26 years of top hats, Victorian gowns, wit and wisdom at the annual Riverside Dickens Festival

By Adriana Lopez

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The annual Dickens Festival took over downtown Riverside on Feb. 23 and 24.

The festival’s driving force, Carolyn Grant and Joan Patton, believed Riverside was in need of an event that promoted literacy and Dickens Festival would serve as the vessel.

In 1992 the festival came to fruition and was held downtown. The event included debates, readings, live music, and food.

This year Dickens festival boast over 30 vendors, including a petting zoo, an escape room, crafts for children, Victorian era inspired fashion, along with the festival’s original attractions.

Undoubtedly, the lively music would garnish the attention of any casual passerby. The festival was filled with the sound of guitars being strummed along to the singing of cheerful ballads.

Women and men swayed to the music in clothing that looked straight out of a movie set.

Among the many vendors that offer clothing to anyone that is looking to add to their Victorian era inspired closet, or want to start up a collection, is Linda Banzuelo’s booth.

Linda’s handmade clothing is colorful, includes lace trim, and knits. Her inspiration: creating Victorian era inspired clothing for today’s women.

“I’ve sewed since I was ten years old and I love Victorian fashion. I started with Victorian baby dresses and women were showing interest so I started doing women’s dresses,” Banzuelo said.

Banzuelo has been creating Victorian era inspired clothing for 35 years, and the quality of her pieces have been noticed at multiple competitions. Amongst other wins, Banzuelo has won the Kentucky Derby Hat Contest twice and won nine times at the Del Mar Hat Contest.

Banzuelo has a strong following that know when and where to get her pieces through her website, prettyfancy.com.

However, Banzuelo was not only at the Dickens festival for business, she also enjoys the atmosphere.

“This is one of the funnest events I do all year long and I just love to see everyone in their unique costumes,” Banzuelo said.

The crowd definitely does consist of many attendees dressed for the occasions. There are men in patterned vest and top hats and women in gowns that look like they weigh up to 20 pounds.

Within the crowd of impeccably dressed attendees is Jaimey Stewart and Heather Mcnaughton Stewart. Heather wears a floral print gown she worked on for a month and a half, while Jaimey sports a black vest adorned with gold patterns and gold buttons he spent a week on.

Heather is a devout attendee and has brought Jaimey with her the last two years.

“I’ve been coming here for about 20 years, since I moved to Riverside. I used to come as a vendor but the last four to five years I’ve just attended,” Heather said.

While Heather is a long time fan of the Dickens festival both her and Jaimey have grown a deep appreciation for what the event offers to the community.

“It’s a fun time stepping back in history and seeing the different costuming and talking to the different authors,” Jaimey said.

“Costuming groups are fun in general because they’re very open and friendly people. If you see a person in costume you can always walk up and start chatting with them and they will always talk back to you. It’s not exclusive, it’s very inclusive,” Heather said.