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How to Look Like a Proper Victorian Lady in 11 Easy Steps

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Earlier this month, we showed 21st-century lads how to gentrify their wardrobes Victorian-style. Today, it’s the fairer sex’s turn. So ladies, if you’d like to shake things up with a bit of old-fashioned elegance, here are 11 handy tips.

1. Start “Stocking Up” on Hosiery.

In polite company, bare legs were passionately frowned-upon, so hosiery was non-negotiable.

2. When it Comes to Footwear, Black is Beautiful.

From the 1860s to the 1890s, dark shoes and boots (especially black ones) were the norm. Apart from coloration, however, ladies’ footwear was reasonably diverse. Boots had exceeded shoes in popularity until the late 1860s, when several models of the latter group (pointed-toed, round-toed, etc.) started cropping up.

3. Learn to Speak Glove.

GWTW Scrapbook

Evening gloves weren’t just classy. They also helped women (and men) send nonverbal messages. For example, if a clueless would-be suitor came over to make small talk, tapping your chin said “I love another.” Here’s a delightful crash-course on Victorian gesturing.

4. Get Yourself a Fan Collection.

“The fan’s novel feature,” writes historian Anna Gray Bennett, “was its ability to open and close ‘at a touch,’ thereby providing that essential element of fashion—surprise.” Any self-respecting lady owned several fans; ornate models were broken out at parties and conservative varieties taken to church on Sundays.

5. Dresses Evolved Quite a Bit, So Pick Your Favorite Decade.

Stretching from 1837 to 1901, the Victorian period was a rather lengthy one. Naturally, ladies’ dresses changed significantly during this era. Between the 1830s and 1860s, skirts were predominantly large and bell-like. However, as women began to enjoy more active lives later on, dresses began to exchange extravagance for mobility.

6. Loose Hair Is Kids’ Stuff.

Updos reigned supreme. Additionally, with the rise of hot irons, wavy hair was en vogue, and curls and braids also enjoyed a bit of a renaissance. Straight, flowing hair, on the other hand, was seen as immature and reserved exclusively for children.

7. Nix the Tanning Bed.

Oh, how standards can change! Tan skin might be all the rage now, but in Victorian times, paler complexions signified nobility.

8. Use Cosmetics Sparingly.

Only actresses and prostitutes wore excessive makeup, though not all of them cared for the stuff. “If Satan has ever had any direct agency in inducing woman to spoil or deform her own beauty,” wrote one prominent courtesan, “it must have been in tempting her to use [facial] paints and enameling.” Well-to-do women, meanwhile, lightly powdered their faces for whitening purposes. Rosy cheeks were prized, so pink blushers saw widespread application as well, along with lipstick and eye shadow (in moderation, of course).

9. Going Out? Cover That Head.

Regardless of gender, you didn’t want to be caught outdoors without some form of headgear! Trimmed with such ornaments as ostrich feathers and flowers, outside hats could get quite lavish. Bonnets and indoor hats were popular early on, but became associated with the elderly after the 1870s.

10. Borrow Some of Her Highness’ Jewelry Pointers.

It’s good to be the queen. The public strained to copy Victoria’s every whim in the jewelry department. She almost single-handedly popularized charm bracelets, charm necklaces, and a slew of other adornments throughout the U.K. After Prince Albert passed away in 1861, she mourned his death until the end of her days. During this time, Victoria predominantly wore darker jewels, and her subjects followed suit.

11. Corsets Are Unavoidable, But PROCEED WITH CAUTION!

Corsets can—and did—seriously restrict breathing or even cause rib disfigurement if bound too tightly. “Hourglass figures” were very much in vogue at the time. In keeping with the trend, expectant mothers even began donning special “pregnancy corsets.” More outrageous still was the “wasp waist” look, which involved grown women squeezing their midsections down to a scant 14 inches! But, contrary to popular belief, most Victorian corset-wearers thankfully didn’t take the practice to such frightening extremes.

So, are they safe for modern usage? Well, corsets are seeing a present-day revival of sorts at weddings and formal gatherings. Dr. Sara Gottfried claims that, although there’s (usually) no danger in putting one on periodically, “wearing a corset 24/7… can do a couple [nasty] things to your body. You may want to consult your physician to make sure that your lungs and liver are healthy,” she said, adding, “and ideally, don’t wear a corset until after the age of 21”.

All images courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise stated.

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Target
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This Just In
Target Expands Its Clothing Options to Fit Kids With Special Needs
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Target

For kids with disabilities and their parents, shopping for clothing isn’t always as easy as picking out cute outfits. Comfort and adaptability often take precedence over style, but with new inclusive clothing options, Target wants to make it so families don’t have to choose one over the other.

As PopSugar reports, the adaptive apparel is part of Target’s existing Cat & Jack clothing line. The collection already includes items made without uncomfortable tags and seams for kids prone to sensory overload. The latest additions to the lineup will be geared toward wearers whose disabilities affect them physically.

Among the 40 new pieces are leggings, hoodies, t-shirts, bodysuits, and winter jackets. To make them easier to wear, Target added features like diaper openings for bigger children, zip-off sleeves, and hidden snap and zip seams near the back, front, and sides. With more ways to put the clothes on and take them off, the hope is that kids and parents will have a less stressful time getting ready in the morning than they would with conventionally tailored apparel.

The new clothing will retail for $5 to $40 when it debuts exclusively online on October 22. You can get a sneak peek at some of the items below.

Adaptive jacket from Target.
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Adaptive apparel from Target.

Adaptive apparel from Target.

Adaptive apparel from Target.

[h/t PopSugar]

All images courtesy of Target.

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Big Questions
Why Do Shorts Cost as Much as Pants?
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Shorts may feel nice and breezy on your legs on a warm summer’s day, but they’re not so gentle on your wallet. In general, a pair of shorts isn’t any cheaper than a pair of pants, despite one obviously using less fabric than the other. So what gives?

It turns out clothing retailers aren’t trying to rip you off; they’re just pricing shorts according to what it costs to produce them. Extra material does go into a full pair of pants but not as much as you may think. As Esquire explains, shorts that don’t fall past your knees may contain just a fifth less fabric than ankle-length trousers. This is because most of the cloth in these items is sewn into the top half.

Those same details that end up accounting for most of the material—flies, pockets, belt loops, waist bands—also require the most human labor to make. This is where the true cost of a garment is determined. The physical cotton in blue jeans accounts for just a small fraction of its price tag. Most of that money goes to pay the people stitching it together, and they put in roughly the same amount of time whether they’re working on a pair of boot cut jeans or some Daisy Dukes.

This price trend crops up across the fashion spectrum, but it’s most apparent in pants and shorts. For example, short-sleeved shirts cost roughly the same as long-sleeved shirts, but complicated stitching in shirt cuffs that you don’t see in pant legs can throw this dynamic off. There are also numerous invisible factors that make some shorts more expensive than nearly identical pairs, like where they were made, marketing costs, and the brand on the label. If that doesn’t make spending $40 on something that covers just a sliver of leg any easier to swallow, maybe check to see what you have in your closet before going on your next shopping spree.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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