Sen 10/25/17
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The Great Dickens Christmas Fair Missive
Great Dickens Christmas Fair 2017 - October Missive #5
~ Great Costume Missive ~
Notes from your Missive Maven:
From our Costume Director, Liz Martin (

Its the annual Great Costume Missive!


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Cat Taylor
Entertainment Director & Missive Maven
In This Missive

(from Liz Martin)

Okay, I'm not going to lie, most of the following is a repeat from last year. I think I really did a good job, so I didn't need to update much. It's still a good idea to reread it. Honest. All of it.
Fastrack: Please remember that the people who are working fastrack are VOLUNTEERS, just like you!  We are implementing the new database program.
As always,  Please be patient. 
There is no correlation between the Eventbrite registration and the information we need for costume approval/fastrack.
Fastrack table: Will open after the morning meeting. It will be located inside the cafeteria (where we gather for the morning meeting) to the far left as you come in. Hours will be announced at the morning meeting.
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.
The Costume Class: Is a two hour class.  Because of the morning meeting on the first Saturday, it is split by the lunch break. If enough of the class would prefer, I am willing to teach thru the lunch hour to enable people to squeeze in another class. Juliana will take a vote on it when she starts the class.

Detailed costume guidelines can be found on the Dickens Fair website and are available all year, but please take some time to visit the website and review them.

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

Why do we have costume approval?   

We have costume approval so that there is a cohesive overall 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.
What 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 Quick and Dirty List of What to Wear 

We have posted a checklist that you can download on the missive site under "Participant Costume Guidelines"

  • 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. 
  • 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 in the 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,
  • 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 should be able to button the collar button.
  • Cravat: all men should be wearing some form of a cravat.
  • 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.

What is this thing called costume approval? ? 

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  populated London our customers have ever seen.
So how does this translate to you, the performer/employee?
Costume approval is the easiest way for myself and my minions, I mean 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:
  1. 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.
  2. Make sure that your registration form is filled out completely.  It should have your director's mark next to the costume approval line.
  3. New participants are required to take the two hour costume  class before going thru approval.
  4. 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.
  5. Relax. We are all on the same side.

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 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.
 NEW 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.  Your costume must be finished to receive final costume approval.

  • New participants/Returning Participants with new costumes: IF you are new to the fair or have a new costume, 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.
  • FASTRACK!:  
    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.
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. Therefore 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 consider investing 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.

Fastrak and Approval Schedule

Fastrack  Schedule 

Rehearsal Weekends
In Pacifica   
First Saturday: after morning meeting - 3pm
First Sunday: 10 AM - 4 PM

Second Weekend 
Both Days 10 AM - 3 PM

At Cow Palace Dress Rehearsal Weekend   
8 AM - 4 PM (We are still waiting for rehearsal schedules; this could change)
Dickens Opening Weekend
November 18 & 19:  8 AM - 12 PM,  then 4 PM - 5PM
November 24, 25, 26: 8 AM - 12 PM,  then 4 PM - 5PM
December 2:  8 AM - 12 PM (Saturday morning only)
December 3: appointment only
December 9 & 10: appointment only
December 16 & 17: Closing weekend NO Fastrack

General Approval Hours (Tentative)

Rehearsal Weekends
In Pacifica
During lunch and after the final workshop till 4.

Group approvals (stage shows) need to set a time that I can come to you. 
Please email me to set an appointment.

I will post time and place for the Cow Palace approvals at a later time.

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!

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. 
Use 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. Swatches should really be sent snail mail - it's too difficult to judge from the image.
Please email me and let me know the swatch is coming.
They can be mailed to:
Liz Martin
712 Alhambra Ave 
Martinez, CA 94553
Patterns are listed on the website or can be found in the 2011 Great Costume Missive
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


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!  


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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.) 
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