Regency Bad Hair Day? Wrap a Turban!

Mihrimah Sultan, daughter of Suleyman the Magnificent and Roxelana of Ukraine

Mihrimah Sultan, daughter of Suleyman the Magnificent and Roxelana of Ukraine

When Regency fashionista Lord Byron was invited to visit Topkapi Palace in 1810, the Ottoman Turks refused to recognize his peerage and, as a non-diplomat, he was ranked behind everyone else. In hopes of changing their minds, the well-known dandy arrived in the most impressive “scarlet regimentals topped by a profusely feathered cocked hat,” but the Ottoman Turks were not swayed: he would take his place at the end of the line, behind all the staff of the embassy.

Woman in Turkish Clothing--Jean Etienne Liotard

Woman in Turkish Clothing–Jean Etienne Liotard

According to Stratford Canning, the embassy secretary and a good friend, Byron shot them a “look of scornful indignation which so well became his fine imperious features” and stormed away to sulk in his chambers over the ordeal.(1)

Marie Therese Princess von Esterhazy (Almack's Patroness)--Alois Maria Martignon

Marie Therese Princess von Esterhazy (Almack’s Patroness)–Alois Maria Martignon

I visited Topkapi 15 years ago, and Byron should have counted his blessings for the chance see the inner sanctum, which at that time was rarely seen by outsiders. Obviously, he wasn’t the fashion scout who brought back the turbans shown in numerous fashion plates and paintings in the late 18th and 19th century, including the Regency. Marie-Louise-Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun was partial to them; they’re featured in many of her paintings.

(Click on thumbnails for larger images.)


Self-Portrait (1800)--Marie-Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

Self-Portrait (1800)–Marie-Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

Mlle du Pront (1812) --Marie-Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

Mlle du Pront (1812) –Marie-Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun








In the twenty-first century, the turban is a great alternative to a fancy Regency hairstyle for those of us with short hair or unable to style our own complex up-do. You’ll need an attractive silk panel long enough to wrap around your head twice and wide enough to cover your hair while doing so (such as an oblong scarf), lots of bobby pins and safety pins, and decorative trim.scarves table runner and pareo potential turban plus hair piece

I had a choice of a number of scarves, table runners, and a pareo, as shown. Some fabrics and prints didn’t look Regency, so I didn’t use them. Dresser scarves; a length of smooth silk or similar fabric 10-20” wide and 4-5 feet long, with neatly finished ends; a small, light silk shawl or wrap; or similar fabric finds will work. It’s nice to have fringed, tasseled, or otherwise decorated ends to dangle, but not necessary.

turban 2 raw materials incl pins, hairband, bobby pinsFor my first turban, I chose two oblong scarves in complimentary fabrics, one with a lace pattern on the end, and the other with fringe. They were purchased at Value Village for $5.99 and $3.99.turban 2 first panel on head

After trying to create the look a couple of times, I realized a hairband was a helpful cheat—the kind that has elastic threads woven through so it’s a bit “sticky” both sides—when set just behind the front curls of my hair to hold the slippery fabric from sliding off my head. Here are the steps I used for this turban (for larger images, click on thumbnails):turban 2 drape of 2 scarves

  • Anchor the lace end of the lighter-coloured scarf to the hair band using bobby pins; cover the crown of the head.
  • Arrange the second scarf so it drapes behind the front curls on one side; tuck bobby pins under it to anchor it to the temple.
  • Drape this scarf across top of head, attach with bobby pins hidden underneath.
  • Use a safety pin or two to join both scarves at that point.turban 2 twisting the scarves
  • Loosely twist scarves and wrap around the head.
  • Use bobby pins hidden under the edge to anchor the first turn and hidden safety pins to anchor the second turn.
  • Near the end of the wrapping, twist the second scarf back so the second fringed end drapes alongside the first and tuck the other end of the lace scarf around the turban so it looks nice.turban 2 final wrap right side
  • Secure with safety pins hidden within the folds.

Attach your choice of decorative trim: I used some curled ribbon, an elephant from a card holder, and some floral stamens, tied together with fine wire, with a safety pin attached behind to pin the arrangement to the turban.turban 2 left rearturban 2 right rear

turban 2 decorationUpon scrutiny, when I sorted my photos for this blog, I realized this turban is a bit small and under-decorated. I suck at the latter, and you’ll see that when we get to hats, too. But I try, and no excellence is acquired without constant practice! **Squints eyes in suspicion that Martha Stewart may be channeling Lady Catherine de Bourgh!**turban 2 frontAn interesting piece of cording or ribbon can be attached to the scarves when you first join the two, then twisted along with them; ideally it will make a full circle with them. A third scarf, or sturdier/heavier fabric, would make a more noticeable head dress, and lighter coloured, bigger trim would help.

Aside: A couple of weeks ago, I was in Mexico and scored a couple meters of ribbon, parasol fringe, wide lace, braid for my spencer, and an ostrich feather, for $5 total, but misplaced the ostrich feather, or I would have used it to dress this up. I’ll find it and use it later!


Turban 1 materialsThe materials for my other turban can be seen: I scored a Pier One lined silk table runner with cool thread-wrapped ball tassels for $7.99 at Value Village. Someone had tossed it because of a small amount of candle wax, which I removed by placing an absorbent cloth over the wax, then using a hot iron to melt the wax.

I’ve shown extra trim ideas: “jewels” from a pair of broken thongs ($1 at Value Village), an old barrette of mine with a topaz-coloured leaf design, dried and gold painted seeds, and a $5 hat pin from Salvation Army.

Be imaginative when looking for trim. You can attach a safety pin to your decoration with sturdy tape like duct tape.

The heavier fabric was difficult to work with, and I struggled with it for a long time, even though I used a simple wrap method in the video link below. Had I used a lot more pins and the hair band, I think it would have taken less effort. The end product looks nice, though.turban 1 croppedturban 1 right rear croppedturban 1 left rear croppedI used a bobby pin to secure a fan of guinea fowl feathers (never tasted it—apparently it’s quite good!), and a Swarovski crystal stick pin I got as a freebie years ago in Innsbruck when I bought a crystal kitty. I used double-sided tape to add a sand dollar medallion that I think came with a bookmark that fell apart, but I can’t be sure—there were short pieces of ribbon still attached. I’d tossed it in with buttons and beads. I do keep some stuff!

Lady Charlotte Susan Maria Bury (née Campbell) (1812)--Archibald Skirving

Lady Charlotte Susan Maria Bury (née Campbell) (1812)–Archibald Skirving

These three links show alternative ways to wrap a turban, and some nice trim ideas:

Lynn McMasters shows three ways to make a turban. There used to be a video for this but I can no longer find it.

American Duchess has a video of a simple technique for wrapping a turban. I used a similar technique for the table runner turban. You don’t have to do the end twisting steps if you like your turban simple—just pin them to hold.

1810s Eléonore de Montmorency

1810s Eléonore de Montmorency

Jen Thompson makes her turban like a cap, so you make it and then put it on, rather than twisting it on your head. Sewing is involved in this one.

Portret van Catharina Valentina van der Kun (1811-1813)--Gijsbertus Johannus van den Berg

Portret van Catharina Valentina van der Kun (1811-1813)–Gijsbertus Johannus van den Berg

I have a brimless soft velvet hat that I used on a visor for the hat mock-up shown in a previous post with my morning gown; it looks a lot like the first part of Jen’s tutorial. A fringed silk scarf wound around it, and perhaps my wayward ostrich feather, and it would be just the thing!




A follow-up to my last post: The rat on the door knob in the photo of scarves on the door is a clamp-on hairpiece I purchased for $9.99 at Value Village, then shampooed and conditioned. It’s got a nice wave and it’s a good match to my hair—and my hairdresser could make it perfect for an event. At my age, “redhead” is either memories of my youth or an hour at her salon!

I had a little time yesterday, so I tied it into a ponytail (which looks like a bun over the hair clamp) and then pinned the waves into curls, letting them curve the way they wanted to, and sprayed everything liberally. Then I put most of my own bobbed hair into a ponytail, and clamped the thing over it. The bun looked odd, so I tied a ribbon around the base of it. This weekend I had my 30th wedding anniversary, so I thought I’d show you the roses along with my ‘ in fall with roses

hair in fall back viewHad I more time, I’d have fussed with the loose ends of hair at my nape to make pin curls. One could tie a twisted pair of scarves around the hairline and in behind the curls—essentially, the turban I made already, but without covering the back of the head.

This hair-do is huge compared to my intention. If I decide to wear it for real, I’ll have to figure out how to do it so the curls wrap around the base rather than look like a pouf on top of a bun. cream-puffsThat’s a look reserved for pâte à choux and crème fouettée. Yeah, that emoticon! Hey—it looks a bit like… like… a turban!







Regency print detail c. 1803 Here's an example of a turban a woman of fashion might have worn.turban and sleeve 3turban and sleeve 2turban and sleeve 1




Here are some more turbans, and some sleeve ideas for that dress!




NEXT POST: For the married woman or spinster, another sneaky way to hide your hair is to wear a CAP! When you go outdoors, you plop your hat or bonnet over it. It’s not a dressy enough look for a ball, where the turban is a better choice, but for day-wear, it rocks! PLUS a sneak peak at HATS! Be there or be square.


1. Richmond, Steven (2014): The Voice of England in the East: Stratford Canning and Diplomacy with the Ottoman Empire. London: 2014 I.B. Tauris and Co. Ltd.


NEWS FLASH!! Edited May 4 9:27pm PDT to add Livia (Guiggioli) Firth’s Plastic Bottle gown!

The Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment started as a project to obtain a more affordable, nicer style of gown without designing it and sewing it myself (although the design part is coming into it in a big way, and my stitch ripper is getting a workout!). I’ve always been a sustainability advocate, so it was natural to re-use beautiful “found” materials. As I delved farther into this project and started to get feedback, it became evident that the repurposing/upcycling aspect was huge to others. I started to pay attention to it, rather than just assume it was an ordinary thing to do.

I’d love to snag Livia’s Antonio Berardi gown after the Met Gala, to remake. (We love the Met historical costumes on this blog!). She’s so tiny, even with the beautiful trailing wrap, I doubt there’s enough fabric there for my back gathers! A sketch of the back detail of her gown is shown with this article and in this photo. She sure looks like she’s having fun!


May 26, 2016 update on tying the turban:

At the Louisville JASNA AGM, a vendor showed Author Linda Beutler and I an easier way of tying a turban than the method above or in some videos. Women often start from the back, like we tie bath towels on wet hair. The vendor said a Canadian showed her that if you first position the middle of the turban scarf across the front of your hair, just behind the curls, it’s easier.

You cross the ends at the nape of your neck and loop them back over themselves. Pull the ends forward and twist the fabric as desired. Bring the ends up over the first bit, cross them and loop back over themselves again. Tuck or safety pin ends to hold in place, or tie in an attractive knot. It’s nice to leave one or the other end dangling, especially if it has fringe or an attractive design, such as that of a Kashmir scarf. Fold and tuck in the parts you don’t want loose and pin where needed, hiding the pin in the fabric folds. Secure to hair with bobby pins as needed, though I didn’t need near as many with this process.

My turban looked good on the first attempt, whereas the other way, I had many lumpy failures. For the Grand Ball at JASNA, I started with the fabric (the same silk table scarf as above) slightly off-centre (one end longer than the other) so the final tie of the fabric was off to one side of my head. There’s lots of inspiration for how to tie them in Madame Vigée Le Brun’s paintings.

The finer scarves in the first attempt at a turban (above) are nice for those wearing their hair in “The Titus” or hiding the pinned-on portion of a hairpiece.

Were Regency gowns worn on the Titanic?

Hey! There’s an Alfred Angelo prom dress at “Vinny’s Second Wife’s Closet” in your favourite colour! But before you buy it, rip it apart and remake it, check the prices of custom-made Regency gowns. They start at just under $100, and an appropriate, good-quality morning dress can be purchased for $150-250, a pretty ball gown will cost around $200-450, breathtaking concoctions go for up to $1000, and the sky’s the limit for exact reproductions of specialty gowns.

All of a sudden your $200 used, strapless polyester with the fitted waist and sequined empire bodice seems a bit dear. Think of the fun, though! Trying to adjust it to get gathers in back, shopping for fabric that’s a reasonable match for sleeves, never mind re-working the bodice to attach them. And you just cut a hole in the nipple area while removing that sequin!

One thing I learned is that a suitable re-purposed dress is not that easy to find in thrift and vintage stores, in fact, that’s how I made the list of what not to buy: those dresses were in the majority. In order to make this blog as authentic as possible, I didn’t depend on others and stuck to my “rules.” But the reader can freely ask friends and relatives to raid their attics, get advice or assistance from a seamstress, or buy a product.

I set my upper limit for a used gown at $100 for a dress with little modification required. The most I’ve spent so far was $50 for a pelisse gown, which I admit was a bad purchase. My morning gown cost under $35, and needs less than $10 worth of modifications, plus my time, and though not perfect, it will be close enough in style, with better fabric and yards more lace than a $150 made-to-order one on eBay or Etsy.

As with anything, you get what you pay for, and the cheapest purpose-made Regency gowns are not worth buying. Gowns under $150 are usually machine-made using inexpensive fabric and simple construction, are not fitted properly—and are being sold as Victorian/Regency/Steampunk/Pioneer/Hippie/Jane Austen/Titanic dresses! What happened to Downton Abbey? Author Melanie Schertz found one with that on the list, too!

idea for accessories with morning gownHowever, a strict budget and no time to shop in vintage stores changes things; if so, buy a simple pre-made Regency gown and augment it. For example, a white dress with simple gathered neckline and sleeves can be dressed up with ribbon and lace and pretty accessories. An overdress or robe can be purchased in a colour you like to make it into evening wear.1813 la belle assemblee evening gown1812 Costume Parisien Dress and manteau (train) trimmed with marten (fur) (Click on thumbnails to enlarge.)







I still love the idea of vintage, though, because it affords a budget opportunity to have a gown that doesn’t look like it would be at home on the Titanic! In addition, I have a bit of a crush on Colin Firth, and his wife, green fashion advocate Livia Guiggioli, would approve of a re-purposed gown. She’d approve of Pemberley, too. Maybe he’ll buy it for her!

In an earlier post, I had a list of items to avoid in purchasing a vintage dress or re-using a dress from your closet. This time, we look at what to shop for and examples of good vintage dresses.

When I shop for a potential Regency gown in a vintage or thrift store, I walk down the dress aisles looking at the floor. Depending on the hanger bar height, if the dress touches or puddles on the floor compared to its neighbours, it has length. If the fabric and colour look okay, I pick up the skirt. Often the fabric looks okay from farther back, but is knit, and I drop it. Then I look at the whole dress, evaluating for necessary modifications. I’d guess that 90% get rejected due to unworkable designs.

The last thing is size. As we all know, marked sizes are inconsistent. In a second-hand situation, a clerk may have guessed for the tag, and the dress may have been taken in or home-made. I’ve always had problems with size, because my bust is a good size larger than the rest of me, so if the shoulders fit, the bust doesn’t. It’s important to try it on. I know it sounds creepy, but it’s rare for anything to be smelly, and I wash the clothing as soon as I get it home!

Ideal characteristics for re-purposing a gown:

  • Minimum 8” wide extra fabric at the bra-band level as you pull it out flat while wearing the dress (16” actual length since the fabric is doubled up) for back gathering; more is better. The early Regency hem brushes the tops of the shoes, so if a fitted dress is too long with your ballet flats, pull up the skirt to see if this gains extra fabric width for gathers at the top.
  • Regency fabrics or visually reasonable facsimiles (Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion has some great examples).
  • If no Empire waistline, there should be no sewn waistline front or back, or if so, the skirt should be long enough when pulled up under the bust. Later Regency was ankle length, and ribbon or lace can be used to add a couple of inches.
  • Bodice should be a close fit, but not too tight—you should be able to remove visible zippers and replace with ties, laces, or buttons and loops.
  • Puffed sleeves about 3-6” long (underarm) that don’t puff high. This is the most difficult requirement, as they were only common for short spurts a few times in our history. See photos below for alternatives that work and, in a later post, I’ll show some examples for faux-puffed sleeves using minimal spare fabric from your gown.
  • Non-Regency details should be easy to remove, hide with trim, or modify without being obvious.

Other details for Regency:

  • Back bodice either flat and fitted or gathered to mirror the skirt.
  • Front bodice style varies a great deal in Regency.

I’ve shown a few bodice examples, and while you’re looking at them, enjoy the sleeve style variety, too. You can click on the thumbnails to enlarge the image.

Evening dress 1818-20 cream silk and wool mix trimmed with green satin1810 cropped1810 cotton metallic thread met interesting neckline croppedcan do this with the net for blue dress croppedThe Rendezvous Reginald Edward Arnold croppedFrench School XIX century A young lady with a lyre cropped.met museum 1815 bodice and sleeve detail1810 orange croppedcotton muslin 1820 note back closures1805-1810 muslin with metal star embroidery and back ties croppedback bodice 1811












Dress, 1810-15, French, cotton, The Met cropped




Dresses requiring very little modification:

  • Hippie dresses.
  • Empire waist “round” dresses: gathered all around.
  • 80’s dresses, though the puffed sleeve may be large and high and the dress may not be long enough—but there’s nothing wrong with adding lace to the hemline, and we’ll look at other tricks in a later post.
  • Empire-waist gowns with straight skirts, but not fitted and flared. Then another dress can be used for an overlay or robe for the skirt with the gathering at back, and perhaps sleeves.
  • Regular-waisted dresses, if the skirt is long enough to be lifted up to under the bust and still barely brush the tops of the shoes.
  • Gowns that work otherwise, with sleeves large enough to be made into puffed sleeves.

The Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment is intended to be a minimal-sewing project, but in case some readers have greater ambition, there are more gowns that will work.

Sewing and fitting will be required:

  • Caftans, with a single fabric, not too heavily patterned. You’ll have to fit the bodice, modify the sleeves, and gather the “skirt” fabric in the centre back.
  • Too-large evening gowns, if the top of the skirt is big enough to make gathers in the back and the bodice suits being pulled into back-gathers with the skirt, or you do not mind fitting the bodice.
  • Sleeveless or strapless gowns with enough skirt fabric for empire with back gathers, plus other extra fabric for sleeves (a matching shawl or wrap, a bodice overlay that can be removed leaving an attractive bodice, a lining, or extra skirt fabric). It’s difficult to buy a coordinating blouse or fabric to make sleeves, because it’s almost impossible to match colour and texture.
  • A skirt from one dress and bodice from a blouse or a short dress—it’s better if the darker colour is on top.

Some bodice enlargement insert ideas (click on thumbnails to enlarge):1810 evening dress V and A cropped1805 croppedidea for bugle lace



To add a few inches to get extra fabric for gathering (click on thumbnails to enlarge):1812-July-Evening-Dress-blueRed gauze dress with chenille embroidery. A light open weave fabric woven in Scotland, gauze or leno, ca 1808

Notes on adding trim:

  • If you want to tie a bow in a waist ribbon, it needs to be about five feet longer than your waist measurement. If it is a wider ribbon, you can attach it to the dress to keep it flat, but I recommend a loose whip stitch unless you never want to change it for another look. An alternative is reinforce it with a second ribbon or stiff fabric of matching width an inch short of your waist size, attached on both edges with fabric tape in the middle section of the ribbon, to keep it from folding over.
  • If you intend to add lace to the bottom of the skirt, it can be flat or gathered. Pre-gathered lace can be bought in several widths, though colours are limited. If you find flat lace you want gathered, you need 2½ to three times the length of your hemline. Run a baste stitch and gather (hand sew ½” long stitches near the top edge for about 2-3 foot intervals; tighten the baste stitches uniformly to match the skirt edge). Attach with the fabric tape. If you attach outside, you should then attach a ribbon with fabric tape over the top edge to hide it. Overlap the ends the width of the fabric tape and secure.


That’s it for the three-post introductory series on Gowns. My initial plan for this Experiment involved one complete outfit by the end of June, so I have success with my morning gown, and we’ll see the rest of the items in future posts. I also said if I had time, I’d include a ball gown. Counting forward, and knowing I can’t post every week, my time is tight! But I will continue posting my projects beyond the initial Experiment, and a ball gown and spencer are in my plans!



Cool links:

Fashion examples from 1808 to 1828 from E.K. Duncan.

The Repository of arts, literature, commerce, manufactures, fashions and politics, published in 1809 by R. Ackermann

The Mirror of the Graces, a ladies’ etiquette book from 1811.


Images are from Pinterest, most originating from museum pages. If interested in the source of any particular image, contact me for more details.