Fashion & Queen Victoria
(and a free Queen Victoria paperdoll download)
by Brenda Sneathen Mattox
An entire era was named after Queen Victoria of England. Her reign spanned 64 years and was one of the longest in history. This tiny, indomitable woman had an indirect influence on just about everything, including fashion. She, herself, was not very clothes conscious until her succession to the throne thrust her into more public view.
Like most women of her time, Victoria tried to dress to please the men in her life. Her first prime minister, Lord Melbourne, advised her on all matters, including what to wear. Later Victoria's beloved husband Prince Albert would do this. She always wanted her clothes, and those of her court, to be of British manufacture. The gown she wore for her wedding to Albert in 1840 was no exception. Made of Spitalfields satin and trimmed with Honiton lace, this lovely dress set a new tradition, not only for future royals but all brides to come.
LEFT: Victoria's bridal gown, of cream-colored satin trimmed with lace, Feb. 10, 1840. RIGHT: This dress is traditionally the one Victoria wore on the day she became queen, June 21, 1837.
Albert's rather sentimental view of fashion was quite evident in the queen's wardrobe. For a visit to Ireland, she selected a gown made of green Irish poplin. She wore a gown of pink poplin decorated with gold shamrocks to a ball here. And on trips to Balmoral in Scotland there were tartans and "victoria" checks. Both Victoria and Albert shared a fondness for fancy dress (i.e. masquerade costumes) and often had costume parties and home theatricals, especially after the children arrived. During Victoria's reign, two enduring juvenile fashions were created in the form of sailor suits and kilts.
Her Majesty had a propensity for draping herself in shawls and overloading her dresses with lace, ribbons, bows, and flounces. Albert was fond of floral trimmings and Victoria would have huge swathes of blossoms and grasses, often real, on her gowns in addition to other decoration. Fashions of the 1850s for wider sleeves, tiered skirts and horizontal design were not flattering to small women such as the queen. For a visit to France, she appeared in a flounced white dress with a green mantle over it, a large silk bonnet trimmed with streamers and marabou feathers, and carried both a green parasol and a reticule embroidered with a gold poodle that had been made by one of her daughters.
Victoria frequently neglected to scale down her
accessories to suit her diminutive size. She adored jewelry and usually
wore it in abundance, though the large pieces she favored could be
overwhelming. The queen always wore numerous rings, brooches, and
bracelets and was never without the one set with Albert's miniature. It
graced her arm from their engagement to the day she died. Victoria's
jewel collection was, and is, one of the finest ever amassed.
LEFT: This red velvet mantle was Victoria's coronation robe, from 1838. CENTER: One of Victoria's riding habits, from about 1840. RIGHT: A dress worn by Victoria on a state visit to France in 1855.
The Prince Consort's sudden death in 1861 devastated the queen and plunged her into the mourning black from which she would never emerge. Victoria stopped even trying to follow changing styles and adopted a sort of widow's uniform that became her trademark. It consisted of a full-skirted black gown with a bodice that buttoned down the front. The square neck would be filled in with a chemisette of white lisse and the wide elbow-length sleeves would be finished with bishop undersleeves of same. The costume would be completed with the ubiquitous white cap that would be forever associated with the queen. She did eventually abandon the heavy black crepe in favor of lighter silks for her gowns and later took to adding lace and jet as well. On very special occasions, such as the wedding of one of her children, the queen would don her own bridal lace which looked beautiful over the black background.
Victoria saved many of her own clothes from "former happy days" as well as those of Albert and her mother. A number of these are now in the London Museum including her famous wedding gown, the pink and silver gown the queen wore for the opening of the Crystal Palace in 1851 and the white moire gown embroidered with flowers worn for her State entry into Paris in 1855.
To download Brenda's Queen Victoria paperdoll (which includes all the dresses shown above, except for the brown one), click here.
Brenda Sneathen Mattox is “a 19th century woman trying to live in a 21st century world.” A life-long artist and admirer of things old-fashioned, she has parlayed that into a career creating paper dolls for grown-up little girls. In 1980, Brenda packed up a $500 car and moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to attend art school. She graduated with a degree in fashion illustration, but fashion-related jobs were virtually non-existent. By 1985, Brenda was collecting vintage clothing and fashion plates, and a fellow collector suggested she try drawing paper dolls with a vintage theme. Brenda’s first full-color paper doll was published in a doll magazine in 1991 and in the years to follow, there were numerous other professional and self-published creations. Brenda also has published many paper doll books with Dover Publications in New York. To see more of her work, please visit her website at www.fancyephemera.com
(c) Brenda Sneathen Mattox.