

  • Shari Post author

    Oh SO many things I want to do… and yes headgear is on my wishlist too. Would be fun to follow the changes through the ages as well as between cultures :o)

  • Carol

    I really identified with all of your remarks. My growing interest in history due to fashion and genealogy (which you didn’t mention in this article, but I have heard you talk about) I had several chuckles as I read along. My own fashion has taken some interesting turns in this process and I have found the Lagen “layered” look or Mori Girl fashion adapted to a young 68 year old lots of fun to wear. I read somewhere that “Life is too short to wear boring clothes.” So some of the time I don’t.

  • Sewbig

    I also read through to the end. I loved your article. Winning one of your dresses would be wonderful. But it couldn’t bring the enjoyment that Melangell and I have had sewing your patterns. We are working on your Sacque Back dress right now. We have been working for days, and probably still have another day to go. I would normally say that the joy is in the “production” of our doll outfits. But wait until you see this outfit–the “product” is stunning!

    We love your designs.

  • C0ra

    Sorry, I didn’t get to read your article until today. Like you I like history and clothing from the historical period. The reason I didn’t get to your email until today is that my daughter gave birth to my first grandchild on the 13th.

  • Shari Post author

    This may be a good idea for another article! While I was shopping this last time, I had been doing some research on Victorian styles, so the details from that era were fresh in my mind. I found some of the interesting pleats I had seen on some extant dresses used on a few tops. I also came across some sweaters and jackets that used ruching in a way that was very similar to the draped overskirts of the time. My favorite find, however, was a double breasted jacket that had a double collar like one I had just seen used on an 18th century riding habit. This same jacket also had short puffed sleeves with fitted undersleeves like those from the Regency Era. Though the cut was more modern, the close fit was like that of a late Regency Jacket…. this was the jacket that I ended up purchasing, and I just love it! I am still not terribly keen on most of the modern fashions out there… too ill fitting to be attractive.. but with a little digging, there are some beautiful treasures out there.