Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on May 20, 2011
Karen Grassle in her first episode of "Little House on the Prairie" as Caroline Ingalls
Haven’t you always loved the simple styles Caroline Ingalls wore for the “Little House on the Prairie” TV show? Despite the fact that she would often clean the chicken coop, weed the garden, and do the laundry out on the wide, open prairie, she always looked neat and clean. Not only did she stay tidy, she also wore long, gathered skirts with pretty cotton blouses which she kept in perfect condition. Whereas we would wear jeans and an old t-shirt for working in the yard, the courageous pioneer women of the 1800s were determined to look charming and well-dressed, even when doing hard physical labor.
So for this installment in our “Little House on the Prairie” original costume review, I’d like to highlight a few of Caroline Ingalls’ staples which Karen Grassle wore often in the first couple of seasons of “Little House“. If you look closely, you will notice that there are two mainstays in her wardrobe which debut in the pilot episode that were remade for the following season. At first glance one might think that they are the same, but apparently the costume designer felt the need to change it before the show continued. Shown below are two photographs of a calico blouse sporting small blue flowers on a white background. The one on the left shows a pointed collar, higher yoke, and closely spaced buttons. But for the remainder of the “Little House” series, Caroline wore this more flattering blouse shown on the right. It has a shawl collar, lower yoke, and more gathers with shell buttons down the front. In addition, they are actually two totally different materials! The first blouse shown was pure white, while the second had a pink checkerboard print in the background.
One of TV's most classic moments! Charles and Caroline proudly survey the prairie from their perch atop their covered wagon.
"Ma" Ingalls listens unhappily to Mr. Edwards telling Laura some tall tales.One of TV's most classic moments! Charles and Caroline proudly survey the prairie from their perch atop their covered wagon.
Caroline Ingalls wearing a pretty floral blouse with gathers underneath the sweetheart shaped yoke.
The next most photographed dress Caroline wore was probably her brown woolen dress. Whatever the occasion, Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls was often seen walking along in this dependable dress that had a fitted bodice that ended in a “v” in back, gathered skirt, and high collar. This was apparently a two-piece dress, as was common for the era this series was set in, which would have been from 1876 – 1889.
But this daydress’s counterpart which “Ma” Ingalls wore in the pilot episode was a different style altogether. There were many similarities, to be sure, but the wool was a darker color, the bodice was not as well shaped, and the buttons and collars were obviously different. Given the fit of this version, I can understand why the costume designer for “Little House on the Prairie” sewed her a revised version of the same look. Personally, I think the dress filmed on the first episode made Karen Grassle look much too thin, not at all like the popular figure size shown in the post-Civil War fashion plates. Shown first is the original “Little House” dress, with the re-designed outfit below.
Caroline's sturdy brown wool dress is suited for hard work out on the prairie.
Karen Grassle portrays Caroline Ingalls as a true pioneer woman.
Caroline Ingalls spins wool in the "Little House" pilot episode - a chore we never see her do in any other Little House shows
Caroline's updated dress had a "band" collar similar to what Laura Ingalls Wilder described in her books.
A familiar scene from "Little House" - Caroline arrives at the Oleson's Mercantile, basket in hand, to sell her freshly laid eggs.
The second brown dress, which Karen Grassle wore for many seasons of "Little House", had both horizontal and vertical darts.