Late Victorian Fancy Dress Witches

Between 1879 and 1895 six editions of Ardern Holt’s Fancy Dresses Described; Or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls were published in London. The book is partly a how-to guide for those planning on making their own costumes for a costume ball but the book is also part-advertisement for the costumes available at Debenham & Freebody of London, England.

(Some may not be aware that Debenhams, which is now a vast department store empire, dates back to 1778. According to this site, the Debenhams name first appeared in 1813 in the partnership of Clark and Debenham in London’s Wigmore Street. Throughout the nineteenth century, the business grew to include a number of retail outlets all over the country as well as clothing manufacturing operations. In 1905, the business was incorporated and Debenhams first department store was opened.)

A variety of witchy costumes appear in the different editions of Holt’s guide, which are illustrated with monochrome and chromolithographic plates: as well as ‘Witch’, and ‘White Witch’ there are entries for witches under ‘Lady Macbeth’, ‘Nance Redfern’ (from William Harrison Ainsworth’s The Lancashire Witches: A Romance of Pendle Forest), ‘Mother Hubbard’, ‘Mother Bunch’, ‘Mere Michel’, ‘Mother Shipton’, ‘Dame Trot’, and the ‘Old Woman Who Swept The Sky’ (from the nursery rhyme dating back to 1790), as well as similar costumes for ‘Enchantress’, ‘Fairy Godmother’ etc.

The following three images are of the costumes for a ‘Witch’ and a ‘White Witch’. The descriptions follow each image.

1882: Quilted petticoat touching the ground; a chintz tunic open in front, bunched up; muslin apron; low level bodice with deep point, laced across the front; sleeves to elbow with ruffles; muslin kerchief, close ruff; spectacles, mittens and stick; a lace cap, and a high-pointed velvet sugar-loaf hat with peacock’s feather; high-heeled shoes with rosettes; a small white dog; the hair powdered or not.

1887: Short quilted skirt of red satin with cats and lizards in black velvet; gold satin panier tunic; black velvet bodice laced over old-gold crepe bodice; small cat on right shoulder, a broom in hand, with owl; tall pointed velvet cap; shoes with buckles.

1895: White satin shoes, the petticoat quilted with pearls, which are also introduced on the front of the stomacher, and as ornaments on the bodice. There are lace ruffles to the sleeves; a close ruff surrounds the neck. The white felt pointed cap has pompons [sic] at the side, and the staff is tied with white ribbons.

2 Responses to “Late Victorian Fancy Dress Witches”

  1. […] witchy props were easier and cheaper to buy, so it was easier to dress as a witch. (See my post here on the very complex and expensive witchy costumes worn by the affluent and aristocratic […]

  2. […] 1895 Arden Holt’s “Fancy Dresses Described; Or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls” includes (figure 48) a “White Witch” Fancy Dress. [found at sexywitch] […]

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