Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on July 13, 2012
In the past year or so I’ve written a number of posts studying the Little House on the Prairie tv costumes worn by Melissa Gilbert, Karen Grassle, and Melissa Sue Anderson. Some of the dresses were gorgeous, some were just serviceable, and others only made it on the blog because of the episode they appeared in. Last fall I had a lot of fun detailing just about every single wedding dress worn in the Little House series, and I recently poked fun at Mrs. Oleson and her corset woes!
But before I show you my top ten favorite Little House Victorian costumes, I wanted to let you know what this big announcement is all about! Through a series of remarkable events, I stumbled upon one of the original Little House costumes worn in the series, and was able to take up-close photographs of it that I never dreamed possible. Without entirely spoiling the surprise for next week, let’s just say that the dress I’m referring to will be mentioned in this post, and the only clue I’ll give you is that this costume would fit me perfectly (hint, hint!). : ) No more clues than that, but if you come back later next week you will be able to see pictures that I still have a hard time believing are real. I can hardly wait to show everyone!
With that announcement made, let’s get started with the Top Ten Little House Costumes! Please note that I have the entire series of Little House episodes (all ten seasons) on dvd, so I’ve tried to represent a wide range of years in this compilation of photographs here. Please also note that I really could have done the “Top Twenty” costumes since there were so many options to choose from, but I’m only sharing what I feel are the most beautiful Victorian women’s costumes from Little House on the Prairie. Because the majority of the dresses worn on Little House were simpler pioneer styles, it wasn’t very often that you saw full-blown Victorian fashion on the show. Not all of these will be outfits you viewed during every episode, but I’m sure you will love these beautiful gowns as much as I do!
So without further ado, I’ll start with costume number ten and end with my all-time favorite gown from the series!
Little House Costume # 10: Mrs. Oleson’s Lavender Ruffle Dress
Episode First Worn: “There’s No Place Like Home”, Season 5 – Episode Last Worn: “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, Part 2”, Season 6
It was a hard call to decide which dress would become “number ten”, but I believe Mrs. Oleson’s lavender day dress deserves to be on this list! Mrs. Oleson is reputed to be one of television’s most hated characters, (she received little or no fan mail!) but her opulent dresses undoubtedly outshone the other Walnut Grove ladies’ wardrobes!
This delightful dress was made of lavender and white checked fabric, which was most likely a batiste or other lightweight cotton. It had a wide rounded collar in the back which was trimmed all around with a frill of plum organza. The double ruffle of organza continued down the front of the bodice, which was (by the way) much too tight on her! (I’m sure this was intentional on the part of the costume designer, but Mrs. Oleson’s bodices were often so tight that it wasn’t flattering!)
The full, billowy sleeves were finished off with another ruffle of the plum organza (silk organza, I believe) at the wide cuff. And with this dress she always wore an ostentatious lavender straw hat just dripping with pastel flowers and a voluminous orchid ostrich feather!
Little House Costume # 9: Caroline Ingalls’ Peach Sateen Christmas Dress
Episode First Worn: “The Pilot”, Before Season 1 – Last Worn (by an extra, not Karen Grassle): “Annabelle”, Season 6
I love this dress!! It is a very simple style, but the luxurious sheen of the dainty print, coupled with the lovely lace inset makes for a gorgeous dress that you could really envision being worn on the prairie. Caroline’s dress was articulately constructed with at least eight separate pieces in the bodice front alone!
Caroline wore this for the Christmas Eve scene in the pilot film, and it was so charming that I don’t know why they didn’t have her continue to wear it! Last year I did an in-depth post about only this costume, so you can read many more details about it here.
Little House Costume # 8: Mrs. Oleson’s Over-the-Top “Watermelon” Gown
Episode First Worn/Last Worn: “Blind Journey”, Season 5
I’ll admit that this gown has such fantastic details that it could have made it higher on the list, had it not been for the outrageous colors and the fact that it was worn by everyone’s least favorite character! I call it the “watermelon” gown due to it’s juicy colors of bright pink and lime green!
This costume has the most ridiculous amount of detail I have ever seen in a made-for-television outfit! I really don’t know where to begin. First, there’s this pitiful hat trimmed with peacock feathers and a dead bird of some description perched atop it. Then there’s Mrs. Oleson’s bright brocade parasol that has color coordinated pom-poms hanging off it.
But the gown itself is just absolutely unbelievable! The entire outer layer of this gown is a watermelon pink brocade, which from the looks of it is almost certainly a rayon/silk blend. Under this is yards and yards of ruched lime green chiffon which cascades from the bodice into an voluminous underskirt. Finally, the bodice and sleeves are trimmed with narrow white French lace edging. You also see a cameo pin at the neckline and contrasting bias binding on the bodice front edges. Quite impressive!!
Little House Costume # 7: Caroline’s Royal Blue “Rich” Dress
Episode First Worn/Last Worn: “The Inheritance” – Season 4
A stunningly simple and elegant dress which was superbly fitted and masterfully sewn from a gorgeous blue linen (or at least it appears to be linen). Karen Grassle looked so very queenly in anything she wore, perhaps because she was so tall that she still looked graceful in gathered Victorian skirts. I wish they had let her wear this more than once, though!
This costume had a beautiful square neckline which was commonly seen in the 1880s, with a tight fitting basque (bodice) that ends in a “v”. The bodice appears to be separate from the skirt (which was usual for that era), and is trimmed with blue velvet ribbon at the neckline.
The simple reason she had it for just one episode is that the Ingalls family went through a “rich” stage where they thought they had inherited a large fortune from a distant relative. After buying new wardrobes on credit from Oleson’s Mercantile, the Ingalls learned they had only inherited Confederate Money! Nevertheless, I loved the opportunity to see Charles and Caroline dressing up a little bit more than we usually see in the Little House series!
Little House Costume # 6: Nellie Oleson’s Purple 1880s Day Dress
Episode First Worn/Last Worn: “The Return of Nellie” – Season 9
In the ninth season of Little House on the Prairie, Nellie Oleson (who was by this point Nellie Dalton/Cohen) returns from New York to visit her family in Walnut Grove. For this episode the wardrobe department designed an entirely new set of outfits for Alison Arngrim (Nellie), which were so much more flattering than her earlier clothes from the show! There was an ornately bustled walking gown in pale yellow with which she wore a cornucopia-like fascinator hat. There were two charming Victorian blouses trimmed with ruffles and lace. There was an extraordinary woolen cape with ruched trim, along with lots of flowing walking skirts and fanciful bonnets. And there was this gorgeously fitted 1880s gown which is so classic Victorian!
I loooove this plum colored walking dress, with its striking color, simplicity of style, and superb fit. Nothing says “Victorian” quite as much as a fitted bodice with a high lacy collar, long sleeves that end in frilly ruffles, a floor length skirt with a nod to a bustle, and dozens of tiny buttons down the back of the dress!
I think what really “makes” this dress is the cluster of flowers at the bodice, though! (Oh yes, and did I mention they gave her some ridiculous wigs?) : )
Little House Costume # 5: Laura Ingalls’ Teal & Brown Walking Gown
Episode First Worn: “Sweet Sixteen”, Season 6 – Episode Last Worn: “The Last Farewell”, Season 10
A charming Victorian bustle gown that was really the first “grown up” dress Melissa Gilbert was allowed to wear on Little House. Laura supposedly purchased this dress at Oleson’s Mercantile in preparation for her first term of teaching school, and the wardrobe department did a fantastic job of choosing colors that went perfectly with her fall coloring.
The reddish brown print with teal blue accents were most becoming on Melissa, and the bustle was just small enough to not overwhelm the rest of her! There were many lovely details on this outfit, such as the ruffle on the overskirt and piping down the bodice princess seams.
I’ll admit that I have always been disappointed in the costumes she wore in her early teenaged years (prior to this one). For one thing, they were highly unflattering to her petite figure and made her look like a little girl when she was fourteen and fifteen years old! Moreover, they were completely inaccurate to the real life Laura’s outfits – by the time Laura Ingalls was thirteen years old her skirts went down to her shoes and she wore her hair up (rather than in braids) so she wouldn’t feel out of place with the other girls her age at school.
But this costume was fabulously designed for the on-screen Laura, and she wore it until the very last episode of Little House! For a whole five years this served as her “best dress” which she wore to dances, church picnics, parties, and other special occasions.
Little House Costume # 4: Myra Louise’s Peach Walking Dress
Episode First Worn/Last Worn: “I Do, Again”, Season 7
“Myra Louise” only appeared in one episode, but her clothing and hairstyles were so gorgeous that I wish they had used her more during the show! One of my favorite parts of her wardrobe is the elegant choker necklaces she wears, which inspired me to create a similar Victorian choker here.
This dress is so romantically old-fashioned! The pastel peachy-pink looks lovely contrasted with the white collar, and that huge bow at the neckline is the perfect finishing touch.
I love the piping down the princess seams, but the best part of this dress is the amazing double-ruffled bustle in the back! I tried and tried to get better stills of this costume, but you see it for such a short scene that this was the best I could do.
Little House Costume # 3: Hester Sue’s Stunning Wedding Gown
Episode First Worn/Last Worn: “Second Chance”, Season 8
Hester Sue was one of my favorite characters from Little House! Like most of the Little House actresses she rarely got an occasion to really dress up, but there were two episodes written specially for her that actually involved Victorian fashion! This wedding dress is about as gorgeous as any 1880s gown could have been, and it fit her perfectly!
I believe this costume is made from a silk moire, with a satin ribbon bow and Schiffli lace panel at the neckline. The pleated frill of organza at the collar is positively splendid! And I am positive Ketty Lester (Hester Sue) was wearing a corset for this scene since it fits so superbly! Her hat is so very fashionable, and she looks just as elegant as can be. I wish they had given Hester Sue a grander wardrobe!
To see nearly every other wedding dress ever worn on the Little House series you can read my post here.
Little House Costume # 2: Mary Ingalls’ Mint Green Cotillion Ball Gown
Episode First/Last Worn: “Times of Change”, Season 4
Probably one of the most gorgeous dresses I have ever seen! Such grandeur was rarely seen in Little House on the Prairie. This is really the quintessential ball gown, with the ultimate “princess gown” silhouette! It is the essence of everything I’ve always admired in ball gowns – a firmly fitted bodice, fluffy cap sleeves to widen the shoulders, a magnificent gathered skirt, and an enormous ruffle at the bottom to finish it off! Mary Ingalls (Melissa Sue Anderson) looked spectacular in it, and I think it is without a doubt the most phenomenal costume she ever wore.
~ A dreamy concoction fit for a princess! ~
In the show, this costume had supposedly belonged to the teenaged Caroline Ingalls, and was passed on to Mary for the grand cotillion she attended in Chicago. Keep in mind that this dress would have been fashionable in the 1860s (Caroline met Charles in the early 1860s), and the era Mary grew up in was the 1880s (technically this would have been exactly 1879 or 1880 since she was born in ’65 and was around 14 or 15 in this episode).
So if you watch this episode you’ll see that Mary Ingalls looks quite outdated compared to the other young ladies’ full bustle gowns. Nevertheless, I think Mary couldn’t have looked more enchanting if she had been wearing a fashionable 1880s evening gown!
The fabric itself was a mint green satin, which you can really only see in the bodice. The skirt is overlaid with mint green chiffon and the sleeves and neckline ruffle were constructed entirely from chiffon. I am sure Melissa Sue Anderson was wearing a corset with this dress, or that there was at least a lot of boning sewn into the bodice. I can’t imagine a daintier dress, and for a lot of years I considered recreating this!
Little House Costume # 1: Caroline Ingall’s White Victorian Bustle Gown
Episode First Worn/Last Worn: “At the End of the Rainbow”, Season 2
I have adored this costume since I first saw it as a little girl! A gown so incredibly fashionable could never have been worn for a usual episode, so the Little House writing team concocted the episode “At the End of the Rainbow” wherein Laura dreams the family is suddenly quite wealthy. Her dreams become more and more fantastical as we see the Ingalls family striding about in dazzlingly white costumes, riding through the town of “Ingalls Grove” in a gleaming horse drawn carriage, and traveling up a hill to their grand fairy-tale mansion. Like I said, this was a most unusual episode, but one that afforded the cast an opportunity to dress up like never before.
The year this episode was set in was about 1877, so the costume designer probably “cheated” by making this more 1880s than 1870s. Yes, they most certainly wore wide bustles by the end of the 1870s, but the skirts were not this straight nor the bustles so narrow until 1880 when Charles Worth introduced his “princess dress”.
And as for the gown itself, oh! it was just glorious! Karen Grassle’s tall, slender build was perfect for this period in Victorian fashion, and her hair was so elegant that I really wish they had given her this coiffure more often! When the family is riding in their carriage you can see that they also gave Caroline much more makeup than usual, and lovely, dangly earrings, too.
The pictures speak for themselves, but I love the fitted, princess-seamed bodice, the elegant bell sleeves, frilled collar, and Venice lace insert! The draped overskirt is just gorgeous, and the back of the skirt is a veritable explosion of ruffles and bows! Caroline Ingalls had a matching parasol and wore white crocheted gloves, a white hat with ostentatious feathers, white Victorian walking boots, and carried a glittering gold purse.
The other Ingalls family members were equally elegantly attired, and you just have to watch this episode to see their sartorial splendor!
With the top ten Little House costumes article finished, I am now so excited to show you which one of these I was able to see and photograph! There is a surprise even bigger than this which I’m not yet letting on to, and I can hardly wait for next week to show you the pictures!! I may, in fact, get so excited that I can’t wait a whole week and therefore post the pictures in the next few days. : )
So until next time, happy sewing! And I’m curious to know which costume is your favorite!
(All Little House episodes are copyright by NBC. Edelweiss Patterns makes no profit from these pictures’ use on the blog, and if you would like to use any of these stills which I have taken myself you are welcome to do so as long as you link back to my site. Thank you! – All text is copyright by Katrina Casey and Edelweiss Patterns, 2012. May not be reproduced in any form.)