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Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Menswear by Gail Carriger

Part One: Victorian Dress Thrifting for Men

Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Menswear by Gail Carriger
Most Likely American, c. 1860s. Image from my personal collection, please re-post with attribution.
1. Hat
This is the most expensive item. Top-hats, which can be short (daytime, races, driving, visiting clubs) or tall (evening, formal events, weddings, funerals), and any color (black and gray are most common). Alternatives include bowlers and trilbies (newsboy cap). Men wore hats, always, period, end of story. Hats rarely turn up in thrift stores, except trilbies. Top-hats are cheapest online, expect to spend around $75.
Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Menswear by Gail Carriger
Most Likely American, c. 1860s. Image from my personal collection, please re-post with attribution.
2. Cravat
A cravat is a length of colorful lightweight fabric tied around the neck. Modern ties do NOT work. The longer a cravat, the more elaborate the knot. No velvet and no wool. (Upper-class evening dress required at least 3 yards of white Egyptian cotton, called "lawn.") A black ribbon might be tied over a cravat for formal occasions.

TIP: A cravat should be AT LEAST as long as your arm and as wide as your splayed hand.

THRIFTERS: Look for colorful women's scarves, sashes, and fabric from which a long strip can be cut.

3. Shirt
The Victorian mens shirt is basically a plain, white men's dress shirt (no stripes, no ruffles) with full sleeves and no turned collar (though this isn't vital). (Upper-class collars were squared and stuck straight up, an independent piece was inserted under the cravat.)
THRIFTERS: If you can't find this part of your costume, you're hopeless.
Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Menswear by Gail Carriger
Most Likely American, c. 1860s. Image from my personal collection, please re-post with attribution.
4. Waistcoat
The modern men's vest with the peaked bottom front, deep v-neck, and synthetic tied back is not Victorian. A waistcoat should end about two inches below the natural waist-line and be squared off at the bottom (easy to hem from pointed or too long). The v-neck ended at the sternum, though it can go higher and/or fold over in a curve (the shawl collar). Waistcoats should be made completely (front and back) from the same fabric and be colored and/or patterned: think red, yellow, green. They can be double or single-breasted, single is more flattering to most men.

THRIFTERS: Look in WOMEN'S VESTS for waistcoats with the same fabric all the way around, and no pockets (or one small one near the waist). Although for steampunk you cn always embellish the pocket. You can also think in terms of sleeve removal. If you can find a thin jacket or robe from which the sleeves can be taken? Those brocade cropped monstrosities from the 80s can have a whole new life.


Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Menswear by Gail Carriger
Most Likely American, c. 1860s. Image from my personal collection, please re-post with attribution.
5. Jacket
The jacket is one of the hardest things to find: should have tails and be fitted through the torso. It can be single or double-breasted. Tails that fit properly end at the back of the knee. 3 options:
Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Menswear by Gail Carriger
Still from the BBC Mini Series, Cranford
 A. Tuxedo-tails (evening dress): Modern styles work fine, but make sure to AVOID the satin stripe along the seam (AKA the tuxedo stripe) and anything too pointed.

Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Menswear by Gail Carriger
Still from BBC miniseries Cranford
Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Menswear by Gail Carriger
B. Swallow-tails (or morning coat): Not cut-away square like tuxedo-tails, but forms tails by graduating down from front to back. (Man in the photo of the couple at the beginning is wearing a swallow tail.)
Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Menswear by Gail Carriger
Still from Cranford
C. Frock-coat (or skirted jacket): Basically tails without any cut away or graduation at all, they fit to the waist and then flair out. This style looks the most period and is the hardest to find.

THRIFTERS: Look for long coats or jackets that can be cut down. Women's coats work great but often don't fit through arms and shoulders. Expect to spend $75 on a quality pair of tails.

Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Menswear by Gail Carriger
Image from my personal collection, please re-post with attribution.

6. Trousers
Plaid, striped, checked, formal, and tweed all work. Trousers must fit all the way from waist to top of foot with a slightly tapered leg. No Belts.

THRIFTERS: You should have good luck if you look in WOMEN'S SLACKS (watch out for too-light weight fabrics).

7. Socks
Modern dress socks that match the shoes are fine.

8. Shoes
Nice men's dress shoes in black or brown will work fine, spectator and wingtips came in during the later half of the Victorian era but were considered very, very daring.

THRIFTERS: Look for men's dancing or formal shoes very plain.

9. Accessories
A. Scarf: Long, straight wool or silk scarves (the same length as cravats) with a small fringe were worn draped around the neck. (Silk ones are called opera scarves.)
B. Cravat Pin: A small, jeweled pin fastens your cravat (just below or inside the knot) to your shirt. Usually the same kind of design as a woman's hatpin, such as a single pearl, or an emerald set in gold - only shorter in the stick part.
C. Pocket Watch
D. Pipe
E. Suspenders: Since most did not wear a belt, almost all Victorian men wear suspenders to keep their trousers up. But as suspenders reside under the vest no one knows if they are there but you.
F. Spats or Gaiters (knee-high spats): Spats and gaiters can be found on line or at your local military surplus stores. Gaiters are really difficult to find in tend to indicate "Squire."
G. Gloves: Should be white or gray, kid leather (practically impossible to find) or cotton.
H. Buttons: All plastic buttons should be replaced with metal or cloth-covered ones.
Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Menswear by Gail Carriger
Most Likely American, c. 1860s. Image from my personal collection, please re-post with attribution.
10. Overcoat (optional)
Three options, all made from either wool or canvas.
A. Trench Coat: A double-breasted coat that falls at least to mid-calf.
B. Duster: A floor-length, single-breasted coat fitted through the waist (think matrix).
C. Great Coat: Cut like either of the above but with one, two, or three capes attached over the shoulders.

How to Remove Odors From Hand-Me-Down Clothes

SHORTLIST
Men (or Madame Lefoux), when you walk into a thrift store you should zero-in on these sections
Women's Scarves = cravat or scarf
Men's Shirts = white dress shirt
Women's Vests = waistcoat
Women's Coats = jacket to make into tails
Men's Jackets = tails
Women's Slacks = trousers
Men's Shoes = dress shoes

Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Menswear by Gail Carriger
Meme via FB

Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Introduction by Gail Carriger

Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Introduction by Gail Carriger
 Kai modeling a dress I made out of thrifted items: 
bridesmaid's cream satin dress, a crochet tablecloth, brown velvet bathrobe, recovered hat and pheasant feathers.

I originally wrote this post many years ago for a different blog, before I was a paid authorbeast, when I used my online journal as a kind of information distribution center for friends. Back then it was all about thrifting for the Dickens Fair, an icon of the Christmas season up here in NorCal which I worked for a decade or so. I adapted it to be a general Thrifting Victoriana post, and eventually used it for a presentation at the first steampunk convention Steam Powered back in 2008.

Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Introduction by Gail Carriger
 One of my beta readers at Dickens wearing a top (we thrifted) she made, from a 1980s plaid vest + skirt set 
(she tailored in the vest and used the skirt for bell sleeves). 

So I thought I would reboot it one last time for you, my most fashionable of readers. My hope is it will evolve and become a place I can point people too whenever they ask me the inevitable questions, how do I thift for a {fill in the blank} costume.

Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Introduction by Gail Carriger
Outfit made of thrifted velvet bathrobe, white king sized sheet set, tailored 1970's blouse, straw hat re-purposed to be a bonnet lined with a pleated handkerchief, lots of ribbon and fake flowers.

Anyway, Fashionable Reader, as you may well have guessed I am the shopping denizen for my particular group. One of my few super powers (including the inexplicable ability to turn off street lights) is thrift store juju. I've used it to construct various outfits over the years, for self and others. But it ties in to the "eye" as it were. I have an eye traind to spot the possibilities. So this post was writen to help others develop the "eye."

Please note: this is meant to be a basic tips instruction manual to help those just getting into costuming, not for those with more advanced techniques.  All rules are made to be broken so please keep in mind that this post is 101, not seminar level. Also I'm not using modifiers for the sake of brevity, all of the instructions bellow are meant as suggestions not commands.

Here we go!

Thrifting for Victorian Inspired Fashion

Some General Thoughts
  • Middle to upper-class costumes should FIT properly. 
  • For ladies this means bodice (shoulder to waist) hugs the upper body, blouse sleeves end at the wrists, and skirts show no ankle. 
  • For men this means the jacket fits the upper torso (shoulder to waist), sleeves are long and do not ride-up, waistcoats are tight to the body, and trousers start at the WAIST and end at top of the shoe, below the ankle.
Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Introduction by Gail Carriger
TIP: Look for something you might see on old-fashioned wallpaper.

Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Introduction by Gail Carriger

  • Color is your friend. The Victorians loved color. Take advantage of: white, black, pastel, jewel tones, primary, secondary, and contrasting. Colors project images. For example: pastels and whites tended to be worn by unmarried young ladies, blacks and reds by matrons. For men, yellow and red suggest dandy, and blue is associated with the Corinthian set. Women tend to be more matched. A combination of three colors was considered flattering early on in the Victorian era, for example, sage green, peach, and black, by the 1870's graduating shades of the same color came into vogue. The exception is blouses, worn underneath rest of the outfit, these are almost always white, regardless.
  • Fabric is NOT your friend. This is England post regency, light fabrics were considered a tad old fashioned, although they did appear. Best to avoid cheep silk, muslin, other light cottons, and, of coarse, anything manmade. Brocade was rare on women, although some men did do it for a waistcoat.
TIP: Opt for twilled raw silks, wool, dupioni, heavy cotton, satin, velvet, taffeta, and other rich, lux, weighty fabrics.

GOOD MOVIES TO COSTUME WATCH

Nicholas Nickleby - for early lower class.
Washington Square - w/ Jennifer Jason Lee, CHECK OUT HER HAIR!
Jane Eyre (A&E) - good lower-class dresses.
Mrs. Brown - for an excellent range in space and class.
Impromptu - great men's attire
North and South - not only good costumes but a great romance, and a killer look at the dark side of life and rise of industrialism during this era.

In Which Gail Carriger Gets Crafty: Turning A Little White Dress Retro Style

In Which Gail Carriger Gets Crafty: Turning A Little White Dress Retro Style

It took me a very long time to learn to wear white. My mother, being a gardener, is deeply mistrustful of the color and has never worn it my whole life. However, it is a common vintage color, or at least cream is.


My dear friend Rachel (who also Betas my books) believes that you can never trust anyone in white trousers. I will admit to once being tempted by a lovely white suit, but until this season the furthest I ever went into white was a tailored white shirt, or cream knit sweater. However, the 2011 spring runways were all about the little white dress (LWD). 

So I decided I could break away from my dear Mum, and become an Adult Who Wears White. I thought if I thrifted one and tailored it myself, perhaps I wouldn't be so scared of it. The quest was on!

In Which Gail Carriger Gets Crafty: Turning A Little White Dress Retro Style
The original dress, cream eyelet muslin from Bon Mar Thrift store, $5.
In Which Gail Carriger Gets Crafty: Turning A Little White Dress Retro Style
The modification in progress. 
Hemmed dress to shorten it and then used cut piece to make small sleeves. 
Also nipped in at the back to make more fitted at the waist. 
In Which Gail Carriger Gets Crafty: Turning A Little White Dress Retro Style
The finished dress on the dummy. Luckily I have a slip that is perfect for wearing underneath.

Here are some ideas as to how to take a dress like this from retro to street and from summer to autumn. I'm looking forward to experimenting.  Of course you don't have to go for the whole dress, you can always just do an accessory.

I'm introducing and new occasional feature to the Retro Rack blog. The book that matches your outfit!

In Which Gail Carriger Gets Crafty: Turning A Little White Dress Retro Style

For the Little White Dress I am suggesting you try an old favorite of mine, Restoree by Anne McCaffery. It's an earth-girl-stolen-to-alien-planet political drama with a great romantic thread and a light breezy tone. It has a summer read feel to it. Don't worry, the aliens are amorphous ~ no bugs. There is some plastic-surgery kind of experimentation, but it's very light. The romance element is wonderfully well done.

Have a lovely weekend all!

In Which Gail Carriger Gets Crafty: Turning A Little White Dress Retro Style
Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Menswear by Gail Carriger Uber Post: Thrifting for Victorian Garb, Introduction by Gail Carriger In Which Gail Carriger Gets Crafty: Turning A Little White Dress Retro Style

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