Vintage Barbie pattern for dress with an “empire waist” #SewVintage #DollClothes

In this photograph, we see the Chelly Wood doll (a repainted Spin Master Liv doll that looks like the real doll clothing designer Chelly Wood) holding up vintage Simplicity doll clothes pattern number 8466, which was published in 1969. The pattern offers the following outfits to fit Barbie sized fashion dolls of the time: View 1: a sleeveless dress with high lace collar and a ruffle; view 2: a sleeveless dress with fringe at the bottom in imitation of a Native American style mini skirt; view 3: a bell sleeved mini skirt dress; view 4: a ball gown with empire waist and straps; view 5 a short sleeved turtle neck shirt with mini skirt and vest; view 6: the same mini skirt and short sleeved turtle neck are shown with a blue cape over the top; view 7: bell bottom pants with an elastic waist and a sleeveless shirt that has a buckle style open back.

Every now and then, I have people request that I design “Jane Austen character dresses.” What I suspect they want is a dress with an “empire waist.”

As you can see in the image below, the vintage Simplicity doll clothes pattern number 8466 actually offers a ball gown with an empire waist (see View 4):

In this close-up view of Simplicity doll clothes pattern number 8466 from 1969, we see that View 4 offers a drawing of a brunette doll (looking a lot like a Francie doll) with her hair pulled up in a pony tail that has the hair then swept down to almost her shoulders in outward curls. The dress she wears is a simple empire waist bodice with straps, attached to an A-line skirt that goes clear to the floor. The material is silky like satin. The hem of the dress is decorated with shiny rick rack trim.

However the empire waist style of dress that women actually wore in the late 1700’s would have had short puffy sleeves instead of straps. I wonder, though, how hard it would be to add puffy sleeves to this bodice…?

According to a book about fashion history entitled, Western World Costume (by Carolyn G. Bradley), the period from 1789 to 1794 is considered a “transition period,” and women often dressed in “a bodice and skirt joined to form a 1-piece dress, extremely low neckline; puffed fichu smaller than that of [the] preceding period…”

The “fichu” she mentions is the scarf women wore to cover their bosom when the necklines were cut low. People in Jane Austen’s time would have worn them over the front of the dress for modesty, although we see these very infrequently in movies. Here’s a view of a fichu on an actress from a BBC version of Pride and Prejudice.

But have you ever thought about why it’s called an “empire” waist? Wikipedia suggests (and I’ve heard it said elsewhere as well) that “the word empire refers to the period of the First French Empire; Napoleon’s first Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais was influential in popularizing the style around Europe.”

However women in Jane Austen’s time were not wearing the style of dress we see in Simplicity doll clothes pattern number 8466. That’s a much later rendition of the empire waist.

Rather, the “waist” part refers to the fact that the bodice and skirt meet just under the woman’s bosom. So this dress pattern from my collection wouldn’t count:

The image shows a vintage Barbie modeling a hot pink sundress with straps (aka sun dress). The bright pink cotton fabric is dotted with tiny pale pink flowers that have white centers. She wears tiny white plastic high-heel shoes. This is a Mattel vintage Barbie with long dark brown hair and bangs. Her hair is pulled back in a pony tail. There's a watermark on the image, and it's the outline of a bodice pattern with the name "Chelly Wood" inside the shape of the pattern. That's because is a website best known for its free printable PDF sewing patterns for making doll clothes to fit dolls of many shapes and all different sizes. If you'd like to make this strappy floral sundress, please click on the link in the caption. Follow the links to the page with the free patterns and tutorial videos.

Instead, the dress needs to join bodice-to-skirt about an inch higher than that. The bodice darts won’t be nearly as long.

If you’re wondering why they called this the “transition period,” I’m guessing France was transitioning from the gaudy clothing of the royals to the post-French-Revolutionary period. Just like here in the United States, where I live, there was a renewed interest in ancient Greece and Rome — a sort of Greco-Roman revival — in the areas of art, architecture, thought, and even fashion.

So paintings of Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais show her with a Romanesque ambiance. Of course only wealthy women could afford to wear white chiffon dresses like hers, so keep in mind that not everyone looked like paintings of the empress! But if you click on the links to the Wikipedia page on Joséphine de Beauharnais, you can really see how her fashion sense harkened back to ancient Greece and Rome.

And this was the inspiration for the “empire waist” we all know and love today — the same style we see in Jane Austen movies — a low cut bodice with puffy sleeves and a skirt that starts just below the bustline.

I’ll leave you with a Romanesque photo I took of my Lammily dolls at the Palace of Versailles. How ironic that the Lammily Traveler doll is dressed more like Joséphine de Beauharnais than Marie Antoinette!

Here we see the Lammily Photographer doll taking a photo of the Lammily Traveler doll. The Traveler doll wears a toga of sorts and holds a gold lyre. They stand before one of the outbuildings on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles near Paris, France. The watermark reminds us that Chelly Wood dot com offers free printable sewing patterns for making doll clothes to fit dolls of many shapes and all different sizes.
Please visit for free printable sewing patterns for making clothes to fit dolls of many shapes and all different sizes.

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Chelly Wood and the website are not affiliated with the pattern company or companies mentioned in this blog post, but Chelly finds inspiration in the doll clothes designed by these pattern companies. To purchase patterns from Simplicity, McCall’s, Butterick, or other pattern companies shown and discussed in this blog post, please click on the links provided here. These links below the “Disclaimer” section do not help raise money for this free pattern website; they are only offered to give credit to the company that made these patterns.

2 thoughts on “Vintage Barbie pattern for dress with an “empire waist” #SewVintage #DollClothes

  1. Ms. Wood – I am so excited! One of the patterns on your packet is one I have been looking for for ages! When I was a child, I received a Barbie and some hand made clothes from my paternal grandmother. She passed when I was 6 or 7. When I grew up and had two sons, I foolishly got rid of all my doll items. Now I’m in my late 50’s and am collecting again. I mostly crochet, but do some sewing.

    Illustration 7 is how one of the outfits my grandmother made was designed. I would love to have a copy of it to try to make it for my dolls. Would you consider making it printable or emailing me a copy? I would be happy to pay a reasonable fee for the pattern. Please let me know.

    Thank you,
    Nancy Stamm

    1. Hi Nancy. Since this pattern has a copyright, I prefer to honor the rights of the designers (esp. since I am a pattern designer myself).

      However, in the article I’ve published here, I have provided a link to eBay, where you can purchase this pattern at a very fair price.

      In fact, if you use the link I provide here to purchase your vintage pattern, it helps fund my free pattern website! So that’s a plus…

      If you’ve never shopped for used patterns on eBay before, I would also advise you to read an article I wrote here on about how to safely and wisely shop for patterns on eBay. That article is entitled, “Tips for Buying Used Doll Clothes Patterns on eBay.” (I have provided an easy-access link there.)

      I’m very happy to learn that this pattern has brought back happy memories for you! I do hope you can purchase one and use it to honor the memory of your precious grandmother. Blessings and good wishes! 🙂

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