A Victorian costume drama for The Just Cause

Victorian costume for Worthing Community Play

Making this outfit has taken up most of my evenings for the past three weeks. It's my costume for Worthing's Community Play, The Just Cause. The play is a Victorian romance in which the town's famous large-scale Skeleton Army riot of the 1880s is re-enacted. Exciting stuff! The Just Cause has been two years in development with a team of historians and genealogists researching lives of people who lived in 1880s Worthing. The cast comprises over 100 locals of all ages and from all walks of life and most of us are making or adapting and customising shop-bought clothing into our Victorian costumes.

Simplicity ESP 6073: Victorian jacket and skirt, 1980s
I have the part of a Temperance Woman – these were usually 'upper' working class people motivated to improve the welfare of ordinary working women, many of whom were victims of domestic violence fuelled by drink. As a working class woman my clothes should be plain, in dull, natural looking fabrics and worn without jewellery or fancy embellishments. With this in mind I bought ten metres of seersucker beige fabric with a narrow blue and grey stripe from Worthing market's fabric stall and 7 meters of lining material. The fabric was cheap at £2 a metre and seemed the right weight and colour for a Victorian summer outfit (the play takes place in June). Searching for sewing patterns on Etsy, I found Simplicity E.S.P. 6073 – a 1980s Victorian style skirt and jacket. The jacket looked about the right cut and I've added an extension panel to the lower back so that it fits over a bustle. I made the skirt longer than the sewing pattern with more gathering in the back. 

Victorian bustle, homemade!The weirdest part of making the costume was constructing the bustle. Using Kristina Meister's guide as a starting point, I made mine from a cushion insert attached to a piece of elastic. I've added a sliding fastener to the front for a bit of extendable comfort! It's surprisingly light to wear but does feel like a strange appendage. I then made an over-skirt to cover the bustle by draping fabric around my tailor's mannequin and tacking it in place by hand. Both skirt and overskirt have a simple elasticated waist – hoping all that elastic won't get too itchy on a summer's day.
I'm not sure that the jacket's sleeve is 100% accurate for 1880s England as I think the puff-effect sleeve came in a decade later (before becoming a full-blown leg-of-mutton affair) but am hoping the play's costume designer allows me to get away with this! Don't think I can face unpicking and redoing the sleeve - too many hours spent sewing beige already.
Victorian Costume: The Just Cause, Worthing Community Play 2014

Historically accurate or not, I'm amazed by how well it's turned out. Next I have to finish my daughter's costume (she plays the part of a thief) and work out how to make a Victorian hat for myself. However, may just have to run up another colourful summer dress for light relief first...

The Just Cause: costume for Worthing Community Play

Performances of The Just Cause take place at Christ Church, Worthing on 14th, 21st and 28th June 2014. Visit Worthing Community Play for more information and follow us on twitter.