Mr. Darcy in the making: The Thrifty Regency Gentleman’s Costume

Beau Monde, 1807, Morning Dress

Beau Monde, 1807, Morning Dress

Mr. Suze used to bug me to let him read my Regency writing. I told him he’d have to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice first, so he’d understand it better. I didn’t expect him to actually read my favourite novel, but he did! What choice did I have but to share Alias Thomas Bennet with him? I was preparing to submit it to Meryton Press at the time, and he was a good final cold reader.

He became a big fan of my writing, and joined me to watch the A&E/BBC 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice. A good sport, he went along with me on half a dozen meet-ups of my online friends from A Happy Assembly while we were on vacation in Washington, Oregon, and California over several road trips.

When I told him I wanted to go to Louisville, KY for the JASNA AGM, he said I could go on my own; he’d had enough of Jane Austen events. Over time, he softened to say he’d join me and enjoy the city on his own while I was at the conference, and later, he agreed to dress in a Regency costume for the Saturday festivities. In May, my vintage and thrift shop trips to finalize my own costume included searches for his items. I quickly got the lay of the land.

For this post, I’ll speak to two items: the tailcoat and waistcoat. The rest of the costume will be seen in future posts.

I saw only three tailcoats in vintage and thrift stores, at $65 and $35, but two were too large and one, too small. There were no suitable vests for a waistcoat, even if I looked at size extra-large in Ladies’ wear. Mr. Suze is not a large man, and I thought if I did a good job, he’d be okay with this.

Please note these are sewing projects. The same result will not be easy to achieve with no-sew iron-on tape, and the fabric is too heavy for that product in any case.

Upcycling a garment into a Regency tailcoat

Coat, 1810, dark brown herringbone.

Coat, 1810, dark brown herringbone.

Le Beau Monde, 1807

Le Beau Monde, 1807

Regency tailcoat 1815, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Regency tailcoat 1815, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Post-Regency example for fun! 1825-1830 dress coat

Post-Regency example for fun! 1825-1830 dress coat

Regency tailcoats were by no means all the same. They came in many colours, and some had interesting textures, as shown in these thumbnails, which can be enlarged if you click on them.

 

Louis-Léopold Boilly - The Arrival of a Stage-coach in the Courtyard of the Messageries (Detail), 1803.

Louis-Léopold Boilly – The Arrival of a Stage-coach in the Courtyard of the Messageries (Detail), 1803.

Both single and double-breasted designs were stylish, but double-breasted appears more frequently in the examples I could find, and I’ve been told they outnumbered single-breasted by about 2:1. Lapels tended to be wider, and the opening quite high in comparison to modern menswear.

Many modern tuxedo tailcoats require slight modifications to straighten the bottom front to match the style of the early 19th Century. The Regency tailcoat has no back waist seams: each panel is one piece of fabric, whereas post-Regency, the seam at the waistline came into play, and continues in modern tailcoats.

Because I couldn’t easily find a used tailcoat in thrift shops, I looked to the Internet, where previous rental tuxedo coats are readily available at under $100. Problems that rule out some modern tuxedo tailcoats include trim such as velvet or satin that do not look Regency. Shawl collars or narrow lapels are common. Most are black, white, or grey. Black would do for a court suit or a formal ball, but the other two would not work, unless I decided to buy a white one and dye it the popular dark blue of the Regency.

Modern morning coat, dark green wool, herringbone.

Modern morning coat, dark green wool, herringbone.

Back view of Regency tail coat to show the single panels of fabric, with no waist seams.

Back view of Regency tail coat to show the single panels of fabric, with no waist seams.

A wool morning coat in dark green, with a fine herringbone pattern and slightly wider lapels, caught my eye and got approval from Mr. Suze. Of course, he doesn’t know that Jane Austen fans love the idea of a green coat ever since Andrew Davies had Colin Firth choose it to ride into Lambton the day Elizabeth got her fateful letter from Jane!

This coat appeared to have no back waist seam in the photos online, but when it arrived, it did. Also, the collar was not self-lined, so it would have to stay down. Oh, well, we knew we were not going to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and it fit well, so that was a huge relief. It was advertised on eBay at £25, or $80 with shipping.

Green tailcoat after first cut of shape of front opening and tails.

Green tailcoat after first cut of shape of front opening and tails.

George "Beau" Brummell, watercolor by Richard Dighton, 1805.

George “Beau” Brummell, watercolor by Richard Dighton, 1805.

Mr. Suze is a bit particular about his clothing. His father was a menswear tailor at the Canadian institution of high-class shopping: Eaton’s. My husband is accustomed to a well-fitted, flattering suit in quality fabric, and that was my goal for the Regency tailcoat. We looked at numerous examples from museum pieces and fashion pages like Ackermann’s, and decided on a full curve at the waist, as opposed to a straighter line. A painting of Beau Brummel served as reference. The line was pinned while “my Beau” wore the coat, and the future wearer did a mirror check to approve it. To further achieve a Regency look, the lapels were pressed higher, and extra buttons are needed to suit this modification. The front of the cut coat is shown above, on the left.

I re-applied the matching fabric facings to the underside of the new shape of the tails. To sew the new contour front edges together, I thought about pinning them under and top-stitching, but I opted to sew a normal seam with the fabric pinned right sides together. That meant I had to turn half the jacket inside out.folded and tied with elastics to sew right sides togetherpinned for sewing, all inside the taildetail of fake side pocket

Green tailcoat, back, final except buttons.

Green tailcoat, back, final except buttons.

I tied the upper portion together with elastic bands as shown and laid it inside along the length of the tail, where I’d opened the bottom hem. The tail was pinned right sides together over it all, and sewn with a 1/2″ seam. It was turned it right side out again by pulling it through the open bottom of the tail.

I did a test run with the narrower side before I was brave enough to photograph it for this blog!

I used scraps of fabric to fake Regency by putting flaps that look like pockets at the sides of the jacket. Regency coats sometimes had a cuff, so if your modification allows more fabric, that’s another way to make it more authentic in appearance. Mine did not.

The Regency coat design didn’t always close, but boasted decorative buttons, and men wore them buttoned or unbuttoned, though I’d assume formal circumstances would demand a tightly-buttoned look. The buttons are plastic, and I have yet to purchase proper buttons for the tailcoat. As mentioned earlier, Regency menswear often had fabric-covered buttons in the same colour, though not always the same fabric as the garment. Regency coat fronts have buttons closer together, so my mockup has 4 buttons where the original suit had one.

My intention was self-covered buttons with a brass ring trim from Dressew, and I had enough extra fabric left for them. But I didn’t have enough buttons of the right size, and none of the stores in my city have the snap-on brass trim. I won’t be able to get to Dressew (in Vancouver, BC) prior to the JASNA conference, so I can’t use these buttons at this time.

Suit, 1815-1820, The Victoria & Albert Museum.

Suit, 1815-1820, The Victoria & Albert Museum.

The alternatives are thread buttons, which are a lot of work I don’t have time for, and metallic buttons. Brass buttons were a must on blue coats in the Regency, and seen on other colours sometimes, too. The estimated cost for this tailcoat is $20 on sale. Some attractive steel buttons with an insignia will cost about $7 at Fabricland, so next shopping trip, I’ll purchase them.

Making a modern vest into a Regency waistcoat

The modification of a vest into a nice facsimile of a Regency waistcoat was an easy sewing project, once I found the suitable vest. Strange, since I was lamenting that I’d have to make this item from scratch!

Waistcoat, 1810-20, National Trust Collections

Waistcoat, 1810-20, National Trust Collections

Waistcoat, early 19th century, British, wool and silk. 21" by 33", Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Waistcoat, early 19th century, British, wool and silk. 21″ by 33″, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It’s not that Regency waistcoats are so limited in design that it’s impossible to find them: this clothing item was the pizazz in the man’s outfit. Almost limitless possibilities existed for colour and pattern, as seen in the set of thumbnails. Click to see larger images.

The most common fabric was silk, but cotton and linen were worn as well. Some boasted gorgeous detailed embroidery. Similar to the tailcoat, the waistcoat could be single- or double-breasted.

Waistcoat French or English, 1790–1810, Brooklyn Museum of Fine Arts. Note the detailed embroidery.

Waistcoat French or English, 1790–1810, Brooklyn Museum of Fine Arts. Note the detailed embroidery.

Waistcoat, 1805-1810, Mccord Museum, Montreal. Note the embroidery.

Waistcoat, 1805-1810, Mccord Museum, Montreal. Note the embroidery.

The trouble with modern vests is their simplicity. Plain, pin-striped, or herringbone wool or wool-like synthetics are as good as it gets for suit vests, which are difficult to find. Most thrift shop vests are casual, with zippers and fleece and plaid and quilting and such.

Regency vests usually had stand-up collars and lapels, too, which modern vests lack. The balance is that Regency vests were straight across at the bottom, so I knew I had a fabric source for the collar and/or lapels: that double V-shape on a dressy modern vest.

William Blake, by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1807.

William Blake, by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1807.

The internet, and used tuxedo rentals, offered more options in terms of colour and pattern, and the satin vests mimic the look of silk. Mr. Suze and I agreed on a paisley pattern for a fullback vest. It cost $11.99, and included a matching bow tie; the total was $25 by the time we paid for shipping.

He selected ivory since it best suited the green coat, compared to the bright colour palette otherwise available. The other colours would be great with a black or blue tailcoat. We had also noted that many of the waistcoats in paintings were white or ivory.

The vest was a bit on the big side, and I realized I could use that to my advantage, as I pinned it up at the shoulders to get extra fabric to make a short stand-up collar, plus raise the V of the neckline higher, to make it more Regency in appearance. The photos show it pinned up before the cut (left) and after the collar is made, but not attached, and the bottom is trimmed (right). Two extra buttons are on the bottom in the photo on the right, to show how it would look if more were added.Ivory paisley waistcoat, pinned for the cuts to the shouldersIvory paisley waistcoat, collar made, showing cut and location for lapel

 

 

 

 

 

Waistcoat, National Trust Inventory, 1790 - 1810, Cotton and silk, Chastleton House, Oxfordshire.

Waistcoat, National Trust Inventory, 1790 – 1810, Cotton and silk, Chastleton House, Oxfordshire.

Regency waistcoats sometimes had distinct lapels, but more often, the front panel rose to the collar above the button line, and that upper portion was propped open by the cravat. Unfortunately, when I removed the two Vs from the vest’s bottom front to straighten the line for a Regency look, I couldn’t put it on like the latter design, as it was lined in herringbone, the same as the back panel of the vest. The option was a small lapel.

Ivory paisley waistcoat, final

 

 

 

 

If you have additional fabric, a detail that appears on some, but not all Regency waistcoats is a small pocket on each side, which can be faked with a piece of finished size of about 1-1/2″ by 5″. I tried to make them with what I had left, but they were too small.

This vest had matching satin-covered buttons, perfect for Regency. One was cut off with the bottom V, and there was one spare. Because Regency had lots of buttons, I’ll add more in between the current buttons if I have time after my other projects are complete for Louisville.

The two pieces put together look nice! There’s about 2″-3″ of waistcoat showing below the bottom of the waistline of the tailcoat, a fashionable length. The small lapel on the waistcoat fits neatly into the higher opening at the collar of the tailcoat. We’ll see the shirt ruffles and cravat fill that space in a future post!

TSRCE for Gentlemen: Green herringbone tailcoat and ivory paisley waistcoat.

TSRCE for Gentlemen: Green herringbone tailcoat and ivory paisley waistcoat.

Next post: Who knows? My time has become filled with editing for myself and a fellow author, fitness programs that stopped for August, as well as new activities.

I’m scrambling to complete the most important Regency costume projects now, as time is running out. The balance of Mr. Suze’s costume will come some time this month, and I have lots of little projects I want to finish for Louisville. If I can manage to write something to accompany photos, that will be the topic for upcoming posts!

The trials of Regency correctness in fiction writing: My guest post on Austen in August

Words coined during Queen Victoria’s era, critical plot points that require our hero to travel to London from Derbyshire and back twice in the same week, a twist that depends on English Parliament sitting in the fall in the wrong year–these elements creep into our Regency fiction writing every so often, and the poor author must re-think the scene. All three have affected my latest novel! On top of it, there’s technology and medicine, titles and inheritance law, etiquette and fashion… all must be in order in an Austen-inspired Regency romance, or beware!

When literary historian and blogger Roof Beam Reader was looking for guest blogs for his annual Austen in August series, I suggested a tongue-in-cheek summary of the challenges with keeping true to the era, and the energetic viewpoints of Austen enthusiasts regarding historical accuracy in Jane Austen Fan Fiction on some story boards. It was a new topic to him, and he was keen, as no one had taken this direction on his blog yet.

Regency lady writing: did she have issues with anachronisms? --From Ackermann's Repository for Art, 1813.

Regency lady writing: did she have issues with anachronisms? –From Ackermann’s Repository for Art, 1813.

Click here to read my post on Regency correctness on Roof Beam Reader’s blog! #AusteninAugustRBR

If you’ve already signed up for the Austen in August reading challenge, you can enter the giveaway, too! I’ve donated a signed copy of my Regency romance with a mystery twist Alias Thomas Bennet, a choice of reticule from a set including the two I upcycled for the “Pretty Little Purses” post for the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment, and a special “grown-up lady” lace cap to be made to order.

Book Club Questions for “Alias Thomas Bennet”

Who would expect heavy rains to be so welcome? After the recent extended drought in Los Angeles and Orange County, California, my home-away-from home again this weekend, it makes sense. My Chat Chit friends’ gardens will green up! Of course, I attribute it to the engineer friend who passed away this week: he’s up there above us, and repaired the systems!

The last time I was here, I was part of a “Meet the Author” event with “The Real Orange County Book Club.” I enjoyed meeting another of their members yesterday. Her enthusiasm about my book and writing inspired me to share the Book Club Questions I wrote for their use when my novel, Alias Thomas Bennet, was their monthly read for September 2014.

Alias Thomas Bennet 1263 x 900Alias Thomas Bennet by Suzan Lauder
Book Club Questions

1. Alias Thomas Bennet is inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and follows its general plot line, which in Fan Fiction is referred to as “canon.” Discuss the differences between “canon” and Alias Thomas Bennet. Do you agree with how the changes have been made? What could be done differently?

2. Outside of this book, Fan Fiction encompasses almost every area of storytelling in our culture: from The X Files to Mulan, Little Women to Wolverine, the online community of re-writes is immense. Discuss your familiarity and reactions to the idea of Fan Fiction. What other examples of Fan Fiction are you aware of? (Hint: famous trilogy based on Twilight!)

3. Maria Lucas is a minor character in the original Pride and Prejudice. What do you think of her role in Alias Thomas Bennet? Discuss her motivation and the societal aspects that compelled her.

4. A mature scene told from Darcy’s point of view has been controversial with readers. How would this differ if it was presented by an omniscient narrator as in most mature novels? Do you think it would be different if it was not a fantasy, but a sex scene? What is your reaction to the concept that Darcy ultimately decided to propose because of his desire? Do you think there might be some element of that in Pride and Prejudice?

5. The story begins with a series of flashbacks. Talk about your reaction to the exposure of information in the flashbacks, your understanding of them, and your suspicions as they evolved with the information in each vignette. Discuss how close your conjecture was to the exposé in chapter 8 and 9.

6. Wickham is a particularly evil villain in this adaptation. Some might criticise this as a ploy to victimize the heroine in order to add importance to the role of the hero. What is your view? What do you think about the outcome for him in this book? What do you think about Elizabeth’s reactions?

7. What is your impression of Fanny and Thomas Bennet/Lord Shelton? Do you think they are over-played, and the story should be more about Elizabeth and Darcy, as in Pride and Prejudice? Why?

8. In canon, Fanny Bennet is flighty and distractible. In Alias Thomas Bennet, it’s implied she suffers from PTSD. What do you think of this possibility? Why or why not is it a plausible explanation for her canon personality?

9. Discuss what life would have been like on a sailing ship for a month with small children, eating only hard tack (cracker-like bread) and gruel.

10. Some readers love the gown descriptions, and some hate them. What do you think?

11. Discuss what it might have felt like for Elizabeth and Jane to suddenly become the focus of society, when before, they were unknown. What do you think of this class structure issue? How does it compare with how people are judged today? What are the similarities and differences?

12. What did you like best about this novel? What would you change?

~~~

Please share any special thoughts that came up as you read this list, as I love feedback, and other readers would love to hear about it as well!

I never did mind about the little things…

Slippers similar to ballet flats; several layers of underwear to enhance her bosom and disguise that she had legs; a gown appropriate for the time of day; stylish curls and a fancy but tidy up-do; a turban, bonnet, or hat, and perhaps a cap; a cherished piece of jewelry—what more could a Regency lady need?

From Costume de Promenade, 1804-1805, opera gloves

From Costume de Promenade, 1804-1805, opera gloves

Accessories, of course! Heaven forbid if she left her home without her gloves, and she’ll die from the heat at a ball without her fan! On a morning promenade, her parasol will keep her delicate skin from growing coarse and brown in the sun.

This post is about how to obtain these accessories for your Regency costume.

~~~

Dudmaston National Trust (Claire Reeves) -- Embroidered kid gloves, circa 1800-1830

Dudmaston National Trust (Claire Reeves) — Embroidered kid gloves, circa 1800-1830

 

Gloves

Gloves were common apparel outside the home, though period art indicates they were not imperative during the day. It’s pretty simple to find Regency-appropriate gloves for day-wear: short, cotton gloves are acceptable, and stores carry them for hand care at a low price. I continue to watch for nicer ones, in finer cotton, and maybe with trim like seed pearls or lace, but simple will do. Of course, if you can obtain kid gloves, it’s even better!

For evening wear, the sleeves were short and the gloves were long. Super long, much past the elbow. Opera-length.

Circa 1810 kid leather, buff.

Circa 1810 kid leather, buff.

Not a problem, right? Long, synthetic, “satin” evening gloves are dirt cheap, and easy to find. One would think they’d pass for fancy ones from 1812. White sounds like the right colour, right? Unfortunately, they’re not the best choice.

Most Regency evening gloves were made of kid leather. They were often white, but also came in many colours, usually muted, softer tones.  Though vintage kid opera gloves in cream, buff, bone, pale yellow, pale pink, ecru, and similar colours are common on Etsy and ebay, with bids starting at $25 and up, read the fine print: they tend to be size 6 or 6.5 when most women these days wear at least a size 7. (In case you don’t know your glove size, this is a handy link: Your Glove Size.)

Glove lengths in inches.

Glove lengths in inches.

Beware: many vendors will say their gloves are opera length, but they may be as short as 11 inches! A true opera-length glove goes past the elbow: a minimum of 19 to 21 inches on most women.

In addition, vintage kid gloves can be stained, torn, worn, or otherwise damaged, especially if unlined. The three-button wrist opening is Victorian, so don’t be tempted to buy gloves with that style.

“New” in-package vintage opera-length kid gloves start at $150 on ebay, but are in small sizes, too. Brand new kid gloves made for coming-out balls are $200-$300 in Regency colours and modern sizes. If that were not enough to make this accessory difficult, many Regency gloves had embroidery along the back!

From La Belle Assemblee April 1808, opera gloves

From La Belle Assemblee April 1808, Opera gloves

As seen in Regency art, the fit tended to be relaxed, which meant the glove fell so it drooped along the arms, yet still wound up falling higher than the elbow. To accomplish this, a minimum of a 12-button glove (24 inches long) would be required, and the example to the left is much longer.

Glove lengths in “buttons.” Opera gloves are 12 buttons or longer.

An alternative, new lambskin gloves, come at reasonable prices ($25 starting bid on ebay for unlined 21-inch gloves) for black (mourning gloves in Regency), white, brown, or bright, saturated colours. Faux leather is about $10 for the same colour ranges.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston--Women's Gloves, early 19th century, silk.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston–Women’s Gloves, early 19th century, silk.

Fabric evening gloves in the Regency were cotton or silk, and they weren’t shiny. If all you can find are those shiny satin ones (they are 19 inches long), some people use sandpaper them to dull them, then dye them if desired. The colour selections in dyes these days are bright, basic tones, so watch to limit dye time so the colour isn’t too saturated; though if I recall correctly, that type of fabric takes dyes poorly.

Cotton fabric embroidered gloves, circa 1790-1810, bias cut for stretch, gold and sequinned scrollwork pale pink floss silk detailing

Cotton fabric embroidered gloves, circa 1790-1810, bias cut for stretch, gold and sequined scrollwork, pale pink floss silk detailing.

my glovesI purchased 19 inch (8-button) matte-look synthetic gloves for $7.99 at Dressew in Vancouver, BC, in pale pink and white, on top of the original white satin pair. They also had purple matte, but I felt it was too bright. The nice buff yellow colour was only in the shiny satin finish. All these gloves fit the arm snugly, and just barely cover the elbow, but many Austen costume wearers feel they’re a reasonable enough choice. Like with my stockings, I may try to mimic an embroidered pattern using fabric paint.

In the meantime, I’m still watching ebay and Etsy for ball gloves in size 8 and any colour but black, brown, or loud! If I can get 16-button (31 inch) gloves in a nice soft yellow or cream, it will be like heaven! If they’re kid leather with no wrist buttons, I’ll have to pay more than I did for any of my dresses!

~~~

Fans:

A Regency ballroom can become very warm. Fans were a must-have accessory for one’s comfort. Chinatown, thrift, vintage, and budget stores are possible places to buy your fan.

The one fan I purchased was part of a $2.99 grab bag at Value Village. Though I adore it, it’s rather simple for its purpose: a medium-toned wooden brisé fan with a line drawing of a Chinese scene printed on the leaves, and a satin-looking sleeve.my first fanIt took months to find this fan. The available fans were all cheap-looking or had non-Regency features. Most wood fans had paper leaves that were plain or had very Asian motifs, and pale, plain wood sticks. Fans with silk/satin leaves had sticks and guards made of cheap plastic, no matter how pretty or elaborate the painting on the leaves!

Ten or so years ago when I shopped for a gift for my sister, fans with dark, rich wood or enamelled sticks, with inlays such as mother-of-pearl on the guards, were available at a reasonable price, but I didn’t see one fan like this in months of searching. It doesn’t help that, though the Chinatown in my current city is the second-oldest on the West coast, it’s also the smallest, at two blocks long.

Brisé fan, circa 1790, wood.

Brisé minuet fan with blue silk. Dutch, 1810. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Regency fans came with sticks and guards made from ivory, mother-of-pearl, bone, tortoise shell, metal, ebony, and horn. Ribs and leaves could be of the same material as the sticks, or the fan could have leaves made from gauze, silk, paper, or feathers, and trimmed in gilt, lace, ribbons, or sequins. They could be inlaid or piquéd, painted, pierced in a pattern, or embroidered, and any scene depicted would be English. For full size images, click on the thumbnails.

Battoir fan, 1800-1830. Silk, ivory, and metal. National Trust Collections, UK.

Battoir fan, 1800-1830. Silk, ivory, and metal. National Trust Collections, UK.

Fan, 1800-1815, French. Bone, silk, metal, wood. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Fan, 1800-1815, French. Bone, silk, metal, wood. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Folding fan of ivory sticks with a silk leaf embroidered with sequins and painted with a female figure watering plants. English, circa 1810. Fan Museum, Greenwich.

Folding fan of ivory sticks with a silk leaf, embroidered with sequins and painted with a female figure watering plants. English, circa 1810. Fan Museum, Greenwich.

Folding fan. Carved, gilded mother-of-pearl sticks, silk leaf decorated with gold sequins, embroidery, mezzotint. Two girls with a cat. English, circa 1800-1820. Fitzwilliam Museum.

Cartouche fan, from a plate in Ackermann's Repository for Art, 1808.

Cartouche fan, from a plate in Ackermann’s Repository for Art, 1808.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The coolest fans (not meaning efficacy, but in eye-catching quality) are the cartouche fans, which open to 360 degrees.

If you can find a fan with an attractive non-plastic material for the sticks and guard, and a pretty painted or embroidered design that isn’t too Asian, it will do well.

 ~~~

 

Parasol:

If you’ve followed this blog from the start, you’ll know one of my catch-phrases is “Parasol in a Ballroom.” This originates from a scene I wrote in the original Alias Thomas Bennet before posting it in serial form at A Happy Assembly.

While in London, Jane Bennet writes to her sister Elizabeth, who is at Hunsford:

“Mary and I attended a private ball at Miss Morris’ home and it was all that was spectacular. The ballroom was the largest I have ever seen, and the candles were so brilliant that the room was almost as bright as day. The ladies were in beautiful dresses and held lovely fans or parasols.”

Cassandra, the final cold reader, tagged the final word with a simple comment in a balloon: “At a ball?”

Indeed! Why would they use parasols indoors at night? In my mind, I could just see Cassie’s head-tilt! It’s been a joke between us ever since.

tumblr_na3t53ZkSc1s5i6ido3_1280Although a parasol is an optional item, mainly for when the headwear doesn’t protect the Regency lady’s face from the sun, it’s seen in many fashion sketches of the time, leading me to believe it was for show, as well.

Walking dress, parasol with knotted tassel fringe, 1810.

This item comes in so many variations, it’s not nearly so difficult to procure something that is a good facsimile. Deep or shallow scallops between the ribs, either rounded or pagoda shaped, deep or shallow curve to the parasol body, but not flat: all are appropriate in almost any colour except black, unless you are in mourning.

Parasol, 1805, Metropolitan  Museum of Art

Parasol, 1805, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Parasol, European, circa 1805. Silk knit with glass and steel beads, wood, bone, and metal.

Parasol, European, circa 1805. Silk knit with glass and steel beads, wood, bone, and metal.

Multiple modes of decoration enhance the parasol cover, such as stripes, prints, tassels, embroidery, and all types of fringe: eyelash, brush, ball, and multiple-knot tassel fringe. Others are plain. Most handles were straight, though a few curved ones existed, and they were sometimes decorated and inlaid not unlike the guards on the fans. A fascinating Regency specialty is the hinged parasol.

Hinged parasol, Costume Parisien, 1810

Hinged parasol, Costume Parisien, 1810

Lace is not common, though, and the ones I’ve seen with lace use it as trim similar to fringe. The Battenburg lace parasols sold as Regency are Victorian, so don’t waste your money!

Of course, a real Regency parasol frame is made from wood or baleen (whalebone), and the cover from silk. Modern Asian parasols of wood frame construction tend to have too many ribs; Regency ones had four to ten, though six to eight were most common on the plates I’ve seen, and many had seven.

Pagoda parasol from Ackermann's Repository print, 1814

Pagoda parasol from Ackermann’s Repository print, 1814

If you’ve followed this blog from the start, you know my obsession with the idea of a pagoda parasol, which has a second upward curve on the canopy of the parasol. They were common during the Regency period, in fact, up until the 1960s. Vintage pagoda parasols on Etsy and ebay are usually mid-20th century, with a metal frame and handle made from bakelite, a non-melting plastic that’s still used for items such as billiard balls today. The fabric is often in a “modern” pattern for the era, so it may not work well for a Regency costume.

A vintage pink nylon-covered non-pagoda umbrella, with a matching fitted sleeve complete with a grommet for the spiked end, was purchased for $9.99 at WiN (Women in Need Vintage and Thrift Store). It has an interesting, curved, patterned aluminum handle. I’m not a pink person, yet I manage to repeatedly find the best items in pink!

Silk parasol, ca. 1811, Victoria and Albert Museum.

Silk parasol, ca. 1811, Victoria and Albert Museum.

Two-inch wide white fringe was one of the items in my amazing budget purchase of multiple types of trim for $5 in Mazatlán, and the idea was to tone back the pink and make the umbrella look more like a Regency parasol.

Garden promenade dresses, 1809, Fashion Plate Collection. Tasseled parasol on the right and parasol with knotted tassel fringe on the left.

Garden promenade dresses, 1809, Fashion Plate Collection. Tasseled parasol on the right and parasol with knotted tassel fringe on the left.

Later, a local Indian fabric store (K T Boutique and Fabrics) was selling certain colours of tassels at half price, and I liked the idea of tassels better, as the parasol would be less bulky when folded. I got eight in a muted violet for $1 each.

But I kept looking for my pagoda parasol with a straight handle, in materials that looked like they could be from the Regency.

Then I read an article on how to make a regular umbrella into a pagoda parasol, using a length of milliner’s wire twisted into a spring and inserted inside the canopy of the umbrella, around the part of the stick that’s above the frame. Some time ago, I’d been curious about the inner workings of a pump cosmetics bottle, and had two short, fat springs on hand as a result, so I didn’t have to use my questionable wire-bending skills.

 

 

First spring inserted above the upper rib of the umbrella frame.

The beginning of the pagoda shape from the first spring, and second spring displayed (just hanging on the end of a rib) to show how it looks before installation.

Inside the open umbrella, I placed my fingers around the umbrella stick between the canopy and the frame, then easily slid the canopy up the spike so I could thread the spring on, much like you’d put a key on a key ring. Click on the thumbnails for larger images of the instructional photos.

Second spring in place.

Second spring in place.

After the first, I decided it would look better with two springs. The second was much harder to install. You could not do this with an umbrella that does not have a long enough spike on top.

A slimmer spring would be better, as these tend to slide down over the ribs when the umbrella is closed, and I have to reach in and wiggle them up to get the umbrella to open. In addition, the extra bulk means the matching sleeve no longer goes on all the way. I’m going to wait until I finish my hand lotion to procure the alternate spring!

I found it difficult to figure out how to tie on the tassels, so I’ve shown the steps I eventually used to save you all some trouble. I did a better job of showing the “How-to” steps by using captions this time! Click on the thumbnails for larger images.

Tighten the top knot on the tassel (left). Tie a second knot about 2-3mm or ⅛ inch above it (right).

Loop string between rib and fabric, inside of where the cover fabric ties to the end of the rib.

Push tassel through loop to tie to rib.

Push tassel through loop to tie to rib.

Pull the tassel to the end of the rib and push the gap between the knots over the ball at end of rib.

Pull the tassel to the end of the rib and push the gap between the knots over the ball at end of rib.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final pagoda shape of parasol, with eight tassels. Matching sleeve is shown below.

Final pagoda shape of parasol, with eight tassels. Matching sleeve is shown below.

Parasol closed, with sleeve. You can see all the tassels here.

Voila! A pagoda parasol with tassels for my Thrift Shop Regency Costume! I’m so pleased, I barely care what else I wear!

 

 

 

 

~~~

NEXT POST: One of the easiest items to find for your Regency costume is a reticule. A small drawstring bag (at least 5 inches wide, but under 8 inches in each dimension) of almost any shape, in a rich fabric, will suffice. If the bag you found is too simple, we have ways to dress it up! I have six examples, and three came to me in fine condition with no need for upgrades. Three need simple, typical modifications that are super-easy for the non-crafter.

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Pop quiz: Did anyone know the source of the title without looking it up? In what other movie did the same guy play a sort of a “cleaner?” What Regency-era movie was he in?

I’d adore some comments! (The Meryton Press blog page version of this post is the best location for this.) I’m trying to decide how to do a give-away, and feedback would help me to know if anyone besides me is reading this shiz.

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Updates: If you’re interested in learning more about Regency fans, or just seeing some more beautiful designs, check out this blog post: Special Exhibition: The Unrivalled Beauty of the Hand-held Fan in the Romantic Age 

Thanks to Zorylee Diaz-Lupitou, who solved my problem with the comments box. Hopefully, it should be working now!

Social Anxiety and the Reality of Louisville JASNA

“Elizabeth could bear it no longer. She got up and ran out of the room…”

“…Elizabeth was forced to put it out of her power by running away.”

Years ago, I was a leader in my profession. I spoke at national conferences, local reporters sought me out for a quick comment every month or two, and important policy-making groups invited me to join as an active and knowledgeable board member. I sat at the best tables at local fundraisers, was selected to represent my profession in a nomination for a local YM-YWCA award, and lost out to Bill Nye, the Science guy for a prestigious national award in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) awareness! During that time, I still personally facilitated STEM  awareness activities with grade 5 classes a couple of times a year, just for fun.

I was terrified in casual social situations with larger groups of people, therefore, at the multitude of social events that required my face, I fortified myself with wine ahead of time and during the event. You see, added to the mix of mental health acronyms I have been labelled with is Social Anxiety Disorder.

When serious mental illness took over my life (treatment-resistant depression and PTSD, among others), I was no longer able to participate in most mainstream activities, and my involvement in my profession and related volunteer activities ramped down quickly. Alcohol and caffeine hinder the efficacy of more appropriate medications, so I chose to eliminate them in favour of getting well. Even though I’ve been treated with CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy) with exposures for the social anxiety, I still find myself frozen in new social situations.

Fast-forward to my enjoyment of all things Austen, and my intent to attend the JASNA AGM in Louisville this fall to absorb the intellectual side of my fascination. The trouble is, I know only three people who also plan to attend, and I’ve have only met one of them in real life. Of course I’m more than a bit nervous! It only got worse after an experience of last weekend.

I went to my local JASNA meeting on Saturday in hopes of meeting more than the three people I interact with on Facebook. I had forgotten the meeting, and saw the reminder on FB ninety minutes before, just as I was about to eat lunch. I barely had enough time to change my clothes and drive over.

They ask for $5 and some treats from those attending, but obviously, I had no time to bake something. Last time, I had missed the fine print about the treats, yet I ate enough for three Suzans while I sat by myself, watched everyone else chat, and longed to join them. I very nearly decided not to go this time because I would once again be empty-handed.

I thought of an alternate offering, and poor DH watched me tear apart my house and almost destroy a cherished painting in the box that also holds extra copies of “the book” (my novel, Alias Thomas Bennet). I wrote a cute note inside and signed it, intending to throw it in with the door prizes as my offering in lieu of treats.

On the way, I contemplated stopping at Walmart and snagging some Little Debbie’s, but I was late already, and uncertain of the route. JASNA events are usually held in a church hall near the intersection of Cedar Hill Road and Cedar Hill Cross Road. Yup. No chance of confusion there. There are few other roads that intersect for a shortcut, as there’s a small mountain in the way. I stressed over getting lost, as well as about being caught putting my earrings on at red lights, as the local police have ramped up their distracted driving campaign. Of course, the backs never want to meet the posts when you’re in a rush.

The presentations had started when I entered, so I missed the chance to talk to the lady who organizes the door prizes (one of the three I “sort of” know). She was in the middle of the room, which was full of chairs wall-to-wall, and I wound up on a sofa off to one side, by myself. I enjoyed the talks on members’ varying experiences at JASNA Montreal, and one lady promoted her own newly-published novel, so I felt better about bringing mine.

Yet, when the time came to draw for door prizes, I froze. I couldn’t offer to add “the book” in front of everyone!–How would that make me look? I couldn’t even drum up the courage to collect my draw ticket when they offered them to latecomers!

Watching the draws relaxed me a bit. It was fun to see the Jane Austen toothpaste and other items distributed. Then, it was announced that the treats would come out, and we could socialize. The major fear and anxiety that had gripped me returned, but it ramped up even more. I couldn’t handle this!

I sought out The Door Prize Lady. As soon as she finished speaking to another lady, I shoved the brown-paper envelope with “the book” into her hands and said “someone” donated it for a door prize for next time. I didn’t even wait for her to peek inside, just turned to leave. She asked if I could stay, and I said I had a lot of commitments (which is totally true–I’m so over-committed, it’s eating up my soul).

The other lady I knew was busy in the kitchen making dainty trays. (I suspect she’s appointed herself The Boss of Food because she’s shy, too.) As I passed by the kitchen on my way out, she stopped me to ask about The Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment blog, and I babbled on uselessly for a minute, then bolted again.

I don’t know how I’m going to handle Louisville. When I first announced I was going, a number of Chat Chits said they’d join me, but reality set in for them. I’ll keep you up-to-date on whether I can be comfortable with that, or take a cue from Elizabeth, and run away, like I did last weekend.

I apologize to those who expected a post on shoes. The project will continue, whether or not I can find a place I’m actually comfortable wearing the costume. I’m having a great deal of fun creating it, though juggling my time has been taxing. The good news is, I found “The Dress!”

day dress

Guest Blog: Lady Suzan Rosanna Catron de Lawedre of the Bass

The Dear Austen Costume, or, All your Pin Money for a Simple Gown!
by Lady Suzan Rosanna Catron de Lawedre of the Bass

If I could release a long exasperated sigh at the fashion sense of my great-grandniece and goddaughter in respectable company, I fear I would never inhale again, since it occurs all too often. Lime green is her new favourite, second only to a hot, slightly peachy pink.

Miss Suzan Rosanna Lauder, my namesake, does have some redeeming qualities, that being a love for the literature of Miss Jane Austen and the history of Miss Austen’s time. Sometimes I worry she spends too much time chatting with the Meryton Literary Society researchers, but I cannot complain about one achievement this crazy passion brought about: Meryton Press published Suzan’s popular novel Alias Thomas Bennet, a romance/mystery based on Pride and Prejudice. Auntie is proud enough for all the aunties in the universe going back to Miss Austen’s time!

Yet my Suze’s main personal flaw ties in with the history she soaks in: the gowns of the Regency era, which I find so tiresome I cannot speak, fascinate her and she wants nothing less than to see and feel and wear such beauty. Pffftttt!!! This sort of passion should be reserved for the more naturally ladylike Victorian wear, not Regency!

I am told the sellers of reasonable reproductions of these gowns charge at least $300, and less expensive versions are cheap—oh yes, I meant to say it that way—poorly constructed or not authentic. The better products are handmade and fitted for that price, in appropriate fabrics. Then, one must double her dress budget to add the accoutrements of the full Regency costume, like shoes and purse. I am flabbergasted. Couldn’t she have a cheaper hobby, like port tasting? A nice prunes and dry cocoa VSOP and she would forget how high her waistline sits.

For the enlightenment of the intelligent masses familiar with the lovely elaborate styles of the Victorian period, but ignorant of its differences from the beat-of-an-eyelash time period covered by Regency England (1811-1820), I will describe the shortcomings of the Regency period costume.

Those bonnets should not appear in any location except a farm: straw visors with tea cosies perched upon them! The hats are not a great deal better. Some have a chimney in place of said tea cosy, but most are low, shapeless things. Every wearer dons a big feather and a few little berries, but not much else to decorate the hat. Scant trim, narrow brim!

Shapeless becomes a theme in these fashions when we go on to examine the gowns that show the figure of the wearer so well, they may as well be wrapped in my parlour draperies, save the close-fitting bodice. The skirt is so high under the bosom it is impossible to know if the wearer owns a waist, making any attempt at cinching a corset worthless.

And that is no matter, since the corsets are not constructed to cinch the waist, rather, they are merely devices to raise the bosom to extraordinary heights. Some wear short stays for this reason: why care about your waist? My niece lamented she doesn’t quite trust a true Regency corset to hold on to “the girls” and worries they may fall out. Goodness, that expression makes me shudder. But these short stays are barely a brassiere, so I cannot see the fuss compared to a waist cinch.

Day-wear gowns, with long sleeves, high necklines, and pale but tastefully printed or embroidered muslins and percales are tolerable, and do tend to a little lace at various locations, but a great deal more lace would add extra puff to the puffed short sleeve over the plain long sleeve, and maybe some more rows of wider lace about the skirt, and pearled bodice, and… I think you get the picture. But Regency is mostly simple, and particularly day dresses.

At least one has an opportunity to embellish in a state of full dress, which means a great deal less fabric covers one’s bosom, back, and arms. Clothes for a ballroom can be richly coloured and dramatic; typical trims include sheer overlays; larger, contrasting, prettier embroidery; pin-tucks, ruching, or quilling; and additional ribbons or fabric insets on the short, puffed sleeves.

“What about ruffles…?”

I just got the stink-eye from my niece. There had been a lecture before, just when the dessert tray was at the next table: we do not do the over-embellished dresses of the late Regency.

But that’s not right. By 1820, even a few years before, dresses had BIG sleeves and BIG frills and BIG bows and BIG fabric roses and BIG rows of fur trim, and ladies wore BIG hats with BIG stacks of BIG feathers, I remind her.

No reply.

Darn. She’s mad. We know Austen didn’t make it until the end of the Regency (1775-1817), and she’s what counts.

So lace… The only large piece of lace is a tucker for the afternoon, since these necklines plunge so low your beau will have no surprises, especially combined with the extreme push-up of the corset. I sulk.

Shoes! I perk up—there is a place one could enjoy drama! But no, the Regency footwear is simple, and not a great deal different than the ballet flats the young ladies wear these days. Ah, the historical photos come out… I admire the pointy-toed ones with bright colours and embroidery, but Miss Published Author says those were going out of style. Really? In favour of plain flats? Oh, I’m corrected! They are often coloured and decorated, but always have a low heel. A kitten heel up to one inch high is acceptable, but no higher, and it must be a flared kitten heel.

A one inch flared kitten heel? I have a pair! They’re mules, about eight years old. What? Shoes about eight years old are close to Regency styles, and they’re cheap in thrift shops, if not already in the back of your closet. Out comes the can of Lysol.

When she begins to speak of the length of the toe box on the Regency shoe, I pronounce her too knowledgeable.

Ah, the web pages come out to back her up. Metropolitan Museum, Victoria and Albert, McCord Museum, Kyoto Museum: all feature photos of actual Regency clothing, as opposed to supposed reproductions made by individuals or movie costume designers, or grandiose wish-list versions from fashion magazines by Ackermann and friends.

Suzan states, “These are real examples of what was worn in the Regency. Notice the diamond design of the back of the bodice, and how the skirt is gathered there, but is flat in front.”

Hmmmm. Interesting, and perhaps I can concede my draperies are less comparable after all.

We review gowns, reticules (a small drawstring purse), chemises (like a slip), elbow-length kid gloves, thigh-high stockings, and shoes, many with detailed embroidery—even some corsets had a simple white-on white embellishment. Why does no one embroider these days? Numerous handkerchiefs, tea towels, table cloths, pillow cases—that is what my niece and I learned as children. Perhaps I could take it up again…

What? Crotchless pantaloons! No panties? Next, please!

Oh, the bling! The floral themes in multi-coloured jewels, similar to inexpensive costume jewelry in budget fashion shops right now! Astrological signs? Snake rings? I give her a look. She’s not backing down, and appears to believe this hogwash. I suppose Elizabeth Bennet has a tattoo of “Fitz N Liz 4-Ever” in a blood-red heart as well! Please.

The museums have fans and parasols, too, each one striking in the attention to detail necessary to render it so beautiful it creates awe and covetous tendencies for two centuries and more. Besides the real, preserved museum examples, Suze has collected pages of paintings from the period as well.

“I’d love to try on that one,” she says.

I find myself quite involved by now, and it’s clear she wants to dress up. Do we ever get much past childhood? Aunties are best at this game, so my job description for the next while is clear. “Surely we can find items in your closet that would work! “

My niece laughs. A move into a condo from a large house meant that anything not used recently was given away. The silly girl had no gowns, no ribbons or remnants to speak of! She defended herself: in spite of it, she had gathered a few useful items to start a Regency costume.

Not to be held back, I insisted on examining the collection and inserting my own superior ideas. Do you have any silk dinner napkins or scarves? Jeweled brooches or hair barrettes? Silk flowers or leaves to trim the hat? Large clip-on earrings to act like shoe roses? Gem-type costume jewelry? She had completely forgotten she owned short white cotton gloves for hand care.

We created the Regency that day.MP newsletter saved to under 1Mb

Not a perfect outfit, and certainly not one she’d wear to any Jane Austen event, but enough to add confidence to her longing to dress as if it were another time.

• An empire-waist short silk dress with raglan puffed sleeves, a panel of a 90’s window topper pinned on for the skirt (I did not admit my former comparisons to her, but I did have my own inward laugh), and a short length of satin gift wrap ribbon tied below the bodice (the matching gift bow went on the hat),
• A push-up bra, a full slip tied at the waist to create a longer slip,
• A small purse,
• A roll-up type picture brim hat with an oblong silk scarf turbaned over the opening (I admit it looks more beach than farmer), a little “Birks” ribbon to tie it on, and a gift bow for trim,
• Great-grandma’s tatted doily as a cap under the hat,
• Large faux-emerald and pearl earrings, purple bead bracelet, red-jeweled bronze choker.
• White knee-high stockings,
• Lime green ballet flats,
• Lime green umbrella,
• For silliness, an electric fan!

Suze was pleased. A small amount of money would suffice to purchase more appropriate items, but far less altogether than one custom-made dress by an expert seamstress. She would search for a small, fancy, drawstring purse for a reticule; a better-shaped hat; a Chinatown fan; shoes without the non-Regency holes pattern in them, and decent, longer ribbons and lace!

“Yes, dear, and you sew well, so you can make your own gown.”

“No, I plan to buy a gown and adjust it to suit. Besides, at all the JASNA events, you see photos of 15 women in gowns from the same pattern. I want something unique,” she said. “You know, others who don’t sew at all might be interested in what I’m doing here, and people with a lot less money than I have could afford an outfit, too. Hey, I have an idea!”

cropped to see hat back under 1MbThe idea, which I think is utterly corny, to make a unique costume comprised of cost-free and budget items, will be called The Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment. She plans to use found items at home, thrift and vintage store purchases, and sale products. Only incidentals can be purchased at regular price. Incidentals? Double-sided tape, safety pins.

She continues to plan aloud, and I listen. There’s a goal for full authenticity in appearance, but compromises will have to be made, such as the lack of true kid shoes, and the reality that no one will see the flat plastic bottom of the fully synthetic shoe because the top looks right. In other areas, she hopes she can purchase materials to design projects that are virtually-sewing-free. No hot glue guns, either, since she’s afraid of burns!

Suze is confident she can find items to stand in for most everything, but worries about a rare and prized item: a proper Regency pagoda Parasol.

“Not a Battenburg?”

“No, too Victorian. Rare and minimal lace applies to the parasol just as well as the gown of the Regency.”

“Booooo.”

“Either fine fringe all around, or tassels on the point of each rib serve as the embellishment.” And Suzan adores them.

“Okaaaaay… did I mention Victorian was more… interesting?”

“They aren’t plain! Just as for evening gowns, shoes, stockings, and reticules, they can be almost any colour except black or gray, reserved for mourning.”

“No frou-frou, just loud. I’m glad it works for you.” My smirk and eyeroll weren’t all that well hidden, and she gave me the sneery head shake in return.

She’s checked this one extensively. Inexpensive pagoda Parasols from wedding stores have the wrong design (too many ribs, black piping on the outside of ribs, and a curved handle) and most colours are garish. Used older ones from the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s have Bakelite handles (hard plastic that can crack with age), and even if their fabric pattern is more staid than some of the psychedelics, they can be $300, even in poor shape.

umbrella and rear cropped under 1MbBut Suzan’s adamant about this specific article. I discover parasols are tied into a comedic scene in her recently completed Austen-inspired novel, Letter from Ramsgate, as well as a cherished recollection of the bond formed over a joke with an AHA cold reader for Suzan’s Meryton Press published novel, Alias Thomas Bennet. The line is: “Parasols in a ballroom? But of course!” Try to find it in the book. I couldn’t.

I, myself, will be off to the side of the room with my hand over my eyes in mortification. Why? She should have picked Victorian. You, however, will be treated to glimpses of the project from time-to-time in her blog, road trips with the redhead, on Meryton Press’s web site. Maybe you’ll be ready for Bath in March, or Louisville in June!

Tsk. You are correct. There is no doubt I will peek. Aclothes laid out and cropped under 1Mbt least when she discusses shoes. Or bling.