Let them eat Twinkies! Recreating 18th C. Fashion on a Budget

The 18th Century is a challenge to costume on a budget, but with patience, ingenuity, and a little rule-bending, you can create a decent 1700s ensemble for your next costume party! Of course, if you were transported back in time to the French court, you probably wouldn’t get mistaken for a courtier for a minute, but for today’s events, however, this is an excellent way to make a Halloween or theater costume without having to dip into your child’s college fund!

1700s Court Silhouette 101:

Square or wide, low scoop neck
3/4 or fitted long sleeves
HUGE hips
“Natural”, corseted waistline

Let them eat Triple Fudge Devil’s Food Cake! ($$$)

Custom, historical court gowns 1730-1780s

Custom by hhfashions

Custom by OneDelightfulDay

Custom by redthreaded


Let them eat Confetti Cake! ($$)

Casual Day Outfit 1760-1780s:

Medium panniers
Louis-heeled shoes
Hair decor (feathers, ribbons, hats, etc.)

Vintage by veronicasclothing

Vintage by bombshellbettiesvint

Custom by LitttleBits

 New by The Vermont Country Store

Vintage by DianaDwain

Vintage by JLVintage

The goal of this project is to mimic the silhouette of the dress. For the sake of cheapness, we are forgoing most of the traditional layers that go under the dress: corset, slip, underdress, etc. You can add these if your dress and budget allow. The panniers are the indispensable part of this outfit. Panniers can be crafted in a wide range of styles, but the easiest is the “dumpling” or stuffed-pouch style.  You can make your own by sewing wide tubes of fabric and stuffing them with polyfill, then tying them around your waist.
Some vintage pieces can often be used (some Gunne Sax dresses, for example) with the simple addition of a good pannier. Many dresses with a full skirt and square neck can be modified with a pair of ruffled 3/4 length sleeves, a  jacket, or a triangular faux stomacher. Find the perfect dress to use, but it’s way too short? Layer a long skirt in a similar color underneath.  This project tests all of your creative faculties and can be as easy or challenging as you like!


Let them eat Twinkies! ($)

Chemise á la Reine 1780-1790s:

Long Chemise with sleeves
Wide Belt or Sash
Wide Brim Hat
Louis-heeled shoes
Decorations (flowers, bows, ribbon, feathers, etc.)

Custom by camelots0closet

Vintage by DollyrockerVintage

Custom by ccdoodle

Vintage by VintageRetreauxgirl

Vintage by MontanaSnowVintage


What made this gown so scandalous when Marie Antoinette first wore it is what makes this dress so fun and easy to wear! It’s a well-made, loose dress with a wide belt or tie (usually satin) paired with some simple accessories: a wide straw hat and some pretty heels. The better part? You are considered a chic, upper-crust lady! The best part? You can re-use the chemise dress for your other costumes! Win-win-win!


Let them bake their own!


Rococo by Nehelenia Patterns
Sewing a Chemise de la Riene with Maggie

Tips and tricks:

If you find a good jacket that is too small and won’t close in the front, you can craft a stomacher to fill in the gap, creating the perfect top to a late 1700s dress. You can also trim the neckline of a dress into a square and use iron-on hemming tape to finish it in a pinch.

One theater troop I worked with made panniers out of pillows! They just sewed a length of rope or ribbon to the corners and tied them around their waists in pairs.

Make add-on sleeves by sewing a tube of fabric that fits your arm from shoulder to elbow, then elasticizing the ends.

Add a long white skirt and bumroll under your chemise a la reine for extra sumptuousness!

Hair! hair! HAIR! Curls and puffs everywhere! You can keep it simple and natural by just curling your hair into spirals, or go all out with Bump-its and ringlets. Fancy dresses demand fancy hair while simpler, later styles mostly need body and wave.

For more information on the ringleaders of Rococo Fashion, Madame de Pompadour and Marie Antoinette, visit The Ladies of Rococo: Beyond Bows and Ruffles

2 thoughts on “Let them eat Twinkies! Recreating 18th C. Fashion on a Budget

  1. Dear Liz,

    Thank you for including my yellow sack back gown in your post!

    If you want some tips, I have some to offer too!

    1. The Marie Antoinette gown featured in Simplicity 3637 is historically accurate, and sized for many body types. Highly recommended pattern!

    2. You can often get good fabrics (Satin, Cotton, Silk) on sale for as low as $3 at places like Jo Ann’s in the red tag fabrics. A full Marie Antoinette gown takes 18 yards of fabric, but if you can get that much for $3 a yard, the dress will only cost you $54. That’s quite a savings!

    3. Remember that you can dye a light fabric to any color that you want, if you like the fabric you’ve found on sale but not the color!

    4. I always use correct undergarments, but if you make your own dresses and need to save some time, or don’t have a corset, it is quite possible to skip the corset by boning the dress bodice instead.

    In this custom order, a boned bodice was requested in lieu of a corset:

    This saves the gown from looking “costume-y” or “lumpy” when wearing it.

    5. A lot of trim is required, and most trims are complex to make. However, there is an easy option. Sewing down the middle of a ribbon, and then gathering the ribbon along the thread is a quick and easy trim. You can cover the gathered thread in the center with a smaller ribbon or pre-made trim, for an even classier effect.

    I have used make-shift panniers in the past, and all I can say is, it is worth it to purchase real panniers. They last through all of the wearings (unlike make-shift ones), the have better width, and if they have ties inside, you can switch period silhouettes from wide to round quickly and easily. My panniers are one of my most useful garments, and have been used dozens of times!

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