Portfolio: 1880s Polly Oliver military inspired ensemble

The Idea and Inspiration:

The idea for this gown was sparked by a Terry Pratchett’s Diskworld themed ‘Unseen University Wizard’s Ball.’  Polly / Oliver Perks, from Monstrous Regiment, is my favourite Diskworld character.  Or at least tied for favourite with 72 other characters.  But she definitely has the best clothes!  As it happened, I didn’t end up wearing the ensemble to the ball, and it took me over 4 years to get it done.

Spoiler Alert: Polly / Oliver is a girl (Polly) who dresses up as a boy (Oliver) to go to war to rescue her brother.  So she wears a uniform.

Major Spoiler Alert: At the end of the book, Polly gets a ‘girlie’ military uniform, with a skirt instead of trousers, a tailored jacket, and lots more gold stuff all over the jacket.

I decided to make Polly’s dress military uniform from the end of the book.  Pratchett’s books are a bit vague on clothing details, but there are mentions that bustles are in, and Polly Oliver’s story has hints of 18th century design.  Would it be possible to make am outfit that both honoured Diskworld, and stuck to a reasonably accurate historical precedent?  I settled on an 1880s military inspired, 18th century-influenced walking ensemble/fancy dress.  With lots of gold stuff on the jacket.

My original inspiration sketch looked like this:

My design sketch

As it happened, the design morphed a fair bit over the four years it took me to finish it, and I ended up drawing on a wide range of inspiration.

Inspiration Gallery

La Moniteur de la Mode, 1887 Dighton, Robert Title- October 1784 Actress Jean Alwyn
Moniteur de la Mode, 1887 Oct 1784, Robert Dighton Actress Jean Alwyn, 1890s
Journal des Luxus, 1791 Photo of a woman, ca 1883-90 Walking dress House of Worth  (French, 1858–1956) Designer- Charles Frederick Worth (French (born England), Bourne 1825–1895 Paris) Date- ca. 1885 MetM
Journal des Luxus, 1791     Woman, ca 1885 Dress, House of Worth, 1885


Fabric and Materials:

Jacket of scarlet cotton jacquard, flat lined in ivory sateen, with a false waistcoat of ivory sateen.  Antiqued gold buttons to trim.

Skirt of ivory cotton sateen with gold braid cornelli-work trim

Research and Resources:

Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 1860-1940.

Jacket adapted from extent 1880s patterns

The Dress Diary:


Introducing the project

Being sensible about the ensemble deadline

Picking buttons

Waistcoat piping (a tutorial)

Lining the waistcoat (a not so brilliant moment)

Fitting issues and re-thinking the bodice front

Pulling apart and flat-lining the jacket

The design sketch


Thoughts on Polly / Oliver, and combining fantasy & history

Inspiration and pattern drafting

Constructing the waistcoat

How to ‘antique’ gold buttons

The jacket, sans sleeves

The finished jacket (hurrah!)

The skirt, construction beginnings and inspiration

Finishing the skirt, and cornelli work

Announcing Polly / Oliver – the finished outfit, finally!

 A hat for Polly / Oliver


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