Victorian Costumes

Costumes for fancy dress

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Choosing Your Victorian Costume

Lady's Victorian costume

Lady’s Victorian costume

If you want to dress up for Whitehead’s Annual Victorian Street Fair, the first step is to determine what role you wish to represent. Are you more of a gentleman, or lady of means? Perhaps you are looking for a costume for a girl or a boy. Or perhaps you identify with the common labourer, and resonate with those who are more the salt of the earth.?Before you can piece together your ensemble it is important to identify your place in this bygone society, and the most effective way to do so is through a quality costume.

Once you’ve determined the type of citizen you most closely identify with, it is time to decide how you will design your own unique look. Many gentleman of the era wore muted and neutral colours, while ladies took to a more cheerful range. Deciding which colour scheme best suits you is the difference between a truly memorable costume, and one of a more average disposition. Most costumes make use of one primary color, followed by one or two secondary splashes to complete the image.

Next, you’ll need to determine the level of authenticity you wish to adhere to. Many of the original clothes of the Victorian era were made of heavy wools, cottons, and silks. Men and women alike found them either warming, or broiling depending on the weather and the temperature. When choosing a costume, or having one made, the type and quality of fabric must be taken into account. More authentic representations are usually made of finer quality fabric and construction, and are therefore more expensive than a thinner counterpart. Choose a costume that best suits your location, purpose, and budget.

You may wish to remember that Whitehead’s Victorian Street Fair is held at the end of November or start of December each year and it may be chilly, so a warmer costume might be best. Alternatively, you may find it useful to wear thermal underwear!

Perhaps the most important decision to make comes in the form of tailoring. Should you handle the expense of a bespoke costume, made and measured to your exact specification? Or would a more affordable off the rack option suit you better? Both options have both their pros and cons.

A bespoke costume entails everything you could ever require in a costume: It is made from quality materials that are often the most authentic representation of the time. The construction is of a much higher quality, allowing you to don the piece many times before showing any signs of wear. A tailored Victorian ensemble will also be made to your exact measurements, guaranteeing a fit and function unrivalled by any other option. Being made for you means it will move with you in a way that other clothing simply cannot match. An experienced costume maker can also lend you their expertise in the creation of your project. If you’re having trouble deciding the look and execution of your Victorian alter ego, then an experienced tailor will be more than happy to simplify the process with their skill and fashion sense.

Victorian Man and Woman

Victorian Man and Woman

The disadvantages of bespoke come in the form of cost, time, and sometimes function. Tailor made is typically a high budget option, as you are paying for both the materials and the labour that brings them together. A bespoke Victorian outfit will also not be ready immediately. It often takes several fittings to achieve just the right measurement and vision. If you intend on doing any strenuous activity that might damage the costume, then a bespoke option may not be suitable, given the price.

In this case, an off the rack option may be best. The greatest advantage of choosing a pre-made costume is the price. Costumes that are mass produced are absolutely more cost effective than a customized ensemble. Due to their affordability, many customers choose to engage in a higher level of activity while wearing them. Time is another advantage here as well. These costumes are already designed and manufactured by the time you select them, and are therefore available for instant or near-instant use. This is pivotal for those that must find a quick costume to wear because they have made a last minute decision to attend!

The caveat to off-the-rack comes in the form of its quality. Many OTR costumes are of lesser quality than bespoke options. They are also more standard, and less unique in appearance.

These are just a few simple guidelines for choosing your Victorian costume that should help you determine your quintessential Victorian costume, regardless of age or gender. Take your time and choose wisely. Regardless of your choice, have fun and enjoy your costume of choice!

An Authentic lady’s Victorian Costume

Victorian Lady

Victorian Lady

 

The Authentic Costume

A truly authentic Victorian Lady’s costume is quite complex. See below for how they dressed – it’s no wonder they needed servants and dressers to help them with their clothes! But you can get the Victorian Look much more easily today, without having to go to all the trouble that Victorian ladies had to take just to get dressed!

Victorian Undergarments

These included a corset, to create an hourglass figure for the fashionable Victorian lady, frilly, long legged pants and plain stockings in wool or cotton. The corset was worn over a simple white cotton under-dress that reached the thighs.

The Victorian Petticoat

Women wore petticoats to prevent their legs from showing as well as to protect themselves from the hoop and the bustle (of the early Victorian era). You can make a simple petticoat by using an old white sheet and cutting it so that it won’t show below your dress. If you use the hemmed edge of the sheet for the bottom of your petticoat, you will save yourself some work. Simply gather the sheet and attach a band to the top with simple stitches.

The Hoop Or Bustle

Hoops are generally built into an additional petticoat. They are made from wire and can be purchased relatively inexpensively online. Bustles are also constructed of wire and covered with material. They have a sash attached to wrap them around the waist to raise the dress in the back.

The Victorian Dress

Most dresses were elaborately hand sewn with rich fabrics. There are patterns available but are often quite complex and you may need to start creating your dress quite some time before the event so you may prefer to consider purchasing one that is already made. Dress colours typically were royal purples, deep blues, and vibrant pinks. They were enhanced with fine embroidery using pearls and beads and elaborate gathering.

 

The Victorian Accessories

No upper class Victorian female would dare to leave the house without her gloves and a bonnet. Most gloves were made of solidly covered material since the dresses themselves were so elaborate. Occasionally, they might have beads or jewels sewn onto them for classic effect. Glove stores frequently have stunning high fashion gloves for sale and you will have loads of fun shopping for this accessory.

Find a simple straw bonnet and decorate it with fabric that matches your dress. The ribbon can wrap around the base of the hat and double as a tie to secure it to your head. Flowers and feathers are always a welcome addition to any bonnet.

Victorian Costumes for Girls

Children beyond the age of babyhood were often dressed very similarly to adults. Many girls will love to dress up in long Victorian costumes or even as maidservants and these costumes can also be used for other events during the year, such as Book Week or visits to folk museums.

Men’s Victorian Costumes

Men's Victorian Clothing

Men’s Victorian Clothing

For a man, there are also great Victorian costumes to choose from but it can be a lot more difficult to source these. The majority of wealthy men from that era were known for wearing calf-length frock style coats that were custom fitted along with either a waist coat or a double breasted vest. Colours were mainly neutral but could sometimes be bright. There were of course many poor men, country lads, grooms, chimney sweeps, road sweepers, butlers, footservants and soldiers. Alternatively, you could choose to go as a professional from that era, such as a schoolmaster, lawyer, judge, Minister of Religion or even a detective! No one is going to worry if your costume is not totally authentic, so wear what you enjoy, although wearing an authentic Victorian bathing costume or nightshirt and cap might get a little chilly!.