What quality of Regency dress do you get for $33.95?

If it weren’t for that elusive short-puffed-sleeve dress that was only a ribbon from Regency, I could have stopped shopping for a gown in February when I found my wonderful white dress for use as a morning gown.

Why did I continue for four more months? What made me keep seeking out a long gown in a pretty print, or similar in a smooth silk for a ball gown, that needed nothing more than to gather its extra fabric at the back and tie a ribbon about its empire waist? I believed in its existence, that’s why.

Several of the overview web sites listed in the “Cheat Sheet” post implied I’d find it with ease, and I was determined to! I saw many dresses that were close. Too short, too small, too much trouble removing panels of non-Regency trim, and mostly, polyester knit. Drat. Double drat.

In addition, some key accessories were found later on: my shawl was found in May, and the fan, half boots, and better ball slippers in June. I was still trying to find a better fan, a real pagoda parasol, and some better gloves to the last minute of the planned deadline of the end of June!

The quest for Mr. Suze’s outfit started in March as well, so I was searching for tailcoats, poet’s shirts, riding boots, and collared vests beginning in March. (I found three tailcoats that were perfect, except two were too large and one was too small. $35-$65.)

Some have suggested I spent far too much time shopping when I could have sewn a gown for the same cost.

My reply? Not the same gown, nor anything near as nice for $33.95, and my morning gown would take a substantial amount of time and skill to sew.

Morning dress and camisole.

Morning dress with matching belt; camisole.

The amount of time spent shopping was not that much by the time I found the white Prairie wedding dress from the ’80’s in late February. Though I started in summer 2014, I only went every three weeks or so for a couple of hours at first, and December, January, and half of February may have been three visits total, due to other commitments and vacation.

It took a while to acclimatize myself, but my early purchases were far more than a gown: the accessories alone made the time spent worthwhile, never mind ribbon, lace, no-sew tape, and items for future gowns. The the final months were not as productive, but by then, few items were remaining.

Matching waistband with Guipure lace.

Matching waistband with Guipure lace.

There is no way anyone could make a gown anywhere close to this quality for less than triple the cost. The photo above shows the generous amount of fabric in the skirt, sleeves, and integral petticoats. There’s the delicate camisole that came with the dress, and the matching belt.

Sleeve detail with lace on cuff and pin-tucks the length of arm.

Sleeve detail with lace on cuff and pin-tucks the length of arm.

Bodice with pin-tucking, lace panels, and high collar trimmed with lace.

Bodice with pin-tucking, lace panels, and high collar trimmed with lace.

 

 

A great deal of work went into pin-tucking on the bodice and sleeves, and pleats on the cuffs and lace panels on the skirt.

The sheer Swiss dot fabric is so fine, you can see the petticoat lace detail through it.

The sheer Swiss dot fabric is so fine, you can see the petticoat lace detail through it.

Petticoats of fine fabric with high-quality Guipure lace edging.

Petticoats of fine fabric with high-quality Guipure lace edging.

 

 

 

 

 

The fabric in this gown would cost $80-$120. The Swiss dot fabric is super-fine, as is the batiste petticoat: like Regency muslin. As mentioned in the previous post, the gown is cool to wear on a hot summer day with a light breeze because of the breath-ability of the delicate fabric.

 

 

 

 

Two rows of Guipure lace and fine pleats on the skirt.

Two rows of Guipure lace and fine pleats on the skirt.

 

The lace alone is worth at more than I paid for the dress: at least 8 metres of 1″ wide Guipure bridal lace on the gown and another 3m of ¼” wide scalloped Guipure lace on the bottom of the petticoats. The former would be around $8 a metre, and the latter would be $1 a meter at a discount place like Dressew.

Lace goes over bodice from front waistband to back, and forms a gathered ruffle at top of sleeve.

Lace goes over bodice from front waistband to back, and forms a gathered ruffle at top of sleeve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rest of the costume is shown below, since you couldn’t see a few of them in the previous post.

Everything else worn at the Jane Austen tea, except knee high stockings. Photographer forgot them!

Everything else worn at the Jane Austen tea, except knee high stockings. Photographer forgot them!

Because the dress had a gathered front, it would be pre- or early Regency. I thought about modifying it, but it would require sewing.

Instead, I chose the sage shoes since they have a slightly pointy toe from the same period. To coordinate with the shoes, green ribbon was used in the trim for the pantalets and lace cap (hastily machine-sewn the morning of the event, but more on that in a later post!) and for the waist ribbon on the gown.

In conclusion, those who’ve suggested the dress was not worth it should consider that the entire costume was the cost of a simple dress with lesser-quality fabric and no lace, and petticoats would be extra. If my time prior to the purchase of this dress was split between all the items, the effort would be no more than the time to make a dress of the level of detail I purchased.

But that was not the point of the Experiment! What’s more, it would fly in the face of the guidelines I shared when we started.

My learning experience was crafted not to get the best deal on a gown, but to get the best gown I could for a good price, without making it.

The intention was to share this experience, warts and all, so others might feel empowered to wear that Regency costume they’ve dreamed about for the next Austen-related event, and to let them know they have options. We should all be able to feel pretty and pretend we’re in another time in history!

Isn’t my dress exquisite? I’m so proud to wear it!

I feel lucky to have found it, even if the ball gown proved to be difficult so far. But I’ll probably peek at the dresses every time I pop into a thrift store to see if they have a medium-sized tailcoat! You never know!

 

My Regency Costume Cheat Sheet, by Suzan Lauder, Regency Romance Author

Example of Regency letter-writing by http://toracellie.blogspot.ca

With 17 verbose posts full of images, the challenge of an Absolute Basic Check List was a bit daunting. How does one summarize a lady’s needs for a full Regency costume suitable to wear at a function where people are knowledgeable about the era? Actually, some of the links shared at the end of this post do a pretty good job of it.

For procuring and creating the costume parts, however, the individual blog posts in the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment series will be of much more use. That’s because of the numerous images of step-by-step construction of the re-purposed or upcycled items, museum examples of actual clothing from the Regency era, period fashion magazine sketches, and paintings of people in the era. There are also topic-specific links and how-to videos in many areas.

This post also has a number of overview links, links with more images of museum and purpose-made Regency wear, and a sort of “next steps” list for some readers: how-to links that require sewing skills.

For the Checklist, I’ve noted price ranges:

  • Lowest prices listed are the minimum you would pay for a good-quality finished version of the item (new, gently used, or repurposed/upcycled using minimum crafting or sewing skills), based on my experience with the guidelines set out for the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment.
  • If there is a zero instead of a bottom price, it’s because this is an item you’d probably choose only if you already had one, and if purchasing, another choice on the list is preferable.
  • Highest prices are for purchase of a period-correct, attractive, good-quality (but not always top end), brand new item from a good vendor, custom-made to fit you in the case of clothing.
  • If there is a question mark instead of a price, it means the item is of such a personal nature, the top end cost is based on the buyer’s evaluation.
  • If you have the item on hand, it will cost nothing.
  • Most items can be obtained in the lower half of the price range.

Footwear

  • Simple ballet flats ($5-$20)
    • Fully enclosed (pump).
    • Round, pointed, or square toe.
    • Slim sole, separate heel under 1” high (not wedge), and any heel over ¼” should be a flared kitten heel.
    • Silk-look fabric, fine cotton, or soft leather.
    • Any colour except for black, dark brown. Wide stripes and large dots are fine.
    • No elastic, rubber, jute or coarse cotton, large trim items, folded leather detail, external seams, etc.
    • Ribbon ties up the leg with flat soles are optional (good for keeping shoes on while dancing).
    • Simple trim is optional.

      My second set of footwear for potential Regency Costumes: a pair of half-boots and two pairs of satin ballet flat shoes. The boots will have the buckle removed (perhaps for a man’s shoes!) and get dressed up with a ribbon and fabric rose across the base of the toes. The white and pink shoes will be cleaned, then the white will get white ribbons to lace up the legs. The pink shoes will have the fringe covered with a ribbon and the cut-away area disguised.

  • For day wear, flat, lace-up half-boots ($18-$155).
    • 8′-12″ tall, round toe, slim sole and ¼” heel maximum.
    • Light colours.
    • Softer leather, cotton, or denim.
  • Orthotics may fit if you buy a half size larger than normal.
  • Post: Put on Your Dancing Shoes!

Stockings

High-lift foundation garment for “the girls”

  • Custom made Regency short stays ($70-$190), for C cup and under, OR
  • Custom made Regency full corset ($95-$380), for D cup and higher, OR
  • Push-up bustier or modern corset that’s low cut and not too cinched in the waist ($0-?), OR
  • Well-fitted (or slightly small) demi-cup, push-up bra, such as a Balconette. ($20-$?), plus a waist cincher if needed for extra lift.
  • Post: Lift and Separate!

Chemise and petticoats or pantalettes

  • Authentic, custom-made, new, Regency undergarments from specialty stores or Etsy:

    Petticoat, early 19th c, American, Boston Museum of Fine Arts

    • Chemise ($45-$100) (worn under the corset for comfort), and
    • Petticoats ($35-90) or pantalettes ($35) (to “fluff out” the gown so it won’t stick between your legs), OR
  • In place of all of the above:
    • A floor-length full slip or nightgown, deep cut to match neckline of stays/corset/bra ($7-$38), or
    • A floor-length half-slip pinned to base of bra ($7-$20), or
    • Plain, lightweight, light-coloured cotton capris or pajama pants, or pants liners. ($5-$20), and
    • A low-cut camisole if needed with the last two items ($5-$25).
    • Super-fine woven cotton is best for comfort, but polyester will work.
  • Post: Twenty Layers of Unmentionables and no Panties!

Basic empire waist gown ($38-$400)no information

  • Floor length, empire waist.
  • Straight (non-fitted) skirt, flat in front and gathered in back.
  • Short, puffed sleeves and wide, low neckline for a dinner/evening/ball gown; long sleeves and high neckline for morning gown (to 4pm).
  • Simple-print finely-woven cotton, linen, or percale (not black-based), smooth silk, organdy, or synthetics that are good facsimiles.
  • 2m (6’-7’) by 1”-2” ribbon tied under the bust.
  • Don’t buy a pre-made “Regency” gown for under $100 on Etsy, as most are terrible!
  • $200-$400 should buy a nice, authentic, custom-made gown.1812 costume parisien
  • Posts: Floor length, Empire waist, and what else? Anne Shirley? (description of a Regency gown and examples); A Morning Gown plus some Frankenstein Gown Parts (what aspects of vintage gown styles to avoid; my gown purchases; morning gown modification from 80’s vintage); Were Regency gowns worn on the Titanic? (purchase tips for new handmade Regency gown; what to look for in a vintage gown to re-purpose).

Regency Hair Style

  • Centre parted, with ringlets around the face; fancy up-do with bun and curls or braids, worn close to the head. (How-to and video links in posts.)
  • If hair is too short for a fancy up-do, a hairpiece (bun maker, bun hair, and 1-3 braids for $10-$30), fall ($0-$50), wig ($0-$92), or a turban are options.
  • Ringlets can be purchased or taken from a doll or fall ($7-$60) and held on by a bandeau, or flat pin curls can be made.
  • For very short hair, comb forward in a “Titus” and hold in place with a ribbon, bandeau, or similar decorative item.
  • If desired, trim with ribbon, lace, bandeau, braided fillet, small silk flowers, feathers, tiara, diadem, combs, etc. ($0-?)
  • Posts: Faking Purdy Locks: The Modern Hairstyle goes Regency;
    Regency Bad Hair Day? Wrap a Turban! (my clip-on fall in an updo at end of post).

Headwear

  • Bonnet or hat ($6-$70)
    • Preferable if your hair looks nice when you remove your hat indoors.
    • Brim is sturdy, not floppy, and straw or satin-type fabric.
    • Capote hat or bonnet can be made from a wrap-around straw visor or hat, a 20” diameter simple, smooth, silk-like fabric cover, and a ribbon.
    • A good hat base is the narrower brim straw picture hat at Michaels, $5.
    • Add 1.5′-2.5′ of 1″-1.5” ribbon to make ties for a bonnet.
    • If desired, trim with several bunches of small fabric flowers and greenery; larger fabric roses; an ostrich, peacock, or other feather and brooch/medallion; hat pin; or combination, or other designs based on Regency sketches.

      Mock up of design of green and straw visor with green velvet cap.

      Mock up of design of green and straw visor with green velvet cap.

    • A nice range of new items can be found at the upper half of the price range above. Fancy items are double the top price listed here.
    • Posts: The Thrifty Regency Hat-trick! (Capote hat from visor and dinner napkin for under $10); How-to Times Two: Variations on Dressing up a Bonnet (The Pink Hat); Special Headwear for the Grown-up Lady (museum hat examples at the end of the post).
  • Lace cap ($2-$40)
    • Optional; for married or single-and-proud-of-it women only.
    • Similar to the idea of a turban, this will hide hair for women who can’t manage a Regency hair style and will be indoors where they must remove their hat.
    • Can be made from super-fine white cotton and/or fine whitework lace items such as doilies, handkerchiefs, curtains, cushion/pillow covers, or purchased applique items and ribbon.
    • Post: Special Headwear for the Grown-up Lady
  • Turban ($15-$40)
    • An alternative to the hat or bonnet that does not have to be removed when you go indoors.
    • A nice choice for evening wear if you’re unable to create an up-do.
    • Twist 2-3 silk or satin scarves (how-to and video links on this blog), or a length of silk or satin fabric (could be a table or dresser runner, a pashmina, small shawl or wrap) about 15″-20” wide and 40” long about your head behind ringlets; secure with safety pins and bobby pins.
    • A brimless, soft, natural fabric hat with a scarf or fabric wound around its base in textured waves works well also.
    • Fringe or ends with some type of embellishment or trim are recommended, and can be left to droop on one side.
    • Braid or cord can be woven around with turban cloth.
    • Add feathers, foliage, brooch, medallion, hat pin, or similar items.
    • Post: Regency Bad Hair Day? Wrap a Turban!

Jewelry ($0-?)

  • Simplest would be a medium-sized “jeweled” cross on a chain.
  • More elaborate choices include “jeweled” necklaces, armlets, bracelets, brooches, rings, earrings, and combs.
  • Almost all stones are are acceptable, but they should be cut stones. Costume jewelry is fine if it doesn’t look plastic.
  • Cameos and red coral were popular.
  • Drop earrings were on hooks not studs; clasped or open hooks are period.
  • Lover’s eye brooches were fashionable.
  • Post: Shiny things expose my inner crow!
Regency Opera Gloves, kid, Metropolitan Museum of Arts

Regency Opera Gloves, kid, Metropolitan Museum of Arts

Gloves

  • Cotton, silk, or kid leather.
  • Short or optional for day wear ($5-$25).
  • Evening gloves go above the elbow: 24”-31″ (opera-length) with a loose-fitted upper arm are period-correct ($8-$32 for synthetic; $50-$200 for natural materials); 19” minimum.
  • If synthetic opera gloves are worn, buy a matte and not shiny satin finish, as it looks fake.
  • Any colour but black. White and softer colours were most common.
  • Post: I never did mind about the little things…

Fan ($1-$10)

  • Optional, but necessary on a warm day or in a ballroom.
  • Folding hand fan.
  • Avoid plastic and obvious synthetic materials for the sticks and guards.
  • If the fan has any scenes on the leaves, they should be English.
  • Any colour. Trim can include feathers, sequins, metallic, mother-of-pearl.
  • Post: I never did mind about the little things…

Parasol ($20-$200)

  • Optional if your face is protected from the sun by a bonnet or hat, or you are in a ballroom.
  • Eight or fewer ribs is Regency-appropriate, but who’s counting? As long as it’s not a dozen!
  • Pagoda shapes were most common, but round parasols were also in use.
  • A shallow curve is fine, but avoid flat Asian-style parasols.
  • The fabric should look like silk or cotton if possible.
    • Patterns on the fabric itself were rare, and would be a wide stripe or large dot or similar.
    • Fabric on vintage pagoda parasols from the early 20th century might not be very close to a Regency look.
    • Do not buy a Battenburg lace parasol, as they’re Victorian.
  • Most trim was on the periphery of the parasol: fringe (almost any kind), tassels, or lace. Some had embroidery.
  • Any colour but black.
  • Post: I never did mind about the little things…

Reticule ($5-$65)

  • Small drawstring bag (under 8” by 8”).
  • Almost any colour or shape works, in a fine fabric, beaded, netted, or knitted.
  • Avoid printed satin, most open lace or crocheted styles, eyelet lace, or leather.
  • Beads or sequins should not look plastic.
  • No zipper, but metal snap clasp or gate closures are fine.
  • The smooth silk bat-wing or moon reticules on Etsy are overpriced ($15-$22) for what you’re getting. The beaded and embroidered ones are often very good deals.
  • Post: All the pretty little purses

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A few good overview web sites for a Regency costume:

These sites are summaries of what we’ve learned during the 17 previous posts in the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment blog series, and I refer to them regularly myself.

Best site (pdf version) for showing the details one should search for: It’s All in the Details: Making an early 19th Century Ball Gown, by Hope Greenberg.

Best site (pdf version) for applying the other to real life: Miss Lisa Brown’s Guide to Dressing for a Regency Ball—Ladies’ Edition.

BBC/A&E Pride and Prejudice, 1995

Less useful, but detailed, with lots of drawings and paintings is Wikipedia’s 1795-1820 in Western fashion.

An interesting article explaining Regency fashions while referencing the movie adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. Dressing for the Netherfield Ball in Pride and Prejudice: Regency Fashion.

Lots of links for buying stuff new can be found at Regency Attire: Purchasing Your Costume by Regency Dances.org  Not all these items are accurate, as they try to cover numerous costuming situations.

 

Sites for examples of Regency gowns:

Museum gowns:
Real people wore these, so they’re a bit more accurate than fashion plates such as Ackermann’s Repository for Art, La Belle Assemblée, or Costume Parisién.
The Vintage Thimble tumblr
Kyoto Costume Museum Archives 1800s-1810s

Ideas from others’ modern interpretations:
The JASNA AGM Regency Ball in Brooklyn, 2012. Most of these are probably handmade from modern reproduction patterns. There will be non-Regency clothing represented as well, as not everyone is immune to the marketing of those selling the Titanic/Downton Abbey gowns.
The Jane Austen Festival in Bath is a similar situation.

Erica Duncan's montage of Regency fashion plates for each year between 1809 to 1828.  Original art from Ackermann's Repository for Arts. Click on thumbnail for much larger image.

Erica Duncan’s montage of Regency fashion plates for each year between 1809 to 1828.
Original art from Ackermann’s Repository for Arts.
Click on thumbnail for much larger image.

Pinterest has a lot of good images, but I’d suggest searches by clothing article rather than just “Regency,” as the number is overwhelming even then.The site will often offer sub-headings at that point, too. This is an example of a huge board. Take care, as some images are modern and may contain misinformation; that’s why I like to stick to museum examples. But sometimes those are mis-dated by some pinner, too. It won’t be long before you’re picking them out yourself, though, as there’s nothing like 50 Regency gowns compared to one 1830’s gown. Warning: Pinterest is like crack.

Resources for making your own gown if you can sew a bit:

A video tutorial from Follies Past shows how to make a Regency ladies’ gown from a bridesmaid dress, a set of curtains, and a lace blouse. This requires beginner sewing skills.

Old Petticoat Shop offers their Regency Dress Online Class for $97 plus fabric, notions, etc.

My Regency Journey from Tea in a Teacup goes through creation of an entire Regency costume, but made from scratch.

Diary of a Mantua Maker has two tutorials on fitting a Regency gown: the first shows common mistakes and the second, sleeve and bodice fitting.

Sense and Sensibility Patterns has a number of videos with tips on how to fit your gown or modify the design of a pattern, as well as some sewing techniques.

~~~

Update: A nice little summary for evening wear, with some of the wonderful descriptions from The Lady’s Magazine and La Belle Assemblée: Mimi Matthews’ Elizabeth Bennet, La Belle Assemblée, and Early 19th Century Fashion.

~~~

turban 1 croppedNEXT POST: The grand finale! Photos of my completed costume, plus an overview of my learning experience with the “experiment” and brief notes on what the summer bonus posts will look like.

Convertibles aren’t just for Road Trips #thriftyregency

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

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

Chemisettes, Tuckers, and Fichus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chemisettechemisette metMake your own chemisette:

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

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

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

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

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

Lace Tucker, 1820's, French

Lace Tucker, 1820’s, French

Make your own lace tucker:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fake sleeves:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My cool idea for an alternate!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Notes:

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

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

*** The Problem of Regency Buttons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

Update:

A Morning Gown plus some Frankenstein Gown Parts

Poll time: Another instructional post on what to buy, or The Big Reveal: my Regency gown purchases to date? Okay, here’s the boring list… just kidding!

I started shopping for my costume for the 2015 JASNA AGM in July 2014. Early on, I decided my top dollar was $100 for a gown that required almost no modification to make it Regency-appropriate.

My second and third purchase for this blog, along with a $3.99 reticule, was a dove grey coat dress (far right) for $49.95 at Value Village, the most expensive item I’ve purchased to date. The pelisse-like style of this dress could not be passed up: the bodice has a double-lapelled crossover in front while the skirt has a faux front opening. It was intentionally purchased 4 sizes too large to allow modification for gathering in back. In the photo, the skirt is turned back so you can see it’s fully-lined.initial thrift shop gown set reduced

I consider this purchase a bit of a mistake that I hope I can wiggle my way out of! Even with the large size, it has minimal additional fabric at the under-bust level. The bodice is huge, and since the front opening is faked, it has an invisible zipper in back to make additional reworking complicated!

The skirt is flared, so between it and the bodice, there’s plenty of extra fabric to make a faux-puffed sleeve atop the long, straight sleeves. However, this flared skirt will look odd with the tiny amount of gathering. To make the grey dress into a pelisse that fits will be a lot of  work—and might not even be possible.

A navy blue strapless gown was purchased at Value Village for $19.95. The generous skirt has a pocket-pleated top edge that sits just above natural waist, so it’s about 2” too short for floor length at empire waist. This is easily remedied with a bit of lace at the hem. The bodice is tight, fitted and spaghetti-strapped, laced in back in a V-shape. The skirt has an underskirt; the top half is lining fabric that’s not an exact match to the gown, with the bottom two feet in black net crinoline (see photo above). These can be used to make sleeves and modify the bodice to attach them.

Unless I find a simpler solution, the blue gown will be my evening/ball gown; however, this gown will need to be almost entirely remade: remove the skirt at the top pleat cuts, then reattach with a flat front and back gathers, add lace to the bottom, add about two inches to the bodice to close the V-lacing for my comfort, make shoulder straps to attach sleeves, and make sleeves trimmed to disguise the fabric mismatch.

I made a bit of a panic decision when I bought it, as it seemed I’d never find anything suitable, it was cheap and had lots of fabric, and I had just realized my parking meter was expired! But completed, it will be unique!

My collection includes three short dresses for “spare parts” hence, the Frankenstein reference. I bought two garments for their trim from the Salvation Army Thrift Store. I spent $14.95 for the cream silk mini-dress, which has fabulous embroidered panels (perhaps instead of the lining and black net for sleeves and bodice trim on the navy gown!) as well as enough Vandyke (pointed) lace for a good-sized skirt bottom (navy, navy, navy!). The orange silk Indian blouse has elaborate pointed lace for $6.95. The fabric won’t work for anything Regency.

I already owned a multi-coloured paisley print silk dress with gold thread, a potential bodice and trim for a ball gown. I’m watching for a nightgown or slip dress in one of the main colours.

The star of the show is my most prized purchase: a white Swiss-dotted lightweight cotton 1980’s “Prairie dress” vintage wedding dress (on the left). This gown was $33.95 at WiN (Women in Need) Vintage and Thrift Superstore. I found it just after I had the difficult episode of social anxiety described in an earlier blog post, and it perked me up!

It features a lace-trimmed high neck; long, puffed sleeves with matching lace on the cuffs; lace-edged petticoats attached with the skirt (see photo above), and a separate, plain camisole. There are lovely lace insets and narrow pleats for subtle detail. The skirt is at the natural waist level, and well-gathered all around.

The dress fits well except for a tight bust area, and it’s back zippered, which means if I remove the zipper, the resulting relaxation of the fabric over “the girls” will result in a gap in back. I’m torn between being more Regency-correct and the work involved in figuring out a way to modify the bodice without too much work.

This is intended for my morning gown or day/walking dress. I’ve shown the simplest modification.white gown pinned up first example

The skirt was raised without removing it, and re-attached to the under-bust. I’ve safety pinned it every three inches or so, and when covered by the matching white waistband with ties (left of dress) or a ribbon for colour, it becomes a close enough facsimile to a Regency gown.

white gown showing folded zipperFor a neater finish than safety pins, no-sew fabric tape alone will not suffice, as it is not strong enough. The skirt can be tacked in place with the fabric tape, then either machine sewn or whip-stitched for strength.

No matter how the skirt is attached, if you keep the zipper, you must leave a width equal to the depth of the pocket of the zipper on each side, so you can operate it. I’ve propped it open for the photo, but it doesn’t droop since the zipper is stiff. I’ve been told you can hide the zipper with a shawl!

bath muslin 1815

1815 muslin morning gown, Bath Fashion Museum. Note the gathered skirt front that fits at the bottom of the waistband rather than at the underbust.

If raising the skirt makes it too short, you can add lace to the bottom of the dress or the petticoats as shown above, and/or raise the top edge of the skirt to a position where its top edge would be at the bottom of the matching waistband, as in the 1815 gown. However, around 1815, gowns were shorter!

bodice back

Detail of the back of a Regency gown bodice, showing shoulder seams several inches behind the top of the shoulder, diagonal seams to help fit the bodice, and sleeves fitted much farther back than a modern gown. This creates the a classic “diamond back” shape typical of the era.

A great deal more could be done with this dress: the skirt could be removed and all the gathering moved to the back, and at the same time, the petticoats could be attached to the camisole to make a separate garment that can be used elsewhere. The sleeves can be modified to look like a top puffed sleeve over a straight sleeve, from as simple as attaching a ribbon level with the bottom of the bodice, to as complex as adding lace panels to make them longer, with a slimmer cuff, which is more Regency. I mentioned the zipper earlier. Dare I go whole-hog and make a classic diamond-back? Yikes!

The thing is, the dress is close enough, in my estimation, with perhaps the exception of that zipper. What’s a Frankenstein without a zipper somewhere?

 

 

 

 

Newsflash:
Since I prepared the photos for this post, I bought a 1960’s jonquil dress (such a popular Regency colour!) that may need less work than the navy! Woo-Hoo!

Trouble is the bodice fits perfectly, but the skirt is 2” too tight—everywhere! I know! Who is built like that?

Good thing is a ton of sheer overlay plus a cape-like draping begging to be made into back gathers. I can put a period-style decorative panel along the centre front to accommodate my tummy and butt—I hope I can find the right fabric!

Also, I bought a cool hat, thinking it looked a lot like museum Regency ones, then realized the nice square-woven sections between the swirly fabric parts were made of synthetic ribbons—pretty much plastic! So I’m Lydia, with a very ugly bonnet that I’m going to rip apart as soon as I get home. Good bones, though.

 

NEXT POST: THE LAST IN THE THREE-PART INITIAL SERIES ON GOWNS WILL DISCUSS THE VALUE OF PURCHASING A CUSTOM-MADE REGENCY GOWN, AND WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN SHOPPING FOR A USED GOWN TO BE RE-PURPOSED FOR YOUR UNIQUE REGENCY GOWN. THERE WILL BE MORE GOWN POSTS IN JUNE TO SHOW THE FINAL PRODUCT AND SOME EASY TRIM TECHNIQUES TO MAKE YOUR GOWN SPECIAL AND FAKE SOME REGENCY DETAILS. BUT WE MUST MOVE ON TO HEADWEAR AND HAIR, RETICULES, JEWELRY, AND MORE UNDERWEAR KIND-OF-STUFF IN BETWEEN!