Sent  11/1/11
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The Great Dickens Christmas Fair Missive
Dickens Christmas Fair 2011
October Missive
#6 - The Great Costume Missive!
Notes from your Missive Maven:

(Note from Cat:  The workshop schedule has been completed and will be posted on the missive site sometime tonight. It is possible that details may change before the weekend, so please check back for updated versions. There will also be one, possibly two more missives tonight.)

From our Costume Director, Liz Martin (

Here it is, a lot later than last year but in your mail box nonetheless: 
The annual Great Costume Missive!
Yes, it's long.  Yes, some of it is a repeat from last year.  Yes, it is worth reading all the way through! (No quiz this year!)  

Please remember to contact the folks referenced in each notice below, rather than hitting "reply".

Need to change your email address for the missives? Want to read past missives? Visit this page:

Cat Taylor
Entertainment Director and Missive Maven
In This Missive
Costume guidelines are on the website
Why do we have costume approval?
The Quick and Dirty List of What to Wear
What is this thing called costume approval? ?
How does it work?
Some General Notes
Costume Challenge
Approved Dickens Costumers
Online Suppliers
Fabric and Pattern Selection

Costume guidelines are on the website  

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

Why do we have costume approval?   

The Great Dickens Fair is a unique theatrical animal. We are a collection of volunteer performers who are attempting to recreate and populate the London that Mr. Charles Dickens created in his works. What you wear really matters. The costumes are the biggest part of the scenery ~ and the magic!  Your clothing is what will set the feel of the show to our customers. 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   


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". With the streets of London being so populated these days hoops that are any larger are becoming dangerous! 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. 

Dress:  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 Basque Bodice or a Zouave jacket which were worn with a white, front buttoning blouse 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:  This past season saw an explosion in the dainty and attractive head coverings known as 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. 

Outerwear:  A cape or shawl works nicely to show that you are outside, and along with gloves and a bonnet or hat you will be right in the height of London fashion. Please - no top hats on women - of ANY size.
What is the deal with Bonnets anyway? Bonnets are one of the quickest ways to convey that we are in fact portraying another time and place to the patrons. They are the preferred headwear of London this season. 

Pants: natural-waisted is preferred (high waisted by today's standards), wool, heavy cotton, or corduroy, either plaid or plain, suspenders - no belt. In fact - removal of your belt loops will make us very happy! 
Pant legs should be tapered in and no cuffs. 

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: does not always have to match the pants, in the case of a sack suit, all 3 pieces would/can match. 
Shirt: for laborers/lower class it can be striped or colored, clarks and those in the middle/rising/upper class (or wishing to appear that way) wear white, either with a standing collar or a high standing collar.
Cravat: all men should be wearing some form of a cravat.

Outer wear: Capes, overcoats and shawls are perfect for men - add: gloves, scarf, and a HAT - voilà! the ensemble is completed.


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 beautifully populated London our customers have ever seen.  
So how does this translate to you, the performer?
1)      There is a dress code and a time line.
2)      We are going for the rule - NOT the exception
3)      We want you to look good and be comfortable in your costume
4)      We are all on the same team!
5)      Have fun!


 How does it work?  

In short, you, the participant, will come to the costume approval line at workshops, dressed in your entire costume.  You will be asked to who you are playing/group/director & what station they hold in London. Please do not give us your entire back-story. As much as we would love to hear it we have limited time in which to approve costumes and a lot of participants to see! Alexandria and I 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.


All participants in the fair (cast members, employees, vendors, volunteers, door mice, 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.

If you are a new member of our cast this year please do not come through costume approval before you have taken the costuming overview class.

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

The Long Version
Dickens Fair veterans: now would be the time to open up the totes and garment bags that house your Dickens costumes and make sure that they are in order. Are there any repairs that need to be made? Seams that need to be let out or taken in?

I invite you to think back to last year's approvals:  Did I say to you "Looking towards next year: . . . "? 
For those of you who are new to the family, please feel free to contact me to ask questions about your costume needs and desires. Be prepared to answer several questions: Who is your director? What character are you playing? What is their station or place in the London world?  (If you don't know yet - that's okay. We'll get you there!) 
These are crucial in determining how your costume will reflect the character you are portraying.   
What do we look for?
 Do you have all of your costume pieces: outer wear as well? Hat, bonnet, shawl for both men and women, neck scarf (different than a cravat), gloves? What jewelry will you be wearing? Does your character wear an apron or day cap when indoors?  By all means, bring that!
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? Are the belt loops removed from your pants? What kind of shoes are you wearing? Do you have on dark socks?
For the women: Let's take a look at the silhouette.   The look that we are going for is 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.  
What to put on your head? 2 things: 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.

Yes, the ladies of this time did wear hats. Why do we insist on bonnets then? 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. 


 Some General Notes: 

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!

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 characters 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.
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. 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.


 Costume Challenge  


Once again I invite our community to accept a challenge from the costume department: 

What can you do to make your costume just a little bit better?

As we all improve our costumes, we improve the look of the fair. We add to the collective magic spell that is cast over the patrons who pass through the doors and enter into the world of Mr. Dickens' London.  
So take some time and evaluate your costume pieces. Do they conform to the costume guidelines? Does your costume reflect the character you play at Dickens?   

Make sure you point out your new additions during approvals!


Approved Dickens Costumers   


Note: Due to the lateness of this missive the following costumers may or may not not have time to create a garment for you by opening. 
 Barbara Ebel  

Toune Harner
San Francisco area
Cherie Moore
North Bay

(510) 535-9760 
She has been making DF-approved costumes for 10 years.  Happy to make a whole outfit or parts, including: corsets, dresses, bonnets, skirts, trousers, waistcoats and coats.  Also does custom pattern drafting.
Victoria Ridenour
Now accepting commissions from all Dickens folk. Thirty years professional experience, equally comfortable with fine men's tailoring as well as women's and children's wear. References available from long time Faire participants. Located in the South Bay
Please view my website for some examples of my work
Rachel Tibbetts
I construct mostly ladies wear.  I am happy to make clothing for any class.
I prefer to make clothing as historically accurate as possible given budget and time constraints. I like to make clothing rather than costumes. Clothes you can work, move and play in and throw in the washer every now and then. I am based out of Oakland, CA.
Alexandria Volk
Pink Depford Design Studio
Liz Martin 

Elizabeth Urbach
(408) 262-3906

Online Suppliers   

[If you have a favorite on line vendor that is not listed here, please email me a link and a picture of your costume.] 

Sac City Dry Goods - Joann Peterson
Men & women's clothing as well as corsets, bonnets, hats, shoes, corded petticoats - great store!
Enter Red Barn or Dickens and get 10% off and free shipping.
Timeless Stitches
Women's dresses, corsets and underpinnings, men's vests pants and shirts 
Confederate Family Fashions
Excellent prices - great for 1st time Dickens women. Good for working class or servants - make sure you order colors that are winter as opposed to spring/summer. Plain dresses, perfect for new participants, maids, servants, middle & lower classes - add your own trim to pretty them up!
Good price on Aprons and plain Garibaldi blouses.
Great turn around - I ordered from them and got my dress in about 2 days.
Cumberland River Sutlery
The dresses on this site are approvable with caution. They may have to be refit to your body. The prices are reasonable and they have a good selection of sizes. Go with the day dresses not ball gowns.  Feel free to email the owner with questions prior to ordering. 
Gentleman's Emporium 
 Men's stuff is good. The women's line has improved but please check with me first before you order anything.
Dark Garden
Timeless Trends
Butterfly Frillies

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 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.
They can be mailed to:
Liz Martin
712 Alhambra Ave
Martinez, CA 94553
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
Timeless Stitches
TSB-100 Basic Fitted Bodice
TSB-101 Basic Gathered Bodice
TSB-103 Tea Bodice
TSB-108 Wrap Bodice
SB-109  Basque Bodice
TSB-105 Zouave Jacket
TSB-120 Tucked Body
TSB-132  Sleeves
TSS-201 Standard Double Opening Skirt 
TSS-207 Ruffled over skirt
TSO-402 Pelerine Cloak
TSO-404 Simple Mantle
TSA-525 Medici Belt
TSD-301 Two Tiered Tea Dress
TSA-532 19th Century Pinafores
TSD-310 Girl's Basic Dress
TSD-312 Girl's Yoked Dress 
TSM-727 Men's Civilian Trousers
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 - My favorite corset pattern
#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:

Caveat: READ the directions carefully on these patterns. They often give directions to hand sew the entire garment and use very small seam allowances. Many thanks to Alexandria for the reviews of these patterns.

700       1850-1862 Fashionable Skirt
701       1850-1867 Gathered and Fitted Bodices

Nice - the bodice lines are wonderful for us. Challenge beginner - intermediate skills.
702       1850s-1863 Dart Fitted Bodices     Good lines, nice sleeves that are not over the top. Fit in the shoulder and armscye is key to this looking good. Works well with skirt 700 or 800

703     1863 Dayton's Skirt Supporting Corset.
A good corset pattern.  Advanced intermediate challenge.

705 Early-to Mid-Nineteenth Century Stays.  Can be side boned or corded. Yes, that is a maternity corset. I wore this pregnant at Dickens and was very happy with the comfort it provided my belly.  706       1850s-1860s Drawers. Good basics, a beginner can make them. Also a great place to perfect your tucking skills.
707       Two Chemises 1850-1870 Advanced beginner challenge
708       1840's - 1880's Corset:
Good pattern - it takes a bit of fiddling to get the gores to look pretty. Nice fit especially if you have a lot of hipspring. Larger bust sizes require extra boning.

709       1850s-Late 1860s Garibaldi Shirt:
My favorite Garibaldi pattern. Advanced beginner - intermediate skills. The sleeves are very full  800       1840- 1850 Flounced or Single Skirt
801       1840- 1850 Fan Front Bodice.

Awesome look - good for those with a short waist hoping to look a bit more elongated. Intermediate challenge - the gathers are easy, make sure that the armscye has a good fit. As it closes in the back, a friend to help with fittings or a good dress form is essential. 
803      Mid Nineteenth Century Everyday Round Dress.

Comfortable! Making a muslin is essential to getting a flattering fit at the waist and bust. Great for lower class striving character.

808, Sacque and Petticoat.
Yes, this is a great line for the Expecting. Easy intermediate.
812, A Sheer Muslin Dress Circa 1858-1864
Amazing amount of historical background included. Nice lines. Fitting required!   

006       1800-1890s Men's Drawers:
Easy and very period for those who want to be comfortable even in their wool trousers
007       Two Mid-Nineteenth Century Shirts: Sized up to 50"chest, Intermediate skills

009     Double-Breasted Summer Paletot:great look  - not just for summer. Appropriate with lighter weight wools and most linens. Extra extra yardage to match plaids   

016      Men's Winter Trousers with or without Foot Straps: Circa 1843-1856
Intermediate skills. Test your plaid matching skills

018      A Single-Breasted Shawl Collar Summer Waistcoat for Plain or Formal Dress: Fashionable Circa 1845 to 1858.  Not just for summer - pick a lighter weight festive cloth for our Christmas festivities.  A skilled beginner could complete this.

710/713       Classic Plain-Cut Summer Trousers of the Mid-19th Century 1851-The first is for most regular sizes, the second big and tall. Great look for Dickens, intermediate sewing skills     

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 
Home Fabrics - Concord
Fabrics-R- Us - San Jose
Fabric Depot - El Sobrante

4100 San Pablo Dam Road

El Sobrante, CA 94803

Between Appian Way, by Jack in the Box

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.
Full outfits, as well as single items, will be available on a daily, weekend, or run-of-fair 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. 


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...
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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
To learn what you can do to help save the Cow Palace, please visit
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