The 19th Century SilhouetteWhat dress makes the cut? The Victorian Era saw many changes in silhouette over the decades, but the two most iconic styles of dress were the hoop skirt and the bustle. The hoop skirt is the predecessor to the bell-shaped lolita skirts we wear today which make them easy to channel in coordinates, while the bustle has inspired a few modern interpretations on the lolita silhouette.
The bustle is my personal favorite from this period; I just love how it adds interest to every side on a lolita dress, and the design is very exclusive to the Victorians. There are several ways that lolita brands have alluded to the bustle in their designs, either by pinning the overskirt fabric so that it forms a swag, draping material on the rear, or just by placing ruffles on the back. Atelier Pierrot and Victorian Maiden in particular have made a large array of bustled skirts that can be adjusted up or down.
The necklines of the 1800s were high collared during the day and plunging in the evening. Classic lolita brands often put out cuts with standing collars that perfectly match the daytime look, and scoop necks draped with lace for the more elegant eveningwear will also sometimes appear. There were so many styles for sleeves in this era that you can get away with most anything, so just focus on where the neckline falls.
When it comes to brands heavily inspired by Victorian silhouettes, you can't really go wrong with Victorian Maiden, Mary Magdelene, Atelier Pierrot, or Excentrique. Even Angelic Pretty will release their pastel version of a Victorian gown every now and then, which is a measurement of its broad appeal. No matter what your style, there is a Victorian-inspired dress for it!
While you can certainly get away with a Victorian-inspired dress featuring a fully illustrated print for a modern twist, the most common patterns at the time were florals and stripes. Jewel tones were very popular because artificial dyes had recently been invented, making it possible to get brighter colors than ever before, but they did wear more subdued colors as well. Wearing all black was considered mourning attire.
Outerwear & ShoesWhen the weather turned cold, ladies would wear fitted jackets with high collars, or capes/cloaks long and short. These came in all different styles from minimal decor to lavish cuts and fabrics. Victorian Maiden and Innocent World are on the forefront of Victorian-inspired outerwear.
Lace-up ankle boots are the popular image of Victorian footwear, but they certainly didn't wear that to the ballroom! Small satin slippers were also popular at the time, often decked out with little details. The heels for shoes were spool shaped (wider on the top and bottom) and the toe was pointed. Pleaser makes a few good Victorian-inspired boots, but American Duchess is about as accurate as it gets. Classic brands also release modern takes on the Victorian shoe.
AccessoriesThe Victorians had all sorts of accessories and embellishments they loved to add to their outfits.
- Bonnets - Made from straw in the Summer, and decadent fabrics in the Winter. Ladies loved dressing them up much as we do with ribbons, flowers, plumes, and even real whole stuffed birds! Full bonnets that covered the back of the head were worn with a cute updo and ringlet curls.
- Hats - Large wide brims topped with silk flowers and plumes and fake fruits were popular for ladies of wealth. Triple Fortune makes some that are mouth-watering, but you can find suitable ones fairly easy by searching for fancy hats. "Tea hats" like those you see old women wearing to tea rooms would work very well.
- Stoles/Shawls - Delicate lace and fabric shawls would wrap around the elbows or shoulders of ladies day and night. Baby, the Stars Shine Bright has even started producing their own topped with fake flowers. You may be able to find these at thrift or antique stores.
- Tights - Legwear was very basic, as the legs were not to be seen! I recommend solid or lacy tights, but nothing too flashy.
- Parasols - Already a lolita favorite! Ones dripping in lace are positively Victorian.
- Bags - Pair your look with a small beaded bag held from a chain or thin strap with clasps, just like they used to. These can easily be found in everyday clothing and department stores.
- Gloves - These were an absolute must for ladies. Long sleeved gloves reaching past the elbows were paired with short sleeved dresses for an exquisitely elegant look, while short gloves were worn with long sleeves. Try ruffled vintage gloves, or use a lacy pair for a soft look.
- Fans - A hand fan was more than just a way to fight the heat, they were used to communicate across the room in a secret language! Lace or illustriously painted fans would pair fine with lolita.
- Jewelry - Brooches, cameos, lockets, and intricately detailed yet bold pieces are a staple of this era. Jewelry brand 1928 exclusively makes antique-inspired accessories and many, many cameos and lockets can be found on etsy.
So there you have a basic (well, as basic as I could hold myself back to write) look on adding some Victorian era charm to your coordinate. Another approach you can take would be to wear a corset, or a dress with corset lacing, as that is an icon of the era even though it was never worn outside their clothing. Our beloved Alice was also brought to life in this period, making Wonderland coordinates a cute theme.
I put together a Victorian-inspired look so you can see these items together. This is the kind of look one would wear to a park on a sunny and breezy day I imagine. I picture a small picnic on the grass surrounded by dots of small flowers and little dogs playing.
As a last bit of advice, here are a few things to try and avoid:
- Square necklines - These are just too boxy for the period. If you don't have any blouses with a high collar or scoop neck, I suggest sticking to a rounded neckline.
- A row of bows down the bodice - This is more reminiscent of the Rococo era. A bow or two will be fine, but more than that will channel Marie Antoinette more than Queen Victoria.
- Jabots/Cravats - By this time the cravat had evolved into a bow tie and lacy jabots were nowhere to be seen. This is such an extremely nit-picky detail though, so feel free to ignore it!