“Party Central” in the #Regency: When was the Season?

"Longitude and Latitude of St. Petersburg" by George Cruikshank, May 1813. Caricature of Almack's patroness Countess Lieven waltzing at an assembly at Almack's. From Wikipedia Commons.

“Longitude and Latitude of St. Petersburg” by George Cruikshank, May 1813. Caricature of Almack’s patroness Countess Lieven waltzing at an assembly at Almack’s. From Wikipedia Commons.

Balls, routs, mornings that started at 11 and ended at 4, and a requirement to be seen—no, recognized—no, ADMIRED through every waking minute of it. Daunting but exciting at once for a young woman coming into society. (Note that “debutante” would not be used in this context until 1817.) The trouble for Regency writers is not in imagining the lovely scenes with beautiful gowns and handsome men; the magic of TV and movies helps with that. The trouble is, when exactly did the Regency Season begin and end? “Experts” cannot agree. I would argue that it wasn’t like a statutory holiday, rather a living thing that depended more upon those who made it what it was.

The part of the experts’ time lines that makes sense is that the Season coincided with the sitting of Parliament. Peers who took their seats in the House of Lords and gentlemen members of the House of Commons would head up to Town (London was always up, no matter what direction one was headed), and their families would follow. With a critical mass of the rich and famous in Town, it became party central. The action gained momentum as the months passed, until Parliament adjourned, and all and sundry relocated to country houses or resort towns. Of course, Parliament would break for Christmas, Easter, and sport (hunting) seasons.

With that knowledge as their basis, various sources state definitively that the London Season took place from January to June, February to June, January to April, January to May, March to June, and January or February to August 12, when the grouse hunting season began. They claim the “Little Season” took place from September-November, October-November, or that there is no evidence it existed, and it was invented by Georgette Heyer! I won’t embarrass any of them with references. But all set a specific set of dates for something that was likely more fluid.

So rather than just assume that Parliament took place between certain dates all the time, why didn’t anyone check Hansard? For those unfamiliar, Hansard is the record of Parliament. It comes from the name of Thomas Curson Hansard, one of the original publishers of the summaries of Parliamentary debates. We use the same word in Canadian Parliament.

The dates Parliament sat from 1810 to 1813, when most Austen-inspired fiction takes place are:

  • 1810: January 23 to June 21, with an Easter break from April 17-23.
    Members were called to discuss the King’s Illness on various dates from November 1, 1810 to January 8, 1811, however, it was not a regular session of Parliament. This is often referred to as the “Year of No Christmas.”
  • 1811: January 11 to July 24; break April 10-26. The “Regency bill” was passed on February 5, 1811.
  • 1812: January 7 to June 30; break March 29 to April 8. Prime Minister Perceval was assassinated on May 11, 1812.
  • 1812-3: November 24, 1812 to July 22, 1813; breaks from December 18 to February 3 and April 12 to May 12.

The sitting of Parliament appears varied during these few years, as seems reasonable. If any “Little Season” took place, it would be in 1810 and 1812. However, 1810 consisted of emergency meetings, and it was unlikely the duration could be planned. The date set for Parliament to reconvene in 1811 had probably been set at adjournment the previous session, so I don’t think many MPs (Members of Parliament) would have moved their families earlier than then. In 1812, we have November 24-December 18 as possible party time, but that’s a short time to develop any sort of a season.

The suggestion that the unofficial height of the Season occurred after Easter makes sense as well. Weather would be better for traipsing around in diaphanous gowns. The Almack’s patronesses began meeting on Mondays in March and handing out their very exclusive vouchers in April, with a dinner and ball held every second Wednesday. The boxes at the opera became more widely available, and it was unfashionable to attend the opera until that took place. In June, the annual Exhibition at the Royal Academy opens and the Royal Ascot takes place at this time, even to this day.

Ladies' Voucher for Almack's, 1817

Ladies’ Voucher for Almack’s, 1817

It also makes sense for the London Season to end as the weather warmed. The city was already full of odours of horse and human waste, coal smoke, and damp (mold) in the winter, but added to the heat of summer, it would be stifling. A “Summer Season” of balls took place in the resort towns such as Bath and Ramsgate. Bird hunting took place in the late summer, and fox hunting in the fall, so gentlemen would prefer to be in the country during those seasons.

Bath Winter Assemblies voucher 1811-12

Bath Winter Assemblies voucher 1811-12

The London Season was expensive: a gent could be relieved of his blunt by a daughter faster than by a thief from Seven Dials. One was required to maintain a carriage, horses, stables, and the full running of a second household; purchase unique fashionable costumes and accoutrements for all sorts of activities, as well as event tickets, including season tickets for balls; and entertain. Activities included dinner parties, balls, routs, fancy balls, breakfasts, card parties, concerts, court parties, shopping, theatre, opera, pantomime, soirees, and musicales. Sporting events like horse racing could empty one’s pockets, too. Traffic jams were common, and one could spend as much time in the carriage waiting in queue to be attended as dancing at the ball.

The events of the Season were essential for the aristocracy, landed gentry, and higher-ranked urban tradesmen and professionals to attend with their families. The number of potential matches on hand was unequalled at any other time, and allowed prioritization to achieve the best possible matches with their sons and daughters. But the reverse also took place, and the prestige offered by attendance at the right events affected choice of mate just as much. The denizens of the drawing rooms would scrutinize each other at length, and one’s social standing could be won or lost as quickly as a patroness put a name to a voucher.

It’s no wonder we’re fascinated with “Party Central,” as we imagine all the different scenarios of social interaction and intrigue that can be played out. Oh, to be a fly on the wall!

"Almacks: Tom and Bob Sporting Their Figures at a Fancy Dress Ball" by W. Heath, 1821

“Almacks: Tom and Bob Sporting Their Figures at a Fancy Dress Ball” by W. Heath, 1821

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Previously posted in the former online newsletter Peculiar Ramblings.

The Party Ends with a Splash! #ItsJaneYall

The road trip is over and my “day job” as adorer of two kitties has resumed. I am reminded in bossy purring meows that both deserve extra attention, and I’m rewarded with relentless purring that will extend until the wee hours tonight and over the next several days at least.

Regency Lady has a Chili Dog: Author Suzan Lauder in Louisville, KY.

Regency Lady has a Chili Dog: Author Suzan Lauder in Louisville, KY.

A final late night involved packing all the gear we brought to the 2015 JASNSA AGM in Louisville, KY. In spite of delays resulting in my husband and I scurrying through to beat the clock at every connection, a re-routed itinerary, and a novice security person confiscating Mr. Suze’s Regency walking stick, we got home after 15 hours of travel in a good mood.

This AGM has been an important goal for almost two years. The event differed from my expectations, and I’m glad I attended, but in some ways, it was an anticlimax. My mixed emotions are yet to become clear, but some conclusions can be shared with the readers of this blog, including my feelings at this point: Relief, regret, and pride.

Relief

Sunday will be the last of two months of a marathon of preparation with many 2am bedtimes, including hand sewing every night of the conference! I won’t miss the stress, exhaustion, and missing out on other things that characterized my life at the end of the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment!

My most substantial relief was measured by repeated expressions of admiration from other JASNA delegates on Friday and Saturday, followed by multiple entreaties to stop every 20 feet so a dozen flashes could go off while people photographed Mr. Suze and I as part of the Grand Promenade. It said the blog goal was successful.

I’m also relieved that people who were less welcoming kept their views to themselves when off Facebook! I’ve avoided mentioning this on the blog to keep things light, but nay-sayers created a huge area of trepidation for me coming up to, and during the conference. It’s difficult enough for anyone to try something new in a public forum, but my fear of failure worsened when I discovered my blog had been an open topic of ridicule in some costuming circles. The funny thing is, these people state hopes to encourage others starting out in costuming, yet their welcome is wanting. No, scratch that. I’m still awaiting the welcome.

old louisville kyRegret

It’s too bad I didn’t have more time to explore more of Louisville, a nice-sized, safe, comfortable, lively town full of welcoming, friendly people. Everywhere we turned, we met and spoke with helpful, smiling locals. Because Mr. Suze explored while I was in seminars all day, he vocalized this opinion strongly.

I looked at lace and ribbons in the shops of the Regency Emporium, as well as actual fashion plates from the Regency (including examples I’ve used here!) for a minimum of 6 separate visits—and I bought only four unrelated books!

I’m sure the shop staff recognized me. I was intimidated and flummoxed because, similar to my experience shopping at home, I could see how lovely these items would be on a costume, but waffled on which to buy and quantities. Did I want to use expensive silk net for sleeves on a polyester gown?

I hope I won’t be too disappointed to have wasted an opportunity to purchase embellishments better than any I’ve ever seen elsewhere!

Contrary to my expectations, I don’t mind too much that I couldn’t bring the planned jonquil gown, as my last-minute compromise with the translucent fuchsia overdress worked well.

I left the AGM uncertain about whether the blog had readers outside of my circle of friends. I’d hoped to have more Janeites approach me for the give-aways, but prizes I’d planned to hand out came home with me.

However, when authors Maria Grace and Linda Beutler both commented, “Is that the spencer from the blog? I love it!” and admired all the details, especially the little skirt detail in back, I was proud, even if the sewing quality is atrocious!

I wish I’d had more time to get to know more people. I did enjoy the company of fellow Meryton Press author Linda Beutler for some events and tourism, and it was sad to split up to go home again. Luckily, there’s AHA Chat and Facebook to remain close to those I met whom I already liked!

Pride

mr suze and suzan lauder at louisville jasna 2015 ball blurredMr. Suze’s costume was right up there with some of the best of the menswear. The cut of the tailcoat and shirt neckline set his apart from amateurish-looking versions, even if we were no more expert than the others! I’d found some brass buttons with a crown-type coat-of-arms on them at 3 packs of 3-4 buttons for 99 cents each at Fabricland that really set off the tailcoat. Louisville has a fantastic gag shop (Caulfield’s Novelty Inc.), where he spent too much on a set of grey sideburns to add a final flourish that got quite a few laughs.

Many ladies’ costumes had breathtaking details in fine silk and fancy lace, with pleated, ruffled, or impossibly swirled trim, soutache and buttons and tassels in just the right places, enormous hats with giant feathers and unique bands, and gowns with professional-looking cut and quality of construction. Though my costumes were simple in comparison, they did the trick well.

saturday day gown frontsaturday day gown backsaturday stockingsSaturday’s gown from morning through the author signings was the Swiss dotted dress, remade with a Regency-cut skirt, the lace shared over three rows, shorter puffed sleeves, and a real diamond back bodice, as I developed a Regency pattern fitted specifically for myself. The Pomona green spencer was worn all morning, since many others were doing the same, perhaps in response to light-hearted in-character comments by a couple of presenters as they joked about disapproval of married women who wore plain white! I would have added more ribbon to give this lovely gown colour, but time ran out!

My ball costume was “thrown together” in a few days. Little flourishes, like the painted designs on my opera-length gloves, the way my turban tied in a unique and cheeky way in one go and sported a bejeweled elephant pin and curled ostrich feather on top, and two new rows of lace on the bottom of my improvised gown helped my simple effort look like it belonged there.

I think our smiles made me and the Mr. appear better than many at the ball, as we had a great time among the multitude of amazing costumes.

The visible minority!

turban revisedAbout 20% of the people at the AGM sported Regency costumes the first few days, but I’d guess the proportion was at least 40% at the banquet and ball on Saturday night. Author and organizer Sharon Lathan looked so perfectly ordinary when I first met her that I didn’t realize the pretty blonde woman in glasses and jeans was her! She glowed in her silk ball gown, though!

I wore Regency for two of the four days I was present for activities around the AGM proper, which was 2.5 days long. Others who, like me, were at their first AGM and all smiles in their bold effort at a costume that fit in at the ball, included JAFF authors Linda Thompson and Melanie Schertz, whose service dog, Mr. Darcy, had all the ladies swooning in his cravat!

linda beutler and suzan lauderAmong those who wore something awesome that wasn’t Regency was author Linda Beutler. She shared a table with me for the author signings and banquet wearing a vintage 1920’s beaded gown with exquisite details and accessories. With a break from her normal life of gardens for living, her nails matched her deep maroon gown.

Some participants, like author Syrie James, changed for the ball by simply removing a shawl or fichu from the dress they wore that day. Author Maria Grace sat next to Linda and me for the signing event, and she and her Mr. changed from regular clothes into attractive and well-executed Regency costumes for the evening, then cut up the dance floor like pros!

Sue Forgue of the Regency Encyclopedia turns out to be a bit of a fashion plate. She donned a different gown during the day and evening on Saturday, the former with an amazing floral pattern straight out of the Regency that made me match my spencer in jealousy. Interestingly, the latter was a Pomona green silk! Sue enhanced both gowns with gorgeous matching jewels and reticules! I wish I’d thought of photos, and if I get one, I’ll add it to this post.

The Splash

Not a literal splash, but trip on the Ohio River on a 1914-built steam-engine paddlewheel boat, the Queen of Louisville, was a ticketed event last night to culminate our visit for the AGM.

I doubt that more than 5% were dressed in Regency costume! I think many are more comfortable without a corset, no matter how well it improves one’s posture! I wore a nice modern skirt and blouse for the boat trip. In the daytime, it had been a Jane Austen t-shirt from my local library’s fundraiser paired with Michael Kors skinny denim capris!

The weather was fine, as it had been for the whole trip—in the high 80s, when seasonal normal daytime temperatures are in the low 70s.

The Future for my Regency Costuming

One of Meryton Press’s editors and our unofficial social media marketing coach, Christina Boyd, suggested early on in the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment that the series would make a good book. She’s repeated the sentiment, and it’s tempting, though I’d have a great more due diligence on ensuring permissions for images, making it a big project when I’d like to get back to fiction.

“Encyclopedia Sue,” who adores JASNA as a learning experience, staunchly supports the positive examples that instigated the interest in the Regency and Austen for many (including the BBC/A&E miniseries) and spends a huge amount of time sharing resources to help writers and researchers improve their craft, suggested the blog as a seminar for a future JASNA AGM. Though I admit I had some interesting ideas for topics I’d enjoy presenting for this AGM (and didn’t explore them due to lack of time!), without Sue putting the seed in my mind, I’d have never thought of the TSRCE in a seminar format. I’m tempted!

back view mr suze and suzan lauder louisville jasna ball 2015 others blurredThough I know I’ll continue to make gowns and hats based on the wonderful examples I saw this year, for personal reasons, it’s unlikely I’ll have time to attend next year’s AGM in Washington, DC, but I hope to repeat this, with gowns made well ahead of time, for the Huntington Beach, CA AGM in 2017.

Locally, I’ll wear my costumes to JASNA events along with a dozen or so others who enjoy that aspect of study of Austen and Regency.

On July 8 and 9, 2016, the town of Port Alberni, BC, Canada (about 3 hours from me, on Vancouver Island) is hosting its first Jane Austen Festival, and claims an intention to break the world record for Regency costuming. I’ll be there, and I hope I can throw some of my extra gowns on some friends, including enticing a few from around the world to come visit me while they help Port Alberni with its goal. With vintage dresses and fabric, I have the basics for at least a dozen gowns, never mind that I yearn to tackle fabric and look a little like Sue did on Saturday!

~

Future posts:

  • Side issues and tips related to attending an AGM.
  • Reprint of a Regency-related article I wrote for another web site.
  • A blurb and teaser for my latest novel-length story, Letter from Ramsgate, rated Teen, which will be posted in full at A Happy Assembly. Join us in the group read and story comments! AHA is a members-only web site dedicated to Austen-inspired fiction, research of Austen and Regency topics, and the resulting social interactions. It has over 9000 members worldwide, and 500 completed Austen-inspired stories. Membership is simply to ensure readers are over 18, and your personal information remains as personal as you choose.
  • I have other writing projects underway, and blurbs or excerpts will be shared here in the future!

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?

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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!

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!

Convertibles aren’t just for Road Trips #thriftyregency

A Regency-costumed event that’s longer than a 21st century afternoon poses a problem: you need at least two gowns! From waking until dinner (at 4pm), you’ll wear a morning gown, which is modest, with full- or three-quarter-length sleeves and a high neckline. As the day wears on, you’ll be allowed short sleeves and a lower neckline, until the ball, when the bodice is brief. This is called “full dress,” as in the lady is fully dressed up in her best!

Sometimes a gown for “later in the day” was worn with a lightweight, white fabric insert or cover at the bodice and/or long sleeves, temporarily sewn under the short sleeves, for a morning gown look.

Chemisettes, Tuckers, and Fichus

A chemisette is similar to a dickey in fine white fabric: it tucks into the gown neckline to make it high cut, and cover the chest, shoulders, and back. It has a collar to suit a morning gown look.

A flat, sheer fabric panel called a lace tucker can be worn to artificially raise the neckline a few inches for an afternoon or dinner gown. It’s like the chemisette without the collar.

Alternatively, a lace triangle like a small shawl or scarf can be worn atop the gown and tied at the centre front, and this is called a fichu.

All of the above were made of light, translucent or sheer fabrics such as fine Regency muslin, cotton, or heavier net. They tended to be white with lace or whitework (white embroidery, drawn thread techniques, or darning) accents, not unlike the lace caps we saw in an earlier post.

Removable long sleeves took care of the other aspect of modesty, and these were often made in the same fabric as the gown.

In the late Regency, there was also a “summer bodice,” which was a high-necked, full bodice with long sleeves. It was super-light muslin, and sometimes had stays incorporated into it.

Re-purposing to make any of these items for yourself is an easy project. Some of the alternatives suggest “sewing,” which can be accomplished by use of no-sew tape.*

chemisettechemisette metMake your own chemisette:

The top of a white, sheer, natural fabric blouse can easily become a chemisette: Excess fabric is cut away to leave a dickey-like garment.

Fabric for the chemisette should not be stretchy or look synthetic. The chest should not be covered with ruffles, and a tuxedo style is not Regency, but fine pin-tucks, sections of smocking or ruching, simple lace, or embroidery on the front are nice. Embroidery designs should be reasonable for Regency. Silver or white are the best colours, with natural or simple geometric patterns. Please, no psychedelic stuff!

The blouse should have a collar that fits close to the neck. Almost any style but double lapel, drapey cowl, or boat-neck will be fine, and ruffled collars were common on chemisettes. If there is no collar, add some lace to achieve the look.

To make your chemisette, put the blouse on under the gown, mark the neckline in a wash-out product. Trace a parallel line to the neckline about 1 ½-2” wider on each side and cut off excess. Finish the cut edges.**

Disguise or replace modern-looking buttons and button holes on the blouse.*** Remove zippers and, if necessary, replace with ties, easily made from a pair of matching narrow ribbons about 6” long, tacked at the edge of the opening. Hand sewing is recommended for this. Make sure visible stitches look neat. Note one of the examples uses ties to hold the chemisette in place, too.

Lace Tucker, 1820's, French

Lace Tucker, 1820’s, French

Make your own lace tucker:

This is like a chemisette, but simple, collarless, and flat. The fabric should be similar to the caps we saw in a previous post: white-on-white super-fine cotton or linen, so it’s sheer.

A lower kitchen or bathroom curtain with a nice lace design will be more than enough fabric. Remove any flounce. As in all areas of the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment, if you use polyester, it must be of good enough quality to appear as if it is fine cotton, linen, or silk.

If you can’t find a nicer curtain panel, a scrap of fine, sheer fabric with a lace insert, or a panel of a sheer silk scarf with an interesting design can be made into a tucker if trimmed, hemmed, and remade into a shape like in the photo above.

Underwear and convertibles, tTSRCEThe second pillowcase from the set of two for $1.99 (lower right in photo; the other was to be made into my cap) will be my tucker. If the outside edge of the lace pattern is wide enough, I can cut right up to it, and the heaviness of the Battenberg tape will suffice for an edge, otherwise I’ll have to leave a hemmed panel to tuck in.

It’s up to the wearer to decide the coverage, i.e., depending on preference, the neckline can be looser about your neck. For a morning gown look, it should be close to your neck, so I would need to add a back slit with ribbon ties on mine. Otherwise, a bigger hole is required to fit my head after hemming. Finish cut edges as needed.**

Make yourself a Regency fichu:mid-18thc-fichu whitework embroidered met museum fichu

A light shawl-type garment, the basic design of a fichu is a white or light-coloured lace triangle in natural fibres. Its size can vary, but it must wrap over the shoulders to cover any the back to the neckline, then tie or tuck at the centre front neckline: in most cases 30 inches on the long side will suffice. Either an all-over lace design or something special on the two short sides of the triangle is desirable. It should be white on white, or at most, minimal pale or silver embroidery.

A square silk scarf with an intricate border, folded or cut in half on the diagonal;** a sheer triangular evening shawl; or similar garment will work.fichu 3

The corner of a lace or sheer curtain panel or tablecloth with a wider embroidered, lace, or applique edge is a good choice, if you can find one where the fabric looks natural and not plastic. I had no luck there, but I know I’ve seen them.

Another option is a doily or lace table runner. The rectangular doily at top centre in the photo is 16 inches on the long side. It can be cut on the diagonal, then the pieces moved and the short edges attached so it makes a triangle. Similar to the Regency cap I made, this lace is a bit heavier than true Regency, and I suggest working to find something lighter weight.

Fake sleeves:

Dress with long sleeves removed, 1818, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dress with long sleeves removed, 1818, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Matching detachable sleeves from gown of 1818, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Matching detachable sleeves from gown of 1818, Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the same vein, it was not uncommon for a gown to have removable sleeves to create a morning gown from an evening gown. They fit over or under the short, puffed sleeves. Sometimes, they were made in the same fabric as the gown.

Basic sewing skills are recommended for making a convertible gown by removing long, puffed sleeves from a thrift shop gown and remaking both sleeves, or making new sleeves to be added.

If you choose to cut a long sleeve off, co-ordinating fabric will be needed for the cuff of a new short sleeve. It may be possible to steal it from elsewhere on the dress: a wide hem, a too-long skirt, moving a seam, the cuff of the long sleeve, etc. If you’re lucky, you might find a scrap elsewhere in the same colour and texture—but unless you made the original dress, that’s almost impossible. Cuffs were narrow, so it’s not a lot of fabric, but it should co-ordinate well, and match any cuff on the long sleeve.

If a match proves difficult, a complimentary fabric that’s obviously unmatched can enhance your gown if you use it elsewhere, for example, make the cuff from the same complimentary ribbon at the gown’s high waist or new trim you’ve added at the neckline or on the skirt hem. Another alternative is to put coordinating flat lace over the cuff to disguise a slight mismatch.

If the original long sleeve was puffed, the part you cut off should be narrowed a bit, and the end to be tucked under the new short sleeve should be finished with matching bias tape so you can keep as much length as possible, yet have a sturdy edge to whip-stitch inside when needed. Don’t make the cuff or new long sleeve too tight!

If you’re making new sleeves, keep in mind that Regency long sleeves tended to be very long and close-fitted. Take advantage of making them new, and have them go from inside the cuff of your short sleeve to your fingertips, flared a bit to go over your hand. Wear them slightly tugged up along your arms.

New sheer long sleeves can be added over a puffed sleeve, too, as in the example from this article in Jane Austen’s World.

When you want to wear the long sleeves, you baste or whip stitch the tops of them inside the cuffs of the short sleeves.

My cool idea for an alternate!

An interesting additional option makes it super-simple to create a convertible gown: A very lightweight, white, sheer or lace, long- or three-quarter-sleeve blouse with a high neckline and collar, in cotton, silk, or similar fabrics, can be worn under or over the corset of a ball gown!

You now have a combination of a chemisette, a set of removable sleeves, and the top of the chemise. You can see the effect under the fuschia under/overdress in the photo of my selections, above.

Add a floor-length half-slip or your version of pantalettes, pop on your ball gown, and you have a morning gown, and you’re ready to make calls!

But watch out—the “morning” didn’t start until 11 am, and a fifteen minute stay was all that was polite unless you were close to the hostess. Of course, you didn’t want to risk offense by making any assumption, so at fourteen minutes, you began to say your farewells! It took more time to travel between calls than was taken chatting!

The AHA Chat Chits could not handle that. At least they would be able to ghost a bit in the carriage. I wonder what priorities in conversation would be chosen if they had to minimize their chat time? Austen’s novels? Novels based on Austen’s work Hot men? Chocolate? Dodgy history topics?

When the night time comes, of course, the add-ons come off and you’re left with the abbreviated bodice again! Roll that top down, honey, it’s a convertible, and it’s time to have fun!car looking back cropped for header

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NEXT POST: I’m running out of time in this series, because I promised to show the whole costume by the end of June, and we still have to do reticules, bling, show the final outfit, and provide the quick checklist. I’m pretty sure reticules will be two posts, unless I can figure out how to show how to make the clever designs without showing the whole process.

Anything I don’t absolutely need for a base costume will be in bonus posts, though: Outerwear (spencer, pelisse, shawl), additional accessories (fan, parasol), ball gown, the “tricks” to fake Regency, In addition, I had an idea for give-away’s in Louisville.

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Notes:

* “No-sew” or hemming tape is a non-woven tape that can be used instead of machine or hand sewing where there is not too much load or stress on the seam. It must not be used alone for such things like setting sleeves, bodice seams, crotch seams, or attaching a skirt. It works well for hemming and finishing cut edges. It comes in two types: iron-on (fusible) or no-iron, which is similar to double-sided tape, but the tape is fabric and not plastic.

** When you adjust the product you buy or salvage at home, you should finish the cut edges by machine or hand stitching, or with ¼” wide hemming or “no-sew” tape. Invisible cut edges can be hemmed with a double fold pressed in before attaching. If the edge is visible, a narrow ribbon, flat lace, or matching narrow bias tape is nice.

*** The Problem of Regency Buttons

Pearl and metal buttons, 1780 to 1820, Luckcock Collection, Birmingham Museum of Art

Pearl and metal buttons, 1780 to 1820, Luckcock Collection, Birmingham Museum of Art

In what remains of her letters, Jane Austen commented to her sister, Cassandra, that buttons were expensive. Examples from the Regency can be seen in the photo. It’s not easy to find inexpensive buttons to match, and reproductions come with a hefty price tag. There is also the issue of hand-sewing buttonholes or eyelets to be authentic.

The good news is that buttons and laces appear to have been used in only about 20% of gowns: ties were more common, as well as hooks and eyes.

If your chemisette (or gown) has modern buttons, you should replace them. Oyster-shell buttons or kits for self-covered buttons are inexpensive and common in fabric stores. The self-covered button-making kits are easy for the novice. They were common on waistcoats for men.

green and sapphire blog dorset buttonsThe craftier costumer may like to try making buttons from cording, such as knot buttons or Dorset buttons. It takes a fair bit of experience on larger sizes to be able to make Dorset buttons well. Small plastic loops in bags of around 20 are inexpensive in draperies departments of fabric stores. Sea Green and Sapphire has a tutorial.

button knot from paracord knots on youtube croppedIn my old sailing days, I tried making a Monkey’s Fist knot one rainy Saturday, and it took far more time and patience than I had, and I was working with rope large enough to make a knot a little large than the size of a ping-pong or squash ball. This is a bit simpler, and Paracord Knots’ video shows how to make it.

If you’re sensitive that the existing button holes on your chemisette or gown look machine made, either hide or remove the button hole panel, with alternatives as follows:

  • Remove the button-hole panel, re-hem, and add fine ribbon ties or make loops for the buttons at the neck, plus more locations as needed. The edges do not have to overlap: the layers of other underthings will hide skin!
  • 56971c90f8e009296c2e1547df3b8135In front, hide with trim such as a co-ordinating flat lace panel. When you attach this trim, leave gaps to allow access to fasten buttons. Replace buttons with flat ones if they make lumps on the trim panel. For a gown, check out historical pieces with decorative panels on the front of gowns, such as the example.
  • For back buttons, use period-looking buttons large enough to cover most of the hole.

Note that frogs are not the best choice for this type of garment, but are good for outerwear in the Regency.

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I had a good shopping day today. I found satin ballet flats in white and in pink, plus buff-coloured flat, laced ankle boots, with a light sole and heel, for Regency half-boots.

Ribbons were on sale in a craft store, and I got a dozen colours of varying widths. Some will be for the tricks that I’ll show as a bonus post after this series ends the end of June, and some will be used for that Lydia hat.

All this modifying of gowns has made me consider making a simple one or two, and there just happened to be Regency-looking fabric for $7.99 for 2.5m at Value Village. I hope it doesn’t wind up in my closet for 20 years like the last time I said I’d make a dress!

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