The Great Dickens Christmas Fair Missive
Great Dickens Christmas Fair 2018 - October Missive #4 ~ The Great Costume Missive!
Notes from your Missive Maven:
From our Costume Director, Liz Martin (  ):

It's the annual Great Costume Missive!


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Cat Taylor
Entertainment Director & Missive Maven
In This Missive

Welcome to the London Fashion Guide for 2018
Our costume years are 1842-1863

Some of what is here is new, some of the info is so timeless, it never needs to change! Please read it all!

Special Note: The Costume Class  is no longer a 2 hour class. 

Why do we have costume approval?   

We have costume approval to ensure there is a overall cohesive look to the fair. All participants in the fair (cast members, employees, vendors, volunteers, doormice, helper cats) must receive costume approval prior to opening (or before receiving their pass): registration forms must be stamped with costume approval in order to receive a gate pass. Yes, we will be doing approvals at the Cow Palace Opening weekend.

 It is because of this attention to detail that The Great Dickens Fair has the ability to transport our patrons to our own version of Mr. Dickens' London.  We have become a tradition here in the Bay Area and w hat you wear really matters. The costumes are the biggest part of the scenery ~ and a big part of creating the magic!  Please, please make sure that you are always fully dressed in costume whenever you are in the public view. 

As the fair's costume director, it is my privilege to facilitate the fashions of London.  We ask that our participants/vendors wear clothing that would lead the casual observer to believe that they have just stepped back in time to Christmas Eve in London somewhere between the years 1842-1863. It is my job to help you create an ensemble that immediately conveys to the patrons your station/occupation/class/cast here in London.  

The Costume guidelines are on the Dickens Fair website  

  The costume guidelines are available all year, but please take some time to visit the website and review them.

What is this thing called costume approval? 
And I thought Fast Track was for the bridge?

My goals, as always, are to make approvals as stress-free as possible and to work with each of you to create the most AWESOMELY dressed London our customers have ever seen.
So how does this translate to you, the performer/booth person/employee?

Costume approval is the easiest way for myself and my staff, to get a look at your costume prior to opening day. It's a sort of mass dress parade.

Here's how it works:

  • Returning cast members (who have had their picture taken in the last 4 years) go to the fast track line in the cafeteria. You do not need to be in costume. Do this early! The first weekend!
  • Make sure that your registration form is filled out completely.  It should have your director's mark next to the costume approval line.
  • New participants are required to take the 1 hour costume class from Liz Martin  before going thru approval.
  • We do an overall look of your appearance. We may offer ways that you can change or better your costume. These are not optional. Please correct the things that we ask. 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.
  • Relax. We are all on the same side.

The Fastrack Table will open before the morning meeting Come by and say Hi!
It will be located inside the cafeteria (where we gather for the morning meeting) to the far left as you come in.
Please remember that the people who are working Fastrack are VOLUNTEERS, just like you!

Please be patient.  And kind. Always be kind.

There is no correlation between the Eventbrite registration and the information we need for costume approval/Fastrack. That's why we need it.

1st Weekend of Workshops Oct 27th/28th
  • FastTrack - 9am to 12noon
  • Retakes - 12 noon to 1:30pm (includes costume approval)
  • Everyone - 2pm to 4pm
Approvals: will begin after lunch. They will either be in the usual place, right outside the door of the cafeteria,  or inside, next to Fastrack. And above all, that the rules are there to protect their safety and that of others.

How does it work?  New things at costume approval


Workshop Approval Protocols
Once again, Fastrack returns to make life easier!
IF you have questions about what to wear or want to go over items, please DO NOT GET IN the costume approval LINE Please attend the costume workshop titled "Ask Liz!"  and ask your questions there. If you still have questions you can make an appointment to see Liz in the afternoon.
First year participants must attend the costume workshop before getting costume approval.
Are you a member of Fezziwig's or Other Books? Please have your costume signed off (some sort of directorial mark) on your registration form by your directors BEFORE coming thru costume approval. 
New participants/Returning Participants with new costumes/Those participants who need retakes :   
IF you are new to the fair, have a new costume, or it is time for your Fast Track retake; this is the line to be in. You should be fully dressed with hat, bonnet, shoes, outerwear, etc. First year participants must have taken the costume workshop BEFORE they go thru costume approval.

Those who are having retakes done WILL receive priority for approvals.
Fast Track!:   You have had your picture taken in the  last 4 years and have not received a note from Liz saying that you not approved. We will have a list - by cast - and will stamp you quickly. You do not need to wear your costume.
General Information:
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. Please be patient with us and we will in turn be patient with you.
Should you have multiple costumes please be prepared to show us all of them - on your body!

What do we look for?
We do 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. There fore do not be surprised if you go away with suggestions,  and a few safety pins in your outfit!
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) "gap-osis"?  
  • I encourage all of our male participants to invest in a pair of pants and a waistcoat that are period correct.
  • Are you wearing suspenders? Button on please! Are the belt loops removed from your pants?
  • What kind of shoes are you wearing? No modern dress shoes.  Is there enough room for insoles.  Dark socks?
 For the Women:  
  • Silhouette first.   We are going for a full, pleated or gathered skirt that is attached to a waistband.  Think of an upside down  "U" rather than the straight lines of an "A". 
  • Do your shoes look right? Is there enough room for insoles? Please keep the heels to no more than 2". The Cow Palace is a very hard cement floor and it can be brutal.  
  • A day cap and then a bonnet. A day cap is a bit of fluff - usually lace and often ribbon trimmed that was worn under the bonnet and kept the top of the head covered when the bonnet is removed.  If you work in a shop you should be wearing a day cap or a mop cap.

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.


May not all be dickens appropriate but good research

The Quick and Dirty List of What to Wear   

  • Corsets: highly suggested  - mid 19th century styles, over the bust 
  • Hoops or Crinolines: the circumference of your hoop should be no more than 95" - 110". Corded petticoats are wonderful for giving the correct line without the fullness of a hoop. Remember, the poor women of London did not wear hoops. They would have had multiple petticoats or a corded petticoat. A crinoline is defined here as a petticoat with multiple layers  or ruffles.
  • Dress/ Bodice and skirt:  Fabric in both the bodice and skirt match, long sleeves or mid-arm length with white 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. 
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 - (Please let me see the swatch BEFORE you start sewing!) Adding a petticoat over your hoops will keep you from committing that dreaded fashion faux pas of hoop lines showing!

NO BUSTLES . Nuf said.

Indoor headwear:  day caps. Made of lace and adorned with all sorts of ribbons and bows; they are the ideal item to cover your hair while indoors. An extra bonus is that they fit nicely under your bonnet - no need to remove them when you sally forth on the streets of London. 

Outdoor headwear: Bonnet - made of felt, covered buckram, or straw. Trimmed with lace, trimmed with ribbons, natural looking silk flowers, lace

Outerwear:  A cape or shawl works nicely to show that you are outside, and along with gloves, a scarf and a bonnet.  Please - no top hats on women - of ANY size.
What is the deal with Bonnets anyway? Yes, the ladies of this time did wear hats. 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.  
  • Pants: 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.
  • Suspenders - no belt. In fact - removal of your belt loops will make us very happy! 
  • Vest/waistcoat:  Can have a collar or not, no points at the bottom front (straight across), 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 more info:  
  • Jacket: Choice of Frock, morning, or tail coat . Alternate is a Sack suit ( it is possible to convert a modern jacket to a sack coat jacket.Does not always have to match the pants, however, in the case of a sack suit, all 3 pieces would/can match. 
  • Shirt: for laborers/lower class it can be striped or colored, and does not have to have a collar
  • Shirt:  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, scarf, and a HAT (top hat, bowler, or soft newsboy style)  
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 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. Just remember what your character 's financial means are 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 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!
We have posted a list that you can download at:

Please , do develop a morning checklist and go over it each day before you leave your home. 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. 
U se the what to wear list as your checklist. 
Make up

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 in. 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.

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
Or to look on-line at
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:
You 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
Patterns - These are in no particular order
2887    Green dress
3727    Blue plaid jacket & skirt
9769    Corset, chemise & Drawers
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)
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 & shirt
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)
4540     Striped dress with front
3993     Man's caped coat ala Sherlock Holmes
4825      Working man's shirt
3721      Vest and cutaway jacket
Truly Victorian
Available locally at Lacis
TV141      Cage Crinoline
TV240     1860's Ball Gown Skirt
TV243     1843 Tablier Skirt
TV244     1859 Double skirt
TV246     1851 Petal Ballgown skirt
TV440     1859 Pagoda Bodice
TV441     1861 Garibaldi Blouse
TV443     1860-61 dress bodices
TV456     1856 Gathered dress
Laughing Moon
#100     Ladies' Victorian Underwear - 2 Corsets, chemise, and drawers
#111      Ladies Early 1860's Day Dress
#114      Ladies' Round Dresses - 1840's-1852
#106     California Pants
#107     Men's Victorian & Edwardian Shirt (1845-1920)
#109     Men's Frock Coats & Two Vests (1850 - 1915)
                     REVISED: Now Includes Single Breasted version
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

Brick & Mortar shops

Joanne Stores 
Fabrics-R- Us - San Jose
Discount Fabrics: Berkeley and San Francisco
Stone Mountain & Daughter - Berkeley
Lacis - Berkeley
PLEASE check with Liz BEFORE you purchase your fabric


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 at
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!
Quick Links...
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair Website
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Cat's Missive Page
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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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