This is a photo diary of my costuming "travels"; where I've learned and struggled to make historical costumes for myself. They're not always pretty, but always fun. most of the time. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can find me on Facebook, or have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**

About Me

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HI, my name is Val. I'm a member of Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, Dean Emeritus of 2018 Costume College; member & Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, a representative of the San Diego History Center, & an honorary member of SITU (Someplace in Time, Unlimited) in Seattle. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of one.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

FASHION SHOW: A Day in the Life of Queen Victoria; 1837-1900

This past weekend I put on another fashion show for the Alpine Women’s Club fundraising tea after being asked last year if we would do it again. Well of course we would! But I wanted to come up with another theme rather than just the usual timeline. I have a folder that I write ideas down for future themes, and one of them was life during Queen Victoria’s time. It would somehow have to relate to the changing dress styles but also include what was going on with the ladies during that time. And it would be during Queen V’s reign of 1837-1900, so the dress styles would be in that time period.
I’m a big fan of Downton Abbey so that came into play also. In my mind I pictured the manor house with visitors, parties, and of course the butler. The first “educational” bit I wanted to put in was about the use of calling cards, and having the butler announce each visitor/model as they arrived with their calling card. The various activities the upper class ladies would do in the home besides visiting or receiving friends, were included too, like afternoon tea, needlework, reading, and painting. And later there would be a scene in the dressing room where new styles of dress and millinery would be shown using fashion plates, and of course live models. Since my plan this time was to have “scenes” and have the ladies stay onstage and seated each time after their presentation, I could only put five of us at the most on the small stage at a time.

I looked through Pinterest for photos of Victorian parlours to give me an idea of how I wanted the stage decorated. Even though Victorian is usually busy with lots of niknaks, I needed to keep it a little more sparse so as not to distract from the models. This was my idea I went off of; a small round table that would hold teapot and teacups, and a large poster I purchased of Queen Victoria and mounted on poster board. And I pulled out some Boston ferns and containers I had stored away for some greenery. For the dressing room scene, we would replace the tea items with a bonnet and a couple fashion plates.

While setting everything up the day before the show, I walked to the back of the room to see how it looked and if everything was visible from there, and then took multiple photos, moving things around until I was satisfied. Except I didn’t like how plain the table was looking. Originally I was offered a Tiffany lamp to put there, but I was afraid we would knock it over moving around with our big skirts, or stepping on a tablecloth, so I declined it. I ended up putting a vase together with peacock feathers to place there. If I’d had more time I would have looked for a cheap Chinese vase but at a distance this would suffice. I thought this was very Victorian.

We all remembered last year at this time, it had been 105d during our set-up, and the next day “cooled” down to 95d. So we were not at all unhappy that this year it was raining, and would only be 63d the day of the show.
I spent about a month writing drafts of the narration for this show, including all the ladies dress descriptions. Since we only have a half hour I have to keep the descriptions to 1- 1 1/2 mins each, and I time myself reading each one to make sure I can get it all into the time limit. It also has to flow into each transition.
We have a wonderful gentleman we’re able to use during the show, our Narrator Nancy’s husband, Russell, who helps us off and on the stage, and this year I wanted him to be included even more. For the beginning of the first scene, Nancy, began with her husband, Russell, arriving in his butler ensemble she had made for him. Russell brought out the teapot and placed it on the table, then Nancy described a butler’s duties and his outfit. Since I was the only one available with an 1830s dress, I came out as the lady of the house.  I wore my 1834 Persimmon dress. After doing my twirl, I sat at my table and poured myself tea. Then my first “visitor” arrived, -“Mrs. Lakin, Madame”.  Robin was wearing her red and brown 1850s dress. After her twirl, she sat at my table and I poured her tea. Afternoon tea history was explained by Nancy. From there, after each lady’s dress was described, they were to sit on a chair and pick up the “activity” that Nancy would describe. The next visitor was Karen, in her red & black late 1850s dress, whose activity of reading in the home was described as she read from a small book after she sat in her chair. Next was Sarah in her 1860s cream and black gown. She brought her own needlework she was working on, and sat doing it as it was described. My final “visitor” was Birda, in her cream and pink 1870s dress, and she demonstrated painting and sketching.
At this point five of us were seated onstage at once, and I think it gave the audience much longer to see and admire all the gowns. We then exited as Nancy announced we would now enter the dressing room. Cindy arrived in the latest Paris fashion of 1870s in her blue and white Seaside dress. At the table she began looking at fashion plates, as Nancy described how the latest fashions were shown to women using magazines and ads. The next “fashion plate”, Trudy, arrived wearing her 1870s white and pink flower Tissot dress. Now looking at a millinery fashion plate, as the next model April arrived in her green and pink 1880s bustle, and wearing her new bonnet. To segue into women outside the home, our model, Terri, arrived wearing her navy blue 1890s bicycling outfit. And finally I was able to work Nancy into the fashion show theme, wearing her 1890s claret walking suit.
With it being hectic as usual, I forgot to hand my camera to someone in the audience and ask them to take photos of us onstage. I still hope that some photos show up at some point, but we did get one of all of us standing onstage afterwards. Then we stepped off the stage and wandered among the tables so the ladies could get a close look at our dresses. Everyone looked so beautiful. 

Afterwards we were served our own tea at a couple of the tables, and then waited backstage for an hour until the next show. Notice I didn’t hand my camera to anyone for photos of me? Goes with the territory of being a busy manager.  

After that show, we all walked outside to the back area and took photos of each other. And, nope, none of me here either but I know Trudy took some of me. 

And look, photos have been popping up that I'm in! These are from Trudy, who was also one of the models. Proof that I was dressed and in the show! 

And these are a couple beautiful group photos she took of us. *Thank you, Trudy!*

Now I have four weeks until I leave for Williamsburg, and do my presentation on bloomer gowns at the ALHFAM conference. I had a major snafoo when my co-presenter, who had originally proposed doing it with me, and was bringing an extant bloomer gown down from New York, suddenly and with no explanation, dropped out. Just like that. After a few days of panic, I regrouped, and contacted the Programming Director and told them I would still do this but needed to change a few things. One of course was the description of the class, which the two sentence one my former presenter had written embarrassed me after seeing the other ones being presented. I wrote a much more descriptive one and then got a new co-presenter!  Jody Luce, who portrays the original bloomer lady, Elizabeth Smith Miller, in Peterboro, NY, said she would do it with me, and she could bring the extant bloomer gown with her. *BIG SMILE!*
All of this was approved by the Programming Committee, and they're currently changing the program book. So now Jody and I are going to start working to put our presentation together. And the topper to this: I’ve been asked to represent the San Diego History Center and use their logo on my slide and my business card while there. 



  1. Dear Val,

    What a clever, multi- faceted presentation! When she I could have been in the audience...
    Very best,

    1. Thank you Natalie. Sometimes I wish I too were in the audience so I could see what I created. :)

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you, Eva. I enjoy it even tho it's a lot of work.

  3. What a wonderful fashion show Val! I need to come for a visit and attend one of yorus!

    1. GINA!!! You would be welcome to be in any of them ANYTIME!!

  4. Replies
    1. Thank you, Adam. I know you appreciate all the work that goes into these.


I would love to hear if this was any help to you. Pretty please!