Victoria and Victorian Fancy Dress

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I am going to come out and say it: I have been enjoying Victoria (2017) despite the fact that it’s pretty much, as one Frock Flicks commenter said, bad historical fanfic. Still, it’s entertaining bad historical fanfic and the costumes are on the whole pretty good. There are a few “what the frock” moments, though. In the US episode 2/UK episode 3 (I’ll never understand why they do this to us), Victoria hosts a fancy dress ball in honor of her uncle, the King of Belgium. She’s obsessed with Elizabeth I, especially after her proposal was rejected by Lord M (hence the “bad historical fanfic” description) and she’s determined to rule forever alone. It’s all so very 18-year-old angsty drama, so I give the scriptwriters props for capturing the correct amount of emo, even if there’s no way in hell the real Victoria thought of the real Lord M as anything other than a father figure.

But I’m getting sidetracked… The fancy dress ball is a great excuse to throw together a huge amount of costuming into one scene and there’s plenty to feast your eyes on.

That’s a milkmaid, I think…

 

We only catch a glimpse of this costumed extra in this single scene, but I really want to see the costume! It involves long trailing ribbons and looks fabulous.

 

Sir John is cosplaying a Disney villain, while the Duchess of Kent is wearing a fabulous embroidered Elizabethan jacket with an anachronistic tricorn hat.

 

Poor nerdy Cousin George finally gets a chance to chat up a pretty young lady dressed as something involving a heaving bosom and a lot of fake flowers.

 

But, of course, it’s Victoria who takes the center stage as Elizabeth I wearing a rather decent 16th-century gown.

I was actually pretty impressed with the costume, the obnoxious crown and floating ruff notwithstanding.

 

It’s a lovely gown. I’d not hesitate to wear it myself.

 

Victoria’s entrance with her uncle (who I think is supposed to be Julius Caesar). She’s still wearing the fur-trimmed gown, but she’s added an ermine fur cape.

 

I just want to pause right here and reiterate that I think this is a very nice costume. It’s the right silhouette for the “young Elizabeth” that Victoria is trying to portray, it fits her beautifully, and I really like the fabric choices. Then this happened:

The overgown and ermine cape are removed, leaving Victoria wearing a bodice with a faux stomacher and a forepart.

 

I’m not irritated about the faux stomacher… Hell, I’m not even irritated about the floating ruff because these are Victorians, and they practically invented the trope of the floating ruff to begin with. No, what irritates me is that the Queen is wearing a petticoat with a forepart AND NO OVERSKIRT.

See how her skirt is only gold in the front and dark fabric in the back? That’s because it was never intended to be worn without an overskirt.

 

I’m not sure why this decision was made, other than maybe it was deemed that Victoria looked too covered-up in the full outfit with the overgown. It certainly obscures the little spray of flowers that she pins to her bodice and which are important to a conversation she’s shortly going to have with Lord M (who is playing the Earl of Leicester, natch) in which his gaze trails down over her décolletage, and she tells him “they’re very beautiful.”

IS SHE TALKING ABOUT HER BREASTS OR THE FLOWERS??? HMMM.

 

The series costumer, Rosalind Ebbutt, had this to say about the costume in an interview with The Telegraph:

“It was a mixture of three different dresses we found at the costumier then we tried to copy the portrait of Elizabeth I with her hair loose, which features in the series.”

Ok, so it wasn’t custom-made for the series, I can deal with that. It looks great on Jenna Coleman, but I just wish they’d kept the overgown on! Or found another overskirt! Or something!

Alas, my desires were not taken into account. Whatever, I am not going to pout about it; instead I will close this post out by showing you all a bunch of images of one of Queen Victoria’s extant fancy dress gowns and paintings of other fancy dress costumes she wore in the early part of her reign. Because I love you.

Designed by Eugène Louis Lami, this gown was worn by Victoria for the Stuart Ball, in 1851. Via The Royal Collection.

And here’s a portrait of Victoria in the outfit she wore to the “1745 Ball” in 1845:

Sir Edwin Landseer, “Queen Victoria in Fancy Dress”, 1845. Via The Royal Collection.

A watercolor by Louis Hague of Victoria at the 1745 ball.

And this portrait by Landseer of the Queen and Prince Consort in their costumes for the fancy dress ball in 1842:

Sir Edwin Landseer, “Queen Victoria as Philippa of Hainault and Prince Albert as Edward III,” 1842. Via The Royal Collection.

 

What did you think of the fancy dress costumes in this episode? Share them in the comments!

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

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Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, she enjoys the solitude of a long, hot bath. You can find her costuming trails and tribulations chronicled at Mode Historique.

25 Responses

  1. Susan Pola

    I’m enjoying Victoria, too. Her Elizabeth I costume gets two thumbs up for the bodice and a thumb up for the forepart/petticoat without overskirt, a LOL at the Victorian version of the ruff and yummy for Lord M .
    Hopefully we’ll see the Philippa of Hainault gown in Season 2.

    Reply
  2. Liutgard

    I thought the fancy dress stuff wasn’t bad. Probably not far off from what it likely was, probably better than our fancy dress parties. At least, no ‘sexy nurse’!

    Have you seen the photos from the fancy dress house parties, late 1890s, The Prince of Wales and his crew? Some really awesome stuff there- if I can find the links I’ll post them.

    Emo Albert is amusing and annoying at the same time. But I loved the one heavily bullioned jacket her wore that was supposedly English court wear. *I*’d wear the damn thing!

    Reply
  3. Daniel Milford-Cottam

    I kind of really want to see an adaptation of one of those Victorian/Edwardian novels set in an earlier period where the costuming is more like say, 1890s doing Elizabethan or whatever. So it’s kind of WTF as Elizabethan costuming but works as 1890s costuming if that makes sense.

    Cos a lot of those historical novels are more of their time, thinking wise and morally, than they are accurate reflections of the period they’re supposed to portray so it could be very interesting.

    Reply
  4. Kendra

    Sarah you’re so much more into this show than me! I felt like Victoria’s costume was way too The Tudors-meets-Elizabethan and not really a Victorian take on 16th c.

    Reply
  5. Andrew Schroeder

    As someone else noted, the bodice is re-used from a gown that was originally made for Anne-Marie Duff in “The Virgin Queen.” I’m guessing they didn’t use the original petticoat because it’s probably way too long for Jenna Coleman and they couldn’t hem it because it was a rental.

    Reply
    • themodernmantuamaker

      Ah, I see it now. It’s just the bodice not the whole dress that’s been reused. Still a pretty fugly skirt to put with it.

      Reply
    • wyldedragonne

      Why not hem it? We used to alter rentals going out to productions all the time when I worked at a prop house. Whatever was needed was done. Then the rental was put back into original sizing when returned whether it was removing a hem or tucks to fit.

      Reply
  6. Susan Pola

    Probably because it would have 1) taken time to pin or magic tape it each day and between takes 2) no-one thought of it 3) Rental contact

    Reply
  7. Aderyn Du

    The gown immediately brought to mind a costume that Alexandra of Denmark wore in 1871: Mary Queen of Scots.

    Reply
  8. Mina

    I watched finally the first episode and must say that I quite enjoyed it! Yes, it has its lenghts and changes the actual facts of history… but I found that, when I started seeing it as some kind of historical telenovela, it can be rather entertaining! Can’t wait for this fancy dress episode!!

    Reply
  9. themodernmantuamaker

    Apart from the weirdness of the skirt lacking an overskirt what’s bothering me is its limpness. I feel like this is such a trend right now – Love & Friendship, Poldark, now this. The skirts in each of these periods are supposed to be full and floofy and they just look so sad in these productions, very underwhelming. Is it thought that modern audiences would somehow find them less attractive if they were fuller? Or is it a logistics thing? Can’t afford the extra dress or petticoat fabrics or afford the time for dressing or something? And while I know this one is fancy dress it’s not like 16th century skirts were limp and as we see fancy dress costumes were heavily influenced by the silhouette of the time they were made/worn in.

    Eh, just a little pet peeve of mine. And I admit I haven’t watched the episode yet. I’m looking forward to when I have the time to watch this show properly – if only for Rufus (yum).

    Reply

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