When many people look at fashions from other eras, especially the Elizabethan and Victorian eras, their comments are often something to do with how complicated that costume is or that it would be hard to make. Many gowns have many pieces and are covered with yards and yards of trim. If you look at the actual patterns (collected in some of the books on my Links and Books page), you can see that the shapes themselves aren’t very complex. There often was either a lot of trim or draping and pleating to give a desired shape and look.
In the late 1870’s and early 1880’s, many over skirts had a fairly short sort of apron in the front which went from the front to the side back (if you stand with your hands on your waist, to around where the tips of your thumbs touch your waist). Sometimes there was a longer apron under the first one. The back was a longer pouf that was mostly a rectangle pleated around its edges and the resulting poufs in the middle tacked at various spots. After making the front apron and the back pouf and adding as much trim as you want, sew one side of the one to the side of the other. Sew to a waistband. On the other side, add snaps or hooks and eyes to keep it closed. Usually the bodice and the over skirt were in the same fabric, while the under skirt was in a different color or texture.
First take a large rectangular piece of fabric you can play with and pin the pleats. Once you know if that piece is too large, too small, or just right, you can cut it out of the fabric you want plus enough to hem it all around.
Here are photos so you can see what I’m talking about. I used 3 different fabrics: floppy antique satin, quilt cotton, and regular apparel polyester matte satin.
As you can see, different fabrics give a slightly different result. It’s up to you which fabric you choose and if you want to go with solid, something with a pattern, or stripes, which would look really interesting.
Here is a photo of what the apron part should look like.
Let me know if anything here doesn’t make sense and if you have any questions.