Back in the Victorian Era, men moved out West in search of gold and prosperity. What they found were towns without women, save for a few ladies hired to entertain men inside dance halls and saloons. These saloon girls were not “ladies of the night,” nor were they scantily dressed. They were classy ladies with a gift for conversation and social dance. The saloon owners purchased nice dresses for them that were shorter, to mid-calf, and in the off-the-shoulder ballgown style. These saloon girl costumes were brightly colored but elegant (at most saloons, but not all of them).
Dance Hall girls that performed rowdy shows were a bit more like the movie saloon or burlesque girls. Multiple colorful petticoats flashed under gathered skirts that were topped with corseted low cut bodices, boots were decorated with tassels and anything that sparkled, and they be-dazzled it all. This was the Wild West, where dancing Victorian saloon girls played the “Wild” part well. Scroll to the end for more history of real Victorian saloon girl clothing (click here to jump).
Saloon girl costumes in authentic Victorian dress, modern burlesque, vintage showgirl and vaudeville costumes can be found online. We linked to our favorite saloon girl costumes below.
Saloon Girl Costumes & Dresses
Authentic Victorian Saloon Girl Dress History
Initially, saloon girls could not afford nice clothing. The Saloon owners purchased the latest style of dress for the girls. The girls would then need to pay back the owner for the purchase with her earnings. The quality of the dress was equal to that of the establishment. The smaller the town the less likely saloon girls were to have been given clothing. They wore, instead, whatever low-class clothing they could acquire — typically second-hand. Saloon girls at nicer establishments in large towns wore ballgown dresses which were off the shoulder and either sleeveless or short puffed sleeved. The necklines dipped low but hardly revealed cleavage. The bodice fit snug over a corset and matched the skirt below.