The low or no sew cheats costume guide under layers,Petticoats chemises ,underskirts and the rest

This is the first of the new cheats guides ,I thought as with any costume it was important to start with the under layers.A cheats version of any costume can look better than an accurately made one made by a seamstress if its worn properly and with the right layers under it

For an example consider the images below

One of the most famous movie costumes of all time the magnificient curtains gown from Gone with the Wind

green gown

and its second movie outing in Bedlam


Many thanks to recycled Movie costumes for this and the gown images below.This is an excellent site to look over if your making costumes or reusing or revamping a costume as it shows the different ways gowns and outfits can look on different people and worn with different accessories


eliz green gown



The basic layers needed for any costume from Tudor  to Edwardian are  as seen below one layer under the corset,then the  corset and hoop bustle etc and one layer over the hoop etc

edwardian lace petticoat


1/ A base layer of some kind to go next to your skin ,something thats not bulky and either sleeveless or short sleeved.This goes under a corset or stays .Buying or making a seperate top and base for this layer is an option that while it adds bulk is cheap and easy to buy ready made using  either new  or second hand modern clothing.

Tops are easy to find new or vintage anywhere ,avoid any with fastenings such as buttons if possible but if not you can cut off the buttons and just pull the blouse acorss you before putting on the corset as it wont need buttons to hold it closed once you have the corset laced up.Cut off any sleeves if they are not needed to reduce bulk


photo credit

If you are lucky enough you should be able to find a skirt that is elasticated at the waist rather than has a zip ,if not you will need to cut out the zip and any button and replace them with ties

white skirt.jpg

or a modern new or second hand/vintage cotton dress would be another option


Try to avoid gathered tops like the one above if possible if they are going under a corset (for Regency gowns they are fine) But worn under a corset they are bulky and the corset which goes over them and is then laced up will make the ruched bits dig in.But there are plenty similar style gowns available.




I will add a few photos and instructions on making any of these more authentic looking if you cant find a perfect match ,but many of the gypsy/boho/hippie skirts ,blouses and dresses are based on Victorian and Edwardian or sometimes even Tudor and Medieval undergarments.

Structural layers





2/A structural layer ,these are the things that will make the shape of the particular era your hoping to create the costume for,these are the most important things to get correct ,because they will make the outer layers look their best and give the impression of historical accuracy.They can also radically alter how something looks


This is an 1830s gown worn with a hope and a Pelerine style collar,it shows all the pintuck detailing but isnt strictly accurate

Below is the same gown with petticoats


and by itself


Things like making a Tudor gown bought bridal hooped petticoat into a cone or A shape and the Victorian gowns into a dome curved shape rather than a too sharp pyramid shape .Bum rolls and bustle pads would be structural layers either worn alone or with other things such as hoops.You can make one of these very easily by cutting up a cushion to make a crescent shape for a bum roll as below  or even just cutting a small cushion in half to make a boost for a bustle or pannier.


You can also use net to make a bustle shape if you cant buy a cage bustle ,this wont take as much weight or bustling as a metal hoop bustle would but works well .Especially if you tie a cushion bustle above it ,

back tulle bustle

This is the gown worn over the tulle bustle above ,the little bustle cushion was tied over the tulle to take the weight of most of the bustling.


back heb

The other structural layer is a corset or stays ,the shape of the corset will create the shape of your upper body ,different corsets will give different shapes.If you want a flat front you need to get an over bust corset ,with a metal busk ,this is also better for 18thc and Elizabethan gowns .


For early Tudor gowns and Victorian gowns an shorter under bust corset is more comfortable and easier to fasten if you find fine motor movement hard I struggle with hooks and fastenings so I only use an under bust corset now for any outfit.

You can buy any style on ebay very cheaply ,steel busk ones are the best ,hooks and eyes are hard to manage  and not rigid enough while steel boned are a bit less comfortable and a lot more expensive


3/Overlayers .These go over the hoops or bustles or panniers and stop the lines of them showing through your outfit ,they are not essential if you have a fairly thick fabric for your gown but all costumes will look and move better if there is this layer.You can very possibly find another floaty cotton gypsy skirt in a bigger size and with more fabric


Again tulle petticoats make a decent alternative that are cheap ,under ten pounds normally

side tulle pet

4/This  is optional as its not strictly essential ,but is a good one to include if you possibly can both for comfort and effect .It is the layer that went either under the corset or over it but under a hoop or bustle .This is an under petticoat to cover your legs and protect the bustle or hoop from digging in to you.This i a pretty layer to make as its more or less the only one which will be seen eg if your lifting up your skirts going up stairs ,sitting down etc .A gypsy skirt like the ones shown in the base layer photos could be used and added to the first underlayer to give the effect of numerouse petticoats ,using a colour of skirt that matches your gown is another nice way to add a bit of interest.

petticoat_by_abigial709b-d46wp1y (1)

Also useful to give a feel of authenticity are little under blouses or chemisettes for Victorian or Regency gowns .These can often be bought quite cheaply as they are not something that most people buy .


a corset cover which is a little blouse type item that went over corsets to protect gowns from the corset boning could also be used as a chemiset ,though its hard to find corset covers in modern sizes if you bought one that was damaged you could cut it off at sleeve height.This is a corset cover ,the neckline detailing would show above a gowns neckline

corset cover 1


a cropped modern blouse can also double for this layer either bought as a cropped top or cut off,the buttons



The easiest of these layers to acquire are the structural layers ,corsets and hoops can be bought very cheaply online .My spare hoop skirts cost between £5 and £10  more expensive flounced or cotton ones are £20 to £25 but these are luxuries and not really needed unless your going to wear the outfit a lot.My corsets normaly cost between £10 and £15 and they are steel busk fairly well made ones.

Though slightly more expensive  bustles and panniers are reasonably affordable if you find an site like Ebay .

The seller below has cage bustles from £25 and panniers from £20

Also worth considering is buying a net or tulle petticoat as this makes a useful over layer rather than making an over petticoat ,you can also cut away bits of the petticoat net to give a more authentic shape to a bought hoop .Most victorian gowns were not perfectly circular almost all where much fuller at the back and slightly flat at the very front


While cutting away all the net /tulle from the front and pinning it to the back will give you some of the 18thc gown shapes

18thc red gown

The base layer or chemise

 Additional stages

If you can do some sewing or want to tweak a bought skirt to make it more suitable then there are a few options all of which need very little sewing.

Trim the waist or remove zips

If you have managed to find an elasticated waist skirt for petticoats you may need to do nothing,though I trim down thick elastic waistbands so theres less bulk at waist level

blog underskirt 1.jpg

If you cut out a zip use two pieces of ribbon as ties they will need a few stitches to attach the ties but not too many and the stitches dont need to be neat,use double thread and a big needle if needed.

I also cut a split up the back of my petticoats if I am making do with reused or bought vintage alternatives ,this gives you more freedom of movement,its best to hem and edge this cut if you can but not essential if your not wearing the outfit twice.Putting a few stitches at the top of the split would be advisable to avoid it tearing futher.

blog skirt hem.jpg




You could also sew your vintage or modern gypsy blouse to the skirt to avoid worrying about them coming apart or sew it onto a skirt panel cut off its waistband to lower bulk

petticoat and chemise blog

Its also possible to cut off bits of one skirt to sew onto another to make a bustle petticoat  or sew two wider bottom layers of one skirt together and sew them onto the bottom of a skirt to make the hemline wide enough to go over a structural layer .


hemline petticoat blog.jpg

Other eras

Though these are Victorian style layers the same system will work for Tudor or 18thc under layers the chemises/gypsy blouses come in assorted styles and if you google some images of under wear from the era you need ,it shouldnt be too hard to find a suitable blouse /chemise.For underskirts using a taffeta or silk skirt instead of cotton will work perfectly as long as you removed zips or buttons and sew on some ribbon to fasten them .Essentially you need  ,thin ,comfortable fabrics with the minim of bulk and fastenings.If you cant find taffeta or silk try using a black or red cotton petticoat style skirt instead.

Wearing the layers.

If you have problems with your hands (as I do) you may not always be able to fasten some modern cheaper corsets ,the kind with hooks and eyes ,though they take a little bit of practice the corsets with a front panel of metal with metal clasps ,the steel busk corset are much easier to get on and off as the d rings just slot onto raised little bumps and several will often click into place together and  will come off even easier .

I also find it easier to have long splits at the back of petticoats to make them easier to get in and out of and easier to move about in.

I have not included bloomers in the layers as they are impossible to make without a lot of stitching . You can cut up two skirts ,one with a farily fitted waist which will be the top of the bloomers and a fuller one wide enough to make two legs ,,cut the first skirt off at below waist level ,discard the remainder ,then cut the second  into two pieces and join each piece to make a tube of fabric and stitch those individualy  onto a base skirts waistband ,you need the bloomers to be open crotch or you wont be able to wear them comfortably or go to the toilet in your outfit.


If your making Pantellon length bloomers you could gather the bottoms and sew on some ready gathered Broderie Anglais trimmings to add a bit more length and make them bottoms look pretty ,you can buy this online fairly cheaply for one or two pounds a metre and in varying depths or colours

white bloomers

So now you have your underlayers


In the next posts I will suggest some ways to create low or no sew Victorian accessories or share ideas on commercially bought items that would look authentic,the “parasol” below is a baby buggy parsol/umbrella, they are made to clip onto prams or strollers so you just unscrew the clip fastening and wrap or glue some beads or ribbons round the remaining metal piece


The one below is another baby parasol but with trim stitched on,the outfit below is achievable with almost no sewing,the blouse is a bought recent vintage one,the waistcoat a later 1980s vintage one with a mans belt ,theres a bridal petticoat under it and the hat is a vintage 40s style one.The skirt would need to be bought or made but the rest would be achievable in an afternoons shop



A 18th century version uses an embroidered waistcoat and a bought tricorn hat with the net bridal petticoats cut and restitched onto other places to make a different shape skirt



I will suggest a  few bonnet Ideas


Its  often possible to buy original antique work bonnets very cheaply ,


and other accessories such as mittens ,shawls capes and collars


black mourning gown

I am currently working on ways to create outfits similar to those below and posts will follow in the next weeks




About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
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