Special Headwear for the Grown-up Lady

1806 capIf you asked a reader of Regency Romance what character would wear a cap, they would say a married woman or a spinster. But what makes a spinster, and why would they wear a cap? The reader would reply, an unmarried woman past her prime would wear a cap. But they might be vague on why.

To signify she was off the marriage market? To indicate her age? To allow her to avoid fussing over her appearance for yet another unproductive Season? So she could sit on the sidelines and not dance until the handsome rake/Lord noticed her? Ah, the appearance of a Regency Romance cliché!

The whole thing must have been confusing. Married women wore a cap, so it would follow that the odd time, the rake would have flirted with Lady Offlimits—until Lord Offlimits showed. There might be a better chance of it, since the spinster would have been passed by repeatedly, implying she was never as vivacious as Lady Offlimits. Unless, of course, she was crossed in love. Another Regency Romance cliché.

For the 21st century woman, the choice of a cap is personal. I figure it’s a lot like the turban: a way to hide your non-Regency hair indoors when your hat or bonnet must come off. If you’re married, or single and proud of it, you certainly have the option, and would have in the Regency. We’ll just assume that you have to be a grown-up to wear a cap: old enough to be married.

doily cap materialsdoily cap tie off start

 

 

 

 

doily cap threading one

 

One of great-Grandma Lauder’s tatted doilies, 21 inches in diameter, was easy to make into a cap. I tied a matching ribbon to a point about 2½” from the edge and pinned a safety pin to the other end. The safety pin helped me to weave the ribbon in and out around the doily at 2½” from the edge until about 2½” from the start point, gathering in the fullness. I tightened the ribbon so the “cap” fit my head loosely, then tied the other end off, too. Then I tied a bow to tighten the cap with once in place.

It’s a bit big for my head, and droops, but I have a small head. I still think it looks rather pretty.doily cap gatherdoily cap

Bonnet  cap 1806

1806 cap/bonnet

The trouble is, I doubt many caps looked like this, so at best, it’s graded as a “closed parasol”: okay in a pinch, but not correct. The one shown from 1806 has some similarities in appearance from the front, but it’s not the same construction. You see, I had mistaken the idea of a lace cap as a cap made of heavier lace like tatting, and had not paid a great deal of attention to real examples.

In actual fact, Regency caps were made from  fine cotton, muslin, or linen, often with whitework embroidery, including eyelets, drawn thread techniques, and areas cut away so lace-like darning can fill the area.

1806

Back view showing embroidery on 1806 cap/bonnet.

side view, 1806 bonnet

Side view, 1806 cap/bonnet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston lace cap, 1815

Lace cap, 1815, Boston Museum of Fine Arts

First half 19th century, Europe - Cap - Cotton mull with cotton embroidery, linen bobbin lace insertion, and silk ribbonmfa.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources of whitework might be found on a pillow sham as seen below, as well as handkerchiefs, scarves, or tablecloths. The shams, found at a small thrift shop for $1.99 for the pair, have some large drawn thread panels that can be used to make a cap, but it will be complicated.pillow sham for creating cap

The first step will be to figure out how best to select the panels of embroidery, then where to cut them for the right shapes to piece together for a cap. The panels should be sewn together because of the complex shapes and need for fine, flat seams. Ruffles on the front edge of the hat and ties at the throat seem to be optional, which saves me some fussing.

I’ve been watching for a pattern that may better suit my situation before I start this project. The one shown may not be perfect, but it may be all I have.

The Female's Friend and General Domestic Adviser Robert Huish~

With all the mention of what your hair will look like if you remove your headwear, and all the alternatives, we have yet to spend any time on hats and bonnets! Is that a bit like Chicken Little, worried about something unknown that may never come to pass?Hat from Karl August Hagberg painting1810 from Ackermann, three types of headwear

 

 

 

 

napoleon exhibitIt could be that your event is an out-of-doors afternoon Promenade. A Regency lady would wear some kind of head covering outdoors to give her an air of modesty. To shield her delicate skin from the sun, she may also carry a parasol, but it will not be a substitute for headwear, as in the drawing of the set of three ladies above.

Unless you plan to spend an appreciable amount of time indoors during the event, you might never need to remove that hat while in your Regency persona. Alternately, if you plan to attend a Regency ball in the evening, and take on your persona indoors, you need not don a hat or bonnet in the first place. My event, the Louisville, KY Jane Austen Society of North America Annual General Meeting in October 2015, will call for both.

1805 to 18101810 bonnet mfaHere are some of the wide variety of designs for Regency hats and bonnets from around 1810, as well as the original seven modern hats I collected to demonstrate what you can find in your closet, showing which ones will work and which are devoid of the famous grading parasol!

cap 1810 metChapeau a la Pamela. France, circa 1810.first 7 hatsNEXT POST, I’ll give some ideas on how these hats can be made into Regency hats or bonnets, and show step-by-step how I made a Capote hat with one of them. I may have time to make a second hat or the whitework cap before then, too.

~

Here is a cute article by Anna Snyder on the clichés mentioned above: How To Tell If You Are In a Regency Romance Novel

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 ‘do.hair 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.

Faking Purdy Locks: The Modern Hairstyle goes Regency

When my hair was long, the best up-do I could accomplish myself was the Olive Oyl look when attempting even the simplest bun! Now it’s cut in an angled bob, and the good news is the front is a nice length for some Regency curls around my face.

The most common Regency hair styles are centre-parted, with several ringlets close to the face and a fancy up-do. If you never had to take off your hat, the ringlets would be all you’d need. But if you go indoors, hats come off, so for me and other short-haired gals, other options are a must!

Jacoba Vetter--Charles Howard Hodges

Jacoba Vetter–Charles Howard Hodges

 

William Affleck

The Old Manse Garden–William Affleck

Even though most Regency women had long hair, worn up in public and taken down for nighttime,some had short haircuts. These tended to be combed forward and decorated with a ribbon or bandeau. Update below.

The balance of this post will focus on creating the illusion of the full Regency up-do.

Click on the thumbnails to see larger images that enhance the text of this post.

~

Planning the Grand Tour--Emil Brack

Planning the Grand Tour–Emil Brack

 

The Ringlets:

How to Style your Medium to Long Bangs into Ringlets

Your hair is straight or almost straight:

  • Part clean, damp hair in middle
  • Separate hair hold the rest back (a hairband can help):
    o If your hair suits curls that sit side-by-side like soldiers, separate in front of your ears.
    o If you have tapered bangs, your curls will drop like stair-steps down the side of the face, so separate about one inch back.
  • Starting at the back (or part for stair-steps), separate a section about 1” by 1”or finger-sized when gathered.
  • Spray the first section liberally with hair spray and roll into a cylinder using a curling iron or small-diameter hot roller.
  • If you have foam hair rollers the diameter of your finger or so, roll the curl off the iron and onto these, otherwise, secure to your other hair with bobby pins underneath each curl at each end. You can also use rags like the Bennet girls.
  • Repeat for all curls, at least two on each side.
    o You can also choose to have more curls, asymmetric ones, and/or a couple of curls at the base of your neck.
    o The curls can be fatter if you like. Just take a little more hair and use slightly larger roller.
    • Let cool and dry completely, then spray again lightly.
    • Loosen and drop one curl.
    o If it falls too long (long and/or very straight hair), re-attach to the hair underneath with a bobby pin each end and spray liberally with hair spray.
    o Make sure the pins are well-hidden since you’re going to leave them in for your event.
The Squire S Arrival--Mary E. Harding

The Squire S Arrival–Mary E. Harding

Your hair is wavy or curly:

  • Start with very wet hair: lightly pat wet hair with towel only until it no longer drips.
  • Separate and spray as above.
  • Spin hair section around your finger until it’s a medium-loose curl.
  • If desired, dry to damp with a diffuser. It will help to set the curl.
  • Spray generously again.
  • When my hair is done like this, it lasts through a couple of sleeps!
  • In the image, the women have allowed their hair to curl naturally.

How to Make Curls in your Short Bangs

Jane Austen

Jane Austen

Elizabeth Burney--George Smart

Elizabeth Burney–George Smart

Jane Austen wore little curls flat on her forehead.

  • Apply an “extreme hold” hair product.
  • Pin the curls, then scotch-tape the ends to your face. Remove carefully when dry.
  • If you have trouble getting the curl to stay:
    o Use a stronger-hold hair product, or
    o Learn from Punk rock—yes, you heard that right, Punk in a Regency blog!—by putting a small dab of water-soluble household glue (white glue, art glue, carpenter’s glue) in your wet hand, mix with a few drops of water and/or or your hair product, and then use it instead of gel.
    • To remove, soak with a wet cloth until fairly soft, then carefully shampoo out.
    • Do not tug too hard, instead, repeat wetting if it does not all come out.
  • Curls can be made after up-do is formed or headwear is secured, whichever you prefer.
    The Maiden Sweetly Fair and Pale--Rosa Koberwein

    The Maiden Sweetly Fair and Pale–Rosa Koberwein

    Roses--George Dunlop

    Roses–George Dunlop

As ubiquitous as they were, curls at the face were not mandatory. Note the two examples of styles where there are no tight curls at the face.

How to Fake Face Curls When You have No Bangs

Long hair, high hairlines, and super-short haircuts are not suited to Regency ringlets.

  • A Regency hairpiece seller on Etsy sells ringlets with an alligator clip for $10 each. That adds up if you want a pair or more on each side!
  • Curls of hair can be removed from one of those dolls with the “real” hair and “porcelain” face meant to be displayed rather than played with; they’re $8-12 at thrift stores.
    o Wrap tape around each curl, close to the doll’s scalp, and snip off. Leave tape in place.
    o Pin to your real hair in stair-steps fashion down the side of your hairline, OR tape individual curls to the underside of a hair band, leaving a slight space between each.
    o Cover pins/hair band with your long hair, a bandeau, or a turban.
    o With a turban, you could even select a new hair colour!
  • Update at the end of post!
  • An alternative: don’t worry about ringlets, and wear a fantastic hair band or turban to distract!

~

The Up-do:

How to Fake it on a Budget when your Hair is too Short for an Up-do

The Regency hair style was long hair dressed close to the head, without any poufy parts other than ringlets.

To get that long hair look, wigs, falls, or hairpieces can be pricey. An Etsy seller has attractive Regency hair pieces in 12 colours, starting at $10 for a single clip-on ringlet, with several styles of full Regency wig with lots of curls for $92. There’s also a $39 curly back bun, and $53 will buy a swirly, pretty one.

Accessories stores have fake hair:

  • $12 falls at Claire’s are straight, but can separated with lots of hair spray, then looped and pinned. Hide the ends with a fake braid ($7) from the same store, in four super-basic colours.
  • A bun maker ($3) and 1-3 braids work with a short ponytail. Bun hair will be an extra $5.
    o Braids can be roped around the bun’s base and then threaded out the centre and left dangly.
    o Braid material can be used to make some droops like Jane Bennet in P&P 1995.
    o You could wrap a braid around your head, behind your ringlets, like a hairband. This would hide the edges of fake ringlets.
  • Courtship--Edmund Blair Leighton

    Courtship–Edmund Blair Leighton

    For bobbed hair, hide wispy hair in back with a wide fillet or hairband tied behind your ringlets, then make certain the rest of your hair is arranged to appear as part of the up-do, perhaps pony-tailed into the bun.

  • Slightly longer hair at the hairline that won’t go into a ponytail can be made into additional pin-curls.
  • You can also opt to wear a turban, which is covered in the next post. It can be as simple as a pair of intertwined silk scarves, a brooch, and a fancy feather ($20-$50).
Kitty Packe--William Beechey

Kitty Packe–William Beechey

You’re Lucky if you have Long Hair!

You can do pretty much anything, including re-creating the styles above without a bun maker or pre-made braids, because you have enough hair yourself.

  • Assuming that like me, you can struggle through ringlets, but an up-do behind your head is near impossible, know that we have options!
    o The bun-maker with your long hair, plus braid ideas as above.
    o Tie your hair in multiple small ponytails and pin to your head, then wear a turban.
    o A simple style as in some in the first link below. #1 and #5 are basically ringlets in a ponytail, then loosely pinned around the ponytail.
    o I could also manage #6 of the first link below. It would probably end up as a pointy bun like Olive Oyl, which I have seen in some Regency photos.

Online Regency Hair Tutorials:
Seven styles, some harder than others. Please consider putting curls around your face, even if the style you’ve chosen doesn’t have it in the tutorial. You don’t need as many as the first example.

Video; again, make ringlets around the face.

More difficult, and for long hair with no bangs, made with long ringlets. This would be better if they had done a photo or two for each step.

A video for a complicated but beautiful long hairdo.

~

Henrietta Fane (c.1785–1856), Countess de Salis--F. Van Donne

Henrietta Fane (c.1785–1856), Countess de Salis–F. Van Donne

The Accessories

Your hair can be dressed up with accessories regardless of whether you’re using them to hide pins or fake bangs. Fillets, bandeaus, ribbons, combs, flowers, and feathers are the simpler ones, and tiaras, diadems, and jewels were the upscale effects for the best ballrooms!hair decor and sleevetumblr_na3t53ZkSc1s5i6ido4_1280 As you see in the variety of images in this post, they are optional.

~

Here are more style ideas and just plain beautiful artwork. Also note the ideas for gowns in all the images! (Click on the thumbnails for larger images.)

Les Trois Graces--Alexandre Jean Dubois Drahonet

Les Trois Graces–Alexandre Jean Dubois Drahonet

Singing to the Reverend--Edmund Blair Leighton

Singing to the Reverend–Edmund Blair Leighton

 

 

~

With luck and good timing, I’ll be able to register for the JASNA AGM in Louisville, Kentucky on October 8-11, 2015; the previous AGM sold out quickly. The theme is “Living in Jane Austen’s World,” and I’m excited about the seminars about her times. That’s where I’ll be wearing the items I’ve collected and re-purposed for this blog.

I’ve had no expert advice during this “Experiment.” “The Boss of Food” from my local JASNA, who’s sewn many a Regency outfit, expressed an interest; I’m sure she would have saved me some mistakes.

Instead, I learned all I know on my own from Regency and other historical web pages, images of real period clothing from museums, and artwork from the time. I felt it made the challenge “real” and helped me communicate through the eyes of a newbie to costuming. Had I not made the mistakes and owned to them, this would not be the blog series it is!

But now, I’m keen to attend some costuming seminars at the AGM. I want to see the Regency clothing construction “up close and in person” for the first time!

I’m in the middle of making my hat, and you’ll be walked through that process in a future post. For the ball, I’ll wear a turban, and I’ve tested out my ability to install one on my own head. We can safely say I won’t embarrass myself too badly! I’ll try a second design for my NEXT POST.

Before the JASNA event, there are a number of Austenesque events to dress up for, and the soonest one just came to my attention: the Regency Springtime Ball in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It’s the second annual event, organized by Austen-inspired author Melanie Kerr. Her novel Follies Past takes place prior to the start of Pride and Prejudice, with scenes at Ramsgate, similar to my upcoming Letter from Ramsgate.

I wish I’d known of this event sooner, since my sister lives in Calgary, and during my vintage store visits I found several dresses suitable for Regency gowns that were too small for me, but would suit her and my 17-year-old niece. I’d bribe them to join me to the ball. A Regency gown is a good bribe, don’t you think?

~~~

Amalie Wolff-Malcolmi by Johann Friedrich August Tischbein, 1805

A Young Lady by Henry Jacob Burch

Caroline Bonaparte-Murat by François-Pascal-Simon Gérard, 1808

Updates:

1. Some more short hair ideas. The style is called the “Titus,” and it was worn by both men and women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. A blogger, Places in Time has a tutorial on how to make your own ringlets from inexpensive fake hair! It looks like you can make a nice set of three ringlets for each side of your face, plus more for the up-do, for around $12.

3. Author and blogger Rachel Knowles has a page dedicated to Headdresses and Hairstyles for Regency on her blog, Regency History. The images, sorted with 4 per year, are from La Belle Assemblée and Ackermann’s Repository for Art and include descriptions from those periodicals.

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!

NEXT POST:  HEADWEAR AND HAIR, WHICH WILL LIKELY BE 2-3 POSTS. I HAVEN’T ENOUGH COURAGE TO TACKLE LYDIA’S HAT YET, BUT THERE WAS A SNEAK PEEK AT MY FIRST TRY AT A CAPOTE WITH THE WHITE MORNING GOWN LAST WEEK!

~

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.

Update:

Floor length, Empire waist, and what else? Anne Shirley?

A summary of a Regency gown is like a list of what constitutes a good car. Past a few key items, it starts to become possible for variations too complicated for a simple post.

I don’t know how I decided upon my version of the simplest summary of the elements key to a Regency gown. I suppose I read enough different accounts by others, then looked at enough fashion plates, paintings, and photos of actual museum pieces from the era and formed an opinion. That’s what you do when you buy a used car, right? Preferences figure into it, but there are only so many cars around, and we don’t hitch horses to them or fly them.

I’m not an expert, but I’ve tried to learn as much as I can, and that’s what I’m passing on in this blog. A warning: I’ll overlook some construction details until later, since they won’t be found in a modern gown.

Elements of a simple and respectable gown for an 1811-1820 Costume:

Floor length. Surprise, surprise! Toes of shoes can be shown for early Regency; the entire shoe and even a bit of ankle in the late teens.
Empire waist: The skirt of the dress starts just below the bosom.*
Fitted bodice (see neckline for different dresses below).
A ribbon or narrow panel of dress fabric may be added at the high waist.

Skirt shape:
dresspatternembroid•  Not fitted too close to the body’s curves.
•  Front is one flat panel, with perhaps some easing, but front gathering is rare.**
•  Rectangular shaped front panel, sometimes with a slight flare at the hemline.
•  Front and sides fall straight to the floor, just large enough to skim past any wider parts.
•  Back may also be based on a flat rectangle but tends to be flared, sometimes into a slight train for early Regency.
•   Back is heavily gathered between the two diagonal back seams (back darts for a re-purposed gown) or full width.
•   No flounces; they didn’t come into vogue until into the 1820’s.

Some gowns had overlays:
•  A slip dress with the above dress as a sheer overlay for a ball gown.
•  Robes that look like floor-length vests, worn over a plain gown.
•  Sleeves could be part of the overdress or the underdress.
•  Skirt overlays, if any, are never diagonal, draped, pleated, ruched, etc.

grade 4Sleeves and bodice for “full dress”: an evening or ball gown:

Short sleeves:
•  I love a puffed sleeve! It must be an Anne of Green Gables thing. After all, I had red braids until grade 3, when Mom had three little ones to get ready before she went to work. I got a Pixie cut and cat’s eye glasses that year!
•  It pleases me to say the most common shape in a Regency evening gown sleeve is a short, puffed sleeve with length to match the high waist, and a narrow cuff.
•  Sleeve puffs have gathers at top and bottom, and go straight out, not up or droopy.

1811 Silk evening gown sleeve detail, Metropolitan Museum of Art

1811 Silk evening gown sleeve detail, Metropolitan Museum of Art

•  Especially in the later Regency, ball gown sleeves had keyholes, insets, scallops, loops, layers, knots, bows, braiding, petals, piped fabric, self-covered buttons, beads, gemstones, etc., as well as ribbons, lace and embroidery! I’m out of breath reciting that list!
•  Short, straight, fitted sleeves or very short cap-like puffed sleeves were less common. Sheer, long Juliet sleeves were sometimes seen below the top puff.
•  Sleeves just to above the elbow with a slight puff, or straight and slightly wide (similar to the sleeve opening), are early 1800’s.

1805-10 met front for good general example cropped

1805-1810 patterned evening gown, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bodice:
•  Very low cut in front and slightly low in back.
•  The opening is wide, to the point of almost no shoulder straps in some cases.
•  Many shapes are acceptable for the top front bodice, but most common is square or near-square. Princess and halter are not seen.

 

Sleeves and bodice for “undress”: a morning gown or day dress:

1814 swiss dotted back resized

1814 Swiss dotted morning gown, back view to show ties and gathers.

Long sleeves:
•  Most common is a Juliet sleeve: a long, straight, fitted sleeve to past the wrist, with a short, puffed sleeve over it (or a similar look).
•  Other styles for long sleeves may be peasant (long puffed top and bottom with cuff), fitted, or shirred (multiple puffs along the length).
•  Length can be ¾ to so long they scrunch up the arms and end at the base of the fingers.

Bodice is simple and neckline is high: from a few inches from base of neck, to high-necked or, in the later teens, rows of ruffle up the neck. We’ll talk about “Regency dickies,” in a future post.

Fabric:

•  Fine, sheer or near sheer cottons and linens, gauze, voile, broadcloth, sari fabric (without heavy sequins), heavy but smooth silks, taffeta, organza, polyesters that look like silk or satin. Fine rayon may work to mimic muslin or silk.
•  Almost all colours were stylish at one time or another in 1811-1820, from vibrant to muted, earth tones, and lots of pink. Avoid black as it was solely for mourning. Lavender or grey were used for half-mourning, but also show up in fashion colour palettes. Obviously fluorescents are out of the question, but not acid green!
•  For day dresses, prints or embroidered patterns should be small and widely-spaced White-on-white was common, as was a coordinating print on colours. Avoid prints that scream modern. An article in “Jane Austen’s World” has some examples.
•  Some patterns work for a ball gown, but it’s safer to go one colour. White-on-white fine cottons or similar; or solid, rich-coloured silks.
•  Striped cottons for day wear; sheer striped overdresses or monotone stripes for ball gowns are fine. Stripes are always vertical on the skirt.

bath fashion museum 1817-1821

1817-1821, from the Bath Fashion Museum

Trim:

Early Regency:
•  Trim was minimal.
•  On the main field of the skirt, embroidery patterns were no more than a wide pattern of a small size.
•  More elaborate trim would be at or near the bottom border of the skirt, on short sleeves, and all over the bodice.
•  Does not have to match the gown, though that was common.
Later Regency:
• Trim was more obvious, and there was just more of it!
•  An optional line of trim down the centre front of the skirt.
•  Skirt bottom trim may be as wide as one foot, in large patterns.
•  May include large fabric flowers, ribbon, lace, embroidery, piping, chenille, Vandyke (triangular points), pleating (both horizontal and bound vertical), piping, ruching, beadwork, ball fringe, etc.

Aspects of vintage gowns that will not work:
bad gown 1bad gown 4•  Knits, coarse cottons or linens, loud geometrics, fuzzy textures, obvious polyesters, leather, corduroy, raw or coarse silk (duponi), lamé.
•  Large prints, dark prints, animal prints, random geometrics, patchwork or multiple print panels.
•  Sewn-in details that would be hard to remove without leaving a shadow (e.g., long darts, long pin-tucks, studs) or without a lot of work (lots of sequins).
•  Large buttonhole fronts, either partway or all the way.
•  Lapels, cowl or boat necks.peasant dress cropped
•  Fitted and flared multi-panel skirts. This is the most common problem with modern empire gowns: there is not enough fabric for the gathers in back, even if you buy many sizes too large. You need lots of fabric in the bra line to waist area.
•  Pleated skirts, drop skirts, uneven skirt bottoms, flounces.
•  Low cut backs.
•  Ruching or draping of additional fabric on the skirt. If you can get beneath all this stuff, the dress usually is too fitted for the back gathers. Regency skirts are dead plain. Yes, they can have overlays, but they’re fairly simple until the hemline.

Compromises if all other aspects of the Regency gown are met:
•  Raglan sleeves are not the right shape, but okay if not too noticeable
•  Too-short skirts: up to 4 inches can be added with trims
•  Avoid sleeveless. You can add sleeves, but it’s just as hard to find a puffed sleeve blouse as it is to find a puffed sleeve dress, and it’s ten times as hard when you’re trying to match them.
bad gown 2•  Halter bra or brief spaghetti strap bodices require not only sleeves, but shoulder straps and either an entire bodice or significant modification. If the skirt is not too closely fitted and has enough fabric for gathers behind, plus extra fabric or great details, it may be worth it, but it could be a huge sewing project.

 

NEXT POST: ELEMENTS TO LOOK FOR WHEN SALVAGING A GOWN, AND THE GOWNS I’VE PURCHASED SO FAR!

 

* Between the last decade of the 18th century and 1810, the line between skirt and bodice (“waistline”) of gowns rose from the natural waist to close under the bust and stayed high. The neckline dropped as well, so in the late 10’s, the bodice tended to be what Austen called “abbreviated.” The waistline dropped again in the early 20’s. There were exceptions during that period, but this blog will only focus on the high empire waist most characteristic of 1811-1820.

** Gathered-front gowns started to fall out of style by the late 1700’s, and by the Regency were uncommon. Even though most Regency gowns had a flat skirt front with the gathering behind, some examples can be found with gathers all around. This blog will focus on the flat-fronted gown, but recognize that if a gathered-front gown is found, it does not have to be made over.

A follow-up to last week’s post:  How to fit Regency corsets and stays, by the Oregon Regency Society.

A Footnote:  Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne Shirley wanted to become a writer, and so did I for most of my youth. Sometime in my teens, someone told me it would be too hard and would never pay the bills, and I was uncertain of my ability. My path took me down the road less traveled for a while, but I finally made the detour and came back around to the busy intersection where I belong!

Gratefully, Suzan Lauder

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.

~~~

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

~~~

* 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.

~~~

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!