The Victorian Aesthetic.

From the BBCs new series of Sherlock & it’s filmic counterpart, from The Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec to the passion for Steampunk, Victorian inspired design seems to haunt me wherever I look nowadays.

Dredging up memories of my History of Dress class at University I remember two distinct aesthetics from this period, one the reaction to the other & whilst I adore the theory & passion behind Rosetti, Morris & Burne Jones to name but a few, it is the more mainstream fashion from this time which is piquing my interest at the moment.

So it is with glee I turn to my old friends The Cut of Women’s Clothes, Corsets & Crinolines, Taste & Fashion, & the many other books I have collected over the years on this very subject. I want to refresh the basic principles you see, readdress my design ethos if you will and generally re-energize my inspiration.

In taking myself back to the source material I hope to emerge with new & interesting ideas on how to wear Victorian and Victorian inspired clothing today, & of course pick up some handy hints!

The ‘cuirasse’ bodice started the beautiful back seams of the early 1870s, in response to the need for a closer fit. The ‘front of the bodice was still fitted by darts, but as the sides were on the cross grain a horizontal waistline dart, taken from the bust dart to the side seam, lifted the material back to the straight to give a good fit around the hips’. Handy hint number one, & my thanks to The Cut of Women’s Clothes! I simply adore the labored seams in the back of the bodices from this period, they so beautifully emphasize the line & curve of a lady, & can easily be manipulated to work to her advantage.

The 1860s actually saw the first bustle skirt, & by the 1870s these only had fullness at the center back which is what we are most used to seeing nowadays. The over skirt ‘was at first just caught up on the seams, & at the back tapes were sewn inside & at the waist which, when tied together, pulled the material into puffs’. This is a tried & tested look & I am sure we have all seen modern examples of this as well as extant. The ‘fourreau’ or ‘tie-back’ dress came next which used the basic lines of the cuirasse bodice & had tapes sewn into the side seams which tied center back  to draw the dress close in to the figure; honestly some of these dresses look as wonderful on the inside as they do on the outside. Effectively the over skirt which was previously puffed now pleated and fell.

Tailor made jackets with matching skirts became the fashion in the 1880s, & it is understandable why they are the popular choice when wanting to wear something Victorian today, the cuirasse bodice cut higher on the hips to allow for the return of beautiful drapery which, in previous styles, had ‘been produced largely by the cut of the skirt itself, in the 1880’s the draperies & decorations were all separate pieces arranged on to a foundation skirt’.  Another useful insight!

What I am noticing in all of this, & have been for some time now, is the decoration, the pleats, the pin tucks, the bows & general loveliness! I find this is sometimes missing from their modern counterparts, which is a real shame as oftentimes this is the most beautiful part. I think I shall delve further into the adornment from this period, as I am finding it really most interesting.

Now, obviously I am swinging with great abandon through about 40 years of history here however; it is having the desired effect & I can feel my creative juices flowing! In my experience anything can be used for inspiration & I am currently trying to gather enough to inform my designs to move forward. In starting Laura After Midnight I thought that years of pent up frustration at having to interpret others ideas would break free & I’d easily be able to dash up a collection. This has not been the case & I find that, after a number of very frustrating weeks, I am to start from the beginning and gather inspiration as I would for any other job the only difference is that I am now the ‘Director’!

I want Laura After Midnight to do something new & different, something innovative & interesting and I am hoping that my costuming background will help. As I have said, a lot of modern Victorian reinterpretations miss out the most delightful things of this period & for this reason I am starting with pleats & pin tucks, with handmade flowers & hand stitching, with lace of all varieties & visually arresting seam lines & simple natural fabrics like lawns & silks.

I have also made the decision to start on the small things and work my way up. . . expect my range of silk flower corsages, mini top hats & other frippery & finery to adorn & delight to come out in the next few weeks.

Following that, I have some rather exciting ideas for waistcoats I cannot wait to get started!

Happy stitching!

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