The Report: The Art of Victorian Dressing

The Report is a blog series created to showcase the Festival's Fashion Writing finalists. Writers are sent to Arts, Ideas and Independent Runway events, to take a closer look at the diverse program beyond the runway, and explore fashion that takes us to galleries, stage, screen and more.


Alice Bishop has worked as a patternmaker and design developer for some of Australia’s leading fashion labels. She also works as a writer, producer and director for theatre and film and sometimes blogs at Style Takes A Holiday.


Rather than just watch the beautiful things wear beautiful things at this year’s festival, ‘The Art of Victorian Dressing’ offers an immersive experience whereby you get to be the beautiful thing yourself.

Erin Santamaria is the costume department manager at Sovereign Hill, a living history museum in Ballarat. During its’ 48 years of operation, the on-site costume workshop has been dedicated to researching and producing garments worn during the boom years of Victoria’s gold rush.

Victorian fashion is slow fashion, Erin explains. Her favourite element of Victorian dressing is the generosity built into the garments. ‘Generous seam allowances and pleat underlays allowed garments to be repurposed, handed down, remodelled as fashion trends changed.’

Erin is a fashion detective, poring over photographs and historical garments to reproduce clothes from a bygone era. Whilst some materials like whalebone for corset boning and ivory for buttons are no longer an option, her costume department works diligently to ensure that every detail is authentic.

The Art of Victorian Dressing is the first event of its’ kind at Sovereign Hill. On arrival, you will be plied with champagne and invited to choose your Victorian dress-up fantasy. You will be fitted and fussed over by the costume department team. According to Erin, ‘The intention is to offer an experience with a point of difference: People are able to handle the garments, try them on, understand the social context of the clothes, and have fun.’

Erin and her team will teach you how to wear the garments, making sure that even your hair and make-up are reflective of the period, before you swan about the streets, take a carriage ride, drink more champagne, and finally, have your portrait taken (included in the ticket price). Blokes are also well catered for: top hats and frockcoats for the gentlemen, and breeches and aiguillettes (ask Erin what they are), for the military officers.

Don’t worry about whether they can fit you. They can fit anyone. The costume department creates clothes for 2000 tourists a year as well as staff. You are welcome to try the corsetry, although, as Erin explained, the shape of modern women has changed since the Victorian era due in part to better nutrition, so achieving a 16-inch waist is very firmly a thing of the past.

Here’s a fun fact: OH&S policy precludes Sovereign Hill staff from wearing corsetry.

Remember not to smile when having your portrait taken. Despite how much fun you’ll have, nobody smiled in the olden days.

The Art of Victorian Dressing is on Saturday 3 March at Sovereign Hill. The Art of Victorian Dressing is a participant of the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival Arts Program 2018.

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