Learning About Colonial America with Felicity Part 4: Clothing

Some of the early colonists were puritans and were known for their plain and somber style of dress. But not where Felicity lived! In the Virginia colony, people loved fashion! They imitated the latest styles in England and they liked to wear fancy and beautiful clothing, shoes, accessories, and wigs. The wealthier colonists imported much of their clothing from England, Holland, and other European countries. Let’s learn about the clothing that Felicity would have worn as a girl of the middling sort in colonial Williamsburg!

Undergarments: Colonial undergarments for a young lady like Felicity consisted of a minimum of a shift and stays.

Shift: The shift was the undermost undergarment. It was plain linen and sometimes trimmed in lace.

Stays: These were worn to help a girl or woman to have good posture. It might surprise you to learn that young boys wore stays too! Boys and girls began wearing stays at around 18 months or whenever they could walk well. They wore the stays over a shift or a child’s gown. Boys wore stays until somewhere between the age of 4-7 when they began dressing like men. Girls continued to wear stays into adulthood. In Felicity’s day, stays were not worn for the purpose of making the waist smaller, but for good posture and support.

Pocket: A pocket in Felicity’s time was a separate item that was actually worn under a petticoat (which is the word the colonists used to refer to a skirt). Felicity’s petticoats had slits in the sides so she could reach in and put her hand in her pocket. The pocket was tied around the waist and could come loose, so it was actually possible to loose one’s pocket! A pocket in colonial times was very large compared to pockets that are sewn into clothing today, so you can see how Felicity’s could put sugar or ginger in her pocket (mentioned in Meet Felicity)!

Pocket Hoops: Another type of pocket, pocket hoops served the dual purpose of acting as a pocket to hold things and to give shape and fullness to a petticoat.

Now for the actual clothing! The word “dress” in colonial times did not refer to a dress the way it does today. “Dress” was someone’s overall ensemble, whether male or female. Maybe that’s why we say it’s time to “get dressed” even when we aren’t wearing a dress! “Undress” was the term for everyday work clothes, “fashionable undress” referred to clothing that was less formal, but still very fashionable. “Full dress” was the term for the most fashionable formal attire.

The following ensemble would be “full dress” for Felicity.

Petticoat: In later centuries, the word petticoat referred to an undergarment, but not in colonial times. In Felicity’s day a petticoat was a skirt. Felicity’s pocket hoops help make her petticoat look full.

Felicity’s Gown and Petticoat

Gown: A “gown” in colonial times was a bodice like the one Felicity is wearing that is connected to an open skirt that shows the petticoat underneath. It was very common in styles of colonial full dress and fashionable undress to wear a gown with a petticoat. Notice how the sides have a slit that allow Felicity to reach into her pockets!

Stomacher: The stomacher was a triangular piece of clothing that attached to the front of the bodice on a gown and held it together. It could be plain or fancy, stiff or flexible, and might match the gown or be made of contrasting fabric. Stomachers could be used interchangeably to give a gown a new look. It was fastened to the gown with pins, hooks and eyes, or lacing.

Felicity’s Pinner Cap

Pinner Cap: This was a fashionable finishing touch to Felicity’s full dress. It was pinned to the hairstyle. Now Felicity is ready for a ball!

Now let’s take a look at some “undress” and “fashionable undress.”

Cap: Colonial girls and women wore caps just about all the time. A cap served the purpose of keeping the hair clean so it did not have to be washed constantly. Williamsburg was dusty because the streets were made of sand, so this was important! The cap also dressed the head without styling the hair (because who had time for that everyday?!). Caps were sometimes made of lace and could be dressed up to suit more formal dress. They were worn indoors and usually a hat was worn over the cap outdoors.

Caraco: This was a jacket that was worn with a petticoat. It was always in the category of “undress” and was worn at home or for informal activities.


Pinner: This was an apron worn over a day gown. It was pinned at the top and used to keep the dress clean.

Cape: This was used for warmth in the winter.

Summer Gown: Williamsburg was very very hot in the summertime, so ladies wore the lightest weight clothing that they could. Often summer clothing was made of lightweight white linen.

Stockings and Garters: A lady always wore stockings underneath her gown and held them up with garters, which essentially were ribbons that were tied around the legs.

Day Gown: This gown is fairly simple in style and would have been worn for normal daily activities. An apron might have been worn over a similar gown for household work.

Nightgown and Cap: Felicity would have worn her shift to bed, or a nightgown which was very similar in style to a shift. Colonists also wore caps that covered the ears and tied under the chin for warmth at night.

Make a Cap for Felicity (and one for you too!)

Making a colonial style cap is a pretty quick and easy project if you know how to sew.

You Will Need:

  • 1/2 yard of a white cotton fabric
  • white all-purpose thread
  • 1 yard of 3/8″ wide elastic


For a cap for an 18″ doll, cut two 12″ circles of the white fabric. For a child-sized cap, cut two 18″ circles from the white fabric. For both caps, stitch 1/4″ seam around the outside of the cap, leaving a 1″ opening to turn the cap. Turn the cap right-side out and iron the cap, pressing out the seam.

Now stitch an inner circle on the cap by stitching 1″ from the edge on the doll cap all the way around, and 2″ inches from the edge of the child’s cap. Make sure you complete the circle. Now stitch another circle parallel to your first inner circle but 1/2″ closer to the edge of the cap. Leave a 1″ opening on this circle. Line this opening up with the opening on the outside of the cap. These inner circles form a casing for the elastic.

Now, cut 13″ of elastic for the doll cap and 19″ for the child’s cap. Feed the elastic through the opening of the casing with a safety pin or short bodkin. Overlap 1″ of the elastic and stitch the overlapped elastic together well.

Now pull the elastic into the casing and stitch up the openings on the caps. If you would like, you can add a pretty ribbon around the edge to make your cap fancy, or leave it as is.

Make a Hat for Felicity!

Colonial women used caps to keep their hair clean and covered, and when they went outdoors they wore hats over their caps to keep their complexions fashionably fair.

To make a hat for your 18″ doll, find a straw hat at your local craft store or here. You will want a hat that is about 7″ in diameter. You will also need a spool of 1/2″ ribbon, some small fake flowers, and a a hot glue gun and hot glue.

Cut a 1/2″ slit on opposite sides of the hat where the brim meets the center. Center a 24″ piece of ribbon over the top of the hat and feed the ends through the slits.

Glue the ribbon in place with small dots of glue at the base of the hat on either side. Now make a pattern of flowers on the brim of your hat however you would like and glue them in place. That’s it!

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