Making of and research: Period costume – Cosette Les Mis

A different variation of my usual making of blogs, this time it’ll be more research based. Research is one of the most important and vital part of costuming especially when it’s period based. As I’m trying to make my costumes more historically accurate, and also trying to build up my portfolio of not only period pieces but also theatre pieces (I’m taking a degree in theatre and screen costuming) I decided to make one of Cosette’s costumes as it fits the bill and pleases the huge les mis fan in my self.

You will be seeing a lot of les mis and stage sewing projects over the next few months for the reasons that I’ve listed above, and because my dream job would be to work for the company that makes the les miserablés costumes, and I know it’s unlikely but if one day it happens, I’ll have some experience to help. I know, I know – I’m a dreamer.

Anyway, onto the costume:

Starting with a little brief overview, if you have not seen the show or movie or read the book, les mis is set in 1832 Paris. It is about a student’s revolt against the monarchy. An attempt of revolution. notice I say attempt……. 😦 Many people believe that it is a true story, however it’s not. Kind of. It’s based on real events but the people, and most of the storylines are fake. Les Miserablés does not take part during the French Revolution, but rather 20 years later at the Paris Uprising of 1832. I studied this at school luckily so I had a headstart with this research job. The uprising of 1832 was an attempt to overthrow the government, much like what Marius, Enjolras, Grantaire (etc) tried to do in the musical and book. The trigger for the uprising was the death of General Lamarque, who had defended the poor. Before this turns into a history essay, Paris was gripped by the cholera epidemic, this caused a economic crisis which obviously affected the poor. The People marched and built barricades in Lamarque’s name – and Les Miserablés author Victor Hugo watched. The “rebels” pleaded for help from the people of Paris, but no help came. The citizens of Paris were not as quick to join the revolution as they had thought. The death doll rose to (apparently) 800. Geez; I googled one thing and fell down this wormhole. #historylessonsfromBri

How does this tie into costuming? I always find it interesting to be able to have knowledge about the time the costume would have been worn, and if it would have affected it in any way. Of course, this is only for those who want their costumes to be as historically accurate as possible, but I’m just a huge history nerd. And Les Mis nerd. This level of information obviously isn’t available for most garments you’ll make, but it’s cool if it is. To me at least.

I looked into women’s fashion from the 1830’s, where this dress would have originated and this made it a lot easier to make Cosette’s dress. I was able to use construction techniques from the time and also delve into new areas such as those big puff sleeves. The only thing that makes it a little off is that my dress has a zipper in it, not a lace up. However, this is because I dress my self and it would be much more practical to wear to events. d93ea39be06321fff010bb2c9ff07956

I did find it odd that her dress is black, as I’d thought that black was only worn by mourners during this period, but I could be wrong. My favourite part of this dress is the lace collar, it’s such a pretty feature that gives the costume a girly touch, especially when the rest of the dress is quite harsh looking in all black. This is the original design from the stage production.


So mine isn’t 100% accurate as I’m new to period clothing production, but practice makes perfect of course! and it’s a much simplified version. I had a lot of fun creating the sleeves as I created my own pattern, and the fabric covered buttons.


The bodice is pretty basic but I did discover from one of Zoe Donao’s youtube videos that it has two darts on each side that reach up to the bust. I also find that her bodice seems to have actual button closures; Many of the variations of this dress just have the buttons for decoration.

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My skirt was just a big circle skirt pattern. I scaled my skirt down from the voluminous one in the show because I didn’t want mine to be too heavy for conventions.



The lace collar changes constantly so there were many different versions I could’ve followed but I chose to copy the current West End dress and went for a smaller collar. I found mine on etsy and it was a vintage lace appliqué – for anyone who is looking for something similar.


I have yet to find a similar belt buckle so I will leave the belt out of this blog.

Improvements I could make: This was my first time doing fabric covered buttons and you can tell, I would like to redo them because they are quite messy but it isn’t too noticeable so for now I’ll leave them. The sleeves are not as big as I’d like them; as I said, this was my first time making patterns of this sort so I’m still quite proud of my dress but I now kick myself because I could’ve made my sleeves much bigger as I now have more experience with victorian style sleeves.



The last thing I would like to touch on is my bonnet. I  did attempt at making mine because it was what drew me to making the costume but I am much more of a dressmaker than  milliner. I instead opted to buy a base bonnet and added my own fabric and trims to it instead.



And that’s all for this blog! This has turned out to be one of my favourite projects. I got to use many new techniques, even if some didn’t work out. I hope you all enjoyed seeing my  research process as it is one of my favourite aspects of a costume.

Until next time

Bri x


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