Dawn's Victorian Costume Diary

August 2002

It seems that the past couple of years here in KC we've had a costume party for Halloween, and they've been a lot of fun. We used the back room of a friend's business, had a potluck dinner, and played a lot of creepy games in the semi-darkness. In years prior to that I would go with college friends down to Houston for a Halloween party every year, which was also a big costume event.

I wasn't sure what we were going to do this year, as our friend's business has gone into bankruptcy and we were out of luck on a replacement location, but we've managed to find a new location, and it looks like the event is on!

This is really exciting news, as my girlfriend Tara and I had gone to see the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and decided we liked the idea of making Victorian costumes for this year's party, if there was one. So, party is a go, and it's time to make the costumes!

And then, just to sweeten the pot, some other friends went with my husband and I to GenCon, where they decided they were going to return next year in wild west garb. It's not very often that I get a chance to make the same costumes work for two events!

It's early August and I'm still in the planning stages. I spent an evening looking through books and at websites trying to determine what time period the movie thinks it was set in. Movie reality and history don't always match. Based on comments about the characters, what I recall of the script, and the miserable dark stills available online, I come to the conclusion that the movie is supposed to be set in the late 1890's. Maybe even 1898 or 1900. But I'm not going to get that specific because it looks as if the clothing styles of those years aren't going to match what was worn in the movie, even though other evidence points to the very end of the decade.

My husband says he likes the suit worn by the character of Dorian Gray. (below) This is actually the easy part. I have to make a frock coat. I have a vest pattern for the period. Several actually, and he has a shirt and probably pants that we can make work.

This is the best picture I could find of the cast and costumes. However, I also find this one which clearly silhouettes the character of Mina Harker, and is the only shot which shows exactly what she is wearing. Notice that there is no bustle.

This would put the dress after 1890, when bustles suddenly went out of fashion. I'd like to recreate something of the period which evokes the efficient, businesslike attitude of "the League" and is somewhat historically correct.

I'm not sure what I'm wearing yet, but I am leaning toward a two piece dress, or a skirt/ jacket/ blouse combination. Mina Harker wore something like this in the movie, but I cannot find a good picture of it yet. I kind of like this outfit that is displayed on the Greater Bay Area Costume Guild website. I'm looking for something flexible enough in styling, or basic enough that with a minimum of work I can convert it from 1890 to 1870. After a little bit more research into the clothing of the time period I realize that the biggest change is in the bustle, and I think I can make it work by adding a drape and bustle to the skirt to take it back in time a decade.

Tara tells me she likes this dress on display at the Kent State University website. It's stunning. I have no idea how it is constructed.

It's now day two of the planning stage and I've just spent another 5 hours online and reading costume books narrowing down my choices. Argh! Of course, prior to this what I knew about victorian clothing would fit into about two sentences. After browsing pattern companies online and comparing designs, then checking them against pattern reviews I come to the conclusion that I don't really like any of them. There are some by Truly Victorian that I like, actually. But I've discovered diagrams for the skirts I like in my copy of Patterns of Fashion 1860-1920, so I won't be buying any skirt patterns. I do like their Eton Jacket though. Hmmn.

I also need to find a blouse pattern I like. Most of the designs I see online I think are ugly.

Meanwhile I'm chatting with my friends who are going to do the western costumes. They are sending me links to pieces they will be buying. They're doing the black-hat long dusters look. Hats... my husband will need a hat. I start looking at the prices and remind myself we have a year to plan this and find bargains. Hmmn. Is he going to wear a holster? What do those cost? Ouch! Shoes or boots? Dress shoes with the frock coat, I think. It's always the accessories that kill you.

Part Two

Some of the artwork is Copyright BillyBear4Kids.com