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A part of a lady’s dress, resembling a jacket with a short skirt. — Webster, 1882

“25 pieces striped brocaded and plain plushes and silk velvets, suitable for basque trimmings and dresses, worth from $2 to $4, at $1 per yard.” – May 1883 newspaper advertisement

In Little House in the Big Woods, young Laura Ingalls only notices the separate jacket-like top portion of Ma’s and Aunt Docia’s dresses because of their interesting buttons. In the Long Winter, she again notices the buttons on the basque of the blue flannel Christmas barrel dress (a dress for Ma), but now also mentions the whale-boning used in its construction. In Little Town on the Prairie, Laura first is actively involved in sewing the basque (a dress for Mary), and while she is still describing the buttons, it’s the painstaking sewing of whalebone stays onto the dart seams of the basque that make her anxious. Later in the book, she describes the pointed basque of her own best blue cashmere (and its little green buttons). And finally, in These Happy Golden Years, Laura describes the front and back points to the basque of her black wedding dress (and yes, the buttons).

Although it’s hard to see in some old photographs, the basque of a lady’s dress was a separate jacket top that was sometimes so fitted over the hips that it looked as if it was attached to the skirt. The waist portion was tight, and the skirt (or apron) of the basque might be flared or fitted or end in one or more points front and back, as Laura’s basque did. The drawing above advertises a 25 cent pattern for an 1885 basque. The photo below shows a young woman in a dress with a basque that comes to a single point both front and back.


basque (BW 7-8; FB 8; TLW 32; LTP 9, 20, 24; THGY 32; PG)
     whaleboned (TLW 32), see whalebone