Red and Black Victorian Walking Gown – Ensemble

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I made this striking gown to sell in my Etsy shop, but as soon as my daughter Shara saw it,  it became hers. I would say it has “attitude”.  She looked so stunning in it that I had to give it to her, and in retrospect, perhaps I made it for her without realizing that I was doing so!  Shara and her husband like to do a little Steam Punk once in a while and this gown lends itself  to that, as well as to a strictly Victorian look. Shara therefore considers it a pretty versatile addition to have in her historical wardrobe.SLR_2_5600-2 It did look wonderfully festive when it was worn to the Victorian Christmas at the O’Dell House Museum.

For accessories, I bought a plain black, buckled, ladies felted top hat to go with it. I decorated it with red lace, black french netting, a few cocky feathers, a black net train and a big red rose. It also has a black parasol and matching reticule. Shara also wears netted black crocheted gloves, and a black beaded choker. Black brocade Victorian style booties complete this ensemble.

IMG_0014-002This Victorian walking gown consists of a polonaise and a walking skirt. I find it has a French feeling to it and  I also like it as a riding habit. The skirt, which is made from a black embroidered taffeta, has one large ruffle and is trimmed in black and red venise laces and satin ribbon. It is slightly trained at the back.

SLR_2_5437-002The polonaise, is made in a rich blood red and black shot striped taffeta and is fully lined and boned. It incorporates both the bodice and the over-skirt and has a nice large bustle, as well as a pleated basque at the back.  It is trimmed with matching black venise lace, tulle lace at the neckline and sleeves, and  ruched black satin ribbon. I had about a half yard of a very long, red, 8 inch venise lace, which matched the red of the taffeta exactly, so I added that to the front of the polonaise as well. I find it really stands out against the black of the skirt. This bodice closes at the front with black satin fabric self made buttons.

I’m planning to make a variation of this ensemble again as it is so striking. I have more of the striped taffeta, not only in the red but in a blue as well.

Don’t forget to click on the pictures to get the full size and effect!SLR_4_2486-002

The Historical Parasol

A Parasol for the "Passage to India"

A Parasol for the “Passage to India”

Almost everyone has used an umbrella on a rainy day. I can remember a time when it was part of the back to school arsenal, we all had to walk, either to the bus stop or to the school, and it  didn’t matter what the weather was like. My mother didn’t have the luxury of a car in the driveway for many years, as with most families my father took it to go to work each day. That meant we had to walk to school, no rides, so…we all owned rain gear, rubber boots and umbrellas.

Lady with a Parasol by Manet

Lady with a Parasol, by Monet

Parasols were a somewhat different matter and weren’t used as much, particularly not individually or in this part of the world. Of course, most of us likely own a patio umbrella or a beach parasol.  In other parts of the world however, individual parasols are and always have been very popular and in history they were a staple of the fashion industry.

Parasols and umbrellas are truly ancient and have been used for thousands of years to protect their users from both the sun and the rain. Sculptures and Pictograms of the very early civilizations display the use of parasols, particularly by the upper classes  and royalty. They were made of various materials including feathers, palm leaves, bamboo and paper.  In China they were even collapsible and lacquered or waxed making them somewhat water repellent.  In Egypt tanned skin was unfashionable and the upper classes shielded themselves from the sun. Parasols were used in India, Assyria, Persia and Greece, as early as 1200 BC by high ranking noblemen and were generally carried by their servants.

Parasols carried by the servants of a Nobleman

Parasols carried by the servants of a Nobleman

By the early 16th century parasols had made their way to Europe, most likely through trading routes, and via the silk road. They became very popular with church dignitaries and were soon-after adopted by the European gentry. There is some speculation that the halos seen above religious figures in various paintings, may actually have been the addition of a misunderstood parasol.

During the following centuries the parasol became a very popular fashion item, they very much belonged to the realm of high society women, whose pale and untanned skin was the signature of their rank. They became small, light and collapsible so there was no longer the need for a servant to carry them.

Lace and Beaded Fringe

Lace and Beaded Fringe

In the 18th century a parasol completed a woman’s outfit, just as a hat, handbag and shoes might. They were made of cotton, silk and adorned with lace, braid, satin, beading and an assortment of  other various trims.  The handles were long or shorter, the covers small or larger, it all depended on the era and the fashion trends of the day.  From what I have seen, the handles were made of wood and decorated with ivory, mother of pearl and even gold and silver. Not only did they protect these ladies from the sun, but they were also used as a means to flirt, and even as a handy way to protect them from unwanted advances.

Parasol Detail

Parasol Detail

When my research was completed, I knew I needed to add the historical parasol to the accessories list for the ladies’ gowns, “The Passage to India” and “An English Rose”.  There are many beautiful parasols available, and the sky is really the limit, but I was looking for a particular style.  I wanted a small covering and longer handle.  After much searching I found just what I was looking for, in a variety of colours and at a reasonable price.  They were however unadorned so…I would have to decorate them myself.  I purchased two, a black one and an ivory one.

Accessories for the Passage to India

As it is in modern times, accessories in history were of great importance. This did not apply to just the ladies, but also to the gentlemen.  As we are creating these costumes, we are finding that it is the accessories that have the greatest cost.

Ladies attired in cotton chintz dresses and properly accessorized

Ladies attired in cotton chintz dresses and quite properly accessorized

A lady, for example, required footwear, underpinnings, jewelery, gloves, headgear and other accessories.  A “proper” lady, in many eras of history, would not have left her home without her head covered, and morning hats or caps differed vastly from evening ones.

Comfortable flat footwear

Comfortable flat footwear

A lady’s underpinnings could include a chemise, a corset, stays, petticoats, bloomers, hoops, panniers, pockets and stockings—often all at once.  She would not go out without gloves, and footwear could range from slippers to sturdy boots.  She might have worn a shawl, cape or a coat and carry a reticule.  Her jewelry would be carefully chosen to match her outfit, and might be simple or extravagant depending on whether it was worn during the day or in the evening.  It would surely include a necklace, bracelet, earrings, possibly a brooch and certainly a ring or two.  She might wear hair decorations, would never be without a fan, and in the day would most likely have had her parasol handy to protect her porcelain white skin from the sun, and heaven forbid, a tan.

Very pretty pearl, pink coral and shell clasp necklace

Very pretty pearl, pink coral and shell clasp necklace

So when I thought about how I would accessorize the Passage to India, I had to take a few important things into account. I needed to focus on minimizing our costs, whether I would accessorize for the day or evening, and whether it would be for the indoors or outdoors.  I also had to do a little research to familiarize myself with the accessories of that time period.  I decided to start from the inside, with intentions to work my way out.

For historical underpinnings I’ve opted for a four hoop under skirt rather than the panniers.  It will give me the fullness I want since the skirts of the gown are fairly wide and I want the round look, not the square one that panniers give.  I’ve also got myself a handy dandy pocket made of muslin and grosgrain ribbon which simply ties around the waist and can be accessed through the side slits in the petticoat. Great to carry a bit of cash, ID, lipstick and so on.  The pocket means I can go without a reticule and is really quite unnoticeable, as it’s under the skirts.

The Pocket

The Pocket

I have decided on a pair of lace fingerless gloves, since I will be out of doors but I don’t want the restriction of gloves on my fingers.  I found myself a nice pair of flats for my feet, (I don’t want to sacrifice comfort in that department) and will wear a shawl if the day is cool.  I’ll have my ivory parasol to shield me from the modern sun’s harmful rays, and my vintage ivory fan in hand.

Pink and Ivory Accessories

Pink and Ivory Accessories

I will wear a pearl and pink coral necklace and bracelet, pearl earrings.  I want to  wear my lovely antique shell cameo brooch, if I can secure it to my dress properly so I won’t fear of  losing it. Pearl, coral and shell jewelery was very popular at the time, especially for day wear.  It was arriving—as were fine fabrics, tea and other trade goods—on board the ships coming in from the east.

My beautiful antique Cameo brooch

My beautiful antique Cameo brooch

Lastly, and very importantly, I’ll have to look for a hat. Since I have decided to be a proper lady, I must have my head covered.  Now, I don’t really like myself in a hat and it doesn’t do a thing for the “do” but I’ll have to see what I can come up with.

Well, I think I have it almost in hand!

Phew, I hope I can carry all that stuff, I don’t suppose I’ll have any room to go shopping…unless I bring one of the servants that is…