80s-does-20s. 70s Victorian prairie. 90s goth. 00s-does-70s Victorian prairie. Every decade has its revivals.
They’re not always spot-on because they’re trends rather than replicas, so each decade sees other decades through a specific cultural lens. That’s fascinating. It’s like watching the many adaptations of Jane Austen books. That’s a recognisably Regency dress – but with modern hair to make sure we know this character is hot.
These new takes on old styles can give us an easier way of creating the looks we want. Hunting down a Victorian bodice is going to be time-consuming and expensive, and you’ll be terrified to wear it. It may not fit, because bodies have changed.
Instead, looking at Victorian-style shirts from the 1970s is an accessible route to your fantasies.
Victorian and Edwardian dupes
The most famous brand, the one that introduced Victorian frontier fashion back into the cultural consciousness, is Gunne Sax. Jessica McClintock named the brand after the feed sacks that were often repurposed to make clothes when times were hard.
High necks, lots of lace, frilled sleeves and long skirts made this style seem unthinkable for a long time after the 70s were done (Mormons aside), but prairie has been making its way back into our stores over the last decade.
Any vintage search on eBay will show you listings claiming to be ‘prairie’ and it’s just, like, an 80s office dress. Gunne Sax dresses go for hundreds of pounds and replica dresses made from original Gunne Sax patterns are also in demand.
But other prairies are available! It’s not something I’d search for by term because you’ll get people inflating the price, but a generic vintage search will often turn up the style for way better prices.
1900s to 1920s ‘Victorian’ boots
Obviously 20s boots are hardly modern replicas but I’m mentioning this because I find boots from the early decades of the 20th century very hard to date.
Buttons usually make us think a boot is Victorian but I have a 1916 advert showing button boots with spat-style lasts. I’ve seen buttons right up to the 30s! And once you’re into laces, most people wouldn’t know the difference between Victorian and 1920s leather boots.
The crib notes are: Victorian button boots have a more dainty, pointy toe and curved Louis heel. Edwardian boots are more likely to have Cuban heels and bulbous square or round toes.
As Victorian and Edwardian button boots are very hard to find, especially in good condition and non-tiny sizes, it’s easier to look for lace-up boots and overlook their exact provenance. They work just as well with vintage clothes. Quicker to put on, too.
80s Edwardian and Victorian
Dropped waists are a typically hideous trend of the 80s. But weirdly, when I’m looking at an Edwardian sailor dress, I don’t find them repellant.
In the 80s, this style of sailor dress was very popular. The best are from Laura Ashley but these go for nearly as much as a bloody original, so look further afield if you’re budget-y.
I have ONE Laura Ashley piece from their Victorian era. I don’t know how I got it for the price I did a few years back as it’s a bridal dress and it’s immaculate. These days, I would expect it to go for a couple of hundred pounds.
I considered this for my wedding but there’s so much fabric in it that it’s actually a very heavy garment. I should sell it but it’s just so beautiful, I can’t.
These dresses are cotton (unusual comfort for a bride!), but incredibly well structured to provide a corset-like hold. Covered buttons. Swiss dot ruffles. It’s no wonder they’re a Holy Grail.
There are some truly high quality reproductions happening now, which are an expensive option but guarantee you can wear your items for years to come.
Modern versions will often have concessions for ease of wear, which makes this way of wearing vintage more accessible.
Modern reproductions of Victorian boots will rarely have buttons because very few people in 2023 have time to endure 20 minutes with a button hook. Laces are a lot quicker and easier to deal with.
These are my absolute favourites because they’re almost a caricature of Victorian boots. If you’ve ever seen antique fetish shoes, these are very close.
Handcrafted leather. Spats. Louis heel. An investment piece.
A standout for me in modern reproductions: we have buttons – but they’re faux. The boots are actually elasticated so they look authentic and take even less time to put on than lace-up boots.
American Duchess only have laced boots but I do love the sumptuous designs. Very cowboy whorehouse.
Allsaints are obviously not a reproductions brand but they have a very distinct Victorian style. Their collections usually include riding coat-style jackets and tailcoats, which I found one of on eBay. It’s great for combining with a 70s lace front shirt and tap pants, like a Victorian Columbia from The Rocky Horror Show.
Free People are ALL IN on prairie. They’re expensive, but they have a beautiful range of Victorian-style blouses, dresses and even boots. Because it’s expensive, it’s extravagantly decorative. Which is what you need for Victoriana.
Lots of lovely Edwardian and Victorian-style shapes, with quirky applique and embroidery. These items aren’t supposed to look authentic, but the style is there for mixing with vintage.
This is a small-scale seller I found on Instagram, based in China. She sells reproduction vintage that varies from very convincing to Disney-fied.
If I were in need of a more expensive antique item, like a full dress, I’d be very tempted to head to her.
She also sells very lovely ballet-style shoes with a block toe, which I haven’t been able to find anywhere else.
Decades are not finite
The delight of collecting vintage is catching a glimpse of the decades in each other. A collar shape, a pocket style.
Fashion is a family tree.
Am I right? Tell me!