Who Is It For
If you want to dress up in Victorian costume for a particular event, the first step is to ask yourself what role (in that society) you want to represent. Are you going as 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 labourer or housemaid? Before you can piece together your costume, it is important to identify your place in this bygone society, and the way you want to represent it.
It’s also important to consider what type of event you are attending. If you are going to an historical event or a formal commemoration, you will need to choose a costume that is accurate in its details as far as possible and the most effective way to do so is through a quality costume. If, on the other hand, you are attending a fancy dress party or other fun event with a Victorian theme, then a little (or a lot) of latitude will be allowed and you could even wear steam punk clothing. If the fancy dress is required for a school event, such as world book day or an historical visit or theme, then a practical outfit, suitable for school and rough and tumble may be best.
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 gentlemen of the era wore muted and neutral colours, while ladies took to a more cheerful range unless they were in mourning (which was often the case) when they wore black or half mourning.
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 colour, 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, as well as the weather you are likely to encounter.
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.
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. You may be able to find a suitable costume in a charity shop. The Action Cancer shop in Carrickfergus carries a range of Victorian era clothes collected from many others of their stores.
If not, you can buy a costume. The greatest advantage of choosing a pre-made costume is the price. Costumes that are mass produced are absolutely more cost effective than a customised 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!