Wednesday, November 9, 2011

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

Part One: Victorian Dress Thrifting for Men

Most Likely American, c. 1860s. Image from my personal collection, please re-post with attribution.
1. Hat
This is the most expensive item. Top-hats, which can be short (daytime, races, driving, visiting clubs) or tall (evening, formal events, weddings, funerals), and any color (black and gray are most common). Alternatives include bowlers and trilbies (newsboy cap). Men wore hats, always, period, end of story. Hats rarely turn up in thrift stores, except trilbies. Top-hats are cheapest online, expect to spend around $75.
Most Likely American, c. 1860s. Image from my personal collection, please re-post with attribution.
2. Cravat
A cravat is a length of colorful lightweight fabric tied around the neck. Modern ties do NOT work. The longer a cravat, the more elaborate the knot. No velvet and no wool. (Upper-class evening dress required at least 3 yards of white Egyptian cotton, called "lawn.") A black ribbon might be tied over a cravat for formal occasions.

TIP: A cravat should be AT LEAST as long as your arm and as wide as your splayed hand.

THRIFTERS: Look for colorful women's scarves, sashes, and fabric from which a long strip can be cut.

3. Shirt
The Victorian mens shirt is basically a plain, white men's dress shirt (no stripes, no ruffles) with full sleeves and no turned collar (though this isn't vital). (Upper-class collars were squared and stuck straight up, an independent piece was inserted under the cravat.)
THRIFTERS: If you can't find this part of your costume, you're hopeless.
Most Likely American, c. 1860s. Image from my personal collection, please re-post with attribution.
4. Waistcoat
The modern men's vest with the peaked bottom front, deep v-neck, and synthetic tied back is not Victorian. A waistcoat should end about two inches below the natural waist-line and be squared off at the bottom (easy to hem from pointed or too long). The v-neck ended at the sternum, though it can go higher and/or fold over in a curve (the shawl collar). Waistcoats should be made completely (front and back) from the same fabric and be colored and/or patterned: think red, yellow, green. They can be double or single-breasted, single is more flattering to most men.

THRIFTERS: Look in WOMEN'S VESTS for waistcoats with the same fabric all the way around, and no pockets (or one small one near the waist). Although for steampunk you cn always embellish the pocket. You can also think in terms of sleeve removal. If you can find a thin jacket or robe from which the sleeves can be taken? Those brocade cropped monstrosities from the 80s can have a whole new life.

Most Likely American, c. 1860s. Image from my personal collection, please re-post with attribution.
5. Jacket
The jacket is one of the hardest things to find: should have tails and be fitted through the torso. It can be single or double-breasted. Tails that fit properly end at the back of the knee. 3 options:
Still from the BBC Mini Series, Cranford
 A. Tuxedo-tails (evening dress): Modern styles work fine, but make sure to AVOID the satin stripe along the seam (AKA the tuxedo stripe) and anything too pointed.

Still from BBC miniseries Cranford
B. Swallow-tails (or morning coat): Not cut-away square like tuxedo-tails, but forms tails by graduating down from front to back. (Man in the photo of the couple at the beginning is wearing a swallow tail.)
Still from Cranford
C. Frock-coat (or skirted jacket): Basically tails without any cut away or graduation at all, they fit to the waist and then flair out. This style looks the most period and is the hardest to find.

THRIFTERS: Look for long coats or jackets that can be cut down. Women's coats work great but often don't fit through arms and shoulders. Expect to spend $75 on a quality pair of tails.

Image from my personal collection, please re-post with attribution.

6. Trousers
Plaid, striped, checked, formal, and tweed all work. Trousers must fit all the way from waist to top of foot with a slightly tapered leg. No Belts.

THRIFTERS: You should have good luck if you look in WOMEN'S SLACKS (watch out for too-light weight fabrics).

7. Socks
Modern dress socks that match the shoes are fine.

8. Shoes
Nice men's dress shoes in black or brown will work fine, spectator and wingtips came in during the later half of the Victorian era but were considered very, very daring.

THRIFTERS: Look for men's dancing or formal shoes very plain.

9. Accessories
A. Scarf: Long, straight wool or silk scarves (the same length as cravats) with a small fringe were worn draped around the neck. (Silk ones are called opera scarves.)
B. Cravat Pin: A small, jeweled pin fastens your cravat (just below or inside the knot) to your shirt. Usually the same kind of design as a woman's hatpin, such as a single pearl, or an emerald set in gold - only shorter in the stick part.
C. Pocket Watch
D. Pipe
E. Suspenders: Since most did not wear a belt, almost all Victorian men wear suspenders to keep their trousers up. But as suspenders reside under the vest no one knows if they are there but you.
F. Spats or Gaiters (knee-high spats): Spats and gaiters can be found on line or at your local military surplus stores. Gaiters are really difficult to find in tend to indicate "Squire."
G. Gloves: Should be white or gray, kid leather (practically impossible to find) or cotton.
H. Buttons: All plastic buttons should be replaced with metal or cloth-covered ones.
Most Likely American, c. 1860s. Image from my personal collection, please re-post with attribution.
10. Overcoat (optional)
Three options, all made from either wool or canvas.
A. Trench Coat: A double-breasted coat that falls at least to mid-calf.
B. Duster: A floor-length, single-breasted coat fitted through the waist (think matrix).
C. Great Coat: Cut like either of the above but with one, two, or three capes attached over the shoulders.

How to Remove Odors From Hand-Me-Down Clothes

Men (or Madame Lefoux), when you walk into a thrift store you should zero-in on these sections
Women's Scarves = cravat or scarf
Men's Shirts = white dress shirt
Women's Vests = waistcoat
Women's Coats = jacket to make into tails
Men's Jackets = tails
Women's Slacks = trousers
Men's Shoes = dress shoes

Meme via FB


  1. found a new (to me) website and they have some more menial pieces of clothing that encompass the more frontier side of Victorianna fashion. So if anyone is interested in doing a steampunk-American or looking for some nifty smaller accessory or arms ck out


  2. Ooh, I've been meaning to find something about Victorian menswear. Now I just need to find a blog or something on how to do a proper cravat knot and Victorian outfit here I come! I also probably need to learn how to thrift hunt appropriately.

  3. A wonderful post; your attention to detail is matched by your brevity. (And now I'm looking forward to a possible future post on how to tie a cravat!)

  4. You could also look at used tack shops (horse equipment). Dressage riders used to wear Top-hats (and derbies), but are now increasingly wearing helmets. Dressage riders, and Hunt riders, wear stock ties (cravat), and 'swallowtail' coats.


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