Victorian Fancy Dress: Defined and Described

If you’re an American reader of historical fiction set in the Victorian Era, then chances are you’ve stumbled across the phrase “fancy dress.” And chances are you may have assumed said phrase literally meant the novel’s heroine was wearing a fancy dress—as in a lavish gown designed for high society soirees. And chances are you might’ve suffered great confusion when the novel’s hero arrived, at the same soiree, also donning a fancy dress.

“Why has gruff Lord Deveron suddenly taken to wearing crinolines, and why, in heavens name, do none of the characters seem to notice this odd wardrobe alteration?”

For readers who’ve gawked at a paperback in a similar state of puzzlement, this post is for you. Let’s take the perplexity out of this phrase once and for all!

Victorian Fancy Dress Defined

Hornet Fancy Dress Costume Sketch from “Fancy Dresses Described; or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls” by Ardern Holt. Fifth Edition, Publication Date: 1887.  Publisher: Wyman & Sons London. / Source: Archive.org

Hornet Fancy Dress Costume Sketch from “Fancy Dresses Described; or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls” by Ardern Holt. Fifth Edition, Publication Date: 1887. Publisher: Wyman & Sons London. / Source: Archive.org

According to the Merriam-Webster English Dictionary “fancy dress” is defined as: Continue reading

The Kentucky Derby: A Two Minute Race through Victorian History

Engraving of 1883 Kentucky Derby winning horse, Leonatus. / Source: Churchill Downs, Inc. & Kinetic Corporation.

Engraving of 1883 Kentucky Derby winning horse, Leonatus. / Source: Churchill Downs, Inc.

I’m a hat lady residing in the south, so obviously the Kentucky Derby is a rather grand affair at my house. Every first Saturday of May, my family arranges an intimate Kentucky Derby Tea around the living room television. Donning pearls and plumed fascinators, we sip Darjeeling and savor scones during the pre-race coverage. The parade of millinery masterpieces evokes oohs and aahs from our lips. And the tales of underdog racehorses and devoted trainers makes us dream of red roses, Triple Crown wins, and the fruition of our own “impossible” endeavors.

Kentucky Derby Inspired Hat. / Source: www.stylemepretty.com Cambria Grace Photography

Kentucky Derby Inspired Hat. / Source: www.stylemepretty.com Cambria Grace Photography

This Derby Day Tea has become a treasured tradition in my family. Just as the “most exciting two minutes in sports” has become a tradition of the old Kentucky home . . . one that can be traced back to the Victorian Era.

To the Starting Gate . . .

The Kentucky Derby was created by a Victorian gentleman with an illustrious name and a familial tie to American history books. This gent was one Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr.—the grandson of William Clark, of the explorer duo Lewis and Clark. Continue reading

A Roundabout History of the Victorian Carousel

Antique CarouselMy fascination with carousels began when I was a little girl. Growing up in Florida, there was a carousel at the mall where my parents would take me to ride a very special horse. A white carousel horse named Abigail. I have faint, precious memories of riding Abigail, round and around, to a magical combination of music and lights while my daddy’s hand rested at my back holding me safely in place upon a colorfully painted saddle.

I suppose this lingering memory is to thank for subconsciously inspiring my latest novella, The Best Man in Brookside. In this Victorian era tale, my characters Donovan and Sophia are thrown together on an English village’s fair committee and tasked to revive an old, very special, carousel into a steam-driven marvel.

This concept of a steam-powered carousel was incredibly fun for me to research because I am both a history geek and a whimsical Steampunk at heart. Since there were so many interesting facts that failed to make the cut of my tiny novella, I’d like to share some of my harvested knowledge with you now in A Roundabout History of the Victorian Carousel!

Antique Carousel

The First Carousels: Early carousels were rather small and unimpressive contraptions—simple platforms built with mounted wooden horses turned about by a man or a real horse pulling a rope. Despite their simple construction, the popularity of carousels increased with the passing years and by the mid-19th century, the carousel was a staple at fairs delighting children across England. Continue reading