One of my favorite times on the recent tour for Murder of Mary Russell was the launch, when friends near and far gathered to celebrate the publication–and to admire the amazing donning of Victorian garb by Caroline Bellios, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Fashion and assistant director of the Fashion Resource Center at SAIC.
I got in touch with Professor Bellios when I was looking for a fun way to launch the book, and a search for Victorian cosplay enthusiasts that began with The Victorian Society of Chicago ended up with a whole lot more.
Professor Bellios started off dressed in her combinations, stockings, and shoes (once you put on a corset, you don’t want to be bending to fasten your shoes…)
She laced on her corset with the assistance of her sister, Joanna Bellios Wozniak, playing the role of lady’s maid. First Caroline worked the front hooks of the busk, then let out her breath while the laces in back were drawn tight, after which she could tie the long strings. She noted that those corsets we see in museums, which give rise to the belief that all Victorian women had 20″ waists, would in fact not have been laced all the way together, but instead would be separated by a few inches. (Which may be something of a relief, although that doesn’t account for those tiny shoes one also sees…)
Then came the petticoat–which in 1879, the year Clara Hudson meets Sherlock Holmes, would have been relatively straight, since the fashion was for the long line rather than the exaggerated hips of the crinoline era.
It was followed by the underskirt and the skirt itself, with ruffles (removable for cleaning–the streets were filthy!)
After the skirts came a many-buttoned bodice
then the jacket with its long, snug sleeves.
In 1879, hoops were long gone and even bustles were (temporarily) in abeyance, replaced by ruffles that emphasized the smooth front and dramatic back line of the skirt:
We now added a hat:
..and with a small reticule fastened to her wrist, had the very model of the Victorian lady, out to conquer the world:
Professor Bellios even brought a few actual vintage garments, including gorgeously delicate silk 1920s undergarments, and a Victorian corset and pair of bustles, one with wires, the other composed of tightly-stuffed linen rolls (horsehair, probably).
This really was a thrill, and I owe a Victorian boat-load of thanks to Caroline and her sister, to Anderson’s at Naperville, and to long-time friend of Russell and photographic genius John Bychowski, who took all these photos except the last. (John is also a moderator in the Book Club.)