Convertibles aren’t just for Road Trips #thriftyregency

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

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

Chemisettes, Tuckers, and Fichus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chemisettechemisette metMake your own chemisette:

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

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

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

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

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

Lace Tucker, 1820's, French

Lace Tucker, 1820’s, French

Make your own lace tucker:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fake sleeves:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My cool idea for an alternate!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Notes:

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

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

*** The Problem of Regency Buttons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Twenty Layers of Unmentionables and no Panties!

I read bodice rippers! In the steamy scenes, the Regency hero is forced to wade through layers upon layers of underthings as he tries to seduce the heroine. The poor guy might find an overdress or an underdress as part of the gown. Once he had dispensed with that, he would first find petticoats and/or drawers/pantalets, then a corset or stays, and finally, a chemise and stockings under that enticing gown.

Okay, it’s not twenty layers, but I’m sure it seemed so to the impassioned, impatient fellow!

Chemises, petticoats, and drawers:

Chemise

Chemise

Chemise with owner s initials, A.F. c. 1820 to1830 at Vintage Textiles

Chemise, 1820 to 1830

We start closest to the body, with the chemise (shift). It’s like a light, straight full-slip, worn under the corset to prevent chafing. It often had short sleeves.

 

 

 

 

Petticoat, Metropolitan Museum of Arts

Petticoat, Metropolitan Museum of Arts

Regency petticoats are not heavy crinolines to pouf up the dress, rather, another slip, either a half- or full-slip. Worn over the stays or corset, the petticoat’s function is to make certain your soft, pretty skirt doesn’t bunch up around your legs. Some are heavily gathered and some are straighter, depending on the fabric and style of the dress they’re intended to shape.

Petticoats, Metropolitan Museum of Arts

Early 19th Century Petticoats, Metropolitan Museum of Arts

Some Regency petticoats had stays built in; you can buy a new bodiced petticoat custom-made to fit you for $90 from vendors at sites such as Etsy. If you are a sewer, Merle Brown of the Victoria BC chapter of JASNA recommends La Mode Bagatelle pattern  bodiced petticoats. She has made at least 6 of them.

1815 petticoat

1815 petticoat

1810 underdress or overdress

1810 underdress or overdress

Other petticoats were cut so they hung open-busted from narrow shoulder straps to the dress “waistline,” to ensure they did not show in the opening of the low-cut gown.

In the mid-Regency, when the gown length became shorter, the petticoat was intentionally longer than the gown, and had beautiful lace decoration on the bottom that was intended to be seen. If anything got dirty, as in Elizabeth Bennet’s case when she walked to Netherfield, it would be the petticoat, which easier to wash than the gown, and cheaper if ruined by a stain.

Pantalets, Metropolitan Museum of Arts

Pantalets, Metropolitan Museum of Arts

Drawers or pantalets are like a pair of legs of pants tied at the waist. They serve more or less the same function as the petticoat, and are in similar fabrics. Like the petticoats, their bottom lace trim was allowed to be seen at the bottom of the skirt.

The two legs weren’t joined at the top section until 30 years later, and briefs/panties/knickers as we know them didn’t exist until the 1930’s. (Even then, early panties were only used during menstruation!) For the pre- and post-Regency woman, this made sense, as the dresses had more layers of hoops and petticoats, and it made it easier to urinate if nothing had to be removed. I know, I know; you don’t want to imagine that!

 

 

The alternative: A full slip

For the purposes of your Regency costume, a floor-length full-slip should perform the function of all three. (You can add whatever underpants and shapewear you’re comfortable with.) If you’ve chosen a corset that hasn’t been lined for comfort, you may want to wear the slip underneath, otherwise, it can fit over top.

Slips used to be ubiquitous: in the 20th century, every lady had so many, she needed a “slip drawer” to hold them all. The slips inside would include regular-length and floor-length full-slips and half-slips (skirt only). Some would be bra-slips, and have side slits or back slits, and there may be mini-slips or ¾-length slips, as well. In all likelihood, each would be duplicated in black, white, and écru, a beige-y colour.

Elizabeth Taylor in a "regular-length" slip, in BUtterfield 8 (1960). She won her first Oscar for the role.

Elizabeth Taylor in a “regular-length” slip, in BUtterfield 8 (1960). She won her first Oscar for the role.

They were the 20th century version of petticoats: they helped skirts to sit flat across the legs, so no indication of a split was evident. But that taboo has gone, and floor length full slips haven’t been sold in regular stores for a good 10 years.

If you can’t find anything in your closet or your mom’s, or in thrift or vintage shops, a very light dress or nightgown, or the lining of an evening gown will work as well. This is where that dress that didn’t have enough fabric for a gown would be useful! It should have enough fullness to the skirt to support the gown and keep it from draping between your legs.

The colour must not show under your dress, so with a sheerer gown, it should be a similar colour, with no pattern. The exception is where you have a sheer overdress and want this as an underdress of a specific colour.

I purchased two cream-coloured nightgowns at small thrift shops for $9.99 and $7.99, and a fuschia slip-dress at a vintage store for $19.99, for use as an underdress.

Underwear and convertibles, tTSRCEThe slip neckline must be at least one inch larger than the gown neckline so it won’t show, so you may have to cut it back. Lace, trim, or any heavy edges on the undergarment that could be lumpy under any fitted area of the gown should be removed as well. Any new edges should be finished.*

You could consider a common Regency petticoat cut, as seen above in the 1810 underdress/overdress: Remove the entire front to the empire waist except for an inch or two at the sides (clear of the neckline) as shoulder straps.

If it’s just petticoats you need (your bodice is lined or of heavier fabric, and your corset alternative does not chafe), a floor-length half-slip or lightweight skirt can be tucked under the bosom instead of at the natural waist. It may be on the short side, but unless you need it to show at the bottom of a too-short gown, it should serve the purpose. If you have some sewing skills, a ¾ slip can be trimmed and modified to fit.

A special alternative for pantalets:

If you normally wear pants all the time, and this dress is quite the stretch for you already, a pair of lightweight cotton pajama pants or loose-legged capris can be worn as if they were pantalets, instead of the slip. Any colour or pattern must not show through.

I found a pair of capri-length cotton pajama pants (above) for $1 (everything was 50% off!) at a charity thrift store, and some very wide lace trim from a fabric store in Mazatlán (as part of my $5 trim purchase spree there) will make them more Regency. I’m leaving the crotch sewn together; I’m not that much of a stickler for exact period correctness!

You can use a camisole or sleeveless/short sleeved blouse with the half-slip or pantalets if you see the need, e.g. if the fabric of your gown’s bodice is lightweight and light-coloured, or if you need something under a corset. It must be cut back to suit the gown’s neckline, similar to the slip instructions above.

Stockings:

stockings and garters kyoto 1810 stockings england french acid green silk stockings early 19th c stockings early 19th c stockings met 1800-1829(Click on thumbnails for larger images.)

These went higher than the knee, and most were opaque, silk, and tied with ribbons or garters. There was no elastic of quality for this type of use for another 50 years or so. Many examples of Regency stockings in the museum photos have beautiful designs on them, and a wide range of colours are shown, similar to the shoes.

I plan to wear tights, and got three pair, as seen above. Since they were on sale for $1 at Joe Fresh, the colours of two pairs are pretty wild, and I may not find I have an outfit to wear them with, but they work for everyday in any case.

The third is white, bought on holidays for $1.99 brand new at the Goodwill in Portland, OR. Had I been successful in connecting with Meryton Press author Linda Beutler for dinner during the unplanned stop, I wouldn’t have had the time!

The tights could be trimmed to a more authentic length, but care would need to be taken to finish the edges well to avoid runs. In addition, I’m worried they’d keep falling down, and I don’t want to spend my entire time at any Jane Austen function trying to hike up my hose. I’m afraid I would look less than ladylike!

If I find time, I may try to transfer a simplified version of one of the designs onto the tights, and use fabric paint. If you like this idea, but don’t want to be crafty, Betsey Johnson has floral printed thigh-highs for $18 a pair!

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NEXT POST: Make your evening gown convertible!

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* For finishing edges or hemming where you have to adjust the product you buy or salvage at home, you can machine sew, hand sew, or use hemming tapes, which come in an iron-on type and a type that’s like double-sided tape. If the edge will be visible, a prettier edge will be achieved by attaching a very narrow lingerie ribbon to just cover the edge, in lieu of the hem.

Update for non-Upcycle (new) Products:

  • Victoria’s Secret has a Heritage Cotton Gown (nightgown) that works as petticoats for $38.
  • Sears sells Vanity Fair half slips and pants liners called “Snip-It” that can be used like the skirt of petticoats or pantalets, at $19.99.
  • Various companies sell Regency-looking silk or cotton stockings for $25 and $15 respectively. Google “historical silk stockings” or “clocked silk stockings.” Please take care when looking at other products at these companies, and don’t purchase Victorian-era products or expensive shoes sold as Regency that don’t resemble true museum examples.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1811 Silk evening gown sleeve detail, Metropolitan Museum of Art

1811 Silk evening gown sleeve detail, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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

1805-10 met front for good general example cropped

1805-1810 patterned evening gown, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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

 

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

1814 swiss dotted back resized

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

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

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

Fabric:

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

bath fashion museum 1817-1821

1817-1821, from the Bath Fashion Museum

Trim:

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Gratefully, Suzan Lauder

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.”

“Booooo.”

“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.