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Forum > Vintage Sewing > Victorian School Girl Costume ( Moderated by JEF)

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Victorian School Girl Costume
What did poor girls wear to school in England in the Victorian era?
twinkle72
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twinkle72
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Date: 9/29/12 12:10 PM

My daughter is going on a living history trip this Friday. The children are all 8/9 years old and are supposed to dress as up as poor children. It is the later Victorian era, sometime between 1862 and 1901. A big span, I know!
The teachers have suggested that girls wear a mop cap, long skirt and shawl held together by a brooch!
I thought they wore below the knee, but shorter dresses in dark colours, with white aprons and hair up, but not in caps. The brooch sounds expensive, if we are poor.
Is there anyone who really knows out there?

stirwatersblue
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stirwatersblue
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Date: 9/29/12 12:47 PM

This might help:
http://www.ushist.com/victorian_childrens_clothing_f.shtml

------
~Gem in the prairie

loti
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Date: 9/29/12 1:31 PM

This might be the shawl, maybe the brooch was a safety pin (don't know if that would be correct for the period).

------
"A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.
Coco Chanel

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sugarduck
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sugarduck
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Date: 9/29/12 2:18 PM

That sounds like an interesting class trip. As far as the costume goes, this site proposes a "Victorian poor girl" outfit that sounds similar to what your daughter's school described (minus the shawl and brooch, plus the white apron). I'm not sure how historically accurate it is, though.
Good luck finding more information.

Stargirl7

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In reply to twinkle72 <<


Date: 9/29/12 2:27 PM

I always overthink these things. I can't tell you how much time I've put into researching historically accurate Pilgrim costumes, garb from various ancient cultures, national dress of various countries, etc. :-) Enjoy the project, but if it gets stressful, remember that all of the rest of the kids in the class will not have that kind of mom.

I find that thrift shops are great sources for ready-made things, as they often have the patina of having been worn, which makes them feel more "real". Things a bit too big can look more authentic. Stick with natural fabrics - cotton (either solid color or woven plaid), linen, leather. Tell the story with accessories - shawl, hat, apron, hairstyle, perhaps a bag of some sort. Plain leather footwear, like boy's dress shoes, works for most eras. Depending on the era, I will often cut the collar off of a dress shirt, or tuck it in. If your child is that young, you've got a lot of school trips ahead of you - separates (and accessories) can build a useful "stash" from which to mix-and-match for future costumes.

Thrift shops can also save you time by providing fabric and some of the sewing - for example, a linen skirt can be made quickly into an apron - split it up the back, cut a long 2"-4" strip from each side and sew them together into one long strip to make the waist/ties, on the remaining piece, keep the original hem intact, hem the sides, and gather the top, sew the top onto the waistband, fold waistband up bias-tape-style and topstitch closed.

A poor child might not have had a brooch, but it will make the costume easier for the child to wear on the trip, which matters! Sometimes we make up stories about the outfit - one "Pilgrim jacket" I made was a navy boiled wool Gap cardigan with assorted gold buttons sewn on (worn over a white shirt with collar and cuffs, with long cotton skirt and linen apron); we decided that the Pilgrim child's mom had saved the buttons, from adult clothing, in her button jar, and used what she had available on the child's jacket, which is why they didn't match each other. So perhaps this poor child had a rich aunt who bequeathed her the brooch because the child had shown her a small kindness, or some such fantasy. :-)
-- Edited on 9/29/12 2:29 PM --
-- Edited on 9/29/12 2:34 PM --
-- Edited on 9/29/12 2:34 PM --

twinkle72
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In reply to loti <<


Date: 9/29/12 3:01 PM

Very helpful pics, thanks!

twinkle72
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In reply to Stargirl7 <<


Date: 9/29/12 3:02 PM

You are right, I have years of this to go with a second daughter behind her! These are all good tips.

twinkle72
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In reply to sugarduck <<


Date: 9/29/12 3:03 PM

Yes! This is the sort of thing that I was imagining. I wonder why the teachers are telling us different?

twinkle72
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In reply to stirwatersblue <<


Date: 9/29/12 6:09 PM

Thanks for the link, will have a look!

KiwiWendy
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In reply to twinkle72 <<


Date: 9/29/12 7:23 PM

At that time girls didn't wear their hair up until they were considered women/marriagable. It really was a social signal that she was no longer to be viewed as a child., Tied back or the top pulled back, but not up.

Personally I wouldn't think a portrait photograph could be afforded by a poor family, so it's not truly representative of a poor girls appearance, although there was a big market in second hand clothes. This link is to some 1870s Bishopsgate photos that are of the poor and street views.

A teacher might know the history of the time but still have a poor knowledge of the clothing, it's a field of study in it's own :)

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Sydney, Australia

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