Ladies’ 1780s Portrait Dress Pattern

By Jennie Chancey

I have long loved the beautiful, pastoral portraits of the Georgian Era. Women and children posed in fields and beneath trees painted by artists like Thomas Gainsborough marked a departure from the stiffer, more formal portraits of a generation before. Some of my favorite paintings are by George Romney and Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun (you can view several in the slideshow gallery above).

When I created the Girls’ 1780s Portrait Dress pattern, I knew I’d want to follow up with a women’s version–and hundreds of customer requests confirmed that! The construction of the dresses offered in this pattern comes from the study of dozens of portraits, plus scrutiny of extant gowns for women from this time period, but I’ve stuck with conventional machine techniques in the instructions to allow for ease of sewing. If you are a die-hard who wants an authentic gown, I do have an appendix with all the vintage sewing steps laid out in detail.

This pattern includes options for a smooth-bodice dress that fastens up the front, a polonaise with pointed bodice front, and a drawstring bodice dress that slips over the head. It also offers elbow-length sleeves with optional ruffles and fitted long sleeves. Please note that correct underpinnings are required for views 1 and 2.

  • Sizes 6-26 all included in one envelope.
  • Illustrated instructions with appendices on authentic 18th-century sewing techniques and correct underpinnings.
  • This pattern was designed over stays made from the Mantua Maker’s Georgian Stays pattern. Views 1 and 2 will not fit without correct underpinnings!
  • The drawstring dress option will work over conventional modern underthings if you prefer.
  • Click to download the Ladies’ 1780s Portrait Dress Chart.
  • ePattern available for instant download.

This pattern is rated advanced intermediate because of the sewing knowledge and fitting skills required. If you can make a Regency gown, you are ready to move on to this pattern, and I am always available through the Contact Form if you have questions!

IMPORTANT CORRECTION: A customer caught an error in this pattern on 12/27/10. The sleeve instructions say to match the crossed circles, but you actually don’t need to do that. It’s the girl’s version of this pattern that has the crossed circles. To match the sleeves properly, you only need to start at the armhole angle by matching the sleeve corner (with a 5/8″ overlap as illustrated). Pin around the smooth side of the sleeve until you reach the “leftover” portion that needs to be pleated. Pleat into place and finish at the corner. That’s it! If you purchased this pattern after June 2011, the instructions are already corrected.
 

Paper Pattern $17.95

 
 

ePattern $9.95

 

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82 Comments on Ladies’ 1780s Portrait Dress Pattern

  1. Janetta
    November 19, 2010 at 10:45 pm (4 years ago)

    Will the ladies’ pattern be an epattern when its here?

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      November 19, 2010 at 10:48 pm (4 years ago)

      Yes, Janetta, the ePattern will be available February 1st here. :) Thanks for asking!

      Reply
  2. Hana - Marmota
    November 20, 2010 at 6:21 am (4 years ago)

    That’s great news! I love this pattern, and the e-patterns are easier for me, as I live so far away from you.

    Reply
  3. cynthiamarie
    November 20, 2010 at 10:40 am (4 years ago)

    I can’t wait for the ladies version of this pattern to come out! I love the Georgian era costume. The girls’ dresses above are very beautiful.

    Reply
  4. Miss Shiloh
    November 28, 2010 at 1:13 am (4 years ago)

    I love your website! I’m looking forward to look around at it when I have more time!!

    Reply
  5. Miss RJ
    November 28, 2010 at 2:20 pm (4 years ago)

    I love the dress! I’ll have to get the pattern and make it for my sisters and I! ;)

    Reply
  6. Jenna
    November 30, 2010 at 10:58 pm (4 years ago)

    Mrs. Chancey,

    The new Ladies’ 1780s Portrait Dress Pattern is lovely. The dress is beautiful and every small detail adds so much femininity.
    I would love to have this pattern in the future!

    Many Blessings,
    Jenna

    Reply
  7. Elinor
    December 4, 2010 at 10:35 pm (4 years ago)

    What a Lovely Dress I can’t wait to make one.

    Reply
  8. Elinor
    December 4, 2010 at 10:48 pm (4 years ago)

    Were could I find a hat like the one in the photo’s? I would love to get one like it:)

    Reply
  9. Erin
    December 7, 2010 at 12:34 pm (4 years ago)

    Is there a size chart for this pattern? The hyperlink above does not take you to a size chart. I cannot find a size chart on Vision Forum page either. I am a larger size and am trying to determine if the pattern goes up to my size or not. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      December 7, 2010 at 1:22 pm (4 years ago)

      Hello, Erin! Look up at the bulleted list below the main pattern information on this page. The last item in the list is a clickable link to download the yardage/size chart in PDF format. The link is a download, so you need to have pop-ups approved for sensibility.com in your browser, or it will prevent the download from opening. When pop-ups are enabled, you’ll see a download box open on your computer. Just double-click the PDF file to open it. :)

      Reply
  10. wholesale ladies apparel
    December 9, 2010 at 12:56 pm (4 years ago)

    I really love this pattern. It’s so feminine and elegant especially paired with the hat and jewelry.

    Reply
  11. ktzak
    January 7, 2011 at 4:53 pm (4 years ago)

    Simply lovely and regal! Will the drawstring version of the dress allow a mother to nurse like the Regency drawstring dress?

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      January 8, 2011 at 12:47 am (4 years ago)

      Yes, indeed! Just as easy to nurse in this one. :)

      Reply
  12. Jenny
    January 7, 2011 at 5:54 pm (4 years ago)

    This is a lovely pattern. Will you be offering a class to go along with the pattern?

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      January 8, 2011 at 12:47 am (4 years ago)

      I hope to do that in the future. I’ll post when I do!

      Reply
  13. Jane
    February 1, 2011 at 9:47 am (4 years ago)

    Can’t wait for this pattern to come here :D

    Reply
  14. Shana
    February 1, 2011 at 1:49 pm (4 years ago)

    Sooo pretty :) Will the drawstring dress work without the underpinnings? Can I get away with modern underpinnings on that one? Also, how well do you think the drawstring dress would fit over a pregnant belly? :)

    Reply
  15. Jennie Chancey
    February 1, 2011 at 2:01 pm (4 years ago)

    Hi, Shana! Yes, the drawstring dress will work without period underpinnings, and if you shorten the bodice to raise the waist, it will make a maternity dress, too!

    Reply
  16. Shana
    February 1, 2011 at 4:01 pm (4 years ago)

    Oooh, that means I’d have to think before sewing :P Lol, thanks :) It’s such a pretty dress. I’d be afraid to do white, but maybe a nice burgundy would work…

    Reply
  17. McKenna
    February 2, 2011 at 12:14 pm (4 years ago)

    I just had a quick question…the vintage portrait ladies seemed to have more shapely underpinnings than the ones in the modern photos. The stays you used on views 1 and 2 seemed to be more stiff than the ones in the vintage photos. Is there any way to maybe use less boning to make the stays more flexible to your form so the stays don’t look quite as stiff in the front?

    Reply
  18. Jennie Chancey
    February 3, 2011 at 12:48 pm (4 years ago)

    Hello! I’ll add more details about underpinnings to the description above. I used the Georgian Stays pattern from the Mantua Maker for the smooth-front bodices. You can use cording instead of boning if you prefer a softer look, but stays are absolutely required for those two views, as the bodice will not fit without correct underpinnings. The drawstring option will fit over conventional underpinnings or Regency stays if you prefer. Hope this helps!

    Reply
  19. McKenna
    February 3, 2011 at 6:10 pm (4 years ago)

    Thanks so much, it does!

    Reply
  20. Heather
    February 17, 2011 at 7:23 am (4 years ago)

    Is this pattern similar to the Colonial era, like the dresses worn in Williamsburg VA around 1776?

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      February 18, 2011 at 3:36 am (4 years ago)

      This pattern is definitely later, though the polonaise option would pass for mid-to-late-1770s with the proper trimmings (like bows or lacing across the front to resemble a stomacher). Hope this helps!

      Reply
  21. Becky
    February 20, 2011 at 12:08 am (4 years ago)

    Jennie, I have my stays almost done, just 8 eyelets to go. What other underthings are your models wearing in these pictures?
    My children have just started studying the American colonies in their homeschool co-op and it is fun to work on this while doing so.

    Reply
  22. Jennie Chancey
    February 20, 2011 at 10:26 am (4 years ago)

    Hi, Becky! A chemise goes beneath the stays, and a petticoat (from the waist to hemline) goes over the stays. That’s all! Ladies of the time also had pocket hoops for polonaise gowns, though sometimes a “bum roll” was used instead if less fullness was desired. You can actually use the chemise from my Regency Underthings Pattern with gowns made from this pattern, though earlier chemises tended to have elbow-length sleeves. It’s easy to lengthen the rectangular sleeves on my chemise, though, to make it right for the 1780s. And a chemise would double as a nightgown, too! Hope this helps!

    Reply
  23. Emily Dibble
    March 2, 2011 at 2:53 pm (4 years ago)

    I was wondering…do you have to have special paper to print the ePattern? Do you know when the ePattern will be on the website?
    Thank you for making such beautiful things possible to have!

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      March 3, 2011 at 3:31 am (4 years ago)

      Hi, Emily! No special paper required. The ePatterns print on standard American 8.5×11″ paper and A3 paper. I will post as soon as the ePattern for the Ladies’ 1780s dress is ready. I am in Kenya now and didn’t have a printer to test the ePattern sheets for accuracy until just recently. I am working on the ePattern now!

      Reply
  24. Camille
    March 10, 2011 at 7:10 pm (4 years ago)

    I only buy electronic patterns because I don’t have a large place to store patterns. I’ve been waiting for this one since it was supposed to be out February 1st as an electronic one. It’s getting to middle of March. Has there been a chance in decision on it being released electronically? I need to know soon so I’ll know if I have to change a costume plan. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      March 11, 2011 at 12:39 am (4 years ago)

      Camille, our family moved to Kenya in January and didn’t get reliable Internet access until late February. I didn’t have a printer until a couple of weeks ago, and it wouldn’t work with my computer until last weekend, so I wasn’t able to do anything to get the ePattern ready. I have it ready now, but I am unable to put it up on the site due to a problem on the back end that my web developer is trying to fix (the new WordPress upgrade has removed all my “add product” buttons for some odd reason). If you need this in a hurry, you can simply Paypal $9.95 to contact@sensibility.com with a note in the invoice that it is for the Ladies’ 1780s ePattern, and I will email you the zip file. I apologize for the long wait, but some things are totally out of our control over here in Africa. ;)

      Reply
  25. Camille
    March 11, 2011 at 6:53 pm (4 years ago)

    Thank you, I do. I have a production coming up and we’re each responsible for out own costumes. There are only a couple women’s patterns the director will allow for my character. The other isn’t anywhere near what I need, so would take a lot of fiddling. This one matches his vision. If I bought the paper pattern, I’d have to throw it away after use because of the space issue.

    I have a gift certificate for $20. Is there a way to use that?

    Reply
  26. Micheline
    April 1, 2011 at 11:31 am (4 years ago)

    Hi Mrs. Chancey

    I was wondering what exactly your model was wearing under the white dress. the sleeves seem to be see through and yet the rest of the dress is not. is it part of the dress (lining, and if it is how would you do that).

    Thanks
    Micheline

    ps. Sorry to bother you out in Africa

    Reply
  27. Jennie Chancey
    April 1, 2011 at 11:36 am (4 years ago)

    No bother, Micheline! We just sometimes go for days without any Internet connection, so thanks for your patience! :) The bodice of the model dress was interlined with pima cotton (which means you treat the lining and bodice pieces as one and baste them together around all edges prior to assembling the bodice). She also wore a full petticoat, made according to the instructions in the pattern.

    Reply
  28. Elinor
    April 14, 2011 at 7:45 pm (4 years ago)

    What type of corset would I wear with this?

    Reply
  29. Elinor
    April 14, 2011 at 7:50 pm (4 years ago)

    oh never mind I just noticed that you already mentioned what underpinnings are used

    Reply
  30. Claire
    April 23, 2011 at 3:32 pm (4 years ago)

    I was just wondering, how would pocket hoops or pannieres fit into the pattern. (More referring to the first dress, I know the Robe de la Reine doesn’t require much underpinnings.)

    Are there adjustments in the pattern, or would I have to edit the skirt myself?

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      April 30, 2011 at 6:52 am (4 years ago)

      Claire, it will work with pocket hoops beneath. Just cut the skirt longer and don’t mark the hem until you’ve tried it on over your hoops. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  31. Ariel
    May 12, 2011 at 8:51 pm (4 years ago)

    Hi,

    Is the white dress with blue sash the drawstring dress you mentioned? I like the white one better than the others. Also, where could I find cording for the stays?

    Thankyou

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      May 14, 2011 at 10:52 am (4 years ago)

      Hello, Ariel! Yes, the white gown is the drawstring dress. As you can see, it is gathered all across the front. Cording is simply that–cord that you can purchase at any fabric or craft store. It is often used for piping in upholstery projects and is available in very narrow widths perfect for cording stays. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  32. Cathy
    June 15, 2011 at 12:06 am (4 years ago)

    I am super excited about the drawstring option as a possible wedding dress, I just got engaged. I am so glad all these comments were posted, now I have had many of the questions I was going to ask (see thru sleeves, petticoat needs etc…) answered. Is the white version relatively easy for an intermediate sewer to do? Looks like it might be. What is that type of fabric called? It’s so sheer and pretty. I wanted to find a cotton wedding dress for our outdoor in the woods wedding, one that covers my arms. Your site was the 1st that popped up when I googled “old fashioned dress patterns”. I love it. This is like the dress I had envisioned in my head since I was a little girl dreaming about my wedding. Simple. :)

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      June 15, 2011 at 5:04 am (4 years ago)

      Congrats on your coming wedding, Cathy! I am so glad you’ve enjoyed my site. :) The drawstring dress is easy enough for an intermediate seamstress, yes, and the fabric I used for the model gown is Egyptian muslin, bit voile gives a similar look. Have fun sewing!

      Reply
  33. Cathy
    June 15, 2011 at 12:32 am (4 years ago)

    PS ~ I’m larger sz and busty…sz 12 40DDD. I think this style would work without modifications…it’s pretty loose up top but for the drawstring isn’t it?

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      June 15, 2011 at 5:06 am (4 years ago)

      You may need to add a bit of length to the bodice front to give the required room in the bust, but test-fit with an inexpensive fabric first as directed, and you’ll see what you need to do. Enjoy preparing for your wedding!

      Reply
  34. Hannah
    July 26, 2011 at 6:13 pm (3 years ago)

    If the drawstring dress is made with fabric heavier than muslin or toile, would it be possible to make it without the lining? I just have nightmarish memories of making things with lining :).

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      July 27, 2011 at 12:19 am (3 years ago)

      Hi, Hannah! As called for in the instructions, the dress has no lining, so you’re good to go. And “lining” is actually a misnomer, as you would interline the material if you’re using something sheer and don’t want the underthings to show through. That means simply backing each piece of fabric with pima cotton or another suitable lining prior to sewing the pieces together. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  35. Hannah
    July 29, 2011 at 5:35 pm (3 years ago)

    OK, thanks for the explanation. That sounds a lot better, and the thought of making it makes me less nervous now :).

    Reply
  36. Ariel
    August 3, 2011 at 11:57 am (3 years ago)

    Thank you for the link to Jas. Townsend and sons. I have always loved Colonial woman’s clothing, and I wondered about the hat myself.

    Thanks again!

    Reply
  37. Jilly
    August 25, 2011 at 6:49 am (3 years ago)

    So beautiful!! A time when women where women!!
    oxo

    Reply
  38. Barbara Dieges
    September 4, 2011 at 3:05 pm (3 years ago)

    Don’t quite know how I came to your site, but I love it. I do a one woman play about a lady in the Eastern U.S. in the late 1800’s. Would the drawstring dress work for that era? Need something plain and simple. What I am using now is a shirtwaist blouse and ankle length gathered skirt, but really would prefer a one piece costume.

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      September 5, 2011 at 12:29 pm (3 years ago)

      Hi, Barbara! So glad you’ve enjoyed my site. If you’re playing a lady from the late 18th century (1790s), then this pattern is perfect. But if you’re playing a lady from the lady 1800s (1890s), then I’m afraid it’s totally wrong. You’ll actually want to go for a long gored skirt like my “Beatrix” Skirt pattern, plus a blouse with leg o’mutton sleeves (such as THIS ONE from Past Patterns). Hope this helps!

      Reply
  39. Sarah
    September 16, 2011 at 2:42 pm (3 years ago)

    I have the Period Impressions 1770 Polonaise and Petticoat pattern, which is similar to the Polonaise gown here. Can you tell me the differences between the 1770s style and the 1780s style?
    I see most extant styles have a stomacher in the earlier period.

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      September 16, 2011 at 3:25 pm (3 years ago)

      Hi, Sarah! Yes, the earlier styles used a stomacher and had different approaches to the bodice back. The saque-back all but disappeared by the 1780s (except for court dress), and the extremely elongated waist also vanished in favor of a more natural waistline (though you still find pointed bodices in the 1780s–just not as extreme as the earlier bodices). Hope this helps!

      Reply
  40. Kelly
    October 3, 2011 at 7:40 pm (3 years ago)

    Hello Mrs. Chancey! I love this pattern so much! Do you think it would be possible to modify this pattern for the 1770s?

    Reply
  41. Jennie Chancey
    October 4, 2011 at 2:10 am (3 years ago)

    Hi, Kelly! Yes, that is very easy. The polonaise option is already very close to the 1770s. All you need to do is widen the bodice front to make a large enough opening for a stomacher. The stomacher can fasten in with hooks and eyes beneath the bodice front edges and can also have ribbon lacing across it if you like. Hope this helps!

    Reply
  42. Mad.
    December 2, 2011 at 11:06 pm (3 years ago)

    Is the epattern printable? Will it be mostly the same when you print it out?

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      December 5, 2011 at 3:04 am (3 years ago)

      Hello! All the FAQs on ePatterns are at THIS LINK. You print the sheet “tiles” and tape them together to form the full pattern sheets. :)

      Reply
  43. Virginia
    December 19, 2011 at 12:22 pm (3 years ago)

    Could you use this pattern with a different corset pattern maybe one of the transition period stay or past patterns 1820-40’s corset. I have read that mantua pattern is extremely hard to put together and past patterns stays have far better reviews so I was wondering if one of them could be used

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      December 26, 2011 at 8:49 am (3 years ago)

      Hi, Virginia! You can actually use any Georgian stays pattern you like, but you most definitely have to double-check the neckline/shoulder fit while wearing those stays, as the pattern was designed over stays from the Mantua Maker pattern. Another set of stays with a slightly different configuration may mean the straps end up showing at the shoulder area of the wide neckline. But as long as you follow the toile fitting steps (included in the pattern instructions) and make any needed adjustments, you’ll be fine! I don’t recommend using stays for the Regency period or later, because those do not compress the bustline but push it up, which gives the wrong fit for this gown. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  44. Jasmine
    February 26, 2012 at 12:31 pm (3 years ago)

    This is a gorgeous pattern and I’m hoping to have it as a present soon!
    I have got one question, other than the stays, what underthings would be worn with dresses like these?

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      February 26, 2012 at 2:31 pm (3 years ago)

      Hi, Jasmine! The pattern includes an appendix all about underthings, including pattern recommendations. Ladies wore a chemise beneath their stays, then full-skirted petticoats over the stays. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  45. carolyn rutherford tate
    April 20, 2012 at 11:31 pm (3 years ago)

    I love those gowns especially the titanics and edwardians. can’t wait to get the e-patterns!

    Reply
  46. michaela c
    July 17, 2012 at 10:44 am (2 years ago)

    i want the white one really bad!!!

    Reply
  47. Jacki
    July 25, 2012 at 6:41 pm (2 years ago)

    I just bought this pattern and have high hopes for a new summer gown, I am having trouble, however, trying to envision the back view of the gathered bodice version . . . it the back gathered as well, or is it more fitted? Is there a back view posted somewhere that I missed?

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      July 26, 2012 at 1:39 am (2 years ago)

      Hi, Jacki! The back is smoothly fitted as shown in all other views. That’s how chemise gowns worked during this time period with drawstrings in the front only. Have fun sewing!

      Reply
  48. Kelly
    August 25, 2012 at 1:07 pm (2 years ago)

    Greetings! I have two questions. Is there any way to raise the back neckline so it covers more of the back and is closer to the neck? And my second question is how do you do the pleats on the front skirt panel for the drawstring dress option? Thanks in advance! Kelly

    Reply
  49. Jennie Chancey
    August 25, 2012 at 2:25 pm (2 years ago)

    Hi, Kelly! Raising the back neckline is a little bit tricky, as it involves changing the width of the shoulder pieces that come from the bodice front and raising the height of the side back and center back pieces as well.

    I suggest making a mock-up bodice in inexpensive muslin and putting it onto a mannequin (or putting it on yourself with a friend handy to help). Then place a plain square of muslin wide enough to fit inside the back neckline from just below the neckline as-is to the nape of your neck and at least an inch under the shoulders. Then use a fabric marker to draw a new back neckline on the square. Pin the muslin carefully in place so it doesn’t slip during this process. Now take off the bodice and trim along your markings to create the new neckline.

    The last bit of work is figuring out where to break up that muslin square into different pieces for center back, side back, and shoulders. Once that’s done, add a seam allowance where needed for each, then baste those pieces to your muslin mock-up (which you’ve now taken back apart). That gives you new pieces with the altered neckline in place. Hope that makes sense! :)

    Reply
  50. 1812lynette
    November 4, 2012 at 2:08 pm (2 years ago)

    With all the excitement about using the curtains from Lowes to sew an 18th century dress I am reconsidering this pattern.

    I was also wondering if the drawstring version is the correct pattern to make a Chemise a la Reine using white lawn?

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      November 4, 2012 at 2:17 pm (2 years ago)

      Hi, Lynette! Yes, this will work for a Chemise a la Reine, but if you’re going for the look of the one in the Platt Hall collection, you’ll want to run two more sets of drawstrings through the bodice about two inches above the waistline and right below the bust (OVER the appropriate stays for the proper bust height). Hope this helps!

      Reply
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