Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Introduction by Gail Carriger

 Kai modeling a dress I made out of thrifted items: 
bridesmaid's cream satin dress, a crochet tablecloth, brown velvet bathrobe, recovered hat and pheasant feathers.

I originally wrote this post many years ago for a different blog, before I was a paid authorbeast, when I used my online journal as a kind of information distribution center for friends. Back then it was all about thrifting for the Dickens Fair, an icon of the Christmas season up here in NorCal which I worked for a decade or so. I adapted it to be a general Thrifting Victoriana post, and eventually used it for a presentation at the first steampunk convention Steam Powered back in 2008.

 One of my beta readers at Dickens wearing a top (we thrifted) she made, from a 1980s plaid vest + skirt set 
(she tailored in the vest and used the skirt for bell sleeves). 

So I thought I would reboot it one last time for you, my most fashionable of readers. My hope is it will evolve and become a place I can point people too whenever they ask me the inevitable questions, how do I thift for a {fill in the blank} costume.

Outfit made of thrifted velvet bathrobe, white king sized sheet set, tailored 1970's blouse, straw hat re-purposed to be a bonnet lined with a pleated handkerchief, lots of ribbon and fake flowers.

Anyway, Fashionable Reader, as you may well have guessed I am the shopping denizen for my particular group. One of my few super powers (including the inexplicable ability to turn off street lights) is thrift store juju. I've used it to construct various outfits over the years, for self and others. But it ties in to the "eye" as it were. I have an eye traind to spot the possibilities. So this post was writen to help others develop the "eye."

Please note: this is meant to be a basic tips instruction manual to help those just getting into costuming, not for those with more advanced techniques.  All rules are made to be broken so please keep in mind that this post is 101, not seminar level. Also I'm not using modifiers for the sake of brevity, all of the instructions bellow are meant as suggestions not commands.

Here we go!

Thrifting for Victorian Inspired Fashion

Some General Thoughts
  • Middle to upper-class costumes should FIT properly. 
  • For ladies this means bodice (shoulder to waist) hugs the upper body, blouse sleeves end at the wrists, and skirts show no ankle. 
  • For men this means the jacket fits the upper torso (shoulder to waist), sleeves are long and do not ride-up, waistcoats are tight to the body, and trousers start at the WAIST and end at top of the shoe, below the ankle.
TIP: Look for something you might see on old-fashioned wallpaper.

  • Color is your friend. The Victorians loved color. Take advantage of: white, black, pastel, jewel tones, primary, secondary, and contrasting. Colors project images. For example: pastels and whites tended to be worn by unmarried young ladies, blacks and reds by matrons. For men, yellow and red suggest dandy, and blue is associated with the Corinthian set. Women tend to be more matched. A combination of three colors was considered flattering early on in the Victorian era, for example, sage green, peach, and black, by the 1870's graduating shades of the same color came into vogue. The exception is blouses, worn underneath rest of the outfit, these are almost always white, regardless.
  • Fabric is NOT your friend. This is England post regency, light fabrics were considered a tad old fashioned, although they did appear. Best to avoid cheep silk, muslin, other light cottons, and, of coarse, anything manmade. Brocade was rare on women, although some men did do it for a waistcoat.
TIP: Opt for twilled raw silks, wool, dupioni, heavy cotton, satin, velvet, taffeta, and other rich, lux, weighty fabrics.


Nicholas Nickleby - for early lower class.
Washington Square - w/ Jennifer Jason Lee, CHECK OUT HER HAIR!
Jane Eyre (A&E) - good lower-class dresses.
Mrs. Brown - for an excellent range in space and class.
Impromptu - great men's attire
North and South - not only good costumes but a great romance, and a killer look at the dark side of life and rise of industrialism during this era.
All About Steampunk Fashion


  1. Fantastic post! Thanks. I've have been turning off street lamps for years. It gets frightening sometimes.

  2. I can change traffic lights...does that count?


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