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Southern Belle / Victorian Costumes

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Why are Southern and Victorian costumes lumped together, anyway? Mostly because they share an era. They don't share much else.


Born in 1819, Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent became Queen Victoria in 1837 at age 18. She reigned for 63 years, 7 months and 3 days, until her death in 1901, and lent her name to a long period of prosperity, peace and refinement. Her great-great granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II, will surpass that reign on September 11, 2015 (if she lives that long and doesn't abdicate).


When Victoria was born the United States had 21 states, bounded on the west by the Mississippi River. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean by boat took three weeks. By Victoria's death the U.S. had grown to 45 states and spanned the North American continent. (All current states except Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii.) An ocean crossing took about 5½ days. News and fashions from England trickled across the ocean, and were often passé by the time Americans saw them. New York, Boston and Philadelphia were the first to receive new styles, and were cultural centers. From there they spread south and westward to the rest of the country. By the time a "new" style reached Chicago, Atlanta or Charleston, it could be as much as five years out of vogue in England!


Until 1858, the speed of transatlantic communication was the speed of ocean liners. Then the first transatlantic telegraph cable was completed, and reduced the time lag of communication from ten days to less than one day. (It took two minutes to transmit a single Morse code character, ten minutes or more for a whole word.) At that rate, the telegraph wasn't used for fashion!


Victoria's England was a hotbed of literature. Some of the greatest works in the English language were produced during her reign. An entire new literary genre emerged: the horror story. Vampires, ghosts and werewolves entered popular culture. Our collection of Victorian costumes reflects this. You can become a natty Victorian vampire, or haunt your ancestral manor as a ghost. If horror isn't your thing, you can act out a Charles Dickens novel as a Christmas caroler. Your child can become Tiny Tim.


When most of us think of the antebellum South, we picture Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind. Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara, as portrayed by Gable and Leigh, represent a way of life that no longer exists. In fact, it may never have existed for most southerners--and certainly not for their African slaves. But Margaret Mitchell's romantic images have endured. You can wear a gown with a wide hoop skirt to charm your southern gentleman. Our southern belle costumes evoke that earlier age of sipping lemonade or a mint julep on a veranda shaded by stately oak trees. If you owned a plantation in the 1850s you were part of the social elite. You took for granted many things that are now considered unacceptable, such as slavery. But slave labor was the only way most planters could run a profitable business. That part of the old South, you won't want to re-enact. But if you only want to experience a gracious social setting, try one of our southern costumes!