In Victorian society, appearance was everything. From the ornate game pies served at dinner to the miles of ruffles on a lady’s skirt, the more excessive the decoration, the better. It was a way to show status and wealth, a means for upwardly mobile families in the rising middle class to show off their financial success and pretensions of luxury. Putting this all together for a murder mystery play has provided Master Mystery Productions unique challenges. Writer/director, Daniel Stallings, gives us the brief on designing the elaborate costuming, props, and other dressings for our eighth production, The Last Garden Party.
FANCY DRESS: THE MAKING OF THE LAST GARDEN PARTY (Part 4)
Fun Fact: Sewing patterns like those we use today first appeared in Victorian England.
Costuming a historical piece is never simple, and The Last Garden Party, set in Victorian England, provided our most ruffle-tastic pieces yet. Due to the difficulty of sourcing appropriately-themed costumes to suit the needs of the show in our isolated desert location, a huge chunk of the costumes were custom designed and created to fit our actors and the story. Let’s take a look at how these were designed and created.
The costumes started from a color scheme. All white. In Victorian summer fashions, the clothes were often solid white to keep people cool. It was this “group of angels” effect I first envisioned, this idea that everyone would seem so innocent and pure until the story unfolded and you got to see the true wickedness behind the cool veneer.
But as in all plans, we adapted the designs to create more interest and to tell more of the story. All white changed to shades of cream, ivory, beige, camel, buttermilk, and icy white. We gave each of the ladies an accent color to emphasize parts of their character. Phoebe Walliscroft got touches of spring green, because she is the “greenest” (most inexperienced) member in our Victorian society. Mia Mallowan has splashes of saucy pink that emphasizes her sassy nature. And Lady Elizabeth Bradfordshire-Pierce got a generous helping of royal and peacock blue which defines her regal (and snooty) personality.
Phoebe was designed to be simple and clean with minimal frills and fuss. With her oatmeal-colored ruffled skirt, simple, high-necked white blouse, and touches of green ribbon, she comes across as fresh, innocent, and sweet. Daisies are her floral motif, suggesting summer days and clear skies.
Mia, by contrast, is wild and slick and sassy with her silk brocades and satins in shades of pink and ivory. Wildflowers, especially wild roses, serve as her motif, indicating her free spirit, her wild nature, and her passion. Brief glimpses of lace finish the look. She dresses in colors and fabrics designed to make an impact and to make smoke come out of the ears of her “Auntie” Lady Elizabeth.
Lady Elizabeth–note the insistence on her title–wears everything. Hat, gloves, fan, parasol, skirt, blouse, vest, jewels, ornament, decoration, extravagance. She is a true peacock, strutting around in the finest explosion of Victorian elegance and fashion. We wanted her to be over the top. Predominately dressed in ivory tones, her costume is accented in punches of blue, everything from the blue vest with fabric resembling plumage to the actual peacock perched proudly on her hat.
We expect Lady Elizabeth to make a grand entrance with her bustled and ruffled skirt, eyelet-sleeved cotton blouse, plumage, and a whole parade of accessories. Who ever heard of moderation with a Victorian grande dame around?
Paul is the serious and sober British gentlemen. Wild and crazy colors do not suit him. We kept him in shades of tan, khaki, and earthy brown to match his grounded personality. A little pinstripe and paisley gives a hint of interest, and it will be brightened up with a crisp white shirt. The lines are straight, the cut is strong, and there certainly isn’t any room for frivolity in Paul’s costume. A polished monocle and shined shoes will give him everything he needs to defend the British Empire.
General Major, on the other hand, is not sober. His costume reflects his military past and the dusty, sand-blown, exotic lands he visited. We’re giving him a very military-style, sleeveless vest in a camel and sand-colored plaid and khaki pants with a faint check pattern. Squared-off and stern like a true officer of the British Army.
A clean white shirt will finish his costume off perfectly. Add a pocket watch and a flask of his favorite whiskey and the General is ready to go.
This colorful, quick-witted cast is sure to make splash with their fashions alone! Our most elaborate costuming yet will give The Last Garden Party a five-star finish and transport our guests to the politeness (and wickedness) of classic Victorian England. Mix in a beautiful garden setting, soft lighting, and a skeleton in the grass and this will be a show you will never forget.
Want to see the finished costumes? Well, we wouldn’t want to give away the surprise…so take a trip to Red Rock Books in Ridgecrest for your tickets to our upcoming Victorian interactive mystery, The Last Garden Party. Don’t let time run out on you. This show is already proving to be the can’t-miss event of the summer. Come and join us! You are all cordially invited to…
–Master Mystery Productions