Dolly Varden (costume)

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Music sheet cover depicting women wearing Dolly Varden costumes.

A Dolly Varden costume is a woman's outfit that was briefly fashionable from about 1869 to 1875 in Britain and the United States.


Dolly Varden is a character from Charles Dickens's 1839 historical novel Barnaby Rudge set in 1780. The Dolly Varden costume was an 1870s version of fashions of the 1770s and 1780s.


The term "Dolly Varden" in dress is generally understood to mean a brightly patterned, usually flowered, dress with a polonaise overskirt gathered up and draped over a separate underskirt.[1] The overdress is typically made from printed cotton or chintz, although it can be made from other materials such as lightweight wool, silk and muslin. An 1869 fashion doll in the collection of the V&A Museum of Childhood is dressed in the Dolly Varden mode; unusually the outfit is in dark colours.[2] The Gallery of Costume in Manchester holds a more typical Dolly Varden dress in its collections, made of white linen with a pink and mauve flowered print.[3]

A Dolly Varden hat, as it relates to the dress, is usually understood to mean a flat straw hat trimmed with flowers and ribbons, very like the 18th-century bergère hat. It is also closely related to the Pamela hat or "gipsy hat" that was popular during the earlier part of the century.[4]

Popular culture

The Dolly Varden fashion fad inspired many popular songs, such as G.W. Moore's "Dressed in a Dolly Varden" and Alfred Lee's novelty song, "Dolly Varden", (published Cleveland, 1872) which contains the lyrics:

Have you seen my little girl? She doesn’t wear a bonnet.
She’s got a monstrous flip-flop hat with cherry ribbons on it.
She dresses in bed furniture just like a flower garden
A blowin’ and a growin’ and they call it Dolly Varden.[5]

In the 1870s, the Theatre Royal in London presented an entertainment called The Dolly Varden Polka, composed by W.C. Levey.[6]

The fashion led to the naming of the Dolly Varden trout.[7]


  1. The Ladies' Treasury (2005). "Fashion in the 1870s and '80s". Retrieved 2010-02-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 1869 Fashion doll wearing Dolly Varden costume in the collection of the V&A Museum of Childhood. Accessed 6 February 2010
  3. Dolly Varden dress in the collections database of the Gallery of Costume, Manchester. Accessed 6 February 2010
  4. Cunnington, C. Willett (1937). English women's clothing in the nineteenth century (1990 reprint ed.). New York: Dover Publications. p. 302. ISBN 9780486319636.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. = Scans of two 1872 Dolly Varden themed music sheets
  6. Levey, W. C. The Dolly Varden (polka music) composed by W.C. Levey Accessed 6 February 2010
  7. Marciochi, Peter B. Moyle ; illustrated by Alan; Dyck, Chris van (1977). Inland fishes of California. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 145. ISBN 9780520029750.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links