One of the draws of the hit show Downton Abbey was the clothes. The staid matriarchs wore clothing from the Victorian era while the younger, freer women wore looser flowing styles and flapper dresses. It was a sign of the times and the changes which were imminent.
Clothing and costumes have always fascinated women, and in the Saanich and Greater Victoria area, there are women who love the Victorian era. They love the history of fashion as well as history itself.
Victorian Vogue is a non-profit volunteer group who enjoy bringing history to life through fashion. They present entertaining and informative fashion shows and bring to life the vignettes of history and the social customs of the time. They are suffragettes and widows, working women and socialites. They present a View of History Through the Eyes of Fashion.
“We research the dialogue and a point of history that we can relate to,” said member Darlene Phillips.
Victorian Vogue doesn’t just present a fashion show, they present a woman who might have lived in the era her costume portrays. It may be Hannah Maynard, a photographer of note in Victoria, who had one of the city’s first photography stores back in 1862. Or it might be Frances Barkley, wife of a sea captain and considered to be the first European woman to visit the West Coast in 1787, and the first woman to sail around the world without deception.
(Inset photo: Victorian Vogue member Suzie Polansky models an outfit that would have been worn by a working woman in the Victorian era. Polansky is standing in a Victorian style parlour of a home near Mount Douglas Park)
In that time, widows wore black for one year and gradually added shine, jewelry and colour over the next year-and-a-half.
“It was different then and now women are freer. The things they wore before they couldn’t actually live in them,” said Margaret Bates.
It is those types of stories which make the fashion shows of interest to all ages.
The group has approximately 90 outfits in its inventory and most of them are handmade. The replicas have been thoroughly researched and created by the seamstresses.
“We try to make them as authentic as possible,” said Phillips, who is also the commentator for Victorian Vogue.
Just recently they acquired damask curtains from the Empress Hotel which they will use to fashion a dress.
“We make use of all kinds of fabulous fabrics, we like to recycle,” said Bates.
They will also accept donations of period costumes.
One original dress in the collection is a vintage Assuit dress from the 1930s. The fabric is a mesh with small strips of silver and was made popular by actress Clara Bow at the time that King Tut’s tomb was unearthed. In fact, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon (Downton Abbey) was involved in the discovery of the tomb.
Their costumes end in the 1930s and other groups take over from then on.
Just like in Victorian times, the women wearing the costumes need dressers. There are 14 models ranging in age from mid-twenties to the late seventies and beyond. Victorian Vogue has a stage manager and three dressers to ensure the shows proceed perfectly. The shows are approximately one hour long and Victorian Vogue charges a set fee when invited to perform at events. They are committed to going back to the community by performing with no fee, for non-profit organizations like For the Love of Africa, the Shelbourne Community Kitchen and the extended care unit in the Saanich Peninsula Hospital.
More information on their upcoming shows can be found on their Facebook page,www.facebook.com/victorianvoguehistoricalfashions/ or on their website: victoriavogue.ca.