How to Roleplay in the Victorian Era
The Victorian Era, named appropriately after Queen Victoria, was a British cultural period between the years 1837 and 1901, corresponding to Victoria’s life and death. This guide will help you roleplay in a Victorian setting; societal class differences, tips, and cultural values and morals will be addressed, as well as the traditions and expectations of the time, including concepts like fashion and gender roles.
This guide was written by keir-reviews. Please like or reblog if it helped you, and do not steal.
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The Victorian era is widely recognised as a period of peace, societal sensibilities, and strong class contrasts. It is often linked with romanticism, mysticism and art, making it far less practical than the period beforehand (the Georgian period) and focusing more on emotion and pleasure, and the enjoyment of life (at least for the upper classes). Comparatively, the Victorian Era was socially liberal and focused on economic and social change, although class differences were still prominent.
There’s plenty more to learn about the Victorian Era; the following guide is brief and focuses on aspects that are important for roleplaying. To learn more, I’d suggest having a peek at this blog and using the rest of the Internet to find out more.
There were three main societal classes during the Victorian Era. The differences between the classes were incredibly evident; fashion, customs and lifestyles varied greatly from class to class. Below is a short description of each class, and the major differences that separated each one.
Upper class citizens didn’t have to work, do any manual or mental labour, and were expected to remain ‘respectable' at all times. Anything that was considered taboo - such as women having sex before marriage - was kept behind closed doors, although it is generally agreed that the upper class was the most inappropriate of all three classes. Each member of the upper class had a persona that was to be upheld at all times. The upper class came into money via inheritance, luck, and a somewhat flawed economic system. The clothes of upper class citizens were lavish, expensive and heavily ornamented. Members of this class focused on enjoying their lavish, elegant lives and showing this enjoyment in public as often as possible. The way they spoke and dressed was indicative of these values.
Middle class citizens had strong underlying values of conservatism and hard work. They were reasonably wealthy, although, unlike the upper class, middle class citizens earned money through work, not inheritance. Men took jobs involving ‘mental' or 'clean' work (i.e. not physical labour), meaning they were educated. Women stayed at home and looked after the children. Unlike upper class citizens, members of the middle class spent their hard-earned money sparingly and were generally concerned about health: smoking and drinking, while commonly accepted within upper class circles, were not common in the middle class.
The working class had its particular label for a reason. Working class citizens worked extremely hard for very little pay, often in terrible conditions. Their jobs were hazardous and involved dangerous physical labour, and children were expected to work instead of going to school. Illnesses - such as cholera and T.B. - injuries, and birth deformities were extremely common among working class citizens. Most working class citizens worked in factories, although there were other jobs available: chimney sweeps, rat catchers and street entertainers all came from within the working class. The upper and middle class looked down upon the working class, although citizens at the bottom of the social hierarchy made up most of the population. Working class citizens were often dirty and their clothes were plain and simple.
Upper class speech was slow, languid and finnicky; it represented the values of the upper class perfectly but was hard to master. Although upperclassmen spoke as correctly as possible, they developed their own slang and methods of pronunciation that became the norm. Here are some points to consider when playing a character from the upper class:
- Correct pronunciation was extremely important;
- Many upperclassmen had broad vocabularies;
- "Men" was used instead of "gentlemen": men did not want to be gentle and therefore found the term "gentlemen" offensive;
- Speech was languid, drawling and generally over the top;
- "a"s were almost pronounced as "o"s (e.g. "dorling" instead of "darling");
- Sometimes “r” was replaced with “w” (e.g. “good gwacious” instead of “good gracious”).This website contains some bonus material on learning to speak “properly" during the period.
Middle class speech was a combination of upper and working class dialect: while many middle class members incorporated parts of upper class slang in their everyday speech, it was sometimes used incorrectly and this fact is the subject of many fiction works about the Victorian era. The middle class generally spoke relatively “normally" and did not have a specific dialect. Class slang was not as common as in the other two classes.
The lower class typically made use of “cockney" slang and had a strong "cockney" accent. Points to consider when writing a character from this class include:
- Silent “t”s in the middle of words (e.g. “bi’er” instead of “bitter”);
- Silent “h”s at the start of words (e.g. “‘ome” instead of “home”);
- Silent “e”s in the middle of words (e.g. “howl’d” instead of “howled”);
- Leaving out consonants at the ends of words (e.g. “i’” instead of “it”);
- Replacing “v”s with “w”s (e.g. “wery” instead of “very”);
- Words changed to fit accent (e.g. “me” instead of “my”, or “yer” instead of “you”, otherwise known as slurring vowels).Here is a huge masterlist of slang that only the lowest of the working class would consider using. Think about including a few words in your paras/chats - but don’t overdo it!
Fashion in the Victorian era was heavily influenced by a number of other time periods. Throughout the era, fashion trends changed and different expectations developed.
Generally, women wore dresses for both informal and formal events and skirts with jackets for exercising. Dresses were long and relatively plain, with high collars during the day and long necklines for evenings. The general silhouette changed dramatically throughout Queen Victoria’s reign; see below.The following guide details clothing expectations for women for each time period.1840s-50s: Gowns were pale and simple with wide, puffed sleeves. Corsets and petticoats were common; however, petticoats were later replaced by the crinoline (a steel frame).1860s: Skirts were flatter in the front and there was more emphasis on the backside. High, collared necklines were common, with lace trim often added in; however, evening dresses had low necklines and were often worn with gloves.
1870s: Corsets became less popular. Bustles (supported skirts without the front part of the framework) replaced petticoats and crinolines, placing more emphasis on the backside. Hair was voluminous and usually curled, and hats with veils were popular.
1880s: As men’s activities became slightly more acceptable for women to participate in, outfits for horse-riding (a matching jacket and unsupported skirt, a high-collared shirt, and a hat with a veil). Hunting costumes comprised long, loose skirts and sturdy boots, while clothing for gentle exercise (such as walking) was usually a jacket and skirt. Bonnets and hats were still popular.
1890s: High, decorated collars were worn with long dresses. Women’s waists were smaller and neither crinolines nor bustles were common during this period.
Finally: The preferred shape in the final years of the queen’s reign was broad at the top and slim at the bottom: wide-brimmed hates were complimented by puffed sleeves and ample upper-body pieces. Bustles and crinolines were no longer used, and skirts went in at the ankles.
Generally, men had short hair and some form of facial hair. They wore heeled shoes, and hats were common, as well as walking sticks and pocket watches.
1850s: Shirts had high, stiff collars that stood up. Hats were common; top hats were worn by the richer classes and bowler hats were popular in the working class.
1860s: Wide neckties were were worn with frock coats. Hats were still common.
1870s: Frock coats became shorter; hats were still popular. Ties became narrower and were worn with three-piece suits.
1880s: For evenings, dark suits with white shirts and bow ties were worn. For exercise, such as shooting or horseriding, tweed or woolen breeches were popular. formal evening dress remained a dark tail coat and trousers with a dark waistcoat, a white bow tie, and a shirt with a winged collar. Shoes had high heels and tapered toes.
1890s: The blazer became popular.
This guide was originally and completely written by the author behind Keir Reviews and is registered at and protected by My Free Copyright. Both extensive research and personal experience were used to create this guide; however, if a problem arises, please do not hesitate to contact me. If you feel that any of the information found within this guide is incorrect, I will happily acknowledge your suggestions for improvement.
Do not steal this guide or any component of this guide. Stealing includes:
However, feel free to reblog as much as you like! I would be honoured.