All the pretty little purses

The finely-fitted out modern woman has a few things in her hobo. Trouble is, the 19th century woman’s hobo was pretty tiny. Thank goodness a full set of cosmetics, hair gear, phone, tablet, photo album, and dishwasher were not necessary to tote around during the Regency.

Early 19th century silk purse, 8 inches,  with silk embroidery, fringe, tassels

Early 19th century silk purse, 8 inches, with silk embroidery, fringe, tassels

The Regency lady carried a small drawstring bag or purse called a reticule. For some reason it’s been jokingly called a “ridicule” on occasion, but I don’t know why, and frankly, I don’t care, because how could you make fun of such pretty little purses?

Here’s the low-down on them:

  • Roughly 4-8 inches wide and 4-8 inches tall, plus closure (most in the mid-range). (Click on the thumbnails for larger images.)
  • A multitude of shapes.
  • Closure is typically drawstrings at the top.
    • Drawstrings are made of cording or ribbon, often with beads or tassels at the ends.
    • Double or single drawstrings are seen.

      Reticule with gate closure

      Reticule with gate closure

    • No zippers.
    • Gate and metal clasp closures were less common but acceptable.

      Early 1800s blue silk netted purse

      Early 1800s blue silk netted purse.

  • Made of a variety of materials and methods, including silk, linen, tapestry, cording (including metal), straw, beads of all kinds, wool, and more, by sewing, netting, weaving, or knitting.

    Silk reticule with embroidery and tassels, 1810, LA Costume Museum/.

    • Embroidery was common on smooth silks, including chenille and tambour work; also painted designs.
    • Designs can be anything, but most tend to be floral.

      4.5 inches long knitted pineapple reticule, 1800, Kyoto museum.

      4.5 inches long knitted pineapple reticule, 1800, Kyoto museum.

    • Pineapple purses made from straw or knitted were very popular.
    • Some crocheted designs existed, but take care, as many modern crocheted bags are too loose and large of a design.

      1800-1825 Brown crocheted silk bar purse.

      1800-1825 Brown crocheted silk bar purse.

    • Many have tassels, beads, or fringe trim on the bottom.

      Reticule, 1800–1825, British, silk and metal, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

      Reticule, 1800–1825, British, silk and metal, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A bag that works like this can often easily be found in a Thrift Shop, or even at home, where it may have come as a cover to a product. You may have to trim it to make it more festive. Fabric for a bag like this can come from an old decorative cushion and trim from jewelry.

For the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment, I bought three bags. Part of my second and third purchase for this blog (with the grey pelisse dress in summer 2014) was an crocheted beaded black purse with a short, beaded carry strap and a gate closure. It was $3.99 at Value Village and needs no modifications.

A black, designer-label, beaded satin purse with beaded fringe, a broken beaded shoulder strap, and a zipper closing was $1.99 at Value Village shortly after my initial find. I’m sure it was so cheap because of the broken strap.

my reticulesIt cemented my view that the reticule was the easiest item to find, and that’s why I’ve left it to the end: so you could focus on the difficult items earlier on.

cottage grove used book store source of blue and gold reticuleThe blue and bronze beaded bag has a pattern that reminds me of Moorish azulejo tiles seen in Sevilla, Andalucia, Spain. I lucked into finding it at Kalapuya books, a used books and gifts shop in Cottage Grove, Oregon, USA with a theater, bar, coffee shop, and excellent bakery all attached! At $15.99, it was more costly than most of the purchases I typically made for this thrift-based series. I also bought two books (English Cottages and an older copy of The Chicago Manual of Style) and got a free paperback of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road because my purchase was over $30!

The reticule has gorgeous coordinating beads at the ends of its drawstrings. It’s a bit small, but so pretty!

A month later, I saw a fourth bag at a vintage store in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, which was $25.99, and perfect for the Regency. I coveted it for a heartbeat or two, but knew it was too much, not just in cost, but in number of reticules!

I already had two simpler bags on hand when I started. In with my travel items, I had a cream damask bag that came with some beauty item or other. At 8.5″wide by 8″ tall, this is the largest of the reticules in my set. It was boring as-is, so I dressed it up in green. Click on the thumbnails for larger images.

Fringe and ribbon applique ironed on with “Stitch Witchery.” Use existing off-white cord to thread two green cords in opposite directions. This is much easier to tighten and release than a single cord.

Loop tassel over cord near end, then tie a tight knot in the green cord over it, close to the end of the cord. Tie pairs of tasseled cords together just at the point the reticule is fully open.

$0.49 of sale fringe and some pre-made ribbon applique decorations (three small (left) on sale for $0.49 each, and $1.99 for the large, below) from Dressew Supply in Vancouver, BC, Canada were added and made a huge difference. I replaced the single, fraying cream cord with a longer green cord from another grab bag (cut into two), and attached four green tassels on the cord ends (on sale for $0.49 each at Dressew). Total price: under $6.

The completed green and black reticules. Note that with the black one, I tied the loose ends of the velvet ribbon together firmly, and slid them into the ribbon sleeve, rather than add tassels as on the green cord. (The black ribbon was not long enough.) You could also thread beads and sew them onto the ends instead of tassels.

Silk reticule with steel cut beads, beaded tassels, and double drawstring, 1810, Bowes Museum.

To update the zippered black bag with beaded fringe (left), I removed the zipper and managed to free the other end of the shoulder strap without untying the strings, so no beads were lost in this venture! I may use this lovely braided string of beads tied around the Empire waistband of a ball gown.

I put a scrap of ribbon inside the purse to act as a sleeve for the drawstring, and threaded black velvet ribbon that I’d had on hand for a dozen or more years. Note that  reticule drawstrings should each be at least 18 inches in length and threaded opposite ways to make for the ideal closure. The total cost for this bag was less than $3.

My wedding rings came in a little chocolate brown velvet bag with matching tasseled drawstring and the initials of the jeweler on the side, and of course, I kept it and the little metal boxes all these years. Before this blog was started, I went to a local stage presentation of Pride and Prejudice, I attempted to dress it up by hooking a set of wineglass rings along the bottom like jewels. I said all along I wasn’t crafty!

This drawstring bag is very small (5″x7.5″) and would only suit someone with the initials M.C. Perhaps Mr. Parachute Pants will come out of retirement for this? Oh, goodness! **blushes** It sounds like I think he’d like to dress like Elizabeth Bennet! M.C. Regency Cross-Dresser Hammer! Drop that thought!

Anyhow, this reticule is rated with a closed parasol at best: acceptable, but not the best choice. Better beads at the bottom would help its look, but it’s still small, with someone else’s initials on it.

I got another reticule for a gift last Christmas, as part of the A Happy Assembly Holiday Card Exchange, made by member Sharlotte. The fabric is a rich yet subtle silver and gold silk brocade fabric, with gold drawstrings and the satin lining trimming the top.

Inside, she included some “work” for the recipients: a new scallop-hemmed handkerchief with two skeins of embroidery thread for decorating it! To go with that theme, I’m showing my little collection of handkerchiefs.handkerchiefsThe whitework one with a purple lace edge and the daisy motif handkerchief both belonged to my mother, and were gifts for use at my wedding. The attendants were required to use them to hold the ceremonial gold crowns of the Orthodox wedding ceremony above Mr. Suze’s and my heads. The plain lace-edged one was also from my wedding.

The other whitework one and the pansy pattern handkerchiefs were purchased for $3.99 and $2.99 each at Women in Need (WiN) Thrift and Vintage.

This reticule seems better for a daytime reticule than the others. It could be fancied up with beads or tassels, but for now, I like it as-is.

The other two items in the big picture of my reticules (above) are for demonstration purposes. Both are pillow covers, one oblong, and one square with beaded edges, folded up like a dinner napkin. These could be used to make reticules.

Although the shape would work to make two reticules, I don’t like the fabric or colours for the oblong one, hence, no parasol. As for the other, one of the bonus projects this summer will be making several designs of reticules from a cushion cover using a pattern I developed myself.

Simple and elegant reticule with lavender embroidered on one side and the lady's initial on the other surrounded by flowers, 1800-10 Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Simple and elegant reticule with lavender embroidered on one side and the lady’s initial on the other surrounded by flowers, 1800-10 Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The opposite side. 1800-1810, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The opposite side. 1800-1810, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

How does one manage with such a tiny purse instead of the hobo? I’m sure you’ve used a tiny dress clutch for a formal situation before! In this case, we don’t need a stash of makeup on hand, for starters.

I intend to minimize the size and number of items I have with me. For Louisville, instead of a wallet, I’ll put my US cash in an envelope, my change in Frida (the name of my little zipper coin purse from a gallery in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico), and the minimum of cards (driver’s license, health services card, and one credit card, all in RFID* sleeves) in a small card holder. An organza bag will organize my small pill holder and an emergency kit: some safety and bobby pins for repairs; blister strips, in case the new shoes bug me; and wax for my braces. Glasses and case and cleaner cloth (“those lion eyes”), and it’s full!Stuff that goes into the reticuleIf you’re accustomed to having a photo album in your wallet, pare it down to one or two. Even better, trace the important ones onto onion skin paper, fold like a Regency letter, and put it in the envelope with your cash.

Last but not least, a Regency lady must have at least one embroidered handkerchief on hand, in case she winds up featured in one of those Romance novels where it is plays a starring role!

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This was the last item for the full Regency costume as planned!

On Saturday, I was at a “Jane Austen Tea” fundraiser that I heard of only two days before. The costume was ready, but I decided to make a better version of my lace cap at the last minute. Up until then, I was okay, since there was the other cap for this series, and I had until Louisville in October to make one closer to my needs for my Regency costume.

This project was out of the scope of the “Experiment,” as it was machine sewn, but only because of time constraints. I’m super-proud of how I used a 1900’s pattern that was almost unreadable, figured out the instructions (how many “nails” large my head is!), made a mock-up, adjusted it to fit me, and made my version simple, but cute. Pity it was under my hat most of the day! I’ll share more about this “dress cap” next month, once I’ve drafted a tidied pattern.

The photos from the tea will be part of next Monday’s post, with the full costume featured as the end to the “Experiment.” In the meantime…

NEXT POST: The promised “quick checklist” to summarize the Regency costume, with links back to the articles on each topic, and a number of my favourite web resources… and it will be later this week! WOO-HOO! Two posts in a week again!

The fabulous Zorylee Diaz-Lupitou fixed the comments problem, and there’s a “Reply” link at the end of the list of Tags! For Monday’s post, let me know if there’s anything I missed in the series. Do you have any questions or feedback to help ensure the last post of the series is satisfying?

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*RFID sleeves are metal lined paper covers used to hold identification and credit or debit cards that have information that can be read by radio frequency. Though the odds of unauthorized information access are extremely low, the information is pretty much useless to the person who gathers it, and my bank will cover any losses, I still use them.

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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

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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!

Shiny things expose my inner crow!

I was second last in the gift draw. I took the brown paper bag, reached my hand in, and felt around. Unable to discern by touch what the small items were, I grasped one at random. When I extracted my hand and opened it, I found BIG SPARKLE.

It turned out to be a key chain, roughly four inches long, and gaudy doesn’t begin to communicate its assault on my eyes. About 8 huge plastic gems hung in a cluster from large gold links, and below them dangled a tiny metal purse that would open were it not linked into the rest. When it moved even a tiny bit, it rattled. Yeah, I thought, it should have made the warning sound before I pulled it out of the bag.

I peered at the magnetic post-it grocery list note pad another participant won and felt the world was truly unfair. Yet when I examined the face of every other person, I realized it would not be in good form to say so. No one seemed to think my gift was the most awful, tasteless joke that was ever played upon someone. The sneer twitching at the corner of my lip was held in check, and instead, I said, “Oh, bling!” in an affected tone.

Thing is, I can’t bear to throw the thing away. I keep trying to think of someone to give it to who would appreciate it, or a way to give it some sort of useful employment. It moves from container to container as a “potential” and most recently, wound up in my kit of beads and baubles for my Regency costume. But once again, it’s proven to itself as a useless, gaudy thing. It has a few friends in that bag, but none as sparkly.

Like the crow, we’re all attracted to sparkly, otherwise there would never have been a gold rush or jewel thieves, and MJ’s glove would be boring. Many like to look at beautiful jewelry but don’t wear it. What I choose tends to be simple but unique. When I checked my own stash for potential items for my Regency costume, I found a few items that looked right to me. Then I did my research, and realized they were close, but some needed help. It was not impossible.my jewelry

Citrine jewelry 1820

Citrine jewelry 1820

Necklace 41.9 cm long, circa 1810.

Necklace 41.9 cm long, circa 1810.

In addition, I saw things in the period examples that I liked but would not normally consider wearing. Just as I’m not one to wear a hat with feathers, they became desirable when thought of as part of a costume, an act. A sale purchase from Joe Fresh was added to the small group of costume items of my own: a “diamond and freshwater pearl” choker in a floral pattern, as seen at the top of the photo above.

Numerous perusals of discount and second-hand store costume jewelry racks did not offer a suitable pair of ear-bobs to go with it. Anything close was on studs, and in the Regency, stud-backed earrings didn’t exist; they were all hung on wire hooks. I knew a simple way to modify them, and even had the right earring parts—years ago, I made earrings, hence, my experience with cam-shaped circles of metal. But I couldn’t wear the ones in my stash, as they were cheap gold imitations. Like many, I have a nickel allergy, and most inexpensive jewelry contains nickel as a hardener. I can wear costume jewelry for short periods of time, but my skin becomes inflamed easily.

Earrings "The Three Graces" 1810

Earrings “The Three Graces” 1810

Last week, I found some lead and nickel free earring parts on a two-for-one sale at a fabric store. Two pairs of earrings I owned were modified using an earring snap hook and a very small split ring. The split ring is like a super-tiny version of a key ring, and similar to work with, but saves using needle-nose pliers and making a cam out of a loop, or accidentally leaving the tiniest gap and then losing the earring, both of which are my constant experience.

I clamped the earring to the split ring, using a plastic back in one case so it was less visible (I’ve left one loose so you can see the construction), and a large back in the other, due to the weight and shape of the earring. I also have a new pair of labradorite and aquamarine earrings on silver hooks, a gift from my husband that I hoped would be appropriate. However, I could not find any examples of a rough-cut stone, so they won’t be part of the Regency costume. No big deal, since they’ll get plenty of showtime on regular days.

There’s also a leaf-themed barrette and a purple-jewelled elephant that you’ve already seen with turban-making, and they’ve become brooches. The elephant came from a card holder, and is symbolic of the final scene in my latest story (though the blog has been taking my writing time!), Letter from Ramsgate, which will be posted at A Happy Assembly. (If you’ve never been there, it’s a Jane Austen fan site, full of Austen-inspired fiction and discussion threads. Registration is required, but membership is free. Many published authors post their stories there first, and free unedited versions often still remain, alongside many unpublished and often better stories.)

A Magnificent Georgian 0.75ct Old Cut Diamond Snake Ring In 18ct Gold Circa 1800

A Magnificent Georgian 0.75ct Old Cut Diamond Snake Ring In 18ct Gold Circa 1800

But what’s with the snake stuff in my collection? This was one of the things that I found amazing and fascinating when I started to pay attention to Regency jewelry. As mentioned before, floral patterns were popular, as were crosses made with elongated stones, astronomical symbolism like moon and star themes, and the serpent. Hands on bracelets were another theme that I found unusual. I’ve selected a few examples for you to compare.

My snakes were $1 for the ring at a thrift store and $12 for the bracelet on sale at a drugstore. I used to have a brooch with the moon and stars that I gave to charity years ago, so maybe you still have one lurking about!

Silver mesh snake bracelet with garnet eyes. French c1800. Tadema Gallery.

Silver mesh snake bracelet with garnet eyes. French c1800. Tadema Gallery.

A ninenteenth-century carved coral bracelet, formed as a coiled serpent with gold-set emerald eyes; the snake biting its tail is a symbol of eternity.

A ninenteenth-century carved coral bracelet, formed as a coiled serpent with gold-set emerald eyes; the snake biting its tail is a symbol of eternity.

A Georgian diamond crescent brooch, diameter 4.2cm,  circa 1800

A Georgian diamond crescent brooch, diameter 4.2cm, circa 1800

Georgian Foil-backed Pink Topaz and Pearl Riviere with Cross Pendant, circa 1820

Georgian Foil-backed Pink Topaz and Pearl Riviere with Cross Pendant, circa 1820

Gold and coral bracelet, length 185mm, early 19th century.

Gold and coral bracelet, length 185mm, early 19th century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The square-cut stone with its ring of “diamonds” came from a pair of gloves; one was lost, but this one will clamp over my own modest ring. It was not uncommon to wear costume jewelry. Paste and real stones were seen in many shapes, as were pearls of all types. Turquoise and red coral were also popular, the latter seen in one of the snakes and in many bead necklaces of the time. Multiple strands tied together with stones were an interesting design seen on several pieces.

Faceted table-cut emeralds in borders of brilliant-cut diamonds; briolette emerald drops; open-set in gold and silver, 1806

Faceted table-cut emeralds in borders of brilliant-cut diamonds; briolette emerald drops; open-set in gold and silver, 1806

Gold, enamel, seed pearl, and lapis lazuli parure consisting of  comb, three strand necklace, and ear-bobs, circa 1810.

Gold, enamel, seed pearl, and lapis lazuli parure consisting of comb, three strand necklace, and ear-bobs, circa 1810.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wealthy women wore more elaborate jewels, and people of more modest means may only wear a pendant on a chain, like the topaz crosses Jane and Cassandra Austen wore, a gift from their sailor brother Charles. In Mansfield Park, Austen included a plot point where Fanny Price is given a similar amber cross from her brother William, and Mary Crawford charms Fanny with a gift of a chain to wear it with. You can read more about it in the article “A Very Pretty Amber Cross.”

Topaz and citrine cross, circa 1820

Topaz and citrine cross, circa 1820

The costumers for the A&E/BBC Pride and Prejudice series in 1995 had Elizabeth and Jane Bennet wearing crosses like Jane and Cassandra Austen’s, but with red stones that many viewers have imagined as garnet or ruby.

When deciding on your jewelry, make sure you’re not wearing a silk gown with no jewels, or a cotton one along with too many large stones.

Various "lovers eye" pieces of jewelry.

Various “lovers eye” pieces of jewelry.

Romantic themes were played out in the “lover’s eye,” a miniature painting set in a brooch, pendant, or ring. If you’re an artist, this would be a cool thing to reproduce on an old brooch, locket, compact, etc.

Pieces containing strands of hair were often worn as a sign of mourning.

Mourning brooch with paste jewels, circa 1800

Mourning brooch with paste jewels, circa 1800

Georgian-era seed-pearl-surrounded locket with a lock of hair.

Georgian-era seed-pearl-surrounded locket with a lock of hair.

Pendants, chokers, bracelets, rings, arm-bands, ear-bobs, as well as hair jewelry like combs, tiaras, or diadems would be part of the essential accessories of the costume.

Not for the faint of heart crafter, the Mistress of Disguise shows how to make a Regency diadem from used lamp parts! No sewing necessary, but soldering or hot glue is part of the the process. I’ll pass, but I can look at all the pretty, shiny things!

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NEXT POST: Must-have Regency accessories are gloves, and most ladies want a fan for cooling in a candle- and ton-filled ballroom. To round out that post, because one of my signature expressions is “Parasol in a Ballroom,” I’m including the parasol I purchased, and I’ll try to make all three look Regency. These ones are much harder than some of the others!

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While it has nothing to do with this blog series or the Regency, today I’m giving a shout out to an upcycler from Israel, Urban Raven, who makes jewelry from old phone tokens, computer chips, and many other items.

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I’m looking (cross that out) begging for feedback. If anyone has seen any areas of improvement for this blog series, please forward them to me. As I’ve said on multiple occasions in the past, I’m new to this, and may have mistaken any aspect of the Regency costume based on clues that I misinterpreted. In addition, I may not have communicated something as well as you would have liked. Any help is appreciated!

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I’m officially signed up for the JASNA AGM in Louisville, KY in October! There are still a limited number of registrations left. I’ll have some give-aways to hand out to followers of my blog while I’m there, so pay attention for clues!

Twenty Layers of Unmentionables and no Panties!

I read bodice rippers! In the steamy scenes, the Regency hero is forced to wade through layers upon layers of underthings as he tries to seduce the heroine. The poor guy might find an overdress or an underdress as part of the gown. Once he had dispensed with that, he would first find petticoats and/or drawers/pantalets, then a corset or stays, and finally, a chemise and stockings under that enticing gown.

Okay, it’s not twenty layers, but I’m sure it seemed so to the impassioned, impatient fellow!

Chemises, petticoats, and drawers:

Chemise

Chemise

Chemise with owner s initials, A.F. c. 1820 to1830 at Vintage Textiles

Chemise, 1820 to 1830

We start closest to the body, with the chemise (shift). It’s like a light, straight full-slip, worn under the corset to prevent chafing. It often had short sleeves.

 

 

 

 

Petticoat, Metropolitan Museum of Arts

Petticoat, Metropolitan Museum of Arts

Regency petticoats are not heavy crinolines to pouf up the dress, rather, another slip, either a half- or full-slip. Worn over the stays or corset, the petticoat’s function is to make certain your soft, pretty skirt doesn’t bunch up around your legs. Some are heavily gathered and some are straighter, depending on the fabric and style of the dress they’re intended to shape.

Petticoats, Metropolitan Museum of Arts

Early 19th Century Petticoats, Metropolitan Museum of Arts

Some Regency petticoats had stays built in; you can buy a new bodiced petticoat custom-made to fit you for $90 from vendors at sites such as Etsy. If you are a sewer, Merle Brown of the Victoria BC chapter of JASNA recommends La Mode Bagatelle pattern  bodiced petticoats. She has made at least 6 of them.

1815 petticoat

1815 petticoat

1810 underdress or overdress

1810 underdress or overdress

Other petticoats were cut so they hung open-busted from narrow shoulder straps to the dress “waistline,” to ensure they did not show in the opening of the low-cut gown.

In the mid-Regency, when the gown length became shorter, the petticoat was intentionally longer than the gown, and had beautiful lace decoration on the bottom that was intended to be seen. If anything got dirty, as in Elizabeth Bennet’s case when she walked to Netherfield, it would be the petticoat, which easier to wash than the gown, and cheaper if ruined by a stain.

Pantalets, Metropolitan Museum of Arts

Pantalets, Metropolitan Museum of Arts

Drawers or pantalets are like a pair of legs of pants tied at the waist. They serve more or less the same function as the petticoat, and are in similar fabrics. Like the petticoats, their bottom lace trim was allowed to be seen at the bottom of the skirt.

The two legs weren’t joined at the top section until 30 years later, and briefs/panties/knickers as we know them didn’t exist until the 1930’s. (Even then, early panties were only used during menstruation!) For the pre- and post-Regency woman, this made sense, as the dresses had more layers of hoops and petticoats, and it made it easier to urinate if nothing had to be removed. I know, I know; you don’t want to imagine that!

 

 

The alternative: A full slip

For the purposes of your Regency costume, a floor-length full-slip should perform the function of all three. (You can add whatever underpants and shapewear you’re comfortable with.) If you’ve chosen a corset that hasn’t been lined for comfort, you may want to wear the slip underneath, otherwise, it can fit over top.

Slips used to be ubiquitous: in the 20th century, every lady had so many, she needed a “slip drawer” to hold them all. The slips inside would include regular-length and floor-length full-slips and half-slips (skirt only). Some would be bra-slips, and have side slits or back slits, and there may be mini-slips or ¾-length slips, as well. In all likelihood, each would be duplicated in black, white, and écru, a beige-y colour.

Elizabeth Taylor in a "regular-length" slip, in BUtterfield 8 (1960). She won her first Oscar for the role.

Elizabeth Taylor in a “regular-length” slip, in BUtterfield 8 (1960). She won her first Oscar for the role.

They were the 20th century version of petticoats: they helped skirts to sit flat across the legs, so no indication of a split was evident. But that taboo has gone, and floor length full slips haven’t been sold in regular stores for a good 10 years.

If you can’t find anything in your closet or your mom’s, or in thrift or vintage shops, a very light dress or nightgown, or the lining of an evening gown will work as well. This is where that dress that didn’t have enough fabric for a gown would be useful! It should have enough fullness to the skirt to support the gown and keep it from draping between your legs.

The colour must not show under your dress, so with a sheerer gown, it should be a similar colour, with no pattern. The exception is where you have a sheer overdress and want this as an underdress of a specific colour.

I purchased two cream-coloured nightgowns at small thrift shops for $9.99 and $7.99, and a fuschia slip-dress at a vintage store for $19.99, for use as an underdress.

Underwear and convertibles, tTSRCEThe slip neckline must be at least one inch larger than the gown neckline so it won’t show, so you may have to cut it back. Lace, trim, or any heavy edges on the undergarment that could be lumpy under any fitted area of the gown should be removed as well. Any new edges should be finished.*

You could consider a common Regency petticoat cut, as seen above in the 1810 underdress/overdress: Remove the entire front to the empire waist except for an inch or two at the sides (clear of the neckline) as shoulder straps.

If it’s just petticoats you need (your bodice is lined or of heavier fabric, and your corset alternative does not chafe), a floor-length half-slip or lightweight skirt can be tucked under the bosom instead of at the natural waist. It may be on the short side, but unless you need it to show at the bottom of a too-short gown, it should serve the purpose. If you have some sewing skills, a ¾ slip can be trimmed and modified to fit.

A special alternative for pantalets:

If you normally wear pants all the time, and this dress is quite the stretch for you already, a pair of lightweight cotton pajama pants or loose-legged capris can be worn as if they were pantalets, instead of the slip. Any colour or pattern must not show through.

I found a pair of capri-length cotton pajama pants (above) for $1 (everything was 50% off!) at a charity thrift store, and some very wide lace trim from a fabric store in Mazatlán (as part of my $5 trim purchase spree there) will make them more Regency. I’m leaving the crotch sewn together; I’m not that much of a stickler for exact period correctness!

You can use a camisole or sleeveless/short sleeved blouse with the half-slip or pantalets if you see the need, e.g. if the fabric of your gown’s bodice is lightweight and light-coloured, or if you need something under a corset. It must be cut back to suit the gown’s neckline, similar to the slip instructions above.

Stockings:

stockings and garters kyoto 1810 stockings england french acid green silk stockings early 19th c stockings early 19th c stockings met 1800-1829(Click on thumbnails for larger images.)

These went higher than the knee, and most were opaque, silk, and tied with ribbons or garters. There was no elastic of quality for this type of use for another 50 years or so. Many examples of Regency stockings in the museum photos have beautiful designs on them, and a wide range of colours are shown, similar to the shoes.

I plan to wear tights, and got three pair, as seen above. Since they were on sale for $1 at Joe Fresh, the colours of two pairs are pretty wild, and I may not find I have an outfit to wear them with, but they work for everyday in any case.

The third is white, bought on holidays for $1.99 brand new at the Goodwill in Portland, OR. Had I been successful in connecting with Meryton Press author Linda Beutler for dinner during the unplanned stop, I wouldn’t have had the time!

The tights could be trimmed to a more authentic length, but care would need to be taken to finish the edges well to avoid runs. In addition, I’m worried they’d keep falling down, and I don’t want to spend my entire time at any Jane Austen function trying to hike up my hose. I’m afraid I would look less than ladylike!

If I find time, I may try to transfer a simplified version of one of the designs onto the tights, and use fabric paint. If you like this idea, but don’t want to be crafty, Betsey Johnson has floral printed thigh-highs for $18 a pair!

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NEXT POST: Make your evening gown convertible!

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* For finishing edges or hemming where you have to adjust the product you buy or salvage at home, you can machine sew, hand sew, or use hemming tapes, which come in an iron-on type and a type that’s like double-sided tape. If the edge will be visible, a prettier edge will be achieved by attaching a very narrow lingerie ribbon to just cover the edge, in lieu of the hem.

Update for non-Upcycle (new) Products:

  • Victoria’s Secret has a Heritage Cotton Gown (nightgown) that works as petticoats for $38.
  • Sears sells Vanity Fair half slips and pants liners called “Snip-It” that can be used like the skirt of petticoats or pantalets, at $19.99.
  • Various companies sell Regency-looking silk or cotton stockings for $25 and $15 respectively. Google “historical silk stockings” or “clocked silk stockings.” Please take care when looking at other products at these companies, and don’t purchase Victorian-era products or expensive shoes sold as Regency that don’t resemble true museum examples.

Lift and Separate!

Nothing destroys a Regency look faster than droopy boobage—it’s better suited to activities with pot and daisy-weaving involved. The Regency bodice demands softness on top rather than on the bottom, and the opposite will be noticed, because the pretty ribbon you chose for your Regency “waist” will be obscured. Why wear a nice gown and fail to make sure “the girls” sit like queens?

Corsets and Stays:

Short stays and corset from the Met museum, courtesy "Jane Austen's World"

Short stays and corset from the Met museum, courtesy “Jane Austen’s World”

This is one of the most important parts of your costume: to get the proper shape under the bodice of those high-waisted, low-cut gowns. You should wear your corset—or whatever alternative you choose—when trying on potential gowns, so this foundation garment is a procurement priority.

The Regency stays or corsets have a very specific goal: elevate. The idea is to get “the girls” so high you’d pass the pencil test with a whole box of HB’s. That’s where the “waistband” and ribbon of your empire gown will fit. The bottom of the breast is slightly flattened, as the softness is transferred to the top.

pride-prejudice-22-copy1Many younger women will identify with women’s shapes in Austenesque artwork and movies because they already wear a push-up bra, and recognize the shape the Regency short stays (that fit like a longline bra) or Regency corset (fits to the waist or lower for more support) create. Michele Reed, the publisher of Meryton Press, swears a well-fitted Regency corset is quite comfortable, and if you were leaning in the direction of authenticity, that’s encouraging. If you’re a Nervous Nellie about exposing the tops of “the girls,” have a quick look at the BBC/A&E production of Pride and Prejudice from 1995—it’s a lovely look on anyone!

crossover stays kyoto

Wrap around brassiere-type Regency stays from the Kyoto museum.

Regency short stays are fine if your bra size is under C cup. At $65 to $170 custom-made, the more costly of these use additional personal measurements for a better fit, use better fabric, have breast gussets and extra boning, and are lined for comfort. The bra-like wrap stays, as seen in the Kyoto museum, can be custom-made for you—at $275! Ouch! I’d rather invest in my gown.

Lower-priced short stays on vendor sites such as Etsy appear well-made, if a simple design, making them a good bargain if your breasts don’t need much support. We’ll discuss the chemise later in the blog, but it can be worn underneath for comfort. A similar alternative is the bodiced petticoat, new and custom-made for $90. This is like simple stays, chemise, and petticoats in one garment.

Front view, 1811 corset, Met Museum

Front view, 1811 corset, Met Museum

Back view, 1811 corset, Met Museum

Back view, 1811 corset, Met Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to Regency undergarment seamstresses, a corset is a better choice if you wear a D cup or larger. A bonus is that a longer line will aid those who are concerned about the appearance of their midriff under the gown’s flat-fronted skirt.

Transitional or long stays, or a Regency corset, will set you back $50 to $375; $75-$330 for plus-sized. Reasons for price variations include the length of the corset—though some transitional corsets are dearer than some longer ones, due to complexity of design—and the comments for stays above. Some cheaper corsets and long stays have boning instead of the important wooden busk, and the differences in boning are far more obvious over the longer length.

Corset similar to less expensive styles. 1810-20

Corset similar to less expensive styles. 1810-20

If you’re larger, you should count on spending more, because the cheap ones will collapse. Gussets are necessary on a larger breast, and the complex boning of a dearer corset can help a great deal with a slimmer look.

With intermediate sewing skills, you can make your own. Patterns are common at about $20-$30, and kits of the hard-to-find materials are $70, but this is not a beginner sewing project. Some patterns include the important wooden busk (about $7 on its own) that sits along the centre front to separate “the girls;” others have patterns for other Regency undergarments. Vendors for baleen, plastic, or steel boning are available, though heavy cable ties (zip ties) are a good alternative, and you can get them at a hardware or dollar store. Online resources show how to fit a Regency corset. For those wearing a C-cup and lower, the Kyoto museum brassiere-like stays look easier to make.

The Budget Alternatives:

If you balk at the price for proper Regency support, and were tempted to buy a modern busked/boned corset from a lingerie store instead, DON’T. Most are the wrong shape for Regency: too cinched in the waist and wide in the hips and breasts, not enough lift in the breasts, and too much breast coverage!

Consider wearing a bra instead—but only if it provides the right look and fit. The bra must provide super-high lift without cleavage; your breasts must still be separated. To accommodate the wide, low ball gown necklines, the shoulder straps should be wide-spaced across the chest, near the shoulders, and the cups must be low-cut to show a bit of roundness on top. A near-horizontal cup top is necessary if you plan to match a squared off neckline of the P&P era.

ti-amo-light-cream-push-up-bra-by-gorsenia small

lavinia smalllane bryant 3 smallLeonisa-011789-4 small

 

 

 

The balconette (balconet, balcony) bra and many push-up styles of bra have the right shape, plus you’ll have a pretty bra to wear with other things, too! It’s sometimes called a t-shirt bra or demi-bra, but beware, sometimes these don’t have the wide-set straps or lower-cut horizontal tops—they’re just a seamless push-up bra.

I bought a pair of well-fitting balconette bras at an average lingerie store on sale for $55 for both. I wear 32-34F, so this is a good buy compared to a bra in a high-quality brand. The ones in the small photos vary from $17 to $48, the large photo is $64.

How to make sure your bra shape is right for Regency:

If you’ve never been fitted for a bra, get fitted first!* It’s usually free at lingerie and better department stores.

Once you know your size, you could consider trying on a bra one cup or band size smaller to see if you get more lift. You don’t want cleavage or four breasts (where the bra top edge cuts into the breast), just lots of lift. If you don’t like it, go back to your regular size—it didn’t work for me. Once you’ve made your purchase, tighten the straps as much as you can without discomfort.

If you wear a very large cup and/or have bottom-weighted,** menopausal breasts like me, you may still have a bit of softness on the bottom. Midriff shapewear, such as a spandex open bust camisole or waist cincher, can be worn slightly over the base of the breast to flatten, it as well as your midriff. I found a $5.50 straight-sided boned waist shaper from the WiN (Women in Need) charity vintage and thrift store.

Additional choices:

longline balconet from lane bryant smallSome longline bras or bustiers can work, too, if the garment has a lot of lift and breast separation, ideally with boning. You have to be ready to cut off the top half of the cup and finish the cut edge, so the ones in the backs of your drawers are preferable to buying new.***

Make sure the waist is natural and not too cinched, the cup lifts very high and covers just over half your breast, and the straps are set wide. You can remove the straps and safety pin them wider if necessary.

My balconette bra, bustier, and waist cincher.

My balconette bra, bustier, and waist cincher.

I’ve taken a 90’s bustier from before I lost weight, turned the too-large soft cups inside (almost in half) then moved the removable straps. This gave extra lift and opened up the top of the bra portion. I’ll need a light-coloured slip or camisole to cover to hide the black under light dresses, and that’s covered in a later post.

If, after all this, you like your old bra and don’t like shapewear, I understand. Tighten the straps on your old bra; it will help. To manage any bottom softness, when you try on or modify dresses, ensure that the empire “waistline” of your gown is at the lowest point of your breast, rather than under it. You don’t want the ribbon to be hidden or folded.

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Next post: Polyester knits, fitted gores, and spaghetti straps: the problems I had finding a gown, and how to work around them.

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* Many bra sizing charts suggest exhaling deeply and adding 4” to the under bust measurement to get band size. I find that results in too loose a band, so that’s why I recommend this site over others. Bare Necessities Sizing Help.

** From the Blog “Bras I Hate and Love,” Clarifying Breast Shape: Full-on-top vs. Full-on-bottom.

*** For finishing edges or hemming where you have to adjust the product you buy or salvage at home, you can machine sew, hand sew, or use hemming tapes. Hemming tapes come in an iron-on type and a type that’s like double-sided tape, and should not be used where the seam has to carry too much weight. Either turn back the edges slightly wider than the iron-on tape, or use pre-folded bias tape or a 3/4″ or wider ribbon ironed into a fold. Place the fold over the edge and attach to both sides. This latter method is best for thicker fabric.

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Update: A Most Peculiar Mademoiselle‘s blog has a photo series of “Mademoiselle” in a Regency short dress with and without her corset. She’s what I’d call a normal-sized gal, and it’s quite convincing!

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