If you’re familiar with New York Fashion Week, you’ll understand the importance of the Victorian fashion equivalent in Galveston the first weekend each December as “Dickens on the Strand” transforms the island’s Historic Downtown Strand District into the Victorian London of Charles Dickens. You wouldn’t want to be caught dead making a Victorian fashion faux pas! Not to fret, darling. This guide will have you stylishly trotting in your trousers before you can say “bah, humbug!”
Now keep in mind that the whole point of this festival is to conjure up the Christmas spirit during the time the great English author Charles Dickens lived. To get a better idea of what was worn during this time period, we reached out to Will Wright, Director of Communications for The Galveston Historical Foundation— the organization that hosts the event annually.
“We work hard to transform downtown into Charles Dickens’ stories. That’s helped along by the fact that most of the buildings downtown are of the same time period that he was writing about and lived in,” notes Wright. “Seeing people in costume, having fun and surrounded by the gorgeous buildings downtown makes it a lot easier for everyone to feel that they might be in a different time, country or frame of mind.”
Some dressing tips Wright offered, include the following:
Ladies usually wore bonnets of some kind, trimmed with feathers, flowers, ribbons and bows. Create a bonnet easily from an old straw or felt hat from a thrift shop. Indoors, ladies often wore small lace caps that can be fashioned today from lace handkerchiefs, a flower and a few small ribbons. A Victorian dress usually had a high neckline, sometimes with a collar and fitted bodice, three-quarter length full sleeves and a very full long skirt worn over layered petticoats or a hoop. With a few amendments such as adding more fullness to the skirt, accented with ribbons, braids, lace or flowers. Even adding a collar can transform any thrift-shop find into a lovely Victorian dress.
A gentleman always wore a hat of some kind. Even working-class men are pictured with battered top hats or lower-crowned, broad-brimmed hats. Tweed skimmers were more sporty versions of Victorian attire. For clothing, a plain white shirt can be given a period look by turning the collar up. Add a ribbon, scarf or fancy cravat and knot in front. A vest or waistcoat of brocade, velvet or silk will help create the desired look. Tapered pants in black, grey or buff with a strip of ribbon running down the outer seam were a gentleman’s normal attire. A working-class man would wear baggy wool or corduroy pants.
At this event, “trendy” modern clothes are passé on an island rich with history, Victorian architecture, and teeming with holiday tradition, so don’t be the Scrooge of the bunch. Dress accordingly for the 44th annual “Dickens on the Strand”… unless you’re actually dressed as Mr. Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. Then you might just earn a nod from the Queen herself! In that case, bravo!
For more costume tips, click here. For general information and details about Dickens on the Strand, click here.