19th century, Countess of Castiglione, Dickens Fair

Costuming the Countess

Be afraid. Be very, VERY afraid. For I have decided that it’s time to perform at Dickens Fair, something I haven’t done for a number of years. And while previously I played scum, this time around I’m joining the Adventurers’ Club, who portray real historical people — the intelligentsia of Victorian England.

Part of the reason I haven’t performed at Dickens for a while is that I’ve been loathing mid-Victorian costume for a number of years. I was even planning to sell off things like my reproduction 1860s boots because I was sure that I would never do it again. But the desire to perform has finally risen above my dislike of this Aunt Pittypat era… and in so doing, I’ve even found a few dresses and things that I don’t hate. I even started a Pinterest board called Mid-Victorian I don’t loathe!

Also, another problem has been finding a character I could get excited to play. I’ve looked through many a list of mid-Victorian Brits, and aside from maybe Elizabeth Siddal (who is already cast), I haven’t been able to find someone that I could actually get excited about to play. Oh, of course I could also audition to play a Dickens character, but — I’m 40. Dickens didn’t write very many interesting female parts for women my age. Oh yes, there are no small parts, only small actors — but I’m a small actor. Call me crazy, but I don’t want to play So-and-So’s governess. And the few good adult female parts? Yep, those are also cast.

BUT! I hit on a semi-genius idea for a non-English character, and got approval to play her, and so I will be Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione. Snapshot: Italian countess, lived in Paris, famous beauty in her younger years, mistress of Napoleon III (I’ll be avoiding this, as it’s too smutty — but luckily she always denied it!), and most interesting — after her famous beauty years, she designed and posed for all of these crazy costumed painted photographs. So I’ll be playing her in those photography years, as the faded beauty (hey, I theoretically could have been Teh Hotness when I was younger!) who is all about draping veils on herself and being Medea:

In terms of costume design, I can’t do anything too crazy — no fancy dress costumes, and I have to stay within the fair’s costuming guidelines: fashionable day dress, no later than 1863, hoops no bigger than 110″, etc. I had to balance my desire to make something tailored that would suit my figure and taste with something that would suit the Countess, who was clearly into drama and ruffles and giant sleeves and crap-on-crap.

Here’s what I came up with, a slightly modified version of an 1862 La Mode Illustrée (I think) fashion plate:

The wide pagoda sleeves and black lace are all nods to the Countess’s flair for the dramatic, while the vertical ribbon lines and deep V neck on the bodice are there to suit my figure.

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  • Reply Andrew October 17, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    Omg yas you will slay so hard.

  • Reply Jen October 24, 2014 at 10:23 am

    Pagoda Sleeves are pretty damn awesome. I’m sure you can probably play it up with a more striking/dramatic bonnet or reticule. :D Can’t wait to see it.

  • Reply Lylassandra October 26, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    I’ve always loved that neckline! I can’t wait to see what you make. (And also I really, really miss the Dickens Fair… maybe next year…)

  • Leave a Reply to Andrew Cancel Reply