How to Make Victorian Clothes

Updated April 17, 2017

The Victorian era spans the reign of Queen Victoria of England from the mid-19th century to the beginning of the 20th century. Clothing during this time period went through multiple styles and fashions, although it was generally modest, with the exception of plunging necklines for ladies' evening clothes. Women wore crinolines or bustles under their skirts and corsets. Men wore longer jackets, vests, cravats (a type of neck scarf) and stovepipe trousers. Most clothing was made from woven fabrics, as knits tended to be handmade and quite expensive.

Determine the style of clothing. The mode of dress varied greatly among the economic classes during this era. The working classes generally wore more functional clothing. Women of this class did not wear bustles or crinolines, as they were impractical for performing chores, not to mention expensive. Wealthier Victorians wore more elaborate clothing made from fine fabrics, such as silk, cotton lawn and fine linens.

Find period patterns. Although working-class Victorians wore simpler garments than their wealthy counterparts, their clothing was considerably more complex than what contemporary people are used to wearing. Patterns are essential for making these garments, as they are difficult to piece, even for experienced seamstresses. Start with Victorian undergarments, as in many cases these pieces were the foundations of the dresses worn over them. Victorian dresses will not look authentic if they do not have crinolines or bustles underneath.

Purchase fabrics that are appropriate to the time period and garment. Look online for directories of historic and vintage textile suppliers. Fabrics could be elaborate, such as finely woven and embroidered silks for evening wear, or simple, with rough cottons and woollens for the working class. Keep in mind that Victorian-era clothing used considerably more yardage than modern clothing does. Skirts at that time could range between 3 and 6 yards in diameter, depending on fullness and whether the skirt featured a train.

Sew appropriately for the fabric chosen. Coarse fabrics generally require simple straight stitches. Fine fabrics may require seams and hems to be finished with such techniques as the French seam and bound or Hong Kong seams. Other speciality sewing techniques may be required; check patterns ahead of time for further instructions, and practice new techniques on scrap fabric before attempting on the final garment.

Apply trimmings. Ribbons, lace trim and bows were popular for ladies' clothing during the Victorian era. Vintage textile manufacturers may carry the trimmings you require, or you can try a speciality trimming store.

Things You'll Need

  • Woven fabrics
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About the Author

Based in New York City, Virginia Watson has been writing and editing professionally since 2004. Her work has appeared in magazines including "The Roanoker Magazine," "Blue Ridge Country," "Pinnacle Living" and the award-winning "Virginia State Travel Guide." Watson holds a Master of Arts in philosophy of education from Virginia Polytechnic and State University.