5 Weekends Nov 19 - Dec 18, 2022   |   10am-6pm   |   Cow Palace Exhibition Halls, San Francisco

Victorian Costume Guidelines

Overview

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair is a theatrically historical re-creation of 19th-century London, seen through the eyes of author Charles Dickens. Though Mr. Dickens' writing spans a good portion of the mid-to-late 1800s, our costume timeline for the Dickens Fair is set to the years of 1842-1863.

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair creates a fully immersive environment in which the clothes each person wears become part of the visual tapestry of the event. When creating your costume to attend as a patron (costumes are encouraged, but never required!), we encourage you to consider your character, your occupation and/or class, and why you are visiting London at Christmas-time! Wearing a coat, shawl, wrap, bonnet, hat, scarf or gloves while "on the streets of London" is one wonderful way to become part of our illusion of Christmas Eve in Victorian England.

Corsets were the foundation garment of the time. Women wore crinolines and many, many starched petticoats to hold up the voluminous bell-shaped skirts that were in fashion. Neither the high empire waist of the 1820s-30s nor the bustle of the late 1860s-80s, beautiful as they are, fit into the timeline of the Dickens Christmas Fair.

If you are attending as a less well-to-do character, a good thing to remember is that in this time period, few things changed owners more often than clothes. They traveled "downwards" from grade to grade in the social scale with remarkable regularity. The original owner may sell a well-worn garment to a "clabberer" who would use their arts to make it almost as good as new and then resell it to someone else, and the cycle would continue on through the various classes.

If you desire more detailed information than we present here, we highly recommend the book Victorian Costuming, Volume I: 1840 to 1865 by Janet Winter and Carolyn Savoy. In the book's pages you will find all the information you need to construct your own costume. Some of the thrift store ideas in it are out of date merely because there are different styles to choose from than when it was written, but it is a fabulous resource. It is published by Other Times Productions and can be obtained through Patterson & Sons at the Fair, and from Games of Berkeley at 2152 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94704, (510) 540-7822.

Fabrics & Colors

Suggested fabrics are natural fabrics such as wool, twill, serge, cotton velvet, satin, taffeta, cotton, and linen.

Colors were rich and varied - garnet, plum, moss green, gold, gray, beige, brown, blue, and black. Fabric patterns were interesting and fun, including plaids, prints, paisleys, stripes, herringbone, and tweeds. Because it is winter, your color choices would likely reflect this.

Recommended Movie & TV Sources for Costuming

There are many books and movies that are excellent sources for costume, manners and accent of the time we are portraying. Below is a selection of some potentially useful films.

  • The Story of Adele H. or L'histoire d'Adele H. (French movie about British events, subtitled) - Women's garments and military costume.
  • Fingersmith (BBC production, 2005) - Great representation of lower-class Cockneys as well as upper class, set in the early 1860s
  • Christmas Carol (Patrick Stewart) - Fabulous for all classes.
  • Oliver Twist (Elijah Wood, Disney) - The color palette is excellent for The Dockside area, or Mad Sal's.
  • BBC David Copperfield miniseries  - Starring a young Daniel Radcliffe. This is a very good movie and an excellent source for visuals.
  • Nicholas Nickleby (2002) - A wonderful movie full of approvable costume ideas and colorful characters. Highly recommended for this Fair.
  • Little Women (Winona Ryder, 1994) - Great middle-class 1860s costumes; ignore that later 1870s bustle costumes towards the end of the film.
  • North & South (based on an Elizabeth Gaskell novel, BBC production, 2004) - Lovely upper-middle class 1860s costumes.
  • Oliver Twist (Roman Polanski dir, 2005) - Interesting lower class, fabulous middle class costumes especially on the extras in the street scenes.
  • The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton (BBC production, 2006) - About Catherine Beeton, the Englishwoman who wrote a hugely popular cooking/household management book in the 1850s. Nice middle class costumes.
  • Turn of the Screw (based on the Henry James novel, 1999) - Nice 1840s middle class.
  • The Great Train Robbery with Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Leslie Ann-Down
  • Bleak House (BBC miniseries, 2005) - There is also a 1985 version which is truer to the book and has excellent costumes.
  • Little Dorrit (BBC miniseries, 2008) - There is a 1987 version in two parts with great costumes and terrific street scenes.
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (Carnival Films, 2007)
  • Edward VII/Edward the King (ATV miniseries, 1975) The first 3 episodes focus on Victoria and Albert up to Albert's death, while the last 3 focus more on Edward; still, great costuming and the history is bang-on.
  • The Young Victoria (2009) The early costumes are well done; the history, so-so.
  • Scrooge (1970 with Albert Finney) Terrific crowd scenes and good costumes
  • The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) A remarkably good adaptation of the book with very good costumes!

Recommended with reservations:

  • Black Adder's A Christmas Carol (BBC) - You can't trust Black Adder not to play a bit with history, but worth seeing just for the fun of it.
  • Oliver! - The musical. Costumes (especially women's) are not necessarily accurate, but this film is many people's first visual impression of Dickens. The first part of this movie has an excellent crowd scene. Watch it for just that.

Books

It is very difficult to recommend just one or two books as references for this period. As mentioned above, Victorian Costuming, Volume I: 1840 to 1865 by Janet Winter and Carolyn Savoy is an excellent starter book. Here is the list we use for the Costume Overview class at workshops:

  • Fashion: The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute
     Taschen - ISBN: 3-8228-1206-4
  • English Women's Clothing in the 19th Century
     Dover - ISBN: 0-486-26323-1
  • Men's Garments 1830-1900
     R.I. Davis - ISBN: 0-88734-648-0
  • Fashion & Costumes from Godey's Lady's Book
     Dover - ISBN: 0-486-24841-0
  • Godey's Costume Plates in Color
     Dover - ISBN: 0-486-23879-2
  • Four Hundred Years of Fashion
     Victoria and Albert Museum
  • In Style - 50 Years of the MMA Costume Institute
     Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • From Queen to Empress: Victorian Dress 1837-1877
     Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Cut of Men's Clothes: 1600-1900
     Norah Waugh - ISBN: 0-87830-025-2
  • Victorian Costuming, Volume I: 1840-1865
     Janet Winter & Carolyn Savoy
  • History of Children's Costume
     Elizabeth Ewing - ISBN: 0-684-15357-2
  • Victorian London Street Life in Historic Photographs
     John Thomson, Dover - ISBN: 0-486-28121-3

Links

  • The Age of Uncertainty: Victorian photographs from the 1860s A fantastic resource put up on the web by UK blogger Steerforth -- Victorians from a variety of social backgrounds from the north of England in Charles Dickens' day. The link above goes to the full Flickr album; click here for the original blog post, including the story of how the photo album was narrowly saved from a trash bin!
  • Fashion-era.com: A good website for Victorian costuming and general information on the Victorian period.
  • Portraying the Victorian Woman - archived page from the Homespun Living History Guild - although this is written about American fashions and customs, it is close enough to be a wonderful resource.
  • Reproductionfabrics.com - Cotton reproduction fabrics organized by type and time period.
  • Renaissancefabrics.net - Specializing in wool, silk, linen, and cotton fabrics for historical costumers. Note: Some are appropriate for the Renaissance era and not for the Dickens Fair, so make sure you know your era!

Female Presenting Costumes

The fashionable Victorian lady wore a multiplicity of garments that reflected their station in life. Their clothing was frequently a little restrictive and confining. Servants or other working individuals wore much simpler clothing in fewer layers.

The basic shape was tightly corseted on top and a rounded "bell" shape from the waist down. All female presenting clothing included petticoats, even for the poor. The "crinoline" or hoop skirt was all the rage with the mid to upper classes.

Sleeves were long with a variety of widths from tightly fitted jackets to the wide 3/4 "pagoda" sleeves with a second set of white cotton sleeves underneath. Necklines for the daytime were high, and balls didn't start until late in the evening. Since the Fair is open only until 6:00pm, ball gowns should not be worn during the day.

No respectable London inhabitant would go out without a hat! Look for hats that can be shaped into bonnets to be tied underneath the chin, or make a simple "mob cap" if you're one of the working class. Female presenting individuals did not wear top hats, of any size.

Aprons, shawls, brooches, market baskets, reticules, and lace collars can complete your costume. This is a period where lots of “bibs and bobs” add character and “texture” to what you are wearing.

Special Notes on Working Class

Working-class costumes are less expensive and generally more comfortable to wear. Cottons and similar fabrics can be laundered rather than dry-cleaned. Working-class costume consists of drawers, chemise or undershirt, socks, shoes, corset, possible corset cover, petticoats, outerwear, hair covering, and gloves. For the working class, you have a choice between a dress or a white blouse with a skirt. The standard skirt is made from 3 lengths of fabric gathered, pleated or gauged onto a waistband. Only ladies with small waists will need to gore the panels. Aprons and mob caps are also appropriate for many vocations. Working class characters have plenty of choices that can be added to their accessories.

Special Notes on Middle Class

Middle-class costumes are of course more expensive to produce and maintain. It is also more work to wear. it requires all of the above items and also a hoop skirt or large crinoline. Dress, corset, crinoline or hoop, and accessories can easily run in excess of $500 to have made, and you can spend this on materials alone even if you are making the costume yourself. Skirts are made in the same way as working-class skirts. Bodices should be backed onto a lightweight duck (canvas) and lightly boned to stay smooth over a corset.

Starting a New Costume

Once you have selected your character and decided on some basic background information, the next step is to clothe your character. You should have your corset and petticoats complete before you start your dress; corsets and petticoats can dramatically change the shape of your body and the distance to the floor. Also, prewash your materials unless they are dry clean only.

Undergarments

Proper undergarments are crucial in achieving the Victorian silhouette. The wasp waist was a gift of the tightly laced corset, and the skirts were supported by a vast number of petticoats, starched and flounced, or a lesser number of petticoats and a hoop. The undergarments worn by most female presenting individuals included:

  • Chemise - A sleeveless or short-sleeved scoop-necked lightweight cotton or linen blouse
  • Pantalets or drawers
  • Corset - Not usually worn by lower-class women, although some sort of shaping garment will help the look.
  • Petticoats - As many as six or seven; once the crinoline was developed, some of these layers could be left off. The hoop skirt gained a foothold in the mid-1850s and eventually replaced the large number of petticoats formerly worn.

Blouses

Blouses were always long-sleeved and high-necked. They were either collar-less or had a small Peter Pan style collar, made of self fabric or a detachable knitted or crocheted one. Cuffs were narrower than modern ones. Blouses were usually worn with a wide belt (known as a Swiss or Medici belt) and a jacket called a Zouave. A blouse worn without a jacket was considered very informal, on about the same level as a housedress.

Blouses were almost always made of plain white cotton, sometimes embroidered or trimmed with lace and buttoned up the front.

Skirts

Although a great variety of skirt styles were available, all were very full, at least 120" around the bottom hem. Waistbands were about 2" wide. Skirts should be hemmed so that they do not drag and, to avoid overcrowding, we ask that your hoops be 110" or smaller.

Bodices

Generally speaking, a day dress bodice had a high neck and long sleeves. It buttoned or hooked up the front (occasionally up the back) and was usually sewn to the skirt, though it was almost always constructed separately. The skirt and bodice fabric matched.

Jackets

Jackets and jacket-type bodices were commonly worn in the 1850s and almost completely replaced the back lacing or hooking bodice for day wear. They usually had bell-shaped or pagoda sleeves; fastened with ties, frogs, or hooks; and were cut very wide over the hips or had a separate flared skirting sewn to it at the waistline.

Another popular jacket style was the zouave, or bolero, that came down only to the waist or a little above. The sleeves were long and cylindrical and sometimes slit up the back of the arm to the elbow. This collar-less jacket was cut away in a curve in the front and had no front fastening, except maybe a hook and eye or button and loop at the neck.

Outerwear

Choices for outerwear include the shawl, cape or cloak, coat, or pelerine (a shoulder cape with long lappets hanging down the front).

Hair

Victorian ladies wore their hair up. At the minimum, it can be pulled into a ponytail and pinned into a bun. Traditional hairstyles were generally parted down the center, sometimes with organized curls. Ladies did not wear their hair loose and flowing.

Hats & Headwear

Adult female presenting individuals were socially required to cover their hair. Day caps protected the hair from dirt acquired through everyday activities - smoke from fireplaces, grease from cooking, dust from travel, etc. Caps also covered hair which was washed infrequently - it was generally thought unhealthy to wash hair too often. It was easier to put on a clean cap.

The more mature the Victorian Lady, the more of the hair was covered. A working-class individual would also tend to cover more of their hair. We suggest a day cap for indoor wearing and under your bonnet or hat. There were many varieties of bonnet (the recommended headwear of choice for The Great Dickens Dickens Fair!) or hat styles (all elaborately trimmed) or, for the lower classes, a simple mob cap.

Accessories

  • In Victorian times, cosmetics were used with discretion and consisted mostly of a little face powder. Because we are a theatrical event with lighting that enhances our “twilight ambience,” every participant should consider wearing subtle makeup so as to not appear “washed out” in the streets and shops.
  • Shoes were typically laced-up boots for outdoor wear. Stockings went over the knee and were knitted out of cotton, wool, or silk and were often embroidered.
  • Gloves were either colored kid leather or lace. Generally, short gloves were worn with day dresses.
  • Reticules or purses were made of fabric to match or coordinate with the dress, or were knitted, crocheted, tatted, or netted of fine silk. These purses could also be embroidered or beaded.
  • Jewelry for day wear was generally less elaborate than for evening wear and included small earrings, rings, brooches, and pins. Cameos were very popular, as were pearls.
  • Other accessories include muffs, fans, parasols, aprons, and market baskets.
Pictures/text from Victorian Costuming, Volume I: 1840 to 1865, © Other Times Productions.
Additional text from Fezziwig's excellent web pages, for which we are quite grateful!

Male Presenting Costumes

The Victorian gentleman of fashion dressed more simply than their female presenting counterpart, but their garments, though less confining and restrictive, still managed to fully express their exalted station in life. Middle-class individuals generally wore the same style of garments as those in the upper-class, though they were not as well-cut or made out of such fine materials. The middle class also tended to dress more soberly and respectably than their upper class counterparts. The lower class dressed in a manner more utilitarian than fashionable.

To get dressed, you will need these essentials:

  • Shirt
  • Cravat
  • Waistcoat (vest - long enough to cover the waistband of the pants by 1-2")
  • Trousers (high-waisted, no cuffs, no pleats, no belt loops) worn with suspenders, not a belt
  • Gloves
  • A hat (top hat or bowler)
  • A good pair of boots/shoes that are period and comfortable enough to stand on cement all day
  • Dark socks
  • A coat
  • Outerwear

Additionally, top hats, snap brims, walking sticks, and pocket watches with chains will help complete your ensemble.

Trousers can be well-fitted (straight legged), thick corduroy or wool, plain in color or in checks and plaids. Waistcoats (vests) should overlap your pants at the waist and be squared off at the bottom. There are three basic coat styles of the time: the morning coat, frock coat, and sack coat.

Shirts were white, colored, or striped. Collars were smaller than those of today and were sometimes turned up. Cravats (neck ties) were colorful, and could be tied many different ways. Aprons and shawls (yes, men wore them too!) go far to cover up costume sins and are perfect for tradesmen, clerks, and vendors.

Shirts

A basic shirt is similar in almost all respects to the modern white dress shirt. The collar was part of the shirt and was worn turned up, with the cravat tied over it and the collar points sometimes turned down at the corners over the cravat.

Trousers

Trouser styles vary depending on the decade, though throughout our time period the waistlines were high, typically above the navel. In the 1840s they were narrow and tapered inward down to the instep with a strap going under the foot.

In the 1850s the strap disappeared and trousers became a little looser, though still snug to the leg. In the 1860s the "peg-top" trousers, wide at the top and tapering to the ankles, became fashionable. Formal evening trousers were always black, though for formal day wear they were usually a color that contrasted with the coat with white, fawn, and pale gray being the favored colors. For more casual wear (and for the more flamboyant), striped, check, and plaid fabrics were used.

A male presenting Victorian did not wear flared, bell-bottomed, or cuffed trousers, or with visible pockets in the back.

Waistcoats

Waistcoats (today called vests) were often the most colorful or lavishly trimmed part of a Victorian Gentleman's attire. In the 1840s it was most often single-breasted; the double-breasted style became more popular in the 1850s and 60s.

The waistcoat was cut straight across the bottom and came a little below the natural waistline. It had at least two pockets, sometimes three or four. The collar and lapel were sometimes cut as one, sometimes separate with the usual notch between.

Waistcoats were made of wool (both tweed and plaid), satin, brocade (embroidered or plain), or velvet (often the cut or figured type).

Coats

Styles included the frock coat, sack coat, morning coat, and tail coat.

The tail coat was most popular exclusively for evening wear, and the sack coat was considered suitable only for informal wear.

Capes & Outer Coats

All male presenting individuals wore overcoats and capes at night and in inclement weather. Short capes were worn for traveling or country wear. Modern overcoats are very similar to the Victorian model.

Hair & Facial Hair

Male presenting individuals wore their hair shorter in the mid-century than they had previously. The clean-shaven look of the Regency was out, and moustaches, mutton-chop sideburns, Piccadilly Weepers, full beards, and Van Dykes were the order of the day. Consider wearing your hair in a different style or manner. You will be surprised how much it can help you assume your chosen character!

Hats

Male presenting individuals usually wore some kind of head covering when out-of-doors. The top hat was the style favored by the Victorian Gentlemen; the derby hat or cloth cap was favored by the lower classes.

Accessories

  • Shoes were most often ankle boots. A Victorian Gentleman's stockings were knee length and almost universally black.
  • Gloves were worn by Victorian Gentlemen and were wrist-length, buttoned at the wrist, and made of kid or other soft leather.
  • A Victorian Gentleman carried a pocket watch on a chain in a watch pocket in the waistcoat.
  • Cravats were worn by all male presenting individuals with a turned-up collar.
  • Other accessories included umbrellas, canes, walking sticks, mufflers, aprons, sleeve protectors, and handkerchiefs.

Pictures/text from Victorian Costuming, Volume I: 1840 to 1865, © Other Times Productions.

Thrift Shop Costuming & Children

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 any 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 Great Dickens Christmas Fair takes place on Christmas Eve in London, and our participants' color palette is rich, jewel-toned colors. Have fun hunting!

Female Presenting

  • 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 female presenting 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!

Male Presenting

  • 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 without 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.

Children

Keep in mind that both boy-presenting children and girl-presenting children dressed very closely to the way their parents dressed.

Boy Presenting Children: Female presenting suit jackets often make excellent jackets for male presenting youth. 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. A female presenting blouse can also be used for shirts as well.

Girl Presenting Children: Full-skirted dresses (lots of pleats or gathering at the waist) are great for adapting to skirts or petticoats for female presenting youth. Remember that the length of a youth’s skirt is determined by their age - the older the child, 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.

Footwear & Headwear

Female Presenting Shoes & Boots

The 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.

Quite 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.

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

Recommended Patterns

(Listed by publisher. Out-of-print patterns may be available second-hand on sites such as Amazon, eBay or Etsy.)

Simplicity

simplicity.com

Female Presenting Patterns

3727  -  Blue plaid jacket and skirt

Male Presenting Patterns

2895  -  Men's frock coat, shirt and vest (vest will need to have bottom squared off)

Discontinued/Out of Print (patterns may still available thru the Simplicity website, or second-hand on Amazon, eBay or Etsy)

2887 - Green dress

9768 - Corset, chemise & drawers

4900 - Winter white jacket & skirt

5726 - Chemise, corset & petticoat

7215 - Chemise and corset

9761 - Grey striped jacket & 3-tiered skirt

9764 - Hoops

3791 - White with black piping

4737 - Girls' dress and drawers

5442 - Women's summer day dress

7212 - Pink plaid dress

3855 - Red plaid jacket & shirt

4400 - Red plaid day dress

4510 - Burgundy day dress with flounced hem

4551 - Yellow day dress

5023 - Men's Shirt and Trouser

5033 - Mid 19th Century Underwear

5035 - 19th Century Shirt and Trousers

5037 - Mid-19th Century Vest, Braces (Suspenders), and Cap

McCall's

Male Presenting Patterns

4745  -  (men's uniform pattern... not bad....)

Discontinued/Out of Print (patterns should still available thru the McCall's website, or second-hand on Amazon, eBay or Etsy)

5129  -  Bonnet

4890  -  Men's vest - straight bottomed only

5132  -  Jackets & 2-tiered skirt

4698  -  Cape

3609  -  Camisole, pantaloons, corset, & hoops

5131  -  Girls dress & drawers

Butterick

Female Presenting Patterns

5265  -  Short cape, bonnet, and muff - the skirt is not full enough for our time range.

Discontinued/Out of Print (patterns should still available thru the Butterick website, or second-hand on Amazon, eBay or Etsy)

5266  -  Red coat with black skirt

4210  -  Hats - view A & B

3648  -  Double-breasted jacket and pants

4540  -  Striped dress with front

3993  -  Man's caped coat ala Sherlock Holmes

4825  -  Working man's shirt

3721  -  Vest and cutaway jacket

Timeless Stitches

tstitches.com

TSB-100  -  Basic Fitted Bodice

TSB-101  -  Basic Gathered Bodice

TSB-103  -  Tea Bodice

TSB-108  -  Wrap Bodice

SB-109    -  Basque Bodice

TSB-105  -  Zouave Jacket

TSB-120  -  Tucked Body

TSB-132  -  Sleeves

TSS-201  -  Standard Double Opening Skirt

TSS-207  -  Ruffled over skirt

TSO-402  -  Pelerine Cloak

TSO-404  -  Simple Mantle

TSA-525  -  Medici Belt

TSD-301  -  Two Tiered Tea Dress

TSA-532  -  19th Century Pinafores

TSD-310  -  Girl's Basic Dress

TSD-312  -  Girl's Yoked Dress

TSM-727  -  Men's Civilian Trousers

Truly Victorian

trulyvictorian.net (Available locally at Lacis in Berkeley)

TV141  -  Cage Crinoline

TV240  -  1860s Ball Gown Skirt

TV243  -  1843 Tablier Skirt

TV244  -  1859 Double skirt

TV246  -  1851 Petal Ballgown skirt

TV440  -  1859 Pagoda Bodice

TV441  -  1861 Garibaldi Blouse

TV443  -  1860-61 dress bodices

TV456  -  1856 Gathered dress

Laughing Moon

lafnmoon.com

Female Presenting Patterns

#100  -  Ladies' Victorian Underwear - 2 Corsets, chemise, and drawers - Liz's favorite corset pattern

#111  -  Ladies Early 1860s Day Dress

#114  -  Ladies' Round Dresses - 1840s-1852

Male Presenting Patterns

#106  -  California Pants

#107  -  Men's Victorian & Edwardian Shirt (1845-1920)

#109  -  Men's Frock Coats & Two Vests (1850 - 1915) REVISED: Now Includes Single-Breasted version

Past Patterns

pastpatterns.com
Caveat: READ the directions carefully on these patterns. They often give directions to hand-sew the entire garment and use very small seam allowances. Many thanks to Alexandria for the reviews of these patterns. 

Female Presenting Patterns

700  -  1850-1862 Fashionable Skirt

701  -  1850-1867 Gathered and Fitted Bodices Nice - the bodice lines are wonderful for us. Challenge beginner - intermediate skills.

702  -  1850s-1863 Dart Fitted Bodices. Good lines, nice sleeves that are not over the top. Fit in the shoulder and armscye is key to this looking good. Works well with skirt 700 or 800.

703  -  1863 Dayton's Skirt Supporting Corset. A good corset pattern. Advanced intermediate challenge.

705  -  Early-to Mid-Nineteenth Century Stays. Can be side boned or corded. Yes, that is a maternity corset. I wore this pregnant at Dickens and was very happy with the comfort it provided my belly.

706  -  1850s-1860s Drawers. Good basics, a beginner can make them. Also a great place to perfect your tucking skills.

707  -  Two Chemises 1850-1870. Advanced beginner challenge.

708  -  1840s - 1880s Corset: Good pattern - it takes a bit of fiddling to get the gores to look pretty. Nice fit especially if you have a lot of hipspring. Larger bust sizes require extra boning.

709  -  1850s-Late 1860s Garibaldi Shirt: My favorite Garibaldi pattern. Advanced beginner - intermediate skills. The sleeves are very full.

800  -  1840- 1850 Flounced or Single Skirt

801  -  1840- 1850 Fan Front Bodice. Awesome look - good for those with a short waist hoping to look a bit more elongated. Intermediate challenge - the gathers are easy, make sure that the armscye has a good fit. As it closes in the back, either a friend to help with fittings or a good dress form is essential.

803  -  Mid Nineteenth Century Everyday Round Dress. Comfortable! Making a muslin is essential to getting a flattering fit at the waist and bust. Great for lower class striving character.

808  -  Sacque and Petticoat. Yes, this is a great line for the Expecting. Easy intermediate.

812  -  A Sheer Muslin Dress Circa 1858-1864. Amazing amount of historical background included. Nice lines. Fitting required!

Male Presenting Patterns

006  -  1800-1890s Men's Drawers: Easy and very period for those who want to be comfortable even in their wool trousers

007  -  Two Mid-Nineteenth Century Shirts: Sized up to 50"chest, intermediate skills.

009  -  Double-Breasted Summer Paletot:great look  - not just for summer. Appropriate with lighter weight wools and most linens. Extra extra yardage to match plaids.

016  -  Men's Winter Trousers with or without Foot Straps: Circa 1843-1856. Intermediate skills. Test your plaid matching skills.

018  -  A Single-Breasted Shawl Collar Summer Waistcoat for Plain or Formal Dress: Fashionable Circa 1845 to 1858.  Not just for summer - pick a lighter weight festive cloth for our Christmas festivities. A skilled beginner could complete this.

710/713  -  Classic Plain-Cut Summer Trousers of the Mid-19th Century 1851- The first is for most regular sizes, the second big and tall. Great look for Dickens,intermediate sewing skills.

Folkwear

PF0222  -  Vintage Vests

Places to Buy Patterns, Fabric, & Trim

Brick & Mortar Shops

Jo-Ann Stores

Hancock's

Fabrics-R-Us  -  San Jose

Stone Mountain & Daughter  -  Berkeley

Lacis  -  Berkeley

Online

renaissancefabrics.net  

cheeptrims.com   

such-a-deal.com   

bblackandsons.com   

fabric.com 

reproductionfabrics.com

Online Suppliers

Our Recommendations

Mr. Alan Jeffries - Fine Gentlemen's Apparel (Jeffrey Schoenberg) Everything for the Victorian Gentleman of distinction, from cloaks to cufflinks, shirts to shoes, collars to cravats. A proper bespoke tailor of fine clothing, offering ready-to-wear and custom-made fashions. Tailoring and alterations available by appointment.

Autumn Adamme's Dark Garden bespoke corsetry

Peruse examples of Dark Garden's quality designs in "The Windows of Dark Garden" at the Dickens Fair, where strangely lifelike mannequins adorned by custom corsetry beguile the eye. Dark Garden corsets are not currently sold at the Fair; you may visit their sumptuous shop in San Francisco's Hayes Valley to order your own bespoke corsetry for next season!

Gentleman's Emporium 

Male and female presenting attire.

Pink Depford Design Studios

Liz Martin's Pink Depford Designs provides costuming and alteration services to the San Francisco Bay Area from our studio in Martinez, CA. We specialize in historically accurate, actor friendly costume pieces of exceptional quality.

Shoes

Corsets

Fabrics

Fabrix
432 Clement Street (between 5th & 6th Aves.), San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 221-4111
Hours: Mon-Sat 10:00am-6:30pm, Sun 10:00am-6:00pm

Britex 
146 Geary St., San Francisco CA 94108
(415) 392-2910
Hours: Mon-Sat, 10am – 6pm

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”

~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

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