The Great Dickens Christmas Fair Missive


Great Dickens Christmas Fair 2019 – October Missive #2 The Great Costume Missive!


Notes from your Missive Maven:

It’s the annual Great Costume Missive from the illustrious Liz Martin!

This is an incredible resource, please remember to email the costume department at with any questions.

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Cat Taylor
Entertainment Director & Missive Maven

In This Missive


Welcome to the London Fashion Guide for 2019 Dickens Fair!


(from our Costume Director, Liz Martin)
Some of what is here is new, some of the info is so timeless, it never needs to change!
  •  {NEW} The Costume Class is no longer a 2-hour class.

It is still required for new  participants, but it is now  a 1-hour class

  •  {NEW} Pinterest boards!
  • {Updated} Pretty much everything else.
(Mostly for style, but a few additions may have snuck in, so please read it all.)


Costume Approval, Why?


It is always Christmas Eve in Mr. Dickens London! At The Great Dickens Fair, we recreate Scrooge’s redemption. Dickens Fair transports our patrons to our own version of that time and place. The magic we create has become a tradition here in the Bay Area.

Costumed participants are biggest part of the “scenery “~ and of creating the magic! We strive for historical accuracy but also for theatrical consistency, so that the individual parts create a harmonious whole. What you wear really matters, both your overall silhouette and all the little details. Costume approval helps us insure an overall cohesive look to the Fair. To facilitate this, all participants in the Fair (cast members, employees, vendors, volunteers, dormice, helper cats) must receive costume approval; that is why it is required before you receive a gate-pass.

As the fair’s Costume Director/Designer, it is my privilege and pleasure to coordinate the fashions of Dicken’s London. We need our participants/vendors to wear clothing that leads the casual observer (if not the costume historian) to believe that they have just stepped back in time to Christmas Eve in London somewhere between the years 1842-1863. My job is to help you create an ensemble that immediately conveys to the patrons your station/occupation/class/cast here in London. The costume approval processes is the best and the easiest way for me and my staff to get a look at (and approve, or help you improve) your costume prior to opening day. Think of it as sort of mass dress parade.

(About that magic: make sure that you are always fully dressed in costume whenever you are in the public view. Don’t spoil the illusion.)


Costume Approval: What? (you need to wear & what we look for)


It is Christmas Eve in London sometime between 1842 – 1863. It’s twilight in and the middle of winter: , it’s cold (“outside”  and inside too unless you have plenty of money for coal). The streets are dank and dirty but those who can are dressing up a bit; the poor are just doing the best they can. Your costume makes sense in that environment.

General guidelines for the appropriate costumes are available all year on the Dickens Fair web site. Take the time to visit the website and review them. In the meantime, here is a quick and dirty summary of the basics:


For Women


Think silhouette first. Bodices were fitted and full skirts shaped like an upside down U (rather than the straight lines of an A. To achieve this look you should have:

A mid 19th century style corset, (not required but: highly suggested if you are middle class or above as  it changes your posture and makes a difference. It also spreads the weight of your skirts over your whole torso and is much more comfortable, as well as providing back support). It should be and over the bust corset, not an under-bust waist cincher.

Hoops, crinolines, corded petticoat, or multiple petticoats. If you work in a shop or a crowded environmental space, corded petticoats are wonderful for giving the correct line without the fullness of a hoop. If you wear hoops, the circumference at the bottom should be no more than 95″ – 110″. Circumference was largely a matter of class: higher status women wore hoops or crinolines, but poor women made do multiple petticoats or maybe a corded petticoat. (A crinoline is defined here as a petticoat with multiple layers or ruffles. Go for a cotton one rather than the nylon bride style.) No bustles or vests (anachronistic!). Nuf said. Adding a petticoat over your hoops will keep you from committing that dreaded fashion faux pas of hoop lines showing!

Over this you would wear:

Dress/ bodice and skirt: Fabric in both the bodice and skirt match, Skirt should be full, pleated or gathered and attached to a waistband. Sleeves were long, to mid-arm length with white/cream undersleeves, no zippers

Skirt, jacket and blouse: Full bell-shaped skirt, a Zouave jacket (bolero) which is worn with a white, front buttoning blouse (garibaldi) with a peter pan collar or just a plain neck band.

Shoes: Lace up, Granny-style boots are the look we are asking you to wear. Keep the heels to no more than 2″. It is strongly suggested that your shoes have room for extra insoles; the Cow Palace is a very hard cement floor and it can be brutal.

Indoor headwear: a day cap is a bit of fluff – usually lace or fine cotton (and often ribbon trimmed) that was worn under the bonnet and kept the top of the head covered when the bonnet is removed. Maids, shop girls and poorer woman might wear a mob cap.

Outdoor headwear: A Bonnet – made of felt, covered buckram, or straw. The secret password is “your majesty”. Trimmed with lace, trimmed with ribbons, natural looking silk flowers, lace, feathers.

No top hats of ANY size on women .

Outerwear: Remember, it’s a late December evening and it’s cold out there. A cape or shawl works nicely to show that you are outside, plus with gloves, a scarf, maybe a muff, and a bonnet.

What is the deal with Bonnets anyway? Yes, we know that some ladies of this time did wear hats. We have made a theatrical choice as to use Bonnets are one of the quickest ways to convey that we are in fact portraying another time and place to the patrons. It sets you, the participants, apart from the customers and it helps to further the illusion of being in another time period. Bonnets DO NOT have to encase the head or give the feeling of blinders.

Colors: We are going for jewel tones, NO BLACK please (unless Mr. Dickens wrote you dressed all in black). Plaids are wonderful, again in the darker jewel tones, & patterned cotton fabrics are also acceptable – (It’s a good idea to get Liz’s approval on fabric BEFORE you start cutting and sewing!)


For Men


We encourage all of our male participants to invest in a pair of pants and a waistcoat that are period correct. See below for patterns or buy from one of the fine vendors of haberdashery on the first weekend of workshops. However, carefully chosen modern garments can be appropriately modified.

Pants: above natural waistline/period style is preferred and requested; in wool, heavy cotton, or corduroy. They can be either plaid, striped or plain. Pant legs should be tapered in and no cuffs. Front is flat – no pleats. Pants are held on by suspenders – no belt. Suspenders should attach to the pants with buttons. If the pants you are using have belt loops, they should be removed.

Vest/waistcoat: Can have a collar or not; no points at the bottom front (straight across) and long enough to cover the pants waist; single or double breasted; should button fairly high on the chest, does not generally match either the pants or the jacket – plaids, brocades & stripes are wonderful. There should be no shirt showing between the bottom of the vest and your pants!

Check out this link for information on the proper way to wear a trousers and waistcoat and avoid the dread “gaposis”

Jacket: Choice of frock, morning, or tail coat. Alternately you can wear a sack suit (the Victorian version of a modern business suit — it is possible to convert a modern jacket to a sack coat jacket. The jacket does not always have to match the pants, however, in the case of a sack suit, all 3 pieces would/can match.


for laborers/lower class it can be striped or colored, and does not have to have a collar

but clerks and those in the middle/rising/upper class wear white, either with a standing collar or a detachable, stiff collar. Note that a modern shirt with the collar turned up only approximates this look; the points should be no longer than 3″. Also be sure to get a shirt that fits properly. You must be able to button the shirt collar.

Cravat: all men should be wearing some form of a cravat. For the lower classes, this can be a piece of fabric tied around your neck.

Outer wear: Capes, overcoats or shawls are perfect for men. Gloves, scarves and mittens to keep your hands arm.

Hat:  top hat, bowler, or soft newsboy style. Remember, it’s winter!

Shoes – period looking, half boots with elastic sides are correct as well as the lace up boot. Zippers can be worn if you are not on a stage. No lace up modern style dress shoes. Go for comfortable with insoles and good socks.


Some General Notes



Add some Victorian bling – and I don’t mean glittery fabric.

The Victorian women loved to add décor to their clothing: ribbons, fabric roses, trim – and this can be done at any class level. Take into consideration what your character’s financial means might be and go from there. And no, having a “wealthy patron” will not automatically get you the ability to wear a lot of expensive floof on your dress!

For the men – add a watch chain and hang a fob from it. A brightly colored cravat will add a touch of merriment of the season. A sprig of holly in your hatband allows even the most serious of our London denizens to acknowledge the season. Let your waistcoats be colorful – it is Christmas, you know!

Jewel tones and rich fabrics for the middle class: lower class clothing will be more faded and worn but everyone tried to look their best (or sometimes the flashiest.) Gentlemen are not confined to dull black, grey, or navy, nor to matching suits. Plaids are wonderful, again in the darker jewel tones, and patterned cotton fabrics are also acceptable – (It’s a good idea to get Liz’s approval on fabric BEFORE you start cutting and sewing!)  We ask that you not wear black unless Mr. Dickens wrote you dressed all in black.

The Sad Truth About Fancy Hand-Me-Downs

The higher classes did, indeed, give clothing to those in service, and rich patrons occasionally gave clothing and jewelry to the Fallen Frail (although if they were that rich they weren’t “keeping” street girls, but if they were too far above the station of the recipient, he or she probably sold them, because really, money for food and shelter (and gin) matters more than wearing a nice satin gown in the gutter. The secret password is “sin”. The shop that bought these sold them to folks just one step down the social ladder, who eventually resold them to be bought by someone of even lower class, and so on. By the time a garment got down to the Dockside area it would be distressed, much mended, and several decades out of style.


Women in the 19th century liked to be thought of as fragile ladies. They aimed always to look pale, which was achieved by staying inside and out of the harsh sun. Rouge was rarely used and lipstick unheard of; make-up in general was frowned upon. Actresses or “those women down at Sal’s” used make up such as powder and lipstick but a lady would only admit to pinching her cheeks for a flush of natural glow.

That said…

Both men and women – Please use makeup. Naturally. No heavy eye make-up. The Dickens Fair is aglow with unnatural lighting to emulate perpetual twilight. This makes many people look sallow or can wash out your features. Foundation, a little mascara, a touch of natural color on the cheeks and lips and a light application of eyebrow pencil will go a long way in making you look better in the streets. The mineral make-up that goes on like a powder is wonderful and very natural looking. Do remember, with any foundation, to touch up your make-up mid-way thru the day. If you are on stage, please use appropriate stage makeup. Consult with your Director at dress rehearsal to find the best look for you.


Develop a morning checklist and go over it each day before you leave your home. You will be glad you did. Write your own based on the What to Wear lists above, or download our version.

I strongly encourage both men and women to have duplicates for those items worn closest to the skin (shirts/blouses, chemises, drawers/bloomers) as well as an extra pair of socks. That way you can make it through the weekend without taking anything home to wash.


Costume Approval: How?


Costume approval is required to get your gate pass. Approvals happen at workshops (unless you add a costume mid-fair. We will be doing approvals at the Cow Palace.

If you are wearing a costume which has been approved in the last 4 years and photographed, you go through Fast Track costume approval. Your information will be verified against our computer records and you don’t have to wear your costume.

Many Directors require that you discuss your costume with them before you go to the costume department. Fezziwigs, Other Books, and the Adventurers Club are definitely on that list. Check with your Director prior to workshops regarding the policy for your cast.

If you are new, have a new costume, are playing a new character, or received a note from your Director or Liz about a retake, you need to go through the full costume approval process.

In either case, make sure that the top of your registration form is filled out completely. First years, and others with questions, please lease attend the costume workshop with Liz before getting costume approval. If required by your cast, have your registration form signed off for it. Note that there is no correlation between the Eventbrite registration and the information we need for costume approval/fast track. That’s why we need it.

Relax. We are all on the same side.

~~~~~~ Fast Track ~~~~~~


The Fastrack table is in the Cafeteria (to the far left, down the stairs as you come in) during the first two weekends of workshops and will be outside the Costume Shop at the Cow Palace on the third. It will be open before the morning meeting.

Come by and say Hi!  You do not need to be in costume. Give us your name and registration form (filled out, please), and get your form stamped indicating that you have an approved costume.

This is also where you get photographed after you pass costume approval. During workshops, we attempt to have the table is staffed all day, but from 9 am to 12 noon is reserved especially for Fast Pass and should be less hectic. Check in early!

Please remember that the people who are working Fast Track are VOLUNTEERS, just like you! Be patient. And kind. Always be kind.

~~~~~~ Costume Approval Line ~~~~~~


If you are a first-year participant, or if you have a new costume or character, or it is time for your Fast Track retake (your Director will let you know) you need to have your costume approved.  The approval line starts at the Costume Department table, (At workshops we are located just outside the cafeteria door. At the Cow Palace, we can be found in the Annex. Please enter through the main door.)  We are available during the lunch period, and after workshops until 4.

The costume approval line is not the line to be in with a suitcase full of “what about this” costume items. PLEASE attend the Ask Liz workshop, make an appointment to see Liz or Alexandria so they can give you their full attention.

Have your paperwork ready (top filled out, Director approval sign-off and/or costuming workshop stamp if required). Those who are having retakes done WILL receive priority for approvals.

You will need to be fully dressed in your completed costume, including outerwear, head coverings and gloves. Your hair does not have to be styled.

You will be asked to who you are playing along with group/director/booth owner & what station they hold in London.  Please do not give us your entire back-story. The approval crew will do our very best to get you through the approval process quickly and easily.

Should you have multiple costumes please be prepared to show us all of them – on your body!

Approval starts with a head to toe scan. Part of the approval process is to not only see that the colors and styles that you have chosen are correct but also look at the overall fit of your costume. Do not be surprised if you go away with suggestions, and a few safety pins in your outfit!

For women we look at silhouette first (upside down U with full skirts). Are your shoes correct? Do you have a day cap and bonnet? What about outerwear?  Is your costume appropriate for your character/social status?

For the men: Do your pants come up high enough – above the natural waistline?  Does your waistcoat overlap the waistband of your pants? Or is there (shudder) “gaposis”?   Cravat? Jacket? Shoes?  Hat?  Outerwear? Is your costume appropriate for your character/social status?

We, hopefully, approve your costume. You then get your picture taken for our records. This picture of your costume is good for 5 years. If you change character, or have a new costume made, we ask that you come back and get an updated photo as soon as possible. You will be notified by your director when it’s time to have a retake.

You may be told that you are being provisionally approved. We will be checking back with you and your director to make sure that you have made the changes that we asked.

After your costume has been approved, please take the token you are given to the Fast Track table inside the cafeteria. There, you will have your picture taken and they will enter your data sign your form.

Fast Track Table Hours: 1st Weekend of Workshops Nov 2/3

FastTrack – 9am to 12noon
Retakes – 12 noon to 1:30pm (includes costume approval)

Everyone – 2pm to 4pm

Costume approval can be arduous, but we do our best to make it as fast and painless as possible.Please be patient with us and we will in turn be patient with you.




Back by popular demand, the costume department will once again be offering a limited number of garments for rental. Do not plan on renting your entire costume for the run of fair.

Full outfits, as well as single items, will be available on a daily or weekend basis. Individuals that are new to the fair and lack costume pieces will be given first priority.

This service will not be available until dress rehearsal weekend at the Cow Palace. If you think you are going to need to rent something, please  email Liz ASAP. Please include your measurements, character and cast.




This missive is not meant to be the end all in costuming information, though I am sure it seems like it! It is difficult to cover all classes, occupations and casts in one email or even on the website. Again, please email me with any questions. It’s just the costume department’s way of touching base with all of you and letting you know what our expectations will be at workshops.

I look forward to working with each and every one of you.

See you in London!


Resources: Pinterest Boards, Fabric and Pattern Selection


Remember, the years that the Dickens Fair covers are 1842 – 1863. Deep, rich jewel toned colors are the trend this season; they can be in plaids, patterned or stripes as well as plain fabric. Dark colors were worn for practical reasons as well: the streets of London were filthy, not to mention the soot in the air.

This is a fabulous book to have as part of your library to help you identify period correct prints:

Dating Fabrics: A Color Guide 1800-1960 by Eileen Jahnke Trestain

Please do not choose modern fluorescent colors, pastels, or modern fabric designs. Wool, gabardine, velvet, and brocade are wonderful, but not lightweight fabrics like madras, cotton flannel, or seersucker. If you have any questions after reading the additional info on the Dickens website, please feel free to contact us by email.Y

ou are welcome to send scanned swatches of fabric, sketches, or snaps of out-of-print patterns for approval or advice. If you have construction questions, those are welcome as well.

Pinterest Boards!

Please feel free to visit and look around. These are updated all year so come back often!
If you have suggestions for pins, please send them to me.


Patterns – These are in no particular order

1139 Civil War undergarments
3727 Blue plaid jacket & skirt
2895 Men’s Frock Coat, Shirt and Vest (Vest will need to have bottom squared off)
Discontinued (patterns still available thru the website or on eBay)
9769 Corset, chemise & Drawers
2887 Green dress
4900 Winter white jacket & skirt
5726 Chemise, corset & petticoat
7215 Chemise and corset
9761 Grey striped jacket & 3-tiered skirt
9764 Hoops
3791 White with black piping
4737 Girls dress and drawers
5442 Women’s summer day dress
7212 Pink plaid dress
3855 Red plaid jacket & skirt
4400 Red plaid civil war day dress
4510 Burgundy day dress with flounced hem
4551 Yellow day dress
5023 Men’s Shirt and Trouser
5033 Mid 19th Century Underwear
5035 19th Century Shirt and Trousers
5037 Mid 19th Century Vest, Braces (Suspenders), and Cap

5129 Bonnet
4745 (men’s uniform pattern… not bad….)
Discontinued (patterns still available thru the website or on eBay)
4890 Men’s vest – straight bottomed only
5132 Jackets & 2-tiered skirt
4698 Cape
3609 Camisole, pantaloons, corset, & hoops
5131 Girls dress & drawers


4210 Hats – view A & B
5265 Short cape, bonnet, and muff – the skirt is not full enough for our time range.
5266 Red coat with black skirt
3648 Double breasted jacket and pants
Discontinued (patterns still available thru the website or on eBay)
4415 Blue/green plaid Good pattern to build on
3993 Men’s caped coat a la Sherlock Holmes

Timeless Stitches

Truly Victorian
Available locally at Lacis
TV107 Mid Victorian Corset covers
TV141 Cage Crinoline
TV241 1854 Flounced skirt
TV243 1843 Tablier Skirt
TV244 1859 Double skirt
TV440 1859 Pagoda Bodice
TV441 1861 Garibaldi Blouse
TV443 1860-61 dress bodices
TV444 Spanish Jacket
TV446 Darted bodice
TV449 Revere Bodice
TV454 1845 German Day Dress
TV456 1856 Gathered dress

Laughing Moon
#100 Ladies’ Victorian Underwear – 2 Corsets, chemise, and drawers
#111 Ladies Early 1860’s Day Dress
#112 Hoops & bustles (view A)
#114 Ladies’ Round Dresses – 1840’s-1852
#118 Ladies Work dress, Maternity
#120 Ladies Work dress, Maternity
#107 Men’s Victorian & Edwardian Shirt (1845-1920)
#109 Men’s Frock Coats & Two Vests (1850 – 1915)
REVISED: Now Includes Single Breasted version
#116 Sack suit
#119 Mid Victorian Trousers

Past Patterns:
700 1850-1862 Fashionable Skirt
701 1850-1867 Gathered and Fitted Bodices
702 1850s-1863 Dart Fitted Bodices
706 1850s-1860s Drawers.
707 Two Chemises 1850-1870
708 1840’s – 1880’s Corset
709 1850s-Late 1860s Garibaldi Shirt
800 1840- 1850 Flounced or Single Skirt
801 1840- 1850 Fan Front Bodice.
803 1840s to Early 1850s Round Dress
006 1800-1890s Men’s Drawers
007 Two Mid-Nineteenth Century Shirts
710 Trousers 1851-1867 (different sizes)
713 Trousers 1851-1867 (different sizes)

PF0222 Vintage Vests

Another resource is the Great Pattern Review at the Greater Bay Area Costumers Guild for discussions on the level of skill needed to construct the patterns.

Places to buy patterns, fabric and trim

PLEASE check with Liz BEFORE you purchase your fabric

Brick & Mortar shops
Joanne Stores
Fabrics-R- Us – San Jose
Discount Fabrics: Berkeley and San Francisco
Britex San Francisco
Stone Mountain & Daughter – Berkeley
Lacis – Berkeley

Connecting Threads
Two Bees
Renaissance Fabrics
Cheep Trims
Such A Deal
B. Black and Sons
Reproduction Fabrics

Quick Links…

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair Website
Dickens Fair Performer Page
Cat’s Missive Page
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair Facebook page
Dickens Fair Twitter
Join the Public Email List

Contact Information

For specific questions regarding performing at the Fair, please email Cat Taylor
If your group would like to perform at the Fair for just one day (school caroling groups, etc.)
please email Robert Young
For specific questions regarding vending at the Fair please email Vendors
For specific questions the beverage department please email Beverage
For questions regarding costumes, please email Costumes

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