Don’t get me wrong, here at the VictoriAnachronists, we love ourselves a good pair of jeans, and we are grateful that we don’t have to put on a girdle to take our dog for a walk. That being said, there are definitely some things a modern woman can learn from Victorian and turn of the century fashion.
1. Wear clothes at your natural waist.
Do you ever wonder why the women on Downton Abbey all look so freakin’ skinny? Two reasons – first, they are all really skinny, but Second! they wear skirts at their natural waist.
There is an alarming trend towards “low-rise” pants that, instead of cinching you at your narrowest point and covering and smoothing everything below the waist, they cut your figure right in the middle of your hips, ruining your silhouette. The low-rise pants situation has gotten so bad that THIS product now exists.
Do you want a real solution for muffin-top? No, it’s not Cross-Fit, the grapefruit cleanse, or even Trendy Top. All you have to do is buy clothing that is cut for an actual human female with a waist and hips! Choose skirts that hang at your waist or just below. This hides your belly and hips while streamlining your whole figure. The same goes for trousers and suit pants. But Vicky, you say, I can’t find any pants that fit at my waist! To this, Vicky responds that it might be time to stop shopping in the Junior’s section; Vicky stopped shopping in the Junior’s section when she turned 11. It’s time, ladies.
2. Modesty is sexy.
Victorian women knew that less is more when it came to sexy. There is nothing less attractive than a woman shoved into a too-tight clingy spandex mini-dress showing every dimple and roll. Of course, we realize that there are some women that can pull off pretty much anything. If you are an Iron Woman Triathlete or an ultra-marathoner and you burn 5,000 calories a minute when you’re sleeping, wear whatever the heck you want because you are freaking amazing. For the rest of us, much more attractive is fitted clothing that covers and creates a smooth, shapely silhouette and leaves the rest to the imagination. This leads into the next lesson, which is…
3. Curvy is Beautiful.
Curvy figures have gone in an out over the last century and thankfully, they seem to be coming back in. Modern women admire women like Jennifer Lopez, Kate Winslet, Queen Latifah, and many others for embracing their curvy, feminine shape. Victorians appreciated a feminine figure so much that they went to great lengths to create the shape if the woman didn’t have one. Bustles were the original Apple Bottom skirt used to emphasize a woman’s backside.
Corsets were also part of the standard wardrobe. Most everyone knows that corsets will give any girl an hour-glass figure, but they are restrictive and uncomfortable, and I’m not sure a bustle would fit in an ergonomic office chair for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Luckily, you don’t have to suffer the discomfort and inconvenience of these out-dated accoutrements to look the part. A structured top or jacket and a belt can help give any woman a more defined waist. A-line skirts give a feminine shape and flatter the backside while hiding your belly.
4. Hats look great on everyone.
This is just a fact. There are hats for every face shape and every hair style. Go to a hat store and experiment!
5. Real men wear dressing gowns.
Dressing gowns are hot. Here’s why:
A. Dressing gowns make you incredibly clever, perceptive, and confident. And kiiind of a jerk, but that can be forgiven if you have cheekbones like this guy.
B. Dressing gowns get you hot make-out time with “the help.”
C. Dressing gowns allow you to hide crazy wives in your attic and STILL charm the bustle off the governess.
6. A suit is the sexiest thing a man can wear.
There’s nothing else to say for this one. Let’s go straight to the man-candy.
This week we feature the original Victorian hottie, Lord Byron. This guy was so smooth they had to create a new word just to describe him, “byronic.” While he was technically not alive in the Victorian era, he inspired many Victorian writers (Mr. Darcy, anyone?) and was a leading figure in the Romantic movement which persisted into the Victorian era. His emo-allure set an impossible example for generations of men after him. Thank you, Lord Byron, for being the original tall, dark, handsome, and brooding idol.
One lovely early November night, my fellow Vicky A, our friend Jennn, and I decided to gamble with the evening’s entertainment and take in a performance of Dracula the Ballet as performed at the Kennedy Center. Dracula + ballet can ONLY equal a good time, right?
Here we are by the ballet placard. Notice our incredible fanged impressions. Can you tell we went in with extremely low expectations? All due respect to both the Washington Ballet and the Kennedy Center, it had the potential to be utterly fantastic or utterly abysmal. Either way, we went in expecting a good time.
While we weren’t sure how well the book was going to translate into dance, I have to admit that the performance was enthralling. The sets themselves were incredibly elaborate but also multi-functional; a stairway at the train station became a grand staircase at a party and then became part of the structure at Carfax Abbey or part of the sanitarium where Renfield was housed. The ballet began to the sound of a loud, beating heart, an effect that I adored. The costumes were beautiful and the dances themselves told the story remarkably well. I must also comment on the excellent special effects department and their use of fog, which I will elaborate on a bit later in this review.
So, here’s the man himself, played in our performance by Jared Nelson (pictured above). When he first appeared, there were a few titters in the audience at his rather androgynous/feminine appearance (especially since his makeup and lipstick were so dramatic and he himself was ballerina-slender and elegant), but in my opinion, I think they nailed the look. In the novel, Dracula is described as having lips that were blood red, almost looking like they were dripping with gore before he even takes a single bite. The fact that this Dracula looks like he’s wearing blood red lipstick (Guerlain Rouge Automatique Habit Rouge or Chanel Allure Laque Dragon, for sure) fits with his established look. He’s also described as having a hawkish look, and a lean, aquiline nose: “His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead….The mouth … was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth. These protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed. The chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor.” (Dracula, Chapter 2) As you can see, Dracula here has the perfect look: strong, angular features, pale with ruddy lips, with a cruel look to his features. Add a ridiculously wonderful swirly coat and we have our man…beast. Bat. Thing. Monster. Hottie. Anyway.
His interactions with the characters were in a word, mesmerizing, especially the contrast between his duets with Harker, Lucy, and Mina respectively. Each dance was unique and emblematic of Dracula’s particular relationship with these people. His dance with Harker was fraught with tension and anguish on Harker’s part and all power and cajoling seduction on Dracula’s part; he had his captive and once Harker learned too much, it was clear he would never let him escape. I think this was the moment that truly convinced me that this would be a performance to remember.
Dracula oozed the raw sexuality and power of the role, but he also moved and acted like a predator, animalistic and feral. Dracula performed a fantastic feat of physicality when he was about to prey on Lucy and Mr. Nelson actually pulled some Cirque-du-Soleil moves in his descent by backflipping down the wall like a lizard (much like is described by Harker in the novel when he sees Dracula scaling the wall head-down like a squirrel or other creature) and occasionally hanging upside down by his knees like a bat. I was continually impressed by small moments that alluded to aspects of the novel; the creative director and/or the choreographer clearly had done their research and knew their subject matter extremely well.
The dances with the women were no less dramatic. Dracula’s dance with Lucy might have been one of the most beautiful and powerful in the performance. This was a dance wholly in contrast with his domination of Harker; there was an ebb and flow in their interactions and hints of great romance in Dracula’s wooing of Lucy; you could almost feel her longing for him after he left her. Later on, when Dracula visits Lucy to consume her blood entirely, her need for him was as palpable as his animal need to feed (See picture below: definitely pretty hot). Even watching him “feed” I was reminded of an animal and its prey, rather than the romantically sterilized vampire-biting that pervades literature and media these days. Right before he left her for the final time, fog filled the stage and he was pulled backwards into it, seemingly dissolving into the fog itself. It was a gasp-worthy effect and extremely well done. At the end of each act, I was eager to see more, which to me, is the mark of any good performance, whether you know the story or not.
Dracula’s duet with Mina was one of the most incredibly physical dances I’ve ever seen. We were only a row or two back from the stage and every once in a while, I could hear Dracula exhale breath as he performed, which was a testament to the exertion of the dance itself. I have no idea how often he picked her up and wound her around him like a vine or how he wound around her like a snake but it was incredible to watch. The overtones of master/prey were not as pronounced; the dance declared them as equals of a sort, where Dracula reveals his predilection towards Mina as a particular bride or partner rather than just making her, like Lucy, just another servant. This is emphasized when we get to see them together towards the end of the ballet walking arm in arm like a genteel Victorian couple, a presentation of his new bride to his vampire coven, if you will.
Another great performer to watch was Renfield. I had no idea how the ballet was planning on incorporating the complex subplot of Renfield, the caretaker of Carfax Abbey, Dracula’s eventual home, who goes mad, consumes numerous insects in his obsession with consuming life like his master. I imagine it would be difficult, if not impossible to convey all of the above through a wordless medium such as ballet, but once again, I was pleasantly surprised by their fearless creativity. When Renfield would interact with Mina, you got the sense that he was, in fact, trying to convey important information about Dracula to her, much as he did in the book. How you act out a wordless warning to someone while dancing in a straight-jacket I’ll never know, but he managed it and we sat back, impressed and wowed.
Without giving away anything of the ending, I’ll simply say that I left the performance extremely impressed and wanting to see it again. Another fun moment: much like Lincoln Osirius in Tropic Thunder, Dracula didn’t break character during the curtain call, dramatically and carefully stalking out onto the stage, step by step, as haughty and dignified as during the ballet itself. Well played, Drac. Well played. Until next time, my red-coated friend… Thanks for a…bloody good time.
Fresh off our date with Dracula, we decided it might be fun to play a little game. Look at the pictures below and guess if the photo is of Dracula or David Bowie. Let’s start easy…
Dracula, or David Bowie?
Come on, children of the 80’s! It’s the movie that taught us 8-year-olds what a “codpiece” is. And it was about time someone did! I would much rather learn about phallic enhancements from Bowie than from my high school gym teacher in Family Life.
Dracula, or David Bowie?
Dracula or David Bowie?
You got it, that one is definitely Bowie.
Oh, snap! I was pretty sure that one was Dracula.
Wow, David Bowie is hot when he’s in man-clothes. I’m kidding, I am fully aware that David Bowie is hot all the time.
Dracula or David Bowie?
Alright, that one was kind of easy.
Last one, Dracula or David Bowie?
It’s Drac….just kidding, of course THAT one is David Bowie. Thanks for playing! Next week, Aladdin or MC Hammer!
Night falls. Nervously you adjust your necklace and the hem of your dress. For the first time, you’re about to go on a date with near royalty. Like a gentleman, he’s sent a cab for you. You only think it’s a little strange that the cab is an unmarked black Lincoln town car and that the cabbie’s face is almost completely obscured from your view. You get in and the driver starts down the road.
After a while, the car slows down for a school zone and suddenly you are surrounded by women in peasant-garb looking really upset. Are we in Amish country? you wonder. You roll down the window.
You: Hello, good evening. Are you alright? Did your tour bus break down or something?
Peasants: Please, we beg of you, get out of the car! Leave this cursed place! <indistinct wailing>
You: Hey, look: I’m sorry it didn’t work out between the count and you ladies, but it’s time to move on. He’s seeing me now.
You roll up the window and the driver pulls away, chuckling darkly. You continue to drive for what seems like hours until you reach his stately home. Despite the wolves, bats, and cobwebs encircling the house and property, it seems legit. The door opens and he’s standing there in a long red coat. Looks pretty good but…is he wearing lipstick? AND guyliner? Holy smokes, the coat is velour! This is getting weird. Maybe he’s just a big David Bowie fan?
Count Dracula: “…”
You: “…Nice to meet you!”
Count Dracula: “…”
You: “…Can I come in? It’s a bit chilly out here.”
Count Dracula: “YES. Please come in. Welcome to my humble home. I am so very ready for our…date.”
The house is a little dusty, but nothing you haven’t seen before. Maybe he doesn’t like to clean? You hear howling outside, which is really weird for the suburbs. Maybe a neighborhood block party? He seems to fall into a trance.
Count Dracula: “Listen to them – children of the night! What music they make.”
You: “…You like music? I’m a big fan of Muse. Have you heard their new album? It’s pretty experimental.”
Count Dracula: “My music is the screams of sailors as they perish in the wild ocean. My songs come from the sound of bats wings in the air, the howling of the wolves, the wailing of the peasants as they flee from me…”
You: “Oh, you’re into Metal! That’s cool. Hey, is that red wine over there? I’d love some.”
Count Dracula: “…Actually, I’m fresh out. You wouldn’t like that vintage anyway. Too…young. I didn’t give it enough time to….breathe. Chocolate-covered cockroaches? A delicacy from my BFF Renfield.”
You: “Thanks, I’m good. Cockroach allergy.”
He proceeds to stare at you strangely for the rest of the date. Weirdly, you don’t seem to mind too much; you have a thing for men in suits with hawk noses and he’s pretty dreamy. You think you’ve got a pretty good chance with this guy! He’s either vegan or raw foodist but you feel like you can deal with that.
You all manage some conversation about Europe, medieval weaponry, architecture, and how easily it is for you both to get sunburned. The conversation is mesmerizing and after a while, you’ve stopped noticing the hair on his palms. After a while, he gallantly offers to drive you home so he can meet your parents and your younger sister, who, unfortunately, happens to like Twilight.
Sister: “OMG!! Your eyes are red…and you’re really pale….ARE YOU A VAMPIRE?? Do you SPARKLE?! I would jump off a cliff for you!!!”
Count Dracula: “Nothing would please me more.”
Oh, yeah. Date 2 is going to be awesome.
Are you tired of your vampires sparkling and being emo? Do you yearn for the days when vampires turned into bats at night, slithered down walls, and forced you to drink blood from their chests? Me too, sister! In “honor” of the release of the latest and (thankfully!) final Twilight movie, and actually in honor of Bram Stoker’s recent 165th birthday, and also in honor of Thanksgiving (I guess I’m thankful I’m not a vampire? Thankful that Twilight is finally coming to an end?), The Victorianachronists are hosting Dracula Week! Stay tuned for a bloody good time!
The annual Leonid meteor shower is approaching its peak over North America this Friday night into Saturday morning. This year the viewing should be good with a waxing crescent moon setting before the show, leaving the sky dark. It won’t, however, compare to the most spectacular Leonid’s show on record, the Great Meteor Storm of 1833. Only visible over the Americas, records claim there were over a hundred thousand meteors falling per hour during that year’s storm. For comparison, this year we can expect to see only a few dozen meteors per hour, according to astronomy.com.
The shower in 1833 was notable enough to be recorded by Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, among others. Tubman referred to it as, “the night the stars fell.” People were both awed and terrified by the spectacle, some believing it to herald the end of the world or God’s Judgement Day. Others chose to interpret it as a sign from God, and of course, God was saying whatever they wanted him to say. Among the scientific community, the storm launched the modern study of meteor showers. Imagine what great works of fiction might have resulted had H.G. Wells or Jules Verne been around to witness this celestial phenomenon!
It is hard to imagine witnessing something like that before truly understanding what it was. I have a feeling I would be pretty freaked out – like, gotta wash my bloomers out the next day freaked out. Would you be frightened or awe-struck? Would the event be more or less spectacular to you if didn’t understand the science of what was happening?
“The air of London is sweeter for my presence.” ~Holmes, The Final Problem
Back in May, I found myself glued to my TV for the season finale of BBC’s magnificent modernization of Sherlock Holmes. My fellow Vicky A and I texted frantically back and forth during “The Reichenbach Fall”, the ‘buzz-uzz’ of which occasionally sent me flying off the couch in surprise as it interrupted my enrapt attention to the drama proceeding across my screen. We bounced from scene to scene, notes flying about regarding this bit of minutiae or that bit of genius plot. I remember sitting on the couch towards the very end of the episode, blubbering to my husband that “OMG he HAS to be watching from afar, he HAS to be watching from afar BAWWWWWWWWWW THERE HE IS” and then shamelessly dissolving into ugly sobs. I know I wasn’t the only one: previews of this finale described it as “utterly heartbreaking”. Why does Holmes still affect us so deeply to this day? Why does Holmes matter? Continue reading