Queen Victoria ruled a powerful and wealthy Britain for over 60 years, from the 1830s until her death in 1901. This long period of history saw many changes in fashion styles.
Victorian Women’s Fashions
At the start of Queen Victoria’s reign the ideal womanly shape was that of a long slim torso and wide hips. This required tightly laced corsets with a chemise underneath. On top of these came a tight-fitting bodice with a low waistline and a long skirt made full by layers of horsehair petticoats. Skirts were looped, draped, or tied up in various ways, and worn over matching or contrasting underskirts. Towards the end of the period there was a gradual return to a narrow silhouette and the return of the bustle.
Hats were essential. They were large and often elaborate, usually lined with wide brims to protect their owners’ faces from the sun. Victorian women did not like the tanned look, they preferred to be pale. Hat trimmings were elaborate and changed every season. The ladies often did their own trimming, perhaps adding or subtracting flowers and ribbons and even ornaments and frills. Bonnet shapes, however, did not change much over the period.
Creating A Victorian Woman’s Outfit
So, to recreate an upper class Victorian woman’s costume, you will need either a long dress or skirt with a full shape and a blouse. You will also need accessories like a bonnet or hat, a shawl, lace up boots, long gloves and heavy jewellery. If you want to go in an evening gown, these were elaborate with low neck lines. Long gloves, choker necklaces and jewelled collars were popular. Working class women wore simple dresses in dark materials, with narrow sleeves and no petticoats. They might wear an apron (with a bib) over the dress, and a shawl tied over their shoulders.
Victorian Men’s Fashions
Upper class Victorian men wore high waisted trousers, dress shirts, waistcoats, cravats, a top hat and boots or you could go for the morning coat, gloves, spats and pocket watch look, with a top hat or bowler. Working men wore collarless shirts (grandad shirt) or smocks, with the sleeves rolled up. Men’s footwear was very formal mainly short ankle boots for wearing around town. Hats were always worn when outside. This includes working-class men who might wear battered top hats, flat caps or lower-crowned, broad-brimmed hats.
Creating A Victorian Man’s Outfit
Give a plain white shirt a period look by turning up the collar. You could add a ribbon, or scarf or even a fancy cravat and knot this in front. A flat cap and waistcoat, with an open shirt and high waisted trousers would create a working man’s outfit very simply. For an upper class man’s outfit, you could perhaps source a morning coat and top hat from a charity or vintage shop.
Victorian Children’s Outfits
The clothes of baby boys and girls were quite similar for most of the Victorian period. Older children’s clothes were very similar to those of adults. Babies were dressed in layers of petticoats (yes, boys as well as girls) to keep them warm and make it easy to wash them. A baby might wear a simple circular cape while outside, to keep them warm. They would also have warm elaborate bonnets.
Victorian Fancy Dress
Getting these outfits together could be as easy as raiding your granny’s wardrobe or perhaps visiting a charity shop or antique store. For women, a simple Victorian outfit can be made from a long skirt in a thick material and a high collared shirt (preferably with puffy sleeves). Women should also wear hats. Of course, you could have costumes custom-made for the event, or even make them yourself, if you want authenticity.
Most events where you can wear Victorian fancy dress may take place in the colder months. It can get quite cold outside from October onwards, depending on where you live. The best way to keep warm without hindering activity or covering your costume is by adding extra layers underneath. For girls and women, leggings and vests or t-shirts will help keep them warmer. Boys and men could wear sweatpants under their costume, thicker socks, warm shoes or boots. Layering costumes on top of spandex body suits are another great way to stay warm during autumn and winter.