Victorian Costume Ideas

Updated April 17, 2017

The Victorian era lasted from 1837 to 1901, when Queen Victoria reigned the British Empire. The people of this time wore clothing that covered most of the body, but was at the same time elaborate and well-decorated. Some simple embellishments can make modern old-fashioned clothes look like Victorian costumes.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Victorian ladies wore dresses with long skirts and high necklines. A simple thrift shop dress or any old-fashioned clothing can be accented to create a Victorian costume. Add ribbons, lace, a petticoat, a brooch or a shawl to complete the look. Top all of this off with a bonnet or a small cap decorated with flowers. Victorian gentlemen wore vests, tapered trousers and hats such as tweed skimmers. Turn the collar up on a plain white button shirt and knot a scarf or cravat around your neck for a Victorian look. Create a frock coat by trimming the collar of a regular dark overcoat with velvet or brocade and moving the first button down to the mid-chest region.

The Working Class

Working-class Victorian women wore simple dresses with fewer embellishments. Do not wear a petticoat if you are dressing as a working-class woman. Wear an apron with a bib over your dress and tie a shawl around your shoulders. Working-class Victorian men also dressed simply. Wear baggy wool or corduroy trousers. Put on a plain, collarless shirt and roll up the sleeves. Complete the look by wearing a hat with a broad brim and a low crown.

Seaside Dress

Visitors at the beach during the Victorian era were only slightly less dressed than they were normally. Ladies wore crinoline cage frames under their skirts, which were slightly shorter than their everyday skirts. They also wore tight corsets and bustles. They also wore round hats decorated with long ribbons. You can wear a loose skirt with a tighter top as a lady bather. Complete the look with a straw hat with ribbons and a parasol. Victorian men would try to look nautical or slightly exotic when they went to the beach. They would dress in striped blazers, straw boater hats, brightly coloured cummerbunds and white flannel bottoms. Find these clothing articles to put together a Victorian seaside outfit.

Infamous Characters

The Victorian era featured some unique figures whose notoriety continues to today. Jack the Ripper was a serial killer who murdered multiple prostitutes and was never caught. You can dress like this figure by sporting dark Victorian clothes, perhaps a cloak and a knife. You could also dress like one of his victims by wearing a more revealing dress and applying wound marks. Sweeney Todd is another infamous character popularised by Stephen Sondheim's musical play, "Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street." Sweeney Todd was a barber who reputedly killed his clients. His accomplice, Mrs. Lovett, would bake the victims' remains into pies. Dress like a Victorian barber complete with razors, or like a Victorian shopkeeper with an apron to make costumes after these villains. Spring Heeled Jack is another Victorian character who terrorised England by jumping out at passersby and attacking them with flames blown from his mouth. Dress like him by wearing a large cloak, tight clothing and a close-fitting helmet.

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About the Author

Sarah Clark has been writing since 1997, with work appearing in Northern Arizona University's "Student Life Organization Newsletter." She holds a B.A. in anthropology with a minor in art history from Northern Arizona University.