The Great Dickens Christmas Fair and Victorian Holiday Party

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Female Presenting Shoes & Boots

1861-ladiesshoesThe Victorian Era is almost mythically known for proper etiquette in behavior and dress. “Lower limbs” were kept completely covered by long skirts and crinolines, and ankle boots came into fashion as a way to avoid glimpses of these off-limits appendages. The tops of boots might be decorated with bows or tassels to be tantalizingly glimpsed under a demurely flouncing skirt. (Interestingly enough, this prudery concerning the lower limbs was often balanced by the revealing necklines of fashionable ball gowns.)

A full day’s walk through Victorian London at the Cow Palace Exhibition Halls can be taxing if one chooses to adhere to the female presenting fashion norm in London during this era: narrow-toed boots in the smallest size possible, to give the impression of extremely tiny, dainty, feminine feet. You will thank yourself for wearing comfortable, well-fitting shoes!

Small heels were added to boots the late 1840s and 1850s, and to slippers between 1860 and 1865, so it’s perfectly appropriate to walk about the Fair in flats or heels, square toes or round, to suit your comfort level and fashion tastes. Our most valuable suggestion? Wear cushioned insoles!!!

For photos of actual Victorian Ladies footwear from the era, check out this Pinterest page about mid-19th century shoes.

Male Presenting Shoes & Boots

In Victorian times, it was said that “you could judge the caliber of a man by the boots he wore.” Male presenting footwear at the time was very formal and conservative, and the short ankle boot took prominence in fashion; half-boots (calf-length) or knee-length boots were worn mainly for riding, and generally not for strolling the streets of town.
1851-chelsea-bootQuite popular in this era was the Chelsea Boot; Charles Goodyear's development of vulcanized rubber enabled Sparkes-Hall, bootmakers to Queen Victoria, to invent the elastic-gusset boot in 1837 (source: Wikipedia). The advantage of elasticized boots was that they could be easily pulled on and off, which appealed to the busier and more demanding lifestyles of Victorian men and women during the Industrial Revolution. However, in the 1850s, elastic-sided boots were joined in popularity by those with lacing on their inner sides.
Wellington boots (worn for riding or mucking about in the country) were named after the Duke of Wellington. He designed them to be worn in cavalry warfare (the top of the boot originally came over the knee to mitigate knee-wounds in soldiers), but they became quite popular with the sports-and-fashion-minded male set.
Lastly, lace-up ankle-length boots, known as Paddock boots, were worn by fashion-conscious Victorian Gentlemen who also wished to be known for their equestrian skills. Whether on horseback or in the streets (but never at a formal event!), these were the highbrow boots of choice.
A last note: many of these styles have survived to modern times and may be found in modern form at many a local retailer—do some web research, and then enjoy shopping!

Female Presenting Hats & Bonnets

Woman in Flowered Bonnet
- MET Collection

Large elaborate "great hats," popular prior to Queen Victoria’s time, were replaced during her reign by the smaller and more modest bonnet. Most bonnets were made of straw (light, and easy to shape and color). They were lined and had wide brims to protect delicate faces from the sun. Trimmings were elaborate and were changed every season. Frugal Victorian Ladies often did their own trimming, adding and subtracting flowers, ribbons and other tasteful ornaments and seasonal frills. Bonnet shapes, however, did not vary tremendously, and might remain in vogue for a decade or more (search on Google to see cottage and round, coal-scuttle, and spoon bonnet shapes).
A key clothing element of the time was the Victorian morning cap, which was worn at home, or a more highly decorated/frilled version which would be worn underneath a bonnet outdoors. Interestingly enough, the term “widow’s peak” came from the customary design of caps worn by those who had lost their husbands. Popularized by Queen Victoria after the death of Prince Albert in 1861, these were sewn to form a point or “peak” above the center of the forehead.

Male Presenting Hats & Caps

Like other Victorian wear, hats were available in a various styles ( Pictured below are some examples of popular hats of Dickens’ time.
Top hats were a must for parties and formal events, but were also worn as daywear by the turned-out Victorian Gentleman. These “toppers” grew taller over the decades, eventually developing into the true “stovepipe” shape.
A variety of other hat shapes were popular: soft-crowned hats, some with wide brims, were worn for country pursuits. The bowler hat was invented in 1850, but remained primarily a working-class accessory, not worn by “Gents” until much later. A variety of other hat styles persisted, including the wide-brimmed “wide-awake” style and the flat-topped “porkpie,” both of which were seen throughout the Victorian period.

1850s Silk Top Hat:
Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa,
Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900, 1995
1850s Soft Felt Hat:
Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa
Very tall, straight-sided, cream-colored, soft felt hats such as this were popular during the early 1850s.


1850s Casual Sea Cap and Railroad Cap: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa
Sea caps and railroad caps were popular with men and boys for casual attire.


To top it all off -- have fun with your costume adventure into Victorian dress norms!