The Victorian era brings to mind a time of opulence, proper elegance and propriety. Fashion during the time period was far more frilly, fancy and "over-done" than in the previous century. Laces, ruffles, layers and various fashion essentials such as gloves, shawls, corsets and petticoats ruled the day. For the gentleman, jackets, hats, cravats among other fashion necessities were part of the wardrobe. The social class system was very strong and your class status often dictated what you wore.
The Ladies' Dress
The dress style in the mid 1800s was either of one or two pieces (bodice and skirt); both have wide domed-shaped skirts with layer upon layer of petticoats. If you are making your own costume, try a second-hand, stiff-netting wedding petticoat, rather than having to wear the layers. Off the shoulder dresses were popular for evenings, usually edged with layers of lace. You can purchase finished edged lace in varying widths by the yard at fabric store. Bustles or flounces were common. This can be accomplished by making the skirt sloped and longer in the back and sewing eye hooks to the waist band and the bottom of the dress in the back.
femmes en costumes traditionnels image by Philippe LERIDON from Fotolia.com
The accessories were as important as the dress, and in the Victorian era there were plenty of them. Find a shawl or take a square tablecloth and make it into a triangle. Find a pattern that will complement your dress: jacquards and paisley. Gloves, purse and parasol will add to the costume, as will fans and neckline jewellery, bracelets and hair combs. Cameos and broaches are a good choice. Hair should be worn pulled to the back with a small cap over the bun or a bonnet. Tendrils of hair can coil from the sides of the face (these can frequently be purchased in hair accessory stores or your entire head can be done in "banana curls." Shoes can be either flat slippers or ankle height boots, preferably laced.
For a male costume, trousers should be an inch above current standards. The cut of the pant is tighter and often have more pockets. Look for a band collar shirt (similar to the Nehru collar worn in India). A bib shirt with pleated front was a common look (men's tux stores may carry this style.) A vest is a necessity, often patterned and colourful with paisley print with a shawl collar. The jacket was typically a frock-style coat---long to mid-thigh. A great way to create this look is to shop a second-hand store for a full-length coat and crop it. There are also speciality historical fashion stores that sell period costuming.
Top Hat image by Wingnut Designs from Fotolia.com
Men typically wore cravats (to make one, sew a 2-inch wide strip of black fabric, 42" long, hold the fabric at the front of the neck, over the shirt collar area, pulling it to behind your neck and crossing, bring the ends to the front. Cross the ends in front and tie a knot.) Other accessories include braces or suspenders, a pocket watch, cuff links, a walking cane, gloves and a top hat. Shoes should be ankle-high boots, either laced or buttoned, or "spats," white-topped black shoe with side buttons. Part your hair in the middle and style back. Large, thick moustaches were also stylish.