Neo-Victorianism – a curious and persevering movement of reproducing, or in some way, reinterpreting, Victorian ways of life. This includes, but is not limited to, wearing top hats, corsets, silky waistcoats, an appreciation for Jane Austen, Alice in Wonderland tattoos and morbid mysteries. We’re not here to wax nostalgic about the wonders of Victorian living, and in fact, there are books like Theresa Oneill’s Unmentionable: A Victorian Ladies Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners which offer a hilarious-yet-horrifying look at daily life for women in Victorian times, covering everything from the “treacherous art of bathing” to how not to die of the syphilis your husband gifted to you. There are however, a number of fascinating contemporary characters who against all odds, are finding their groove in fashion, literature, and aesthetics of the Victorian era. We’ve compiled a brief compendium of these Neo-Victorians walking the walk so you don’t have to…
Cheyney McKnight, aka “Not Your Momma’s History”
Cheyney McKnight knows a lot about history. She makes a living interpreting it through clothing, primary sources, talks, and her “Let’s Talk About Slavery” tables, which she sets up in public spaces to encourage conversation and education. She was always told “Black women wore what white women wore, but the poorer version of it.” This did not sit well with McKnight at all, who had seen first-hand the portraits of Victorian men and women in beautiful clothing. So she made it her mission to make sure that people knew what Black Victorian fashion was, and where it came from.
Cheyney describes her style as Afro-Victorian, which was a term popularized by Michael Wilson’s costumes for the Netflix musical Jingle Jangle. It is a vibrant fusion of African patterns, colors, and styles with a Victorian silhouette. McKnight talks about the strong West-African influence in Black Victorian clothing on her Youtube channel, Not Your Momma’s History, which details many aspects of Afro-Victorian dress, including the head wraps that Black women wore.
Despite appearances, Cheyney is very much involved in the current political issues facing her community and has has been very active in the Black Lives Matter Movement since 2014, going toe to toe with white supremacists in the southern states. She is also one of a few Black women running living history at a major American museum. Cheyney has also recently been addressing Afroterpretation, which she describes as “a style of historical interpretation specifically done by interpreters of the African Diaspora”. Have you ever been to a historic plantation museum? “The goal is to empower and protect Black interpreters through ancestral reconnection, conscious programming, and modified historical clothing,” explains McKnight. “Afroterpreting strives to visually and interpretively break the fantasy play world created at many historical sites. A world in which Black bodies are used as props, and modern Black voices are silenced”.
Bernadette Banner has worked on Broadway, as well as collaborated with the School of Historical dress (and her friend and fellow Youtuber Cheyney McKnight).
She is best known for her own Youtube channel, which is full of intriguing videos like “How Did They Pee in Those Dresses? A Superficial History of Underwear” and “I Tried Following a Real Victorian Hair Care Routine” which involved using rosemary spirit and iron oxide on her hair. Banner also critiques the historical accuracy of TV shows and movies such as ‘Outlander’ or the 2020 adaption of ‘Emma’. Her channel is full of dreamy fabrics, long descriptions of the why and who of period costuming, and funny asides about the crimes committed against historical clothing.
Her expertise is in recreating historical clothing with authentic sewing methods, and it will come as no surprise that she’s also an active spokesperson against the fast fashion industry. Banner describes her work as “focused on English and American dress predating the widespread use of the electric sewing machine, with a particular focus in the years of dress between 1890 – 1914.” Interestingly, Emma also grew up in a corset (a modern one) to fight her scoliosis, so she has plenty of thoughts on the myths about corsets and what it’s really like to wear one.
Perhaps what makes Banner so intriguing to follow is her attention to detail and expansive knowledge delivered in such a passionate way. Listening to her point out details in clothing that you would never notice, but which seem obvious once she mentions them, pulls the viewer out from the stuffy annuls of history and breaths new life into this era.
David Saunders isn’t in it for the fashion – but rather for the interiors and collecting. He’s spent years turning a historic cottage in Nottingham back into a Victorian time capsule. He’s made it so accurate, that it’s often used for television and film shoots.
The property was once owned by a cobbler who built a shoe shop within the main house. David has since revived that shop, stocking it with period-appropriate products.
“Like everyone, I’ve had difficult times and stepping back in time after a long day at work is a great form of escapism”, says David. He may not be as dedicated to the Victorian wardrobe as some of our other Neo-Victorians, but follow him on Instagram and you’ll find his home is as Victorian as it gets.
Immerse yourself in the Victorian kitchen of a visual storyteller who transports us to another time with her recipes, photography and style that. Based in Devon, Aimee often collaborated with still life photographer Ros aka Her Dark Materials, who has an equally delicious Instagram account and keeps an antique pie tin collection to die for in her atmospheric Cotswolds cottage. Together, these two women create some seriously moody Victorian imagery, mixing food and time travel for our enjoyment…
Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman
Perhaps among the OG Neo-Victorian influencers, we found Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman back in 2015. They never quite made the leap to Instagram but Sarah has launched a Youtube channel on which she is currently sharing the tribulations of restoring a 1908 historic home. Sarah is an avid writer (and has written several books), and found her way to making words her life’s work by studying French rather than her native English. It was Gabriel, an archivist and librarian, who suggested, years ago, that they start incorporated bits and pieces of what they loved about history and the Victorian era into their daily lives. From there it grew to become a lifestyle.
To name a few of their daily activities, they pull cold food from an ice box, instead of a refrigerator, and forage during nettle and berry seasons. They don’t keep cell phones or a television but do operate an extensive blog about Victorian lifestyle called This VictorianLife.com. If you are looking to fall down a historical rabbit hole today, we suggest falling down this one.
In 2019, Michael was thrust into the spotlight with fifteen minutes of fame when his unique lifestyle became fodder for the international media. “Not your average millennial”, the young portrait artist by trade saw himself as a Victorian gentleman and spared no expense to look and live just like one…
Fast-forward to the pandemic, and we find Koropisz has almost entirely given up his strict neo-Victorian routine and stepped into the 21st century. Michael says he still loves any excuse to wear a top hat but is now pursuing a career as a television presenter and is therefore in need of a more all-rounder aesthetic. Apparently, the Victorian life is not for everyone.
Marcus Anthoney Walters
He calls himself “the Discount Count” on Instagram, but Marcus isn’t exactly what we’d call a Neo-Victorian influencer – yet. Rather, the part-time comic book artist with an impeccable Victorian style keeps a relatively low profile but we noticed him when he started attending events and meet-ups hosted by the Society of Salome, a Britain-based informal group for the lovers of fashion & culture of the Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco periods.
We hope to see more of him, but in the meantime, you can check out his take on Neo-Victorian on Instagram.
Paula Bates of Witchy Vintage
If you’re interested in starting your own seriously authentic Victorian wardrobe, Witchy Vintage is very good place to start. Owner Paula is a third generation antiques dealer based our of Texas who sells and ships her clothing and accessories exclusively online. She grew up scouring antique shops and estate sales, and dressing in vintage clothing from a young age. “Each item tells a story about the period in which it existed”, she says.