Fat Ladies Were Victorians, Too: Historical Costume in Plus Sizes

Cabinet Card, late 19th Century from PainterPoetMuse on Etsy, via The Pragmatic Costumer

Cabinet Card, late 19th Century from PainterPoetMuse on Etsy, via The Pragmatic Costumer

I came upon a 2013 blog post today by The Pragmatic Costumer titled “Va-Va-Voom Victorians: Historical Costuming in the XL“. She talks about being told by a fellow woman — rather wistfully, I thought — that, “…only thin people can really wear those kinds of things”.

True, one of the hallmarks of the Victorian era is the corset and the tiny nipped waist it was meant to create. But, as The Pragmatic Costumer points out, “A corset’s main function is split between shaping and support. The goal is to mold the figure into the right proportions, rather than the right size. That distinction is key to understanding the Victorian aesthetic. Even the skinniest of gals will look strangely disheveled in any Victorian style if the proportions aren’t right.”

So the Victorian ideal wasn’t necessarily a willowy figure, but rather one with very definite curves.

Of course, I don’t believe in conforming to any prescribed beauty standard, whether it’s being pushed on us by Abercrombie & Fitch or Godey’s Lady’s Book. I think women should wear whatever the hell they want.

The Liesel Ensemble by Recollections.

The Liesel Ensemble by Recollections.

I do a bit of 19th century dress-up now and again, mostly in connection with my work with the Historical Society of Ocean Grove in the Victorian seaside resort town of Ocean Grove, New Jersey. I know how much my inner nerd ADORES bustling around in long skirts, button-up boots and even swimming bloomers. And I would hate to think of any woman wishing she could do the same, but hesitating because of her size.

Again, to quote The Pragmatic Costumer, “…if you are a big woman with big dreams, don’t think you have to squeeze your hopes (or yourself!) down to size just because you don’t match the ‘normal’ historical stereotype. It’s the 21st century! Resolve to costume bravely!”

Agreed!

So where can you begin to “costume bravely”?

I love buying from Recollections. Their clothes are top quality and beautifully designed. Service-wise, they’ll treat you like Queen Vic herself. And the best part? They offer sizes up to 4X (which they define as a maximum 53″ waist and 58″ bust).

Also, The Pragmatic Costumer points to Hellmade for plus size corsets.

That's me on the right, portraying Lydia Bull, one of the 19th century owners of the Aurora Hotel in Ocean Grove, NJ. Part of the Women's History Tour. Costume by Recollections.

That’s me on the right, portraying Lydia Bull, one of the 19th century owners of the Aurora Hotel in Ocean Grove, NJ. Part of the Women’s History Tour. Costume by Recollections.

Know of another resource for plus size historical costumes or re-enactment wear? Please let me know so I can spread the word.

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