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Victorian Society at Fall Church P.O. Box 7436

Falls Church, VA 22040

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Dressing the Part

For many of our members a big part of the fun in the Victorian Society at Falls Church is dressing up.  The key thing is how to dress appropriately by era.  The information below provides some guidelines to the fashions by era.  Keep in mind that not all women dressed in the latest styles; for example not all women in the 1860's wore hoop skirts.

Early to Mid 1860's (Civil War) -  For women - skirts were full and maintained a bell shape, held out by multiple petticoats and the new "cage crinoline" invented in the mid 1850's. Corded petticoats were also worn to hold the skirts out. Dresses could be one piece, or consist of a bodice and skirt.  Some women had multiple bodices for one skirt, such as a ball bodice and day bodice.  Bodices were generally high-waisted with dropped shoulders and often had a small peplum at the back.  During this time, the "garidbaldi" jacket became popular and was often worn with a swiss waist (see the woman in brown below).   Day dresses closed up the front with buttons, or hooks and eyes, while ball bodices closed up the back.  Plaid, florals, and other designs were popular, as was fringe trim.  The new aniline dyes meant that bright colors such as magenta and Prussian blue could be worn, a departure from the earthy tones of the earlier eras, although brown remained extremely popular.  Bonnets were worn during the day.

For men - sack suits were popular, which were similar to men's two piece suits today, although they were generally worn with a vest.  Patterns such as checks and plaids were popular, and vests in bright colors and brocades were popular. Men always wore suspenders to hold their pants up, and often cufflinks to hold their cuffs togther, although some cuffs had button closures.   Top hats, made of beaver fur or silk were worn for dressy occasions.  Due to Queen Victoria's fondness for Scotland, kilts were worn by both men and boys.

Reconstruction (1865 - 1875) By the late 1860's the hoop was becoming elliptical, a departure from the earlier bell shape.  Small bustles were starting to appear and a new bodice, the Polonaise became fashionable.   The Polonaise was a revival from a style that originated in the 1700's and consisted of a long fitted bodice over a skirt of matching or contrasting fabric, and gathered at the back into a small poof. Draped overskirts are worn, and dresses contain an increasing amount of ruffles, bows and flounces, often made of the same fabric as the dress.  Hats sit high on the head.