Part Two: Victorian Dress Thrifting for Women
You have more choices, but more modifications and sewing.
Victorian women always wear their hair up. Only whores and very young girls wear their hair loose. In the streets and when visiting or shopping, hair is also always covered, with any of the following:
A. Mob Cap (or Mop Cap): Made of lace or cotton trimmed with lace, usually white, this hat looks like a shower cap with a ruffle around the edge. Favored by older, married women, and widows.
The cream and brown hat I made, mainly with a hot glue gun for my 1878 walking gown.
D. Lady's Bowler: Shaped like a bowler with a slightly smaller brim, made of straw, and worn tilted to one side affixed with a hatpin. Difficult to find.
E. Riding Hat: A lady's top-hat, this is usually shorter than a man's, decorated with a vale, and worn with a riding habit. Considered very daring.
Mine is made from a fez with a turned up back brim. Feathers from an African mask, and dried flowers.
G. Bonnet: Sits way back on the head, highly decorated to match the dress.
The crazy purple Ivy hat I made using a bucram blank, a Styrofoam flowerpot insert, a glue gun, and lots of scraps.
THRIFTERS: Bonnets and flat straw hats can be made by cutting down regular straw hats. Look for close weave, bendable straw of any color with a shallow crown. All of the above tended to be highly decorated with silk flower, fake fruit, feather birds and more. Millinery is lots of fun, especially with a glue gun!
Large square or triangle shape of heavy silk usually embroidered. NO CUT-VELVET! Cape is another good option.
Tip: Christmas tree skirts work really well as cape-like jackets.
Here is one I picked up from an after Christmas sale at TJ Max used as a shawl, and also as a can can skirt for a steampunk outfit.
You can, as a shop-keep, get way with a woman's vest instead of jacket (vests are also worn under bolero style jackets). Vests should have no pockets, be VERY fitted, button or clasp up the front, have a full back (none of the fake liner fabric), flare at the waist, and have wide sloping shoulders. You will need a shawl to go into the streets. Swiss waists are also an option.
THRIFTERS: Look for full, fitted vests with darts.
Usually white and designed to show only at the wrists and neck, blouses tend to be pretty masculine in cut and look, although they should be fitted to the torso. They usually have little lace collars, and full sleeves to a tight band of lace at the wrists. Shoulders are sloped. Necklines are high and round or v-shaped (with or without a turn-down collar), or mock turtle style, all with lace at the edge. Blouses can have some shirtfront detailing or lace, but NOT a tuxedo ruffle.
THRIFTERS: Avoid sleeves that puff out from the shoulder, are ruffled at the shoulder, and anything that turns the silhouette square (unless, of coarse this will be covered over by the rest of the outfit). Look in the white blouse section of thrift stores, you should find something. Remember you can go very masculine and wear a little necktie or lady's cravat.
You have many different style choices but only three are likely to turn up when thrifting. All the following jacket's sleeves are full bell-shaped, although some have the fullest part at the elbow and taper in at the wrist.
Jacket made from a shirt I reversed and slit up the front, than pealed back and sewed ruffle on edge.
B. Regular: A tight single-breasted jacket, with or without a collar, fitted to the waist in a peak then flaring out as basques, slight tails, or a deep pointed front.
C. Blazer: Usually only worn by very poor women, they resemble modern men's suit jackets, are usually velvet and darted to fit tight at the waist.
THRIFTERS: Look for close fitting, single-breasted jackets with NO SHOULDER PADS and wide sleeves, velvet blazers, bathrobes of good material, and the top half of dresses that can be cut off.
The easiest part to find and to make from scratch, skirts are very full, gored, and run the gambit from pleats to ruffles to roushes to swags to ribbons. They changed in general silhouette over the years, from full crinoline to bustle to natural form, but always had a lot of fabric.
1860, 1870, and 1879
THRIFTERS: Look for a full skirt that has a waistband (rather than elastic) and can fit over several underskirts or a crinoline. It doesn't have to be floor length, you can always add ruffles to the bottom. Wedding dresses can often be cut apart and ribbon added. Check the LINEN SECTION as skirts can be made from curtains or sheets. Dust-ruffles for beds make great readymade ruffles.
A. Ankle Boots: Should hit just below, just above, or several inches above the ankle and lace up the front or (better!) up the side, with a flat sole or low hourglass heal. Boots can be made of leather or canvas in any color with a natural toe shape. The difficulty is in finding them without zippers. Consider substituting ribbon for laces.
8. Chemise (optional)
A fitted undershirt worn beneath the corset, with a low square or scooped neckline and capped sleeves, made of a very light material. You do not need one unless you have a corset.
They are nice because they make your posture Victorian and your clothing hang correctly. Either invest in a cheap stretchy one (under $50) or buy the real thing ($150 - 500), don't go halfway, nothing in the world is worse than an ill-fitting corset.
Originally a petticoat was a kind of chemise with a skirt attached to the bottom that falls to just below the knee. You do not need one unless you have a corset or a scratchy underskirt.
Often wrongly called petticoats, real Victorian underskirts are worn over the crinoline (to disguise the hoops) or (by the lower-classes) instead of a crinoline, later on they were to stiffen or make to bottom skirt flow properly. The "substitute crinoline" was usually made of compressed, starched horsehair, very stiff and VERY scratchy, with a ruffle at the bottom. You can cheat by using modern "petticoats," the kind made to go under wedding dresses (but you'll probably want to add a cotton or lace ruffle to the nylon in case it is seen). The Victorians were fond of outrageous underpinnings. Demurely clad young ladies often wore bright red underskirts, teal bloomers, and so forth.
THRIFTERS: Look for petticoats made for wedding dresses and/or stiff taffeta skirts. You can always wear more than one.
11. Crinoline (optional)
Known by us laymen as "the hoopskirt," you probably won't find a crinoline thrifting, though they do turn up with wedding dresses occasionally. You can buy the cheep nylon kind for $30 from a dance supply store, or sometimes secondhand for less from a costume shop. Alter Years sells fancy cotton ones with or without ruffles from $50 to $100. Think carefully about whether you want to spend the money, crinolines can be very annoying to store and clean.
12. Under Drawers
Under drawers are not optional. You have two choices, both VERY easy to make. Both styles can be made from plain wide-legged, baggy women's slacks in cotton, silk, or satin fabrics. In Victorian times both styles were split at the crotch, so you didn't have to unlace your corset to use the loo. You don't have to go that far unless you wear a corset.
A. Bloomers: Baggy breaches, which end just below the knee in a wide, fat, lacy ruffle. (Originally called 'pantaloons' the actual bloomer was designed as outerwear - too shocking!)
B. Pantalettes: Traditionally worn by young girls in the nursery, pantalettes briefly made an appearance as an adult garment in 1853 and were considered quite scandalous as they could be (gasp!) SEEN when a lady lifted her skirts. They are longer than bloomers and taper slightly, to end at the ankle, again with lots of lace at the bottom.
THRIFTERS: Look in women's pants section for wide, white, drawstring slacks.
White, knee-high or over-the-knee socks in a natural looking fabric. Target has them.
ACCESSORIES (the fun part)
Short, white (usually kid) gloves were a vital part of any lady's wardrobe, but you can use a color that matches your outfit. Your options also include: lace and net, fingered, fingerless, and gauntlet styles.
My favorite, the parasol has a glorious history, it was one of the most significant gifts a man could give his intended. The shades were smaller than those you can find today, almost doll like, coming in a variety of sizes with very long handles turning them, by 1880 into a kind of walking stick. By about that same time a lady of quality had a parasol to match every daytime outfit.
More like waist cinchers, lady's belts are wide and stiffened with boning usually made of a dark, contrasting color or matched to the fabric of the dress. They are either peaked at bottom front (and sometimes also top - called a Swiss Waist) and fastened behind, or sash-like and tied in a wide trailing bow down the back of the skirt.
The Victorian purse, this item matches the dress and comes in a wide variety of shapes and styles. A simple reticule is very easy to make from extra material and trim.
A good alternative to the reticule, Victorian baskets are carried by lower and middle-class women. They are usually made in a closer weave and smaller size than Ren Faire baskets. They can be lined in fabric and decorated with lace and ribbon.
Victorians love jewelry and a lady of any class always wears some, even if it is all she has. Such jewelry includes: hatpins, hairpins and clasps, earrings (yes, pierced), broaches, scarf clasps, necklaces, bracelets, and rings.
THRIFTERS: Look for subtle, delicate costume jewelry including or combining: pearls, crosses, cameos, lockets, old-fashions gems, filigree (metal fashioned to look like lace), set in or made from silver, gold, or both. Target actually has some great stuff.
Think in terms of excess where decoration is concerned. Load your outfit down with ruffles, ribbons, lace, tassels, fringe, beads, embroidery, fake flowers, and feathers. Once you have a color scheme I advise buying at least 10 yards of one nice ribbon to use to decorate and tie the entire outfit together.
TIP: Expect to spend good money on trim (unless you have a stock or hit a really good church bizarre). It is worth it because it makes all the difference.
Don't be afraid of WHITE.
The cream and brown dress, all thrifted, and its influences.
Women, when you walk into a thrift store you should zero-in on these sections:
Women's White Blouses
Women's Jackets = bolero, blazer
Women's Skirts = long, full
Dresses = use top part as a jacket, or the bottom part as a skirt
Bathrobes = jacket
Wedding Dresses = underskirts or skirts
Women's Pants = wide leg slacks for bloomers
Linen's Section = bed ruffles and curtains