Thrift stores are excellent for finding clothing for middle or lower class characters that can be adapted to the Victorian silhouette with a small amount of sewing. We recommend perusing all the Victorian Costuming pages before venturing out on your shopping trip.
When possible, choose natural fabrics which will be more comfortable, not polyester or nylon. Look in all sections for either gender! Spring and summer are great times to find winter clothing at thrift shops. Scarves, shawls, and gloves are often far more plentiful in the warm months than in the fall or winter. The Dickens Fair takes place on Christmas Eve in London, and our participants' color palette is rich, jewel-toned colors. Have fun hunting!
- Shoes - Lace-up boots are the best; for comfort, keep the heels as low as possible - under 1-1/2" is best. Mary Janes and ballet flats also fit the look and are often available in comfort brands.
- Check the sleepwear section or summer sleeveless shirts for chemises, drawers, and corset covers.
- Chemises can be made from a nightgown sewn up the front with the buttons removed so they're not digging in under your corset.
- Pajama pants can be shortened and have a little lace sewn to the bottoms to make drawers. You may also want to remove the crotch seam so that it is easier to use the restrooms in your corset and hoops!
- Plain, white cotton, high-necked, long-sleeved blouses that button up either the front or back are great. They should have either a peter pan collar or be collarless. Sleeves should have fullness to them and narrow cuffs. Stay away from the styles that resemble turn-of-the-century clothing (lots of lace, lace that comes to a V in front, or blouses with lots of fullness where the shoulder seam and sleeve meet). Don't forget to check the men's section for plain white shirts as well.
- A women's suit jacket can be turned into a fashionable Zouave jacket (email Liz Martin for directions).
- Wool hats can be cut and steamed into shape as an acceptable bonnet. Look for knitted or crocheted shawls. Large lace doilies make great day caps to be worn under your bonnet - just add ribbon and some small silk flowers. And do remember your gloves!
- Shoes - Round-toed lace up dress shoes are relatively easy to find in thrift stores. Half boots with elastic on the side are correct for the time period and look very nice with a tapered pant leg.
- Choose baggy, flat fronted pants (go one or 2 sizes up from what you normally wear), taper the legs, press out the center front crease, remove or lower the cuffs, remove the belt loops and replace with suspender buttons. Add a set of braces or suspenders to create the look. For our time period, the waistline was above the navel, so choosing pants a little larger will give you more room in the crotch to wear them higher. Plaids, houndstooth and tweeds add texture to your outfit.
- Buy an old vest and square off the bottom by folding under the points - make sure it is long enough to overlap the top of your pants by a full two inches. Vests and pants do not have to match. You can wear a plaid with a tweed and never fear of hassle by the fashion police!
- Adapt long-sleeved white dress shirts by cutting off the fold-over collar right at the top and finishing off the edge. At this time, the body of the shirt and the cuffs and collar of the shirts were the same color. If you are portraying a tradesman or laborer, consider a plaid shirt in muted colors.
- An old woolen overcoat can become either a sack coat or a frock coat with clever adjustments. Men also wore shawls to keep out the cold. Look in the scarf area for long rectangular pieces for use as neckwear.
Keep in mind that both boys and girls dressed very closely to the way their parents dressed.
- Boys: Women's suit jackets often make excellent jackets for young boys. If it's a full suit (jacket and skirt/pants) see if the pants can be made to fit the young one, or turn the skirt into a vest. Women's blouses can be used for shirts for young men as well.
- Girls: Full-skirted dresses (lots of pleats or gathering at the waist) are great for adapting to skirts or petticoats for girls. Remember that the length of a young girl's skirt is determined by her age - the older the girl, the longer the skirt - from just below the knee for a 4 year old, to ankle length for a 16 year old. Pantaloons/drawers would definitely show below the skirts.