Dressing the part of Murder

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…)CB combinations

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…)

CB corset front fastening

CB corset lacing





CB lacing corset

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.

CB petticoat goind on

CB petticoat

It was followed by the underskirt and the skirt itself, with ruffles (removable for cleaning–the streets were filthy!)

CB overskirt

CB overskirt going on

After the skirts came a many-buttoned bodice

CB fastening bodice

then the jacket with its long, snug sleeves.CB putting on jacket

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:CB showing back of 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:

CB fully dressed

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).bustles

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.)

Finally, if you’d like to add a couple of pages to your meditative coloring book, a page illustrating a lady’s Victorian garments is here, with its 1925 counterpart here.


  1. Pat Hathaway on April 25, 2016 at 6:46 am

    That must have been fun to hear all about the fashions of the day. Thanks for sharing all the pictures.

  2. Carol Rogers on April 25, 2016 at 6:53 am

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful pictorial. I love picturing clothing in novels I read and clothes like these are fun to think about. To actually see them and have them explained was a real treat. I love to read because I enjoy my “mind pictures,” but it’s fun to see those pictures come to life in a photograph.

  3. ,Margaret Wood on April 25, 2016 at 7:08 am

    Whew! Aren’t WE lucky!

  4. Merrily Taylor on April 25, 2016 at 7:40 am

    No wonder the well-to-do ladies needed a maid! It must have taken an age to get dressed, and from what I read, the society women changed multiple times daily. Exhausting in itself!

  5. Diane on April 25, 2016 at 7:51 am

    What a fun and visual way to celebrate a book launch!

  6. Diane Kazan on April 25, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    Just got The Murder of Mary Russell today & finished it all in one sitting -all day! Great book, as are all of yours, but I really enjoyed this one!

  7. Elizabeth Dodd on April 26, 2016 at 6:08 am

    And after putting on all that and then having to remove it all at the end of the day, when was there time for anything else?!

  8. Li on April 28, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    Thanks, have read the new book and am in awe that the quality of your writing continues! BUT, i am a little sad that there will be no Mrs. Hudson in residence. Some one, attempting to comfort me, suggested that Mrs. H might be “visited” as part of another Mary book. Okay, but can you promise NOT to kill off Mary and Sherlock! Maybe next, a nice book about policewomen and San Francisco?!
    I am a tad emotional about this—viewing the independent movies wherein Sherlock is older and struggling made me cry

  9. Guy Roberts on May 5, 2016 at 2:09 am

    Hi Laurie,

    I’ve just finished the Murder of Mary Russell and hugely enjoyed it. I was very much impressed with your historical research as well, although I noticed that there were several references to passports, which I don’t think were generally used by British travellers at the time.

    I checked out this website:


    Which has the following passage:

    “In the 19th century, the passport system began to collapse as railways criss-crossed Europe. To the French government, the rigmarole of issuing such documents and checking those of every Tom, Dick and Harriet seemed pointless. In 1861, France abolished passports and many European countries happily followed suit. The passport returned, however, during the First World War in an effort to keep spies at bay.”

    Evidently 19th Century Europe was in many ways a more civilised place for travellers than the more dangerous times that followed.

    • Laurie King on May 5, 2016 at 6:49 am

      Interesting, because later the English regarded the French as being overly concerned with paperwork, with the wealthier Brits harrumphing that a gentleman’s word ought to be enough for any border bureaucrat!

      • Guy Roberts on May 5, 2016 at 10:54 am

        Yes, I’m afraid us Englishmen do have a tendency to harrumph from time to time, especially when dealing with our French friends!

  10. Heather Lyon on May 7, 2016 at 11:06 am

    I’m afraid I have missed a few books, so don’t want to read murder before I read the others. Laurie, is Murder the end of the Mary Russell series or are you going to still be writing her?

    • Laurie King on May 8, 2016 at 6:59 am

      Sorry, Heather, I’m not giving any spoilers for this one, so I’m afraid I can’t answer your question…

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