Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How to Dress Your Victorian Female Character - Part 1

When writing a Victorian era fantasy novel, even though it's fantasy, you'll want your world and characters to represent the period with accuracy. Even if you loosely develop a fantasy world based on the Victorian period, the information in this article will help dress characters in Victorian style apparel with enough detail to make it real in the reader's mind.

In this article we'll study the clothing of a Victorian Lady. Lady was the proper title of any woman whose husband ranked higher than baronet or knight, or who was the daughter of a nobleman not lower than an earl. A Lady's affluent lifestyle followed fashion. With that in mind, this article takes a look at how to dress a fantasy character based on historical dress.

Details down to underwear reflect a Victorian character's placement in time. In the first half of the nineteenth century undergarments served a utilitarian function. At that time, underwear lacked trimmings and decoration. But in the second half of the century, frills like lace and embroidery came into style. When dressing or undressing your character, keep details period specific.

Basic Victorian Undergarments

  • Chemise: a loose-fitting, white linen shirt-like undergarment designed to hang straight from the shoulders, fit loosely at the waist, sometimes more tightly at the hip and reached to the calf. You'll want to research neckline shapes and other small alterations for the timeframe of your story.

  • Drawers: an undergarment that covers the lower part of the body with legs reaching to the knees. Legs of this garment were sewn separately leaving the crotch open. Drawstring casings gathered at the back above a loose-fitting seat. This loose fit design prevented the open seam from separating. Again, depending on the exact time frame, you'll want to research whether the legs to the drawers for your character should be flared or wide, or gathered at the knee.

  • Corset: a close-fitting undergarment, stiffened with whalebone or similar material and often tightened by lacing. It fit tight around the trunk of the body. Women wore this garment to shape and support the body. It was worn over or under the petticoat.

  • Petticoat:(most often made in one piece with the bodice attached) Commonly made of flannel, this garment worked as a slip or underskirt worn for warmth and to hide the contour of a woman's legs. Often a decorative petticoat was full and trimmed with ruffles or lace. Three Petticoats were usually the minimum worn.

  • Stiffened petticoat, crinoline or bustle: Several petticoats were worn to support the bell shape skirt (before the cage crinoline in the 1850's). Early petticoats were starched and corded (cords ran through them to hold the hem out). Petticoats changed with fashion. As you design your character's wardrobe, consider the decade you want to target within the Victorian era. Do some research. Should your character be wearing a narrow paneled skirt or a wide bell skirt? Bustles came and went. Be sure to check if it is appropriate to add a bustle to your character's fashion sense.

  • Decorative petticoat: Depending on the year, decorative petticoats included things like flounces down the back, popular colors like scarlet or added decoration at the hem that showed below the hem of the dress
Don't leave your character standing there in her undergarments. Be sure to watch for part 2 of How to Dress your Victorian Female Character to give her an authentic look.

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