The Writer’s Guide to Victorian Clothing Myths
The corset tends to take the spotlight when it comes to misinformation about Victorian dress. But there are myths surrounding other articles of clothing that have been repeated in books, TV shows, and movies.
Hoop Skirts Were Solid
Hoop skirts, also known as crinolines or cage crinolines, were developed to replace the multiple layers of petticoats that were being used to achieve the fashionable wide skirt of the 1850s and 60s. They were made of a widening series of flexible wire hoops connected by vertical tapes suspended from the waistband. The hoops could be left bare or covered with fabric. This arrangement meant that hoops skirts could be squished into different shapes for passing through narrow spaces or sitting. When removed, they collapsed flat.
Unfortunately, several movies and TV shows depict them as been solid rigid structures with no give. For an idea of how flexible hoop skirts are I suggest watching this video by Prior Attire.
Clothing was Hot and Uncomfortable
One of the questions I get as a historical reenactor all the time is: Aren’t you hot? Of course, if the outside temperature is in the 90s or 100s °F (32-37° C) everyone is hot no matter what they are wearing. However, most of the time I’m comfortable because my entire outfit is made of natural breathable fabrics. Even if I’m wearing a corset, because it’s made of natural fibers, it’s usually not too bad. If I’m wearing a hoop skirt, I’m even more comfortable because I get the air flow under the skirt. Honestly, I’m probably cooler than the people wearing skin-hugging polyester.
It Took a Long Time to Get Dressed
There is a belief that historical clothing, especially that from the Victorian era, took a long time to get into. This is probably due to how complicated it looks. However, I can say from personal experience that getting dressed in full Victorian attire usually takes about 15-20 minutes. Honestly, it sometimes takes me longer to do my hair than it does to get dressed.
Also, contrary to popular belief, I can completely dress myself. It helps to have another person lace the corset, but I can do it on my own, if needed.
I recommend this video to see how long it takes to get into various women’s styles from the Victorian era.
Going to the Bathroom
Another question I get is: How do you go to the bathroom in that? I do it the way they did back then. I wear split bloomers, which are open at the crotch. Then I lift the skirt in the front and straddle. That way I don’t have to mess with lifting everything in the back, which would be especially difficult with the bustle styles. If a woman was using a chamber pot, she would just lift her skirt in the front and place it between her legs
People Were Much Smaller Back Then
People were slightly smaller during the Victorian era. However, they were not the midgets that people think of. The main reason we picture Victorians as tiny is because most of the clothing from the period that survives was worn by teenagers and women in their early 20s. This clothing made it for a couple of reasons. One, since only small young women could fit into it, it wasn’t worn until it fell apart. Two, many of these dresses were sentimental and expensive, such as wedding and court presentation gowns. Think about how many women today save their wedding dresses even though they can’t fit into them years later.
Most of the larger clothing was worn until it disintegrated, leaving us with mostly smaller examples.
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