How to dress your American Girl doll like Caroline Abbott

On September 4 American Girl will introduce Caroline Abbott through her book series and her collection of dolls, clothes, accessories and playsets.  Girls will be able to recreate Caroline's world and relive that period through Caroline and her friends.

Unlike some AG historical dolls like Julie/Ivy, Kit/Ruthie or Cecile/Marie-Grace, none of Caroline's friends will be available as dolls -- but that's where your girls' imaginations come in.  If they have another American Girl doll, they can dress her up in Caroline's clothes so it looks like they're both from 1812.  But what should those dresses look like?  This post will help you understand some key characteristics of girls' clothes in the early 1800's so your daughter can dress her dolls like Caroline (or give Caroline a few extra outfits to wear!).

First, a brief history of children's fashion in the early 1800's:

Prior to the 19th century, children were dressed like miniature adults, with all the frills and fripperies (the Toddlers and Tiaras mothers would have been in their element).  Fortunately for Caroline, by the early 1900's, the fashion had shifted to simple, flowing empire-waisted dresses inspired by classic Greek and Roman silhouettes.

Children were dressed in more comfortable clothing that actually allowed them to move around and play!  For girls, that meant white or light-colored shift dresses with satin sashes, slippers, pinafores and sunbonnets.

Caroline's story is set in 1812, which is right in the middle of the Regency period.   This period is most famously represented (and wonderfully described) in the works of author Jane Austen -- so one of the easiest ways to see what girls like Caroline were wearing during this time would be to watch a Jane Austen movie (Pride and Prejudice, Emma, etc...), or Google "Regency fashion".

With that in mind, here are photos of Caroline modeling some Regency-era fashions that I put together:

Let's start with Caroline's party outfit.  This is actually a nightgown, which is perfect because it's white (a period favorite, long and simple.  I added a blue ribbon sash (note the high waist, a key feature!) and pulled the skirt in at the back to give it less of a flouncy, and more of a slim, silhouette.

I piled her curls up high and tied a ribbon around her head, and gave her a pearl choker to wear because hey, it's a party outfit.  Doesn't she look like Gwyneth Paltrow playing Jane Austen's Emma?

Although white was fashionable, prints were also worn, especially in the mornings, because it was more practical and less likely to show stains.  The dress that Caroline is wearing is actually a Felicity dress --  I hitched up the waist to Empire height and tied a sash to make it look more authentic.  Notice the pleats at the bottom of the dress?  They're also a feature on the pink dress that Caroline comes in  -- mothers could let the pleats out as their daughters grew taller!

During the Regency period, everything ancient Greece was in vogue, so I tied Caroline's hair ribbons in the way I've seen in pictures and drawings of females in ancient Greece.

Regency girls wore pinafores and smocks to cover their dresses up and keep them clean.  I used 2 nightgowns for this outfit and tied a sash at Empire-waist level.  I'm left with the impression that Caroline is going to bed (especially since her hair is down for the photo), but hey, these Regency lasses all looked like they were gallivanting around in their night shifts anyway.

 Note, Caroline lives in Sacketts Harbor, NY and all my sources refer to the English Regency period -- same time, different place, so just as there were variations in lifestyle, there are sure to be variations in dress styles.  But looking at Caroline's other outfits, they all seem to conform with the major characteristics of Regency style.  If you keep the following in mind, you can't go wrong:

1) Simple dresses, with a minimum of frills
2) Straight, slim, narrow skirts
3) High (empire) waist

Have fun dressing your American Girl doll!

Info sources:
Jane Austen's World
The Jane Austen Centre
The Oregon Regency Society

Image sources:
Bumblebutton Antique & Vintage Graphics

Disclosure: I received a sample Caroline doll from American Girl. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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1 Comments, Leave yours here:

Anna said...

Great post with good info! It's unsurprising that the first outfit (that you call a nightgown) looks appropriate on her as a dress because it IS a dress, one of Felicity's! See: The ribbon sash you put on it is nice but it looks even prettier with the sash that came with it, it's one of my favorite outfits :) I like the last outfit you made, very cute! In the painting the children have their hair down so maybe it's okay that you left Caroline's hair down for that picture even though she isn't going to bed.

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