Southern Belle / Victorian Costumes
How'd the Victorian look start? Well, 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, surpassed that reign on September 11, 2015.
When Victoria was born the United States had 21 states, bound 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 6 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.
With all of that history and posh style, you can see how it would influence the flair of the developing South of the United States even years later. 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. And, if we're being honest, it really never existed for most middle-class, low-class, or exploited Southerners. That said, Margaret Mitchell's romantic images have endured. From channeling in your inner flirty Bugs Bunny to becoming a graceful Southern Belle, 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.