Five Snazzy Details to Add Pizzazz to Your Victorian Costume

Full, Exhaustive Title:
Five Snazzy Details to Add Pizzazz to Your Victorian Costume

found in Extant 19th Century Garments from Augusta Auctions

I enjoy poking around on internet auction sites for extant garments “in the rough.” Museums can’t hold every original piece of clothing. There are literal tons of antique clothing sitting in private homes and shops that no one has ever seen before! We are blessed in this age of internet commerce to see some of these treasures for a few brief days on websites like eBay, Etsy, or Ruby Lane before they disappear again into private collections. Many of these amazing private holdings posess design details and quirks that are often glossed over by sweeping generalizations about past fashions. Looking through these often less-than-perfect dresses in their wrinkled, as-found condition is a wellspring of fresh sewing inspiration!
Since I can’t buy every gorgeous gown that scrolls across my screen, I have taken to collecting them digitally on Pinterest, combing through online sales pages for pieces with unusual features or appealing designs. One of the many sites I try to check regularly is the Augusta Auctions page. They are an antique/vintage textile and clothing auction house that so kindly keeps pictures of previous auction lots long after the auction has ended (so many times auction sites remove photos soon after the sale is complete). They have garments of many types from the 1700s to modern, but my research recently has focused on the Victorian era (1837-1901). Many of their items are de-accessioned from public museums which means that the Augusta Auction website is often their last accessible record before disappearing from the public view. Rifling through the auction lots has yielded some unusual and strange pieces, but it also has brought to light a few simple, unique design elements that a modern costumer could easily adopt!

1. Mix-n-Match and Matchy-Matchy Accessories
(I guess that’s really two tips in one, so this list has 6!)

Morning Glory Cotton Sateen Day Dress, 1880s
“2-piece, maroon [looks brown in the photos, but it my be more reddish in person] cotton sateen w/ blue floral print, lace trim, cut steel buttons, matching fan.” – Augusta Auctions

I’m not generally a matching maven when it comes to my day-to-day modern clothes, but making my own historical outfits means I pay a lot more attention to color, pattern, and stylish shortcuts. This dress has a classic combination of dense print paired with a plain matching color. The printed bodice and bustled overskirt are separate from the simple tiered brown cotton underskirt, so they can be mixed and matched with other pieces. The solid colored skirt would be very easy to match other bodices with and it’s likely the dress’s original owner had one or two other pieces she could mix together to create a multitude of outfits with, especially since (unlike many bustle underskirts that have plain backs) this underskirt is decorated all the way around making it extra versatile:

A very simple bustle back suitable for an active woman on the job or on the go!

But sometimes you just wanna MATCH. Some women match their shoes to their purse. Others can’t leave the house unless everything from their underwear to their earrings are all the same shade. This day dress in particular comes with a unique matching accessory, especially for such an otherwise ordinary outfit: A custom matching fan!

It matches so well it’s nearly camouflaged!

If you are interested in making a matchy-matchy fan of your own, here’s a semi-tutorial posted on La Bricoleuse:

Making a Silk Folding Fan

As an added bonus, the fabric on the fan was protected from the sun when it was folded up, so it did not fade! It gives us a clue about how much brighter this dress used to be: just look at that pop of ultramarine and hint of crimson! It was a brilliant use of excess fabric. Other ways to use extra fabric scraps to create matchy-matchy accessories include small drawstring purses and coverings for hats and bonnets.

Lined Drawstring Bag Tutorial
By In Color Order

Cardboard and Duct Tape Victorian Bonnet Tutorial
by Darling and Dash

2. Ribbon Flowers
(may be combined with the matchy-matchy tip above for decorating pretty much everything)

Detail of a Silk Visiting Dress, 1860s
“Three-piece buff changeable ribbed taffeta, trimmed with bright coral satin bands, scallops, bows, rosettes and Van Dyke points: front buttoning boned bodice with high neckline; belt with attached back peplum; trained unlined skirt, gold stamped label “Louis Hille Tailleur Pour Dames 398 Rue St Honore Paris”[…] Featured in April 1998 ANTIQUES Magazine” – Augusta Auctions

It’s fairly common to see garments decorated with ribbon bows and cockades, but when I found this dress, the big pink satin flower caught my eye right away. It is extremely similar to modern ribbon flowers that can be found on everything from toddler headbands to coffee cup koozies!

There are hundreds of ribbon and fabric flower tutorials, but for this particular design, there are three methods that will produce similar results:

Ruched Ribbon Flower
Tutorial by Nikki in Stitches

Scrap Fabric Flower
Tutorial by Melissa of Until Wednesday Calls

Round Petal Kanzashi Flower
Tutorial by A Pumpkin & A Princess

In addition to how modern the flower looks, the placement also gives it unique charm. There’s one at a fairly standard location at the small of the back, but another is placed just off the hip and another midway down the skirt. So cute!

The seamstress really liked trimming in general. Just check out the amazing design created with matching pink ribbon/fabric applied in a multitude of ways!

Rosettes, stripes, binding, applique, scalloped edging, bows… the works!

3. Embroidered Accents

Embroidered Visiting Dress, 1870s
“2 main fabrics: black silk faille & black silk satin, satin w/ narrow velvet stripe embroidered w/ wine, brown & blue flowers, polonaise bodice, cut steel buttons & lace, blue satin modesty insert, trained bustle skirt, B 36″, W 30″, Skirt L 40″-59″, provenance, Homans family Washington, D.C.” – Augusta Auction

Victorian costumes often feature lovely embroidery work. They didn’t have access to fancy in-home digital embroidery machines like we do now, but there are so many beautiful modern fabrics and trims that come pre-embroidered today so even if you can’t embroider, you can have the look! Even now, embroidered fabric can be pretty expensive. A whole gown of the stuff might be out of the question for most. A yard or two, though, is enough to add a rich touch to a dress like in this sophisticated frock:

The seamstress who crafted this dress made judicious use of the fine striped satin with embroidered flora, placing it front and center on the bodice and cuffs, but leaving the back plain while edging and gores in the skirt tie the look together.

There was quite a heated discussion on a forum about the legitimacy of using pre-embroidered fabrics in historical costumes. While handwork is always period, pre-embroidered fabric is a fantastic way to mimic the look. The embroidery on this dress in particular features a small, repeating pattern that looks very much like many pre-embroidered fabric available today.

Bonus points for the pieced front and late 18th century revival styling!

4. Bold Buttons

Silk Brocade Jacket, 1880s
“Black silk ground w/ Persian inspired brocade, small rondels in metallic gold, sky blue, maroon & yellow, fitted torso, constructed in style of gent’s 18th C jacket, black velvet trim & back pockets, cream & gold embroidered lace trim, 24 magnificent gold metal buttons inset w/ cut steel faceted beads in silver, cobalt & wine, bright yellow silk satin lining, B 32″, W 24″, L 27-30″, excellent. [De-accessioned from the] Brooklyn Museum.” -Augusta Auctions

The last dress had some pretty nifty cut steel buttons, but this jacket certainly ups the ante! Victorians loved buttons of all types and there are as many colors and styles as you can imagine. The buttons on this jacket are something truly avant-garde and different, though. They look thoroughly modern. They would be right at home on a 1930s suit or a 1960s mod mini dress, but here they sit on an otherwise unassuming brocade jacket!

Like many buttons and pieces of jewelry from the 19th century, these buttons are made of faceted steel studs riveted together. These are unusual for their added color and abstract dot pattern.

As they were 150 years ago, buttons can be an expensive investment, but they can really add a pop of character to an otherwise plain dress! Many Victorian buttons are more “traditional” than these, but Victorians loved quirky buttons of all types– from colorful lions and garden insects to distant planets and birds on a telegraph wire!
Etsy is a great place to look for unique buttons, both antique and modern.

With all the wild figurative metal buttons out there, you could probably use these awesome steampunk mechanism buttons or these ancient glyph buttons and no Victorian would bat an eye (they might even compliment you on them, considering how fond they were of industrial progress and ancient cultures). After all, they were the ones putting spiders, ears or corn, and fighting children on buttons first!

Fashionable fisticuffs, anyone?

5. Stunning Studs

Taupe Silk Tea Dress
“2-piece silk crepe, boned bodice w/ overlay of chemical lace studded w/ cut steel beads, grey velvet trim, label “Jermyn W. 45th St.”, B 36″, W 28″, L 41″” -Augusta Auctions
(This dress would totally fit me! If only I had snatched it up. It sold for only $120!)

Augusta Auctions dates this to the 1910s, but the shape, construction, and styling all scream 1889-1892, so I’m including it here.

Ah, my angsty teenage self sure did love silver studs! I treasured my gnarly Hot Topic studded faux-leather bracelet because it made me feel like an invincible warrior. Surprisingly, it’s not just goths and neo-Victorians who enjoyed being studded with glittery steel. The dresses above had silvery cut steel buttons. This particular dress cut out the middle man and has cut steel applied directly to the lace!

Cut steel jewelry and accessories have been around for centuries as a bright, sparkly alternative to diamonds. In the late Victorian period, cut steel was mass manufactured and widely popular. Steel-encrusted miser purses, opera capes, and shoes were de rigueur. While individual studs were less common, they were popular for wearing indoors because they were excellent at glittering in low light.
Studs weren’t just made of rounded cut steel. Some were spiky enough to make even the hardest-core punk rocker happy! Here are two bonnets with pyramid studs that defy the supposedly frail and fragile femininity associated with the Victorian era:

H. O. Hanlon Bonnet, circa 1887
Metal (the Met doesn’t list if they are steel or something else) studs in action. My favorite 1880s bonnet!

House of Virot Bonnet, circa 1885
Black glass pyramid beads add some fierce glitter to this otherwise plush bonnet.

Victorians loved the interplay between hard and soft surfaces and playing with textures. Some combinations are truly unusual and funky, but if done in moderation and with a careful eye for the design, even supposedly “modern” fashion elements can work in the Victorian era!

A Simple Girl’s Victorian Dress from New Look Pattern A6319

I don’t have any kids myself, but after posting about the 1860s child’s dress I found a few months back, I’ve gotten a few questions about making Victorian clothing for children. Usually, my lack of experience with sewing for children leads me to recommend asking someone else, especially if someone is asking for strict historical accuracy. However, I am not one to shy from any project. The 1880s are a popular costuming era thanks in part to lots of recent movies set in the era and the rise of Neo-Victorian fashion. I have a whole bunch of lovely fabric pieces that are too little to complete a full project for myself, but a child sized dress? Certainly!

Children’s dresses in the 1880s were drop-waisted with full or pleated skirts with fairly straight bodices.

Cotton Dress for a Girl Aged 5-7, circa 1886-88

Silk Lace Dress, circa 1885

Wool Dress, circa 1880-90

This basic shape remained popular into the 20th century, especially during the 1920s, 1960s, and the 1980s. I was originally going to use one of the plentiful, adorable 1960s or 80s patterns like these to craft a dress:

 

1960s

1980s
This is a bit more 1890s in shape than 1880s. The 1890s saw the bloused front come into fashion full swing.

I just couldn’t settle on a pattern, though, so I just kept collecting them in my favorites on Etsy. Then, I was browsing in the pinnacle of American capitalism (aka Walmart) when I found this pattern:

A6319

New Look A6319: Child’s Bias Dress and Jacket

Cute plaid? Adorable silhouette? Just the right amount of yardage needed? WE HAVE A WINNER!

The skirt construction is two giant circles, so probably not as historically accurate as pleats or gathers, but the amount of flare it creates is impressive.

The silhouette of the New Look pattern, though not perfect, reminded me of this antique dress I’d pinned earlier:

Capture

Child’s Dress, circa 1880-90

I love plaid and it’s pretty darn vintage looking in most cases, plus I had 3 yards of woven green cotton plaid that, though fairly thick, I thought would make a great dress. I also had some other scraps of lace, some ribbon, and a few button options that could work:

IMG_2270

I ended up choosing the cotton net lace and the big, antique square buttons (a gift from my grandmother). Taking a cue from my 1860s child’s dress, I decided to trim the dress with black velvet ribbon, too.

I followed teh pattern directions exactly except for the zipper in back and the sleeves. I left the zipper out since I planned to close it with hooks and eyes instead (though buttons would be a better option). I used the long sleeve pattern from teh jacket portion of the pattern because the heavy plaid was more of a winter weight than a summer weight and long sleeves are more period-appropriate anyway. The shorter sleeve or sleeveless options are a good choice for summer dresses, and perfectly fine for the period:

Queen Regent Maria Cristina of Spain and her daughters, Infantas Maria Teresa and Maria de las Mercedes, late 1880s

I also chose not to cut the bodice on the bias. Yes, diagonal plaid is amazing. I own a few shirts and dresses cut on the bias. The look is lovely, but the way it twists as I move (especially if the stretch heavy favors one direction) drives me nuts. No child will probably ever were this dress, yet I refuse to make an annoyingly twisty bodice!

IMG_2276

The dress went together rather quickly. The hardest part with getting a neat hem on those darn endless circle skirts! Each skirt had a 108″+ hem and there were TWO of them….with curved hems….

Yep, it took about 3 hours to press and sew. Not gonna lie.

Still, the flouncy effect is gorgeous and has great buoyancy that no other type of skirt can give without hoops and petticoats.

The plain dress is pretty on its own, but I wanted to deck it out.Sorry I didn’t get many process shots:

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Attaching the lace to the front

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Planning the velvet trim. I had a hard time choosing where to put the thinner velvet since I only had one spool. I liked the look of the thin velvet along the hem. I would want to make all the hems match, however, and I just don’t have the patience, money, or the masochism to handsew 220 inches of velvet ribbon. Nope, nope, nope! Ultimately, I opted to follow the original dress and just put double lines around the cuffs. I hoped I had enough lace for the cuff, too, but I barely had enough for the front.

Here’s the “finished” dress:

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It’s actually not complete. It doesn’t have a back closure and it still needs a bit more refining (like more black velvet ribbon), but I admit that I probably won’t ever finish trimming it. Yet, I feel accomplished despite not crossing the finish line! It’s a cute, simple pattern with a lot of possibilities for both costumes and modern wear. Multi-tasking patterns are always a welcome bonus for anyone. I still wouldn’t consider myself an expert on sewing for kids. What I hope folks will take from this experiment is the basic principle of silhouettes. You don’t need a specific pattern to approximate or create an interpretation of a historical style. Practice identifying common features and shapes and suddenly you’ll find inspiration in places you would have never thought to look!

Costume Breakdown:

3 yards cotton plaid – $4.50, Walmart
Lace remnant – Free, but there’s about $2.50 worth of lace there
Thin black velvet ribbon – $2.49, Walmart
Thick velvet ribbon for waist – $3.99, Hobby Lobby
Four antique mother of pearl buttons – Free! Thanks, grandma!
Pattern – $2.97, Walmart

Total: $16.45

I don’t know what I’m going to do with this dress yet. I’ll probably just squirrel it away or throw it at some unsuspecting 6 year old at the park like a reject fairy godmother.

Bippity Bobbity BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

A note if you plan to use this pattern for costuming or modern wear:
I followed the pattern instructions for a size/age 5 dress according to the envelope back, which is meant to fit a child with a 23 inch chest. It turned out really huge. I know most modern patterns have tons of ease built in, but, dang! The dress ended up being 26 inches wide–that’s 3 inches of ease in the chest and over 5 inches in the waist! It’s nearly large enough for me to wear as a (cute) top!

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This may partially be due to me cutting it on the grain rather than on the bias. If it was on the bias, it would hang and stretch downwards, slimming it a bit. Kids need room to move, but I think you could probably size down in this pattern, depending on your child, the fabric you choose, and how she likes her clothes to fit.

 

Lovely Limbs: Modern Stockings with Historical Style

Completely Hosed on Hose

Some women are obsessed with shoes. I love them, too, but my love affair with shoes is more practical than fantastical. My love of stockings, however, has grown exponentially over the years. Not only are they fun, they completely alter the way shoes fit. A shoe that is too big or even too small becomes much more comfortable with the right stocking. Keeping you warm as the weather turns chilly is a huge bonus as well.

Kittens and tea also help greatly.

When I talk about stockings, I don’t mean our modern idea of stockings– the sheer, skin tone nylons or the cutesy sock-shapes we hang up at Christmastime. Though they are both rooted in historical stockings, they are like the two seperated halves of the stocking story. Stockings in the past were knit or sewn, and while silk can be made very sheer, our ancestors valued its ability to hide skin just as much as it reveals the shape of the leg. Stockings in the historical sense are more akin to what we consider modern dress socks, and they aren’t just for ladies. Even while men were busy showing off sexy gams in tight-fitting stockings it was unseemly to show leg skin, so stockings were a necessary part of everybody’s wardrobe. Historical stockings ranged from thin silk to heavy wool, midcalf to thigh high, and plain white to wildly patterned. They’re a great way to add extra personality to any historical outfit!

The most basic of historical stockings is plain white. They were worn by men and women alike and generally reached the knee or just above it. A good pair of modern knee-high trouser socks will work nicely for almost any era from 1600-1900. I wear a pair of finely knit knee-highs I found at Dollar Tree and I love them!

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Dressed for the 1960s…

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..and 100 years “earlier” with my 1850s slippers!

To fit larger feet and calves, like Christopher’s, I purchased some “thigh high” knit tube socks. Since his legs are so massive, the stockings only reach his knees, but they still work.

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I don’t remember his calf measurement, but his thighs are 27 inches around (same size as my waist in a corset!) and those are size 15 EEEE feet, if that’s any indication. In contrast, these stockings fit my scrawny legs at thigh level, as you can see in my garter tutorial. Our ancestors didn’t have the benefit of spandex, so they used garters to hold their stockings in place. If you use modern stockings, you don’t need to worry as much about “losing your legs,” but some tall stockings still work best with garters, plus they look so pretty!

Historical stockings also came in many solid, natural colors. My go-to historical stockings are O-Basics from Sock Dreams. They come in a variety of nice colors and are great for keeping warm in winter:

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BAM! My beloved O-Basics in Rust.

Colored stockings were fairly common, especially reds and blues. The color of your stockings can be an important clue to your historical persona. For example, the Blue Stockings Society was an 18th century organization that promoted women’s education and intellectual hobbies. While Bluestockings did not necessarily wear blue stockings, the name indicated the informality and progressiveness of the club. Proper, fashionable, rich folks at the time often wore black or other expensively-colored silk stockings. Worsted wool stockings, in this case blue stockings, were considered to be informal and unfashionable. The term “bluestocking” indicated that a woman (or man) was more concerned with personal intellectual pursuits than the whims of fashion, but it was also used pejoratively around the turn of the 19th century to mean an ugly, frumpy woman (much like the word “feminist” is twisted today, sadly. It’s amazing how little things have changed in 200 years).

  If you’re looking for stockings with character, there are plenty of stunning stocking options to consider! This isn’t a complete list of hosiery types by any means, just  some of my favorite styles of fancy historical stockings and a few modern options that closely match.

Open Work Stockings – 19th Century

For an extra pretty pair of stockings, consider the texture as well as color. Victorian stockings are often knitted with lacy openwork designs that stretched open, revealing tiny peeks at the flesh beneath. A tad scandalous? Maybe to the ultra-conservative, but during this era of long skirts and ladies’ boots, openwork stockings offered some cool relief during warmer months.

Kitted Cotton Stocking with Double Zigzag Pattern, circa 1830

These stockings in the MFA Boston collections are very similar to this pair, dated nearly 50 years later by the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Linen Stockings with Triple Zigzag Pattern, circa 1875-1900 (“last quarter the 19th century”)

While it’s possible that one or the other is mis-dated, the similarity is indicative of the popularity of this style throughout the era. This homemade pair of knitted socks from the middle of the century has a similar openwork style, but this time horizontally;

Cotton Stockings with Scallop Pattern, circa 1860-69
Mid-19th century stocking are often shorter than stockings found earlier and later in the century. These hit mid-calf rather than over the knee. Others hit right below the knee.

There are TONS of modern stockings that feature openwork knit patterns in every color of the rainbow! The most common colors during the mid-Victorian era were black and white. But don’t feel like you have to limit yourself. There were some pretty wild stockings out there! Colors like plum, navy, and mustard are the perfect accompaniment for a ballgown in the 1850s or a walking dress from the color-crazy 1890s . Dainty, repeating open work patterns that are more geometric and abstract rather than floral are perfect for just about any costume from 1825 to 1900!

Super Stripes! – 1850s to 1890s

The 1890s were the heyday of wild stockings!  Bold colors and bolder designs were in vogue, especially the iconic striped stockings we know and love.

Cotton Stockings, circa 1890-99

Silk Stockings, circa 1880-99
The 1970s…is that you?!

The fashion wasn’t just for can-can dancers and other “ladies of the night” (who are, in fact, depicted wearing plain black stockings more often than patterned ones). Fancy stockings went well with fancy opera boots, reflecting the indulgent, candid attitude of the era– the more fancy you could squeeze onto your person, the better!

Another era that might surprise you with its hosiery is the 1850s:

Cotton Stockings, circa 1850-70

While considered a somewhat dowdy era, the 1850s saw a whole plethora of underwear trends emerge. Indeed, you almost call it the Era of Underthings! Lots of revolutionary supporting garments emerged during the era, including the pin and loop busk which allowed women to easily put on and tighten their own corsets (and marked the beginning of modern corsetry) and the iconic hoop skirt. Alongside these fashion innovations were some entertaining undergarment trends, bright red petticoats and cheerfully colored socks among them! Children’s socks were commonly patterned, showing candy stripes from under adorable little dresses throughout the Victorian era:

sisters

Tintype of Two Children, circa 1880
Source: eBay

Modern horizontally striped stocking are easy to find anywhere, especially around Halloween. Many stores like Walmart carry them, though often they are toe socks. Athletic tube socks with a banded top are also a good option, plus they come in a wide variety of colors and heights, are easy to launder, and look ridiculously cute with a Victorian bathing or cycling outfit!

Back and White Over the Knee Striped Athletic Socks from Sock Broker

Stockings with Contrasting Clocks – 1600 to 1820

One of the most iconic historical style of stocking is the clocked stocking. Clocked stockings have decorative bands and flourishes ascending from the heel or decorating the ankle. Earlier clocked stockings have a contrasting wedge shape that begins at the ankle and goes up the outside of the leg, sometimes nearly to the top of the stocking. Clocked stockings of this sort were in style for over 200 years until about 1820:

Silk, Silver Gilt, and Cotton Stockings, circa 1610

Spanish Embroidered Silk Stockings, circa 1750-70

Italian Silk Clocked Stockings, circa 1780-1825

If you are looking for a classic, upper-class 18th century or Regency stocking, American Duchess offers fine modern reproductions of classic contrast clocked stockings:

A.D. Clocked Stockings in White and Black

Victorian Floral Stockings, circa 1830-1900

From the wedge-shaped clocked design came the flourish of the Victorian years. Solid-color stockings often featured pretty woven or embroidered decoration on the front of the foot and ankle. Contrary to popular myth, ankles weren’t strictly taboo during the Victorian era, so long as they were covered with stockings. In fact, dancing and walking frequently provided glimpses of a lady’s ankles, especially when ladies wore slippers.

Cotton Stockings with Embroidered Embellishment, circa 1860
These stockings are dated to the 1860s, but are more 1870s in style.

Finding modern socks with the design localized like this at the ankle is a bit tough, but once again, American Duchess swoops to the rescue:

A.D. Edwardian Silk Stockings
Though dated as Edwardian, these stocking will work well for late 19th century, too. American Duchess also has other styles with flourishes at the ankle.

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These fancy Floral Chain over the knee socks are a new from Sock Dreams! I love all the rich color choices, but this pretty beige is my fave.

If you feeling super crafty, you can make your own pair of embellished Victorian stockings! For example, the Dreamstress made a pair of silk stockings then used a bit of applique to accent her ankles:

Click here for her blog post.

For all the pretty without having to sew your own stockings, you could applique, embroider, or paint your chosen design onto a pair of pre-made stockings of your choice. However, if you’re feeling REALLY sassy, you can use one of the many stocking knitting patterns available online. The Antique Pattern Library, for example, has numerous Victorian instruction booklets that detail how to knit your own pair of stockings, including several editions of the Nonotuck Silk Company’s “How to Use Florence Knitting Silk” booklets from the 1880s.

Early Patterned Stockings – 17th Century

While most portraits from the 17th century show people wearing solid-colored stocking (usually in white, black, or shades of red), there are surviving examples of livelier stockings, like these:

Knitted Silk and Silver Gilt Stockings, circa 1600-1670

Child’s Silk and Gilt Stockings, 17th century

These pretties are usually child sized, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a little inspiration from them! Combine the knitted design with the embroidered motif from these luxurious adult-sized stockings of the same era, and you get these gorgeous stockings:

jacquard-flowering-vine-otk-socks-dijon-navy-os

S.D. Dreamer Jacquard Flowing Vine Stockings in Dijon and Navy

Can you imagine how fabulous these stockings would look with some American Duchess Stratfords or Virginias?!

From Conventions to Curators: Period Steampunk Fashions

A.K.A. My Museum Shopping List!

(If you read my blog regularly, this first part may sound familiar…)

Steampunk is a modern fashion movements that reinvents certain aspects and fashion facets of Victorian culture, putting a twist on the old style. Seeing beautiful fashions revived in new ways makes me excited, both as a historian and as an avid fan of dressing up! I am, however, terribly picky and pragmatic and I like to be able to make that if I’m going to invest in a dress, I’ll be able to wear it as much as possible–museum-wise and convention-wise.

In my years of costume-image collecting, I’ve discovered that there are hundreds of extant, real Victorian gowns that look modern enough they could have been made yesterday!

Steampunk

Here’s just a brief overview of Steampunk for those of you who aren’t familiar with the style. Steampunk is an alternate reality where Victorians developed advanced technologies revolving around steam-power and clockwork– think Jules Verne or H.G. Wells— though the movement has begun to develop a more futuristic, post-apocalyptic theme. That’s a really brief overview just so you get the fundamentals. Steampunk, like any fashion movement, has infinite variations! Steampunk can range from bionic men dressed as Abraham Lincoln (a favorite!) and ladies in clockwork fairy wings all the way to straight-laced aristocrats in impeccably detailed 1890s evening attire.

The hallmarks of steampunk fashion are:

Favorite time period: 1660-1750 (for fancy watches) and 1870-1910
Bustles
Corsets
Dusters, vests, and military Jackets
Utility belts, pouches, and satchels
Edwardian “active wear” like pantaloons, riding jackets, etc.
Hats, especially top hats (often tiny)
Big boots
Flying things and travel
Gears, clocks/watches, and keys everywhere
Gadgets, gizmos, and props galore
Goggles  and tinted glasses
Heavy ornamentation and layers
Often used colors include brown, burgundy, and army green
Often used materials include leather, brass, and  a mix of structured/draped fabrics

*

Period Fashions and Accessories with Steampunk Flair!

Bicycling Suit, circa 1896

Accordion, circa 1860
(Not really a fashion, but imagine how awesome you would be if you took an accordion to Steamcon!)

Evening Dress, circa 1893

Straw Top Hat, circa 1820

Riding Ensemble, circa 1896

Carpetbag, circa 1860

Bonnet, circa 1887
(Complete with spiked studs along the rim!)

Pelisse, circa 1820

Wool Boots, circa 1860-1869

Day Dress, circa 1881
(I love the “gauntlets”)

Motoring Goggles, circa 1910

Dinner Dress, circa 1894

Steampunk’s other major theme is clockwork and watches, especially ornate ones. The wildly detailed watches are more of a hallmark of the 17th and 18th centuries rather than the 19th century, when the majority of the Steampunk mythos takes place. 19th century watches are rather plain comparatively. I just pretend that I invented a time machine, went back to 18th century Switzerland, and stole all their watches!

Antique Steampunk Watches

Watch, circa 1660-1670

Watch, circa 1710

Snuff Box with Watch, circa 1766-1772

Watch, circa 1753

Watch Mechanism, circa 1750-1760

Watch, Fob, and Chain, circa 1786

Steampunk is unbelievably fun to costume! You can be a pirate, a queen, a mad scientist, Darth Vader, a robot, or just a regular citizen that happens to carry around a oscilloscope laser cannon tucked quietly in your garter! The best part? You can be as historically accurate or inaccurate as you like and no one will bat an eye.

Bonus:

AWESOME CORSET!

Corset, circa 1890

A perfect hourglass!

29″-19″-29″

(Bust-Waist-Hips)

(71-48-71 cm)

Just in case the size is shocking, keep in mind that this corset was probably made for a teenage girl and some folks are naturally thin! :)

From Conventions to Curators: Historical Gothic Victorian Fashion

A.K.A. My Museum Shopping List!

Gothic Victorian (sometimes called neo-Victorian) is a modern fashion movement that reinterprets certain aspects and fashion facets of Victorian culture, putting a twist on the old style. Seeing beautiful fashions revived in new ways makes me excited, both as a historian and as an avid fan of dressing up! I am, however, terribly picky and pragmatic and if I’m going to invest in a dress, I want to be able to wear it as much as possible: museum-wise and convention-wise.

In my years of costume research, I’ve discovered that there are plenty of extant, real Victorian gowns that would work just as beautifully in a Victorian parlor as they would in Dracula’s castle!

Gothic Victorian

Gothic Victorian,a sub-genre of goth or gothic style, flirts with the darker side of life. It dwells on tragic romance, the mysteries of the human mind, and the fantasy world of nightmares. The most mainstream examples can be found in Edgar Allen Poe’s tales, almost everything Tim Burton has created over the years, and the unique poetry of Emily Dickinson. Everything may seem black, grey, and red all over, but Gothic Victorian embraces the beauty of the sad and the fun of antique fetishes. It takes inspiration from the Victorian period, but doesn’t adhere very strictly to it, mixing in modern necklines with puffed crinoline skirts. Not all Gothic Vicotiran fashion is dark. Clothing is sometimes white, pink, or soft blue to display a ghostly or innocent soul. Gothic Victorian lets you explore the two sides of you personality you usually have to hide– your romantic side and your wicked side– all while looking amazing!

The hallmarks of Gothic Victorian fashion are:

Favorite time period: 1850 onwards (and some medieval, renaissance, and baroque influences)
Bustles, hobbles, and full skirts
Corsets and cinchers
Trench coats, boleros, and military jackets
Parasols
Hats, especially top hats (often tiny)
Tall boots and high heels
Bones, roses, spiders, crystals, and blood
Stripes and plaid
Parasols, gauntlets, and gloves
Curiosities and mementos mori
Heavy ornamentation and layers
Often used colors include black, red, and jewel tones
Often used materials include satin, beads, velvet, and lace

*

Period Fashions and Accessories with Gothic Style

American Silk Dress, circa 1870

Dinner Dress, circa 1880

Parasol with Ivory Handle, circa 1870

Day Dress, circa 1885

Gold Brooch, circa 1890

Evening Dress, circa 1885

American Silk Dress, circa 1879

Fetish Boots, circa 1900

Silk Dress, circa 1869

Mme. Uoll Gross Ensemble, circa 1885

Evening Hat, circa 1888

Evening Dress, circa 1881

Ball Gown, circa 1875

Gothic Victorianism is known for it’s fascination with love and death. Victorians had symbols for nearly everything, including snakes for eternal love and anchors for loyalty and hope. They also had elaborate mourning procedures that involved symbolic items such as veils and mourning jewelry. Sentimental and mourning jewelry hold a special place in my heart. Pieces are often made from human hair woven into brooches, necklaces, bracelets and more. The tradition of weaving hair into jewelry began in the 17th century with Stuart Crystals and grew throughout the 18th and 19th centuries until the Edwardian era. Mementos mori (“Remember your mortality”) have been around since ancient times, but became especially popular during the 15th century. Gothic Victorians still employ updated versions of mementos mori, including skulls, angels, crosses, and relics.

Mementos Mori and Sentimental Jewelry

Rosary Bead, circa 16th or 19th century

Stuart Crystal Ring, circa 1728

Hair brooch, circa 1842

Jet Necklace, circa 1875

Hair Comb, circa 1851

Stuart Crystal Ring, circa 1686

Stock/Stick Pin, early 19th century
(this pin is rumored to have belonged to Napoleon I)

Bracelet, circa 1886

Snake bracelet, circa 1870

Mourning Ring, circa 1661

The “gothic” part of Gothic Victorian refers to it’s use of what I like to call the “harmonious grotesque.” There’s always something a little unsettling about gothic fashion, but that little twinge of dystopic strangeness really enhances the allure! I love Gothic Victorian style, especially how dark, yet appealing it is. It’s perfect for those of us who love being romantic, but can’t stand being saccharine. It’s bittersweet and beautiful!

Bonus:

AWESOME CORSET!

Corset, circa 1890

Sexy, hot-pink satin corset…and it’s historical! :)

Wearing your Corset over your Dress

Inside Out?!

{I love Helena Bonham Carter!}

Wearing your corset over your dress has become quite popular. It’s not very historically accurate– especially for a lady of good taste– to show off your underthings, but it does look quite alluring to wear a nifty underbust cincher over a full-skirted dress (it looks stunning on almost everyone)! I would never think to wear such a get-up to a strictly historical event, but  imagine my surprise when I found a true period gown with a similar corset-over-gown look to it:

It’s so unique, unusual, and utterly wearable! In fact, if you removed the flounced collar, it would look very much like the movie-type “Victorian” gowns most people think of. I will admit that, even with my open-minded costuming policies, I was a little miffed that there were so many “period Victorian” gowns that started popping up with exposed corsets, but I am very fond of steampunk, neo-romanticism, and gothic Victorian fashion. Corsets have always been lovely and now their beauty is being fully displayed! It feels good to see such a complicated, elegant garment getting so much positive attention, and I am super excited that the trend could possibly be tweaked to work both in the museum and on the street.