7 Royal Fashion Secrets Hidden in the New Season of Victoria
Costume designer Rosalind Ebbutt breaks down what to know about Queen Victoria's looks in season two.
Victoria’s first season packed all the royal punches. There was a wedding, a pregnancy, a birth—you name it, we saw it. The period drama returns with brand new episodes on Sunday, Jan. 14, and things are moving full speed ahead. After chatting with Jenna Coleman—who plays the show’s lead, Queen Victoria—for InStyle’s January issue, we already know that darker times are ahead for the monarch. Her marriage is about to hit a rough patch as her husband, Prince Albert, vies for power of his own, and Victoria finds herself resentful. She also becomes pregnant, more than once, which isn't making it a breeze to rule.
As Victoria enters a rocky period in her life, her wardrobe reflects those changes. You’ll notice that the monarch looks more mature—even though only six weeks have passed since the events of the first season finale. “This is a woman with children and a husband, and on top of that, she's a queen,” the show’s costume designer, Rosalind Ebbutt, recently told InStyle. “She's not a teenager anymore, and by the end of this season, she's in her mid-20s and has established herself as a glamorous woman.”
“The shapes we see her in this season are quite different—especially when we’re a few years further into the 1840s,” said Ebbutt. When we’re reintroduced to the British empire's reigning monarch, gone is the overprotected young princess we met in the show’s premiere. In her place is a self-assured ruler who’s bolder and more decisive. If Victoria’s ever-growing confidence doesn’t signal a new era on its own, the latest fashion trends she’s wearing ought to. “The clothing doesn’t have such a girly, romantic feel. It’s a bit more elegant—the waistlines are at the natural waist, the skirts are quite bell-shaped. We’ve evolved the color palette a bit.”
To get the former ruler’s real-life look just right, Ebbutt turned to the royal archives. “I researched original paintings and photographs of Queen Victoria, as well as the contemporary fashion prints and fabrics of her time,” she said. “We have several different feels. One is when she’s in her household with the children, and that’s based on lovely drawings I found. Then I found slightly more informal paintings of her working within her own world of the palace."
Here, Ebbutt reveals the seven most important things to spot in Victoria's season two costumes, which you can gawk at on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Masterpiece on PBS.
1. Royal state gowns are always this color.
“In the first episode this season, we have a big christening sequence for Victoria and Albert’s firstborn baby, Princess Victoria,” said Ebbutt. “It’s a beautiful and formal state occasion, so I wanted Queen Victoria to wear the perfect state dress. They're always pale—and we had already done cream in season one—so I found a wonderful ice blue and cream silk brocade fabric. We made this dress with a lace and silk bertha collar that fits around the neckline and has tiny wax flowers. Because that was a state dress, we were able to repeat it and used it again on two other special occasions.”
2. The chicest crown jewels aren't the ones used at the coronation.
“For the big state occasions, we have a replica of a small crown that she wore—not the main huge one that was for the coronation,” said Ebbutt. “But for the christening, I based Victoria’s whole look on a drawing of this great state crown with velvet inside that she wore. We also have smaller tiaras. One of them has sapphires, and it looks like the one she had made around 1841. There are much finer ones, too, and then we also find necklaces and chains to put in her hair that look like diamonds.”
3. The real Victoria wore this dress in a painting.
“We created a very dark midnight blue velvet dress for Victoria based on a drawing of her holding one of the babies,” said Ebbutt. “That was a much more intimate dress that she wore for occasions with just Albert or the children. It was quite a character-reflecting dress that she wore when she was thinking about important things. There was also a blue brocade dress [pictured above] that we recreated from a painting of Victoria, and that was a slightly less formal evening dress for her. And then I had a cream silk dress made for her to wear to church in another scene [pictured below]. After having a baby, women had to go to a thing called “churching” before they could be seen in public. We made the dress, but the teal embroidered cape she wore with it was a lucky find from a costumer.”
In the end, it was important that Coleman looked at home in her many ensembles. “I wanted all the clothing to allow Jenna to believably be Victoria but more of Jenna's Victoria,” said Ebbutt. “I didn’t want her to look like she was just [recreating] Queen Victoria’s look for a documentary; I wanted the clothes to look as if they were her own clothes, rather than a historical figure’s.”
4. Different cities call for different looks.
“As time moves on a bit, each new event demands another set of clothes,” said Ebbutt. “There’s always something around the next corner, like a trip to France or Scotland, so I design different looks to echo where she’s going. Obviously, a queen would have new clothes to go to a specific place and do specific things. And Victoria was very keen on clothes at this stage in her life; she liked to have new things and be fashionable. She would have looked at fashion prints with her ladies in waiting and choose what she liked, just like we would look at a magazine or fashion show now and do the same.”
5. The trendiest accessory of the 1840s.
“Women would almost always have a hat on when they went out,” said Ebbutt. “We had quite a few bonnets this season, which were trimmed with different colored ribbons. I actually made her a riding habit using an authentic French fashion plate from 1841, and that’s something she’d wear while sitting on horseback with a big military parade. Other than hats, we always have a ton of gloves and necklaces, too—but this is especially a great period for broaches. There are beautiful carved shell cameos and paintings used to pin lace together on a dress or just displayed on the bodice.”
6. And some of the fashion items were actually made in the 1840s.
“We use some vintage lace and trimmings, but the rest of the fabrics are modern,” said Ebbutt. “The one original thing we do use whenever we possibly can is real 19th-century shawls. They just add another dimension to everything. [In the photo above,] she has an original shawl from the period over her right arm. That’s a contemporary 19th-century shawl right there.”
7. Women wore corsets even when they were pregnant.
“The women are all wearing corsets in every scene,” said Ebbutt. “So if you have a big crowd scene with 150 people, there could easily be 100 corsets in the scene. Really, it was quite odd not to wear a corset back then. Women wore them even when they were pregnant. The dresses had such full skirts that anything below the waist was fairly hidden until they were very pregnant, so they wore larger corsets to accommodate the fact that they had grown. But they did try to conceal it—it wasn't something that was displayed at all.”