For my first post on the history of eras gone by that we love to read about in our romance stories, I’m using information from my favorite book, “Victorian Style” by John Crosby Freeman. This remarkable book lists an alphabet of various aspects of this time period. Now, as writers and readers of historical romance stories, we are aware that the rage of Victoriana of today is because of those people who have undertaken the task to preserve the peculiars and particulars of that time. I, personally, am a fanatic of Victoriana. I studied the Civil War period for my undergrad degree and was fascinated at how fashions and ideologies crossed continents, not just societies.
I was going to consider the unequivocal corset, a staple of any lady’s wardrobe during this period, but I think, instead, that perhaps just a general overview of the clothing of this period would do. I can get specific later. And, as I’m writing this at the last minute, I don’t have the time to research what I want to spend time on.
There are those individuals—perhaps you’ve been to one—who participate in historical reenactments. I had the pleasure of speaking with a Union soldier at Gettysburg in 1994 and it was interesting to listen to him. He stayed in character—I couldn’t trip him. Later that same day, I chatted with a couple at dinner who’d just come from doing a presentation as a couple living in Gettysburg during the Civil War. The gentleman was dressed as a Union Colonel and his wife (they were married in real life) was wearing the prettiest evening dress of that period. I sometimes think I’d have done well living back then. I’d certainly have enjoyed the clothes!
And of course, there’s always the classic “Gone with the Wind” book and movie. What we probably don’t realize is that women—and men—were of shorter stature in the 1700s and 1800s. So, if you’re intent on re-creating a gown of that period, just be forewarned that you’ll have to adjust the size. Then, there’s the matter of the corset. Remember how Scarlett’s maid tightened those laces on the corset? And we wonder why there was so much fainting back then…yet, there are still women today who wear the often dreaded “Merry Widow” as it’s also been called in modern times. Many historians recommend, and rightly so, that instead of trying to force our taller frames into dresses and gowns that simply won’t fit, copy the pattern and adjust to fit our more robust frames. You can still dress like Scarlett O’Hara, just not as uncomfortably!
Next time you go to an antique store, see if the proprietor has some period clothing. You can find oodles of websites online. For both writers and readers, our love of this time period will never get old or fade in intensity. Here’s to times past that teach us and entertain us as writers and readers.