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Vintage Style In A Modern World

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10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger

10 facts Gail wishes others knew about Upper Class Victorian clothing.

1. Gown = Bodice + Skirt

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Ball Gown  1900-1905  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Most gowns and dresses were in two or more parts: the top (or bodice) and the bottom (or skirt/overskirt/underskirt+overskirt). The two were sewn (yes on the wearer), tied, or hooked together. (This continued into the Edwardian era.)


10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Ball gown and day dress, 1865 Robe à Transformation The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This lead to transformation outfits: same skirt, different bodice dictating different occasions and allowing for double use. Very practical.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Godeys July 1872 Fig. 12 Low muslin bodice for a white French muslin dress, trimmed with lace and colored ribbon brows. Fig. 14 Pink silk bodice far an evening dress, made with plaited bertha, edged by points bound with satin; a ruche of illusion inside of neck and sleeves. Fig. 15 Ladies drawers, made of muslin or linen, trimmed with tucks, tatting insertion, and tape trimming. Fig. 16 Piece to wear over a surprise dress of black grenadine, made of blue China crape, trimmed with white lace.

2. Lots of Layers

There is usually an article of clothing both under the corset and over the corset. 

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Chemise 1876 and Combination 1890s both via The Metropolitan Museum of Art

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Slip 1900-1908 and Petticoat 1909-1911 both via The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Under: Depending on time and class, was called a: chemise, petticoat (which, as the name "small coat"  implies had a top part like a slip as well as a bottom part), slip, combination, or camisole.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Corset Cover  1864-1868 and Camisol 1895-1905 both via The Metropolitan Museum of Art

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Corset Cover  1900  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Over: Camisole (yes called same thing as above) or a corset cover. Then the bodice of the dress, that's so long as there wasn't also a chemisette (which is a little like a Dickey) required for day (see bellow #3).

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Godeys July 1872 Ladies' corset, made of fine linen, and edged with a narrow Valenciennes lace around the neck. Ladies' chemise, made tightly gored, with puffs set in the front from the neck down, insertion and edging around the neck and sleeves.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Godeys Nov 1872 Corset cover for lady, made of fine linen, and trimmed with medallions of embroidery and lace. The sleeves are trimmed to correspond.

3. Detachable Sleeves

Sleeves could be detachable (like those worn by bakers to protect the bottom of their sleeves from flour) and were called undersleeves.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Chemisette, Undersleeves, and Handkerchief  1860s  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Godeys Oct 1872 Open habit shirt and sleeves, made of fine muslin ruffles plaited, and embroidered insertion; and Undersleeves and collarette, made of muslin, embroidered and trimmed with Valenciennes lace; Godeys Sept 1872 Collar and under sleeve, made of linen tucks and narrow ruffles; the collar is to be worn with a surplice dress.

In the 1890s there was a brief fad for cage sleeve supports as well.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Sleeve Supports  1890s  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

4. Colorful Stockings


10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Stockings  1870 and 1880-1899 both via The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Stockings could be very colorful and were held up with garters (not a garter belts), or garter straps which were attached to the corset and went down over the drawers and bottom part of the chemise often causing them to bunch up.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Garter 1875-1825 and Waist Cincher 1908 both via The Metropolitan Museum of Art

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Stockings  1860s  The Victoria & Albert Museum

5. Drawers, to Split or Not to Split?


Split drawers appear in the late 1840s and continue through the 1910s but drawers were also sewn closed during the Victorian Era. During the Regency Era evidence suggests drawers were not split, but then, corsets were so short drawers didn't need to be split as the waistband din't tuck into the corset.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Godeys Sept 1872 Ladies drawers trimmed with rows of insertion and tucks, finished by a lace edging.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Split Drawers 1900s  The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Split Underwear 1916  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
A further note on drawers: In England, even during their surge in popularity in Europe, women did not wear pantalettes (ankle length drawers) only girls. Later period knickerbockers were shorter and more practical than drawers but did not entirely replace them. Bloomers is a term not really used in England until after 1910.

6. They Stuffed


10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Bust Improvers  1890s  Whitaker Auctions
Bust improvers were introduced in the 1880s, so yes, the Victorians stuffed.


7. Leather Undies

In the 1860s some undergarments were made of chamois leather, for added support, and layered over cloth. I had a hard time finding a picture of this, although written evidence abounds, but here are some leather stays from the time.

8. Stays Please!


10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
1876 Corset “Queen Bess” The Metropolitan Museum of Art; 1890s Summer Corset  The Victoria & Albert Museum

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Corset  1897-1899  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Speaking of which, corsets were never talked about in public. If for some reason they had to be mentioned (between ladies of the same age, or in written form), they would be referred to as stays or (better) foundation garments. The word "corset" appears to be mainly used in late period advertisements. Whether there was a recognized difference between the two terms at the time is unclear.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
8 From the 1897 Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalog

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Godeys Nov 1872 Waist for child of a year old, to button skirts on, made of white muslin, trimmed with worked edging. Ladies chemise yoke and sleeves, made of insertion and tucks edged with lace.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Knitted waist for a child.

9. Maid Required

With the exception of some tea gowns and carriage dresses worn, if a lady was daring enough, without stays, it was actually impossible for an upperclass woman to dress herself (or undress, for that matter).

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger

Yes, if you are flexible you can button up the back of your own bodice, or even lace your own corset, but most gowns were custom designed to go over a tight lacing and that requires a dresser or lady's maid (unless you're wicked strong and flexible). Speaking of which, corset laces are pulled tight to either side, not straight back. Images like the one above are a joke and the technique would not be effective.

Yes, I'm aware of the recreationest YouTube out there claiming this isn't true (but note her dresses button up the FRONT and she is very relax laced), and I can get into my own full Victorian, but I'm never laced tight, I'm never sewn in, and I'm never fully preiod accurate, because...

I'd need a maid!

10. Occasion Dressing

Gowns had designated times and places they could be worn: from sportswear specific to event specific to occasion specific to time of day. This changed throughout the Victorian era.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Dressing Gown early 1870s versus Tea Gown 1898-1901 both via The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Dressing gown intended to be seen only by a lady's maid and possibly husband, Tea gown worn informally about the house seen by staff and family but not visitors unless very intimate.

Here's a short list from Gail's memory (a lady did not need to actually have one of each!): nightgown, peignoir, wrapper, negligée, dressing gown, morning dress, tea gown, day dress, walking dress, promenade ensemble, visiting gown, afternoon dress, dinner dress, evening dress, ball gown, reception gown, court dress, wedding dress, opera dress, fancy dress, masquerade costume, ice skating ensemble, tennis wear, riding habit, bicycling ensemble, hunting outfit, shooting outfit, country dress (the tweeds), picnic ensemble, travel gown, carriage dress.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Shocking Lady Cricters Punch 1892 (via Project Gutenberg) and Walking Ensemble 1865 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Plus outerwear. Plus many of the same in various shades of mourning (full mourning, half mourning, and mauves for extended mourning for the pious).

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Evening Dress and matched Shoes 1889  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The under privileged usually only had three dresses: a working dress (sometimes this could be a uniform or livery), a day dress (for home activities usually worn covered with a pinafore or apron), and Sunday Best.

Much of the same holds true for a man

Which is to say:
* He had lots of clothing in multiple parts some of which hooked together so it wouldn't shift around.
* He wore many layers.
* There were such things as chest and calf improvers (padding).
* He might have had chamois leather undergarments.
* Men undergarments were not talked about in public.
* He needed someone to dress him, which is why even bachelors kept a "man" (his valet). What Jeeves calls a "gentleman's personal gentleman."

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Leather Underwear For Men

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Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger



Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger

As much as the great agony of my life is the perpetual hunt for a pretty well-fitting vintage-style wire-free bra, there are other things than just bras to consider when dressing vintage from the bottom up. As I am certain you are well aware, Fashionable Reader. So, slips . . .

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger

Since I dress vintage so often yet many of my dresses are on the cheaper end (read: not lined) this means I need to wear a slip underneath.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger

I prefer a vintage slip to shaper-wear under these circumstances because the two are designed to go together. Shaper-wear can bunch in odd places where a nice silky vintage slip drapes just so. Also it looks lovely if you happen to be caught mid-makeup application by the nice young busboy they sent up with your milk (for morning tea).

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger
Chemise  1908  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger
Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger

Like vintage dresses, I have very little difficulties finding vintage slips that fit me, they seem to be cut for a large rack, small ribs, and bit of hip. Almost any vintage shop worth its mothballs will have a slip section as well as a dress section, usually back in one corner. But vintages slips still also turn up in thrift stores, I've never paid more than $15 for one.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger

There are other options, like teddies and tap pants and the like. I'll use them for under full skirt dresses, but since I tend to opt for pencil dresses, anything that adds bulk down bellow looks . . . odd. This is also why, although I really prefer thigh-highs, I actually tend to opt for full coverage stockings most of the time. (Thigh-highs in a pencil skirt means you can see the garter clips, especially when sitting down, a big no no.)

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger
Drawers  1900s  The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

And if there is one thing your foundation garments should NEVER do, it is show in ANY way!

Unless, of course, that is the whole purpose of the outfit.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger
 1950s The Victoria & Albert Museum
Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger
 My favorite garter. All of mine are from Held Over on Haight Street $8 ~ $12.
Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger
The obligatory matched undies.

So, a brief note about undies.

If you, like me, favor a pencil skirt, please find yourself some micro invisaline undies and wear with control-top stockings so you have no VPL (visible pantie line) or learn to love a thong or go comando. You have no other choices, I am afraid. There is no greater sin in the universe than VPL. Trust me, Fashionable Reader, there just isn't.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger

 Which brings us to stockings!

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger
Stockings  1890s  2 The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger
Stockings  1900s  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Something has happened to stockings over the past 20 years. They've started to suck. I mean, suck construction-wise. We have far more options so far as retro styles are concerned (just do a search for backseam nylons on Amazon and see how many hits you get! I remember the days when you were lucky to find one pair!) but they will only last for a few wearings. I have stockings from the 80s (not even the 50s) that I can still wash a wear today.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger

So you want my number one stocking tip?

Avoid Leg Avenue. 

I'm a size 4 - 6 on the bottom and stand 5"6' tall, not a difficult fit really (nothing like my upper half). Yet LA stockings NEVER fit me. They are invariably too long, cheaply made, and too tight around the thigh. They appear to be made for barbie dolls. If I need a quick pair I always go for Music Legs instead. I find their fit is far better. However, in general I haunt thrift stores for nylons from the 80s which occasionally turn up unopened and in nice pale creamy colors.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger

My number two stocking tip? Put a tiny dollop of clear nail polish on the back-seam on your Achilles tendon, stay still while it dries. It'll keep your seams from moving. I will say, for the record, this is the only tattoo I have seriously considered, because keeping the seam straight is still an effort.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger
Gail Carriegr Talks eShakti ~ Shopping, Ordering, & Measuring5 Things to Look For in a Corset from Gail Carriger 7 Tips on How to Buy a Corset That Fits from Gail Carriger How Do I Choose A Corset Style? Tips from Gail Carriger Then & Now ~ Orange Undergarments10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger Then & Now ~ Red CrinolineProper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger

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