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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about ruffles…?”

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

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

No reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not a Battenburg?”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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