“Party Central” in the #Regency: When was the Season?

"Longitude and Latitude of St. Petersburg" by George Cruikshank, May 1813. Caricature of Almack's patroness Countess Lieven waltzing at an assembly at Almack's. From Wikipedia Commons.

“Longitude and Latitude of St. Petersburg” by George Cruikshank, May 1813. Caricature of Almack’s patroness Countess Lieven waltzing at an assembly at Almack’s. From Wikipedia Commons.

Balls, routs, mornings that started at 11 and ended at 4, and a requirement to be seen—no, recognized—no, ADMIRED through every waking minute of it. Daunting but exciting at once for a young woman coming into society. (Note that “debutante” would not be used in this context until 1817.) The trouble for Regency writers is not in imagining the lovely scenes with beautiful gowns and handsome men; the magic of TV and movies helps with that. The trouble is, when exactly did the Regency Season begin and end? “Experts” cannot agree. I would argue that it wasn’t like a statutory holiday, rather a living thing that depended more upon those who made it what it was.

The part of the experts’ time lines that makes sense is that the Season coincided with the sitting of Parliament. Peers who took their seats in the House of Lords and gentlemen members of the House of Commons would head up to Town (London was always up, no matter what direction one was headed), and their families would follow. With a critical mass of the rich and famous in Town, it became party central. The action gained momentum as the months passed, until Parliament adjourned, and all and sundry relocated to country houses or resort towns. Of course, Parliament would break for Christmas, Easter, and sport (hunting) seasons.

With that knowledge as their basis, various sources state definitively that the London Season took place from January to June, February to June, January to April, January to May, March to June, and January or February to August 12, when the grouse hunting season began. They claim the “Little Season” took place from September-November, October-November, or that there is no evidence it existed, and it was invented by Georgette Heyer! I won’t embarrass any of them with references. But all set a specific set of dates for something that was likely more fluid.

So rather than just assume that Parliament took place between certain dates all the time, why didn’t anyone check Hansard? For those unfamiliar, Hansard is the record of Parliament. It comes from the name of Thomas Curson Hansard, one of the original publishers of the summaries of Parliamentary debates. We use the same word in Canadian Parliament.

The dates Parliament sat from 1810 to 1813, when most Austen-inspired fiction takes place are:

  • 1810: January 23 to June 21, with an Easter break from April 17-23.
    Members were called to discuss the King’s Illness on various dates from November 1, 1810 to January 8, 1811, however, it was not a regular session of Parliament. This is often referred to as the “Year of No Christmas.”
  • 1811: January 11 to July 24; break April 10-26. The “Regency bill” was passed on February 5, 1811.
  • 1812: January 7 to June 30; break March 29 to April 8. Prime Minister Perceval was assassinated on May 11, 1812.
  • 1812-3: November 24, 1812 to July 22, 1813; breaks from December 18 to February 3 and April 12 to May 12.

The sitting of Parliament appears varied during these few years, as seems reasonable. If any “Little Season” took place, it would be in 1810 and 1812. However, 1810 consisted of emergency meetings, and it was unlikely the duration could be planned. The date set for Parliament to reconvene in 1811 had probably been set at adjournment the previous session, so I don’t think many MPs (Members of Parliament) would have moved their families earlier than then. In 1812, we have November 24-December 18 as possible party time, but that’s a short time to develop any sort of a season.

The suggestion that the unofficial height of the Season occurred after Easter makes sense as well. Weather would be better for traipsing around in diaphanous gowns. The Almack’s patronesses began meeting on Mondays in March and handing out their very exclusive vouchers in April, with a dinner and ball held every second Wednesday. The boxes at the opera became more widely available, and it was unfashionable to attend the opera until that took place. In June, the annual Exhibition at the Royal Academy opens and the Royal Ascot takes place at this time, even to this day.

Ladies' Voucher for Almack's, 1817

Ladies’ Voucher for Almack’s, 1817

It also makes sense for the London Season to end as the weather warmed. The city was already full of odours of horse and human waste, coal smoke, and damp (mold) in the winter, but added to the heat of summer, it would be stifling. A “Summer Season” of balls took place in the resort towns such as Bath and Ramsgate. Bird hunting took place in the late summer, and fox hunting in the fall, so gentlemen would prefer to be in the country during those seasons.

Bath Winter Assemblies voucher 1811-12

Bath Winter Assemblies voucher 1811-12

The London Season was expensive: a gent could be relieved of his blunt by a daughter faster than by a thief from Seven Dials. One was required to maintain a carriage, horses, stables, and the full running of a second household; purchase unique fashionable costumes and accoutrements for all sorts of activities, as well as event tickets, including season tickets for balls; and entertain. Activities included dinner parties, balls, routs, fancy balls, breakfasts, card parties, concerts, court parties, shopping, theatre, opera, pantomime, soirees, and musicales. Sporting events like horse racing could empty one’s pockets, too. Traffic jams were common, and one could spend as much time in the carriage waiting in queue to be attended as dancing at the ball.

The events of the Season were essential for the aristocracy, landed gentry, and higher-ranked urban tradesmen and professionals to attend with their families. The number of potential matches on hand was unequalled at any other time, and allowed prioritization to achieve the best possible matches with their sons and daughters. But the reverse also took place, and the prestige offered by attendance at the right events affected choice of mate just as much. The denizens of the drawing rooms would scrutinize each other at length, and one’s social standing could be won or lost as quickly as a patroness put a name to a voucher.

It’s no wonder we’re fascinated with “Party Central,” as we imagine all the different scenarios of social interaction and intrigue that can be played out. Oh, to be a fly on the wall!

"Almacks: Tom and Bob Sporting Their Figures at a Fancy Dress Ball" by W. Heath, 1821

“Almacks: Tom and Bob Sporting Their Figures at a Fancy Dress Ball” by W. Heath, 1821

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Previously posted in the former online newsletter Peculiar Ramblings.

Pre-JASNA AGM Day trips: New Albany and Jeffersonville, Indiana

I’m truly on holidays. How do I know this? It’s 27C and sunny! (That’s 81F.) Of course, no one expected this summer-like weather in Louisville, KY in October, but they do it right around here!

New Albany and the Harvest Homecoming Festival

After a relaxing morning to compensate for yesterday’s air travel, Mr. Suze and I headed out for an afternoon of tourism. We checked the forecast, and I was glad I’d thrown one pair of shorts into my suitcase, as it was already warm!

Our destination was lunch at the food booths of the Harvest Homecoming, taking place October 3-11 in New Albany, Indiana, across the Ohio River from our hotel. We caught the #71 bus on Jefferson, about 4 blocks from our hotel.

New Albany, IndianaNew Albany, Indiana 3The trouble was, there were no events for the festival today! The food booths and craft fair start tomorrow, when I’m registered in sessions as part of the 2015 JASNA AGM!

We found a great sandwich place (Toast on Market), then enjoyed a long walk along Main Street then back along Spring Street in New Albany to see many fine houses and large commercial buildings from the 19th century in restored condition.New Albany, Indiana 2The Emporium!

Upon our return to Louisville (pronounced Loo’-uh-vull), I met up with Meryton Press Author Linda Beutler during registration for the JASNA AGM. After a chat and introductions to her friends from JASNA SW Washington/NW Oregon, we were about to set off to rest before dinner.

But first, we peeked into the Regency Emporium rooms to see all the goodies that were for sale: gift items with Austen quotes, both modern and Regency jewelry, top hats, hairpieces and wigs, paper products, “grown-up lady’s” caps similar to the John Williams Dress Cap pattern from 1826 in simple muslin, wax bas-relief profiles, books, toys, and more. Fewer than half the booths had merchandise (6pm Wednesday).

Ready-made Regency gowns were for sale for $200-$300 in a rainbow of colours, multiple styles including pre-Regency, and many sizes, mostly larger! The fabrics and finishing details showed off the designer’s ability to make each gown special, and I recognized her from Etsy (I think–if it’s the same person). Her work often has modern flair, but it’s so pretty, only the snottiest costumers will whisper and point. Most JASNA-goers will be pleased to see such a pretty gown!

My author colleague sneaked an early purchase (the Emporium officially opens tomorrow at 8am) of a beautiful shawl at a budget price from a vendor who also sold sari fabric for gowns, many eclectic books, and a few framed Regency fashion magazine prints! She showed us how to wrap a turban in far simpler terms than the videos, and mentioned she’d learned it from a Canadian! My favourite set of items for sale was right up the alley of the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment: her lovely collection of “found” vintage reticules of all types!

On the way to the elevator, we nearly bumped into a pretty natural blond woman, casually dressed, and wearing glasses–OH! Author Sharon Lathan, one of the organizers of the author signing event on Saturday. She looked like an ordinary person! This is a taste of what to expect this weekend!

Pedestrian and cycling bridge between Louisville KY and Jeffersonville IN. The colours of the lights change regularly, and each side has different unique light towers to guide you up the ramps.

Pedestrian and cycling bridge between Louisville KY and Jeffersonville IN. The colours of the lights change regularly, and each side has different unique light towers to guide you up the ramps.

Jeffersonville via the Big Four Bridge

After a rest, my husband and I met Linda to walk over to Jeffersonville, IN for dinner. The paths along the Ohio river iin downtown Louisville are wide and surrounded by park area, and the huge area of bicycle racks for the weekend’s Iron Man Triathlon event was impressive!

Meryton Press Authors Suzan Lauder and Linda Beutler

Meryton Press Authors Suzan Lauder and Linda Beutler

We thought it was a half hour or so walk–but it turned out to take 50 minutes just to get to the footbridge! We were thirsty!

We chose the first restaurant (Red Yeti Brewing Company) we found in Jeffersonville about another half hour later. A prompt delivery of unsweetened iced tea and we were chatting happily as if it had taken 5 minutes to get there. (I like a little sweetening, but most sweet tea is too much for me, and Linda likes her tannins raw!) The memorable food featured yummy details like bacon jam on the brisket sandwich, and we all declared ourselves satisfied!

The rest was sufficient to restore our energy, and we walked back on the “short cut” along city streets instead of along the riverside, which shortened the trip to under an hour.

Tomorrow, Linda and I will let Mr. Suze explore on his own while we haunt the shops of the Emporium until our seminars start.

Give-aways!

TSRCE Oct 8-12 giveaway itemsRemember, if you’re also here in Louisville with us, and have followed the blog, look out for me so you can meet me to let me know. I’ll be in costume Friday and Saturday, and in regular clothing Thursday and Sunday. The items in the photo will be given away here, a few in each of the next four days.

Linda and I will be signing copies of our books at the author booth on Saturday at 3:45. You can bring your own copy of Alias Thomas Bennet or buy a copy from Jane Austen Books at the AGM (the same for Linda’s 4 JAFF books!), or just stop by to say “Hi!”

For the balance of the followers of my blog, don’t forget to comment, as I’ll be giving away TSRCE prizes to be mailed out to winners of the draw on the blog, too!

UPDATE: Because we’ve had a lot of trouble with spam, some types of email addresses are being blocked by an extra-enthusiastic spam filter. If you’ve had trouble commenting on the blog (get an error message), I encourage you to comment on my Facebook page and mention the difficulties so we know for sure whether our spam blockers are too intense.

On the Road Again, Sans Ball Gown

jonquil original frontjonquil original backA sad event took place last Wednesday. I had to abandon efforts to complete my beautiful jonquil ball gown midway through the project.

My setback was part of a chain reaction from washing a panel of matching fabric to be used to line new gathers in back.

It’s best to wash new fabric in case it shrinks. The fabric came out fine.

 

The Original Plan

jonquil back with faux silk lining shownThe vintage 1960s gown from Women in Need (WiN) Thrift and Vintage Superstore (above and right, before any modifications) would have the following modifications:

  • The back skirt detached from the bodice, the zipper removed, and the center back seam opened.
  • A triangle cut from the former back panels to create Regency side panels 7″ wide at the top and 12″ wide at the bottom.
  • Part of the sheer overdress draping from the original dress, plus matching lining (faux silk from Salvation Army at $2.99 for 2 meters) added as a 24-inch-wide back panel, gathered to six inches wide.
  • The sleeves modified by cutting the overdress draping free at the neckline and reversing it to have a finished look like the artwork below left.
  • Panels from this draping would be finished with beads on the ends like the Regency fashion plate below right.
1815 Stephanie de Beauharnais-Baden wearing pale blue dress by Aloys Keßler after Johann Heinrich Schroeder

1815 Stephanie de Beauharnais-Baden wearing pale blue dress by Aloys Keßler after Johann Heinrich Schroeder

 

Evening Dress October 1811

Evening Dress October 1811

Indian blouse.

Indian blouse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Lace from the Indian blouse was to run along the skirt bottom to lengthen the gown about 1.5 inches. Removal of this lace took quite a while since it was sewn on with  silver thread, which I wanted to retain to match the 1960s gown’s original waist trim.
  • A shirred panel from the ends of the draping would cover two holes in the bodice.

 

 

Disaster hits!

But when I decided to wash the gown along with the new fabric, on a super-delicate cycle, a horrid change took place: pin holes in the sheer fabric enlarged, and the overlay and draping, both from the same sheer material, shrank.

New projects emerged from the fiasco:

  • open the hemline where the overlay was attached to the lining so the fabric would relax before the lace was attached to the bottom of the sheer overlay,
  • cut a new piece from the sheer overdress draping for the back panel as the one previously cut was now too short,
  • re-think the sleeves since I stole the attached fabric for them and the dangly bits to create the second back panel,
  • figure out if I needed to add a panel at the hem for length (Maybe a rouleaux? I know, I keep adding beautiful design details!) now the bottom lace was a little higher,
  • find a way to camouflage the holes on the skirt.

 

I soldier on!

Yellow silk evening dress, 1817, Leeds Costume Collection.

Yellow silk evening dress, 1817, Leeds Costume Collection.

The Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment has always been about learning and adapting, and I wasn’t about to abandon this project yet. The back gathered panel, a simple project, turned out well. The gathered bodice overlay was a bit more complicated, but looks pretty.

I patched the holes on the front of the skirt using no-sew tape and tiny pieces of fabric from the overlay, and though they look better, it appears as if I spilled small drops of yogurt on my front!

Museum gowns, period fashion plates and Regency artwork were perused for additional hole camouflage ideas. Due to the location of the holes, I settled on diagonals of shirred fabric to mimic the museum piece on the right. I had plenty left from the Salvation Army piece.

 

Time is my enemy

It was Wednesday, and I would leave Friday morning for a short trip to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 86th birthday and an early Canadian Thanksgiving, before flying on to Louisville for the 2015 JASNA AGM.

Mother-in-law's 86th birthday and cool fall weather.

Mother-in-law’s 86th birthday in Winnipeg, MB, Canada.

In addition to the sleeves and skirt detail to hide the holes, the ball gown needed other work:

  • install the tapes with hooks and eyes on the back bodice to replace the zipper,
  • re-attach the waistline trim,
  • trim the neckline and sleeves with narrow silver braid to coordinate with the other trim,
  • use the same narrow silver trim to make the faux diamond back.

I was still thinking through the process and finish for the diagonal pieces on the skirt. I estimated this part of the project would take a full day.

The jonquil gown’s sleeves would take yet another day to design, make a pattern and at least one mock-up, and attach. Either of the two ideas that follow would be created with scraps of sheer draping and some of the faux silk.

1810 Ball Gown with pearls.

1810 Ball Gown with pearls.

Sleeve detail for 1811 gown, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Sleeve detail for 1811 gown, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No way could I finish this gown on time.

On top of those issues, several other machine-sewn projects were required for to the conference:

  • my spencer and the gentleman’s tail coat needed buttonholes–buttons had been temporarily attached to make deadlines for the blog posts!;
  • the white Swiss dot gown needed fake long sleeves, as the originals had been removed and short sleeves added, intended to make the dress flexible for morning or afternoon wear;
  • some pretty sheer fabric with white embroidery would be made into a fichu and, with the addition of some organza lace, a second cap.
  • Mr. Suze broke the cheap plastic belt lining product I’d used for his suspenders, and we had to purchase new banding and attach.
The jonquil ball gown needed too much additional work to earn its full parasol, and time ran out!

The jonquil ball gown needed too much additional work to earn its full parasol, and time ran out!

I also had numerous hand-sewn projects that would be tackled on the trip, such as 14 buttons on Mr. Suze’s tail coat and re-attaching the lining to my hat, which was not staying put with the double-sided tape.

Dozens of bags and containers of project items had to be packed up and stored after all this sewing, and I had to pack for a trip to two climates.

Something had to give, and the jonquil gown was sacrificed. I stopped all work on in mid-day Wednesday.

 

On to packing– but what to wear for the ball?

I had to quickly re-think possibilities for a ball gown. In a panic, I packed potential items that could be modified by hand, but were the dreaded polyester, and not my colour.

The alternative is the Swiss dotted gown (my original morning gown), but its fabric and style is less formal, better suited to an afternoon or dinner gown in its short-sleeved version.

I was in a terrible rush by the end, and didn’t stop moving from 7am Thursday to 1am Friday. I didn’t have time to make the new cap for day-wear, and have to wear my small-fitting first effort, made from cheap polyester lace at the last minute for my local JASNA’s Jane Austen Tea (an earlier blog post).

After the fact, I thought of a half dozen items that I should also have packed, e.g., my turban was to match the jonquil, and now I have to re-think headwear for the ball. I forgot my Alias Thomas Bennet book bead bracelet, which matches my editor and artists’ versions and would have been perfect for the book signing on Saturday prior to the promenade and ball.

I haven’t decided which way to go for the gown, and the only way to know is to watch my blog!

Next post: Louisville!

 

***UPDATE! Don’t forget to comment on The Thrift Shop Regency Costume blog posts, or find Author Suzan Lauder at the Louisville KY JASNA AGM for a chance to win items from the Experiment! Daily prizes October 8-12!

 

 

Tips for Faking Regency Costume Details #2

Clocked is a strange word. When I was young, when someone said “I clocked him,” I’m pretty sure it meant they hit him hard. I think it meant in the head, but I’m not sure. It’s not a word that I use in everyday conversation.

In Regency fashion, there are clocked stockings. This does not refer to anything resembling a clock as far as I can tell. It means stockings with a design on them.

Faking Regency Designs on Gloves and Stockings

Embroidered kid gloves, 1800-1830, National Trust Museums

Embroidered kid gloves, 1800-1830, National Trust Collections.

1775-1829 stockings, Victoria and Albert Museum

1775-1829 stockings, Victoria and Albert Museum

Embroidery or painting on stockings and gloves was an embellishment that was enjoyed by at least a few Regency ladies (and men), judging by the museum examples. Interestingly, an etiquette book of the time, Mirror of the Graces, frowns on clocked stockings. It looks like fashion won in consideration of a stuffy old guidebook!

Some of my stockings and gloves got a fake Regency treatment this weekend: I used fabric paint to apply designs. A stencil purchased for half price at Michaels was used in three different ways, by masking some of the areas with packing tape each time. Once I’d done all I could with the stencil, I decided to try a bit of freehand with the four colours of paints I had.painting accessories all

The floral designs on the white tights and the short and long white gloves were made with the stencil. The pink long gloves and the knee-high stockings are my attempt at freehand, loosely referring to photos of existing museum pieces (see below). Not bad for a non-crafty redheaded romance author!

Cotton fabric embroidered gloves, circa 1790-1810, bias cut for stretch, gold and sequinned scrollwork, pale pink, floss silk detailing.

Cotton fabric embroidered gloves, circa 1790-1810, bias cut for stretch, gold and sequinned scrollwork, pale pink, floss silk detailing.

Stockings, early 19th century Cooper Hewitt collection

Stockings, early 19th century, Cooper Hewitt collection.

Stockings, 1810, English, Kyoto Museum

Stockings, 1810, English, Kyoto Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

painting accessories closeup to show detailI didn’t bother with the coloured tights as for now, the colours don’t suit my gowns.

The pens tended to bleed in the fabric, and the bottled paints were a bit puffy. After the first items, I used the pens for light lines and not fill, and used a Q-tip to apply the paint so it was smoother. If I was doing this again, I’d consider getting additional colours, but these were all I found on sale the day I bought them at Michaels.

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How to Make Easy Back Gathers on Regency Gowns

One of my favourite tricks for faking Regency is to use drapery tape to make the back gathers for a gown. The tape must be the kind that makes all uniform gathers, and not pinch pleats. I had some 1″ wide tape I got in two meter-long pieces at a thrift store for $1 a long time ago. I used it to make the last-minute “emergency” gown for the JASNA outing I had a few weeks ago. Belt backing tape can be seen for the non-gathered part.gathering tape and waistband material inside paisley embroidered fabric for use as a skirtpaisley fabric gathered using drapery tape

There are two ways to use the drapery tape to make your Regency gathers in the back of the gown.

  1. The simplest is to machine sew the tape onto the gown. Take care not to sew on the strings. Gather using the strings, tie the strings, cut shorter, and leave in place.
  2. The second method allows re-use of the drapery tape and less bulk in the back of the gown. Hand-baste the drapery tape on, but do not lock the end of your basting thread, rather, leave an inch or so free. Once you’ve sewn your skirt to the bodice, the gathers are fixed, and all you need do is tug on the knot on your basting threads to pull them free and remove the drapery tape to use on another skirt.

You want to have at least three times the width of fabric as your final gathered amount, and 4-5 times looks pretty.

Depending on your fabric, you may want to leave a seam allowance above the drapery tape. Because my fabric (above) had a border, I ran the tape at the top edge, then hand-stitched it to the bodice.

If you’re interested in standard methods for gathering fabric, this video from Teach Yourself to Sew shows three different methods.

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To Zipper or not to Zipper–or To Fake!

When you get a vintage or other type of newer-than-Regency gown and wear it for a Regency gown, to be authentic, you should remove the zipper. Regency alternatives were ties, hooks and eyes, or buttons, or they were pinned closed by a lady’s maid.

In most cases, a replacement closure for the zipper is not necessary on the skirt, as the ribbon or belt holds the top edges together. The skirt is loose due to the gathers, and should overlap. The concern would be to ensure the bodice fit is snug.

There may be gaps between the replacement closures. In the Regency, so many undergarments were worn, the gap was of little consequence; however, some modern women balk at the idea.

ribbon ties on back of original morning gown suzan lauderMost often, Regency gowns used ties to close at the back, and this is an easy-to-install and inexpensive closure. Discount and craft stores have narrow ribbons in limited colours for under $2 a roll, and attractive cords are under $1 a meter.

In the absence of a lady’s maid, to fake Regency with modern modesty, retain your zipper and add ribbon or light cording ties over it at a couple of locations. At right, two are tied and the lower one is not, so you can see where they’re attached. Care must be taken not to catch the ties when using the zipper.

At 12″, mine were too long; 6″-8″ would suffice.

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To close the front of the “emergency” gown, I used hooks and eyes. This is not truly faking as they were common on Regency gowns. When hooks and eyes were used, seamstresses weren’t stingy, and used a lot of them.

Packages of individual hooks and eyes are inexpensive, and come in black, white, or steel in most stores, and some stores offer additional colours at a premium. They are fussy to sew on individually but are excellent in some cases, such as holding a short width or edges together.

For ease of installation when multiple hooks and eyes are needed, cotton tape with hooks spaced about every inch, and matching tape with eyes, is sold by the meter. I was lucky to get the tape with hooks on sale, but the tape with eyes was regular price.

An alternative to the tape with eyes (at half the price per meter) is a product intended for long rows of buttons, which looks like woven cording with loops every half inch or so. The loops appeared to align with the hooks, and for short lengths, they’re okay, but they’re just enough out of sync that, for longer lengths, I need to skip an extra one every so often.

As you can see, I used both types: tape on the crossover v-neck and individual hooks on the belt edge of the skirt. The installation was fair to both right and left handed openings!

hooks and eyes on emergency dressemergency dress closure

 

 

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As much as we like buttons these days, they were less common on Regency women’s wear. Jane Austen remarked in a letter to her sister Cassandra that buttons were quite dear. Men’s clothing most often had self-covered buttons, but ladies’ used metal, shell, ivory, stones, gems, and similar materials.

Mother-of-pearl buttons are okay if you can find them, as are buttons made with fine cording such as Dorset buttons. Don’t use plastic buttons unless they are an excellent fake.

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

Dorset buttons

Dorset buttons

You could put fake buttons and loops on the gown just as you did for the ribbon ties, and keep your zipper.

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Next post: I left all the hand-sewing for items like Mr. Suze’s coat to the last minute, and not much new is happening at the moment! I’ll try to take a photo or two of my ball gown as I complete it this week, but since I’ll be traveling prior to the JASNA AGM in Louisville, Kentucky on October 9-11, 2015, it will be a meager post!

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The best word EVER: GIVE-AWAYS!

On October 8-11, while I’m in Louisville, there will be a draw for daily prizes from my stash of reticules, Regency accessories, and other goodies. The Regency items are one-of-a-kind. Though they’re hand made by someone who’s not crafty (so less than perfect), I’ve signed each one and added my signature pagoda parasol.

There are two ways to enter:

1) Comment on any Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment post on road trips with the redhead, with your email address (username at host dot com), or

2) approach me at the JASNA AGM and ask for a Parasol in a Ballroom. I’ll collect your name and email address.

**The first person who enters either way whose initials are M.C. is an automatic winner of a velvet reticule with your initials embroidered on it!

I’ll attempt to deliver winning prizes from the AGM while I’m there, and blog comment prizes will be mailed. Good luck!

Mr. Darcy in the making: The Thrifty Regency Gentleman’s Costume

Beau Monde, 1807, Morning Dress

Beau Monde, 1807, Morning Dress

Mr. Suze used to bug me to let him read my Regency writing. I told him he’d have to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice first, so he’d understand it better. I didn’t expect him to actually read my favourite novel, but he did! What choice did I have but to share Alias Thomas Bennet with him? I was preparing to submit it to Meryton Press at the time, and he was a good final cold reader.

He became a big fan of my writing, and joined me to watch the A&E/BBC 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice. A good sport, he went along with me on half a dozen meet-ups of my online friends from A Happy Assembly while we were on vacation in Washington, Oregon, and California over several road trips.

When I told him I wanted to go to Louisville, KY for the JASNA AGM, he said I could go on my own; he’d had enough of Jane Austen events. Over time, he softened to say he’d join me and enjoy the city on his own while I was at the conference, and later, he agreed to dress in a Regency costume for the Saturday festivities. In May, my vintage and thrift shop trips to finalize my own costume included searches for his items. I quickly got the lay of the land.

For this post, I’ll speak to two items: the tailcoat and waistcoat. The rest of the costume will be seen in future posts.

I saw only three tailcoats in vintage and thrift stores, at $65 and $35, but two were too large and one, too small. There were no suitable vests for a waistcoat, even if I looked at size extra-large in Ladies’ wear. Mr. Suze is not a large man, and I thought if I did a good job, he’d be okay with this.

Please note these are sewing projects. The same result will not be easy to achieve with no-sew iron-on tape, and the fabric is too heavy for that product in any case.

Upcycling a garment into a Regency tailcoat

Coat, 1810, dark brown herringbone.

Coat, 1810, dark brown herringbone.

Le Beau Monde, 1807

Le Beau Monde, 1807

Regency tailcoat 1815, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Regency tailcoat 1815, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Post-Regency example for fun! 1825-1830 dress coat

Post-Regency example for fun! 1825-1830 dress coat

Regency tailcoats were by no means all the same. They came in many colours, and some had interesting textures, as shown in these thumbnails, which can be enlarged if you click on them.

 

Louis-Léopold Boilly - The Arrival of a Stage-coach in the Courtyard of the Messageries (Detail), 1803.

Louis-Léopold Boilly – The Arrival of a Stage-coach in the Courtyard of the Messageries (Detail), 1803.

Both single and double-breasted designs were stylish, but double-breasted appears more frequently in the examples I could find, and I’ve been told they outnumbered single-breasted by about 2:1. Lapels tended to be wider, and the opening quite high in comparison to modern menswear.

Many modern tuxedo tailcoats require slight modifications to straighten the bottom front to match the style of the early 19th Century. The Regency tailcoat has no back waist seams: each panel is one piece of fabric, whereas post-Regency, the seam at the waistline came into play, and continues in modern tailcoats.

Because I couldn’t easily find a used tailcoat in thrift shops, I looked to the Internet, where previous rental tuxedo coats are readily available at under $100. Problems that rule out some modern tuxedo tailcoats include trim such as velvet or satin that do not look Regency. Shawl collars or narrow lapels are common. Most are black, white, or grey. Black would do for a court suit or a formal ball, but the other two would not work, unless I decided to buy a white one and dye it the popular dark blue of the Regency.

Modern morning coat, dark green wool, herringbone.

Modern morning coat, dark green wool, herringbone.

Back view of Regency tail coat to show the single panels of fabric, with no waist seams.

Back view of Regency tail coat to show the single panels of fabric, with no waist seams.

A wool morning coat in dark green, with a fine herringbone pattern and slightly wider lapels, caught my eye and got approval from Mr. Suze. Of course, he doesn’t know that Jane Austen fans love the idea of a green coat ever since Andrew Davies had Colin Firth choose it to ride into Lambton the day Elizabeth got her fateful letter from Jane!

This coat appeared to have no back waist seam in the photos online, but when it arrived, it did. Also, the collar was not self-lined, so it would have to stay down. Oh, well, we knew we were not going to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and it fit well, so that was a huge relief. It was advertised on eBay at £25, or $80 with shipping.

Green tailcoat after first cut of shape of front opening and tails.

Green tailcoat after first cut of shape of front opening and tails.

George "Beau" Brummell, watercolor by Richard Dighton, 1805.

George “Beau” Brummell, watercolor by Richard Dighton, 1805.

Mr. Suze is a bit particular about his clothing. His father was a menswear tailor at the Canadian institution of high-class shopping: Eaton’s. My husband is accustomed to a well-fitted, flattering suit in quality fabric, and that was my goal for the Regency tailcoat. We looked at numerous examples from museum pieces and fashion pages like Ackermann’s, and decided on a full curve at the waist, as opposed to a straighter line. A painting of Beau Brummel served as reference. The line was pinned while “my Beau” wore the coat, and the future wearer did a mirror check to approve it. To further achieve a Regency look, the lapels were pressed higher, and extra buttons are needed to suit this modification. The front of the cut coat is shown above, on the left.

I re-applied the matching fabric facings to the underside of the new shape of the tails. To sew the new contour front edges together, I thought about pinning them under and top-stitching, but I opted to sew a normal seam with the fabric pinned right sides together. That meant I had to turn half the jacket inside out.folded and tied with elastics to sew right sides togetherpinned for sewing, all inside the taildetail of fake side pocket

Green tailcoat, back, final except buttons.

Green tailcoat, back, final except buttons.

I tied the upper portion together with elastic bands as shown and laid it inside along the length of the tail, where I’d opened the bottom hem. The tail was pinned right sides together over it all, and sewn with a 1/2″ seam. It was turned it right side out again by pulling it through the open bottom of the tail.

I did a test run with the narrower side before I was brave enough to photograph it for this blog!

I used scraps of fabric to fake Regency by putting flaps that look like pockets at the sides of the jacket. Regency coats sometimes had a cuff, so if your modification allows more fabric, that’s another way to make it more authentic in appearance. Mine did not.

The Regency coat design didn’t always close, but boasted decorative buttons, and men wore them buttoned or unbuttoned, though I’d assume formal circumstances would demand a tightly-buttoned look. The buttons are plastic, and I have yet to purchase proper buttons for the tailcoat. As mentioned earlier, Regency menswear often had fabric-covered buttons in the same colour, though not always the same fabric as the garment. Regency coat fronts have buttons closer together, so my mockup has 4 buttons where the original suit had one.

My intention was self-covered buttons with a brass ring trim from Dressew, and I had enough extra fabric left for them. But I didn’t have enough buttons of the right size, and none of the stores in my city have the snap-on brass trim. I won’t be able to get to Dressew (in Vancouver, BC) prior to the JASNA conference, so I can’t use these buttons at this time.

Suit, 1815-1820, The Victoria & Albert Museum.

Suit, 1815-1820, The Victoria & Albert Museum.

The alternatives are thread buttons, which are a lot of work I don’t have time for, and metallic buttons. Brass buttons were a must on blue coats in the Regency, and seen on other colours sometimes, too. The estimated cost for this tailcoat is $20 on sale. Some attractive steel buttons with an insignia will cost about $7 at Fabricland, so next shopping trip, I’ll purchase them.

Making a modern vest into a Regency waistcoat

The modification of a vest into a nice facsimile of a Regency waistcoat was an easy sewing project, once I found the suitable vest. Strange, since I was lamenting that I’d have to make this item from scratch!

Waistcoat, 1810-20, National Trust Collections

Waistcoat, 1810-20, National Trust Collections

Waistcoat, early 19th century, British, wool and silk. 21" by 33", Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Waistcoat, early 19th century, British, wool and silk. 21″ by 33″, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It’s not that Regency waistcoats are so limited in design that it’s impossible to find them: this clothing item was the pizazz in the man’s outfit. Almost limitless possibilities existed for colour and pattern, as seen in the set of thumbnails. Click to see larger images.

The most common fabric was silk, but cotton and linen were worn as well. Some boasted gorgeous detailed embroidery. Similar to the tailcoat, the waistcoat could be single- or double-breasted.

Waistcoat French or English, 1790–1810, Brooklyn Museum of Fine Arts. Note the detailed embroidery.

Waistcoat French or English, 1790–1810, Brooklyn Museum of Fine Arts. Note the detailed embroidery.

Waistcoat, 1805-1810, Mccord Museum, Montreal. Note the embroidery.

Waistcoat, 1805-1810, Mccord Museum, Montreal. Note the embroidery.

The trouble with modern vests is their simplicity. Plain, pin-striped, or herringbone wool or wool-like synthetics are as good as it gets for suit vests, which are difficult to find. Most thrift shop vests are casual, with zippers and fleece and plaid and quilting and such.

Regency vests usually had stand-up collars and lapels, too, which modern vests lack. The balance is that Regency vests were straight across at the bottom, so I knew I had a fabric source for the collar and/or lapels: that double V-shape on a dressy modern vest.

William Blake, by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1807.

William Blake, by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1807.

The internet, and used tuxedo rentals, offered more options in terms of colour and pattern, and the satin vests mimic the look of silk. Mr. Suze and I agreed on a paisley pattern for a fullback vest. It cost $11.99, and included a matching bow tie; the total was $25 by the time we paid for shipping.

He selected ivory since it best suited the green coat, compared to the bright colour palette otherwise available. The other colours would be great with a black or blue tailcoat. We had also noted that many of the waistcoats in paintings were white or ivory.

The vest was a bit on the big side, and I realized I could use that to my advantage, as I pinned it up at the shoulders to get extra fabric to make a short stand-up collar, plus raise the V of the neckline higher, to make it more Regency in appearance. The photos show it pinned up before the cut (left) and after the collar is made, but not attached, and the bottom is trimmed (right). Two extra buttons are on the bottom in the photo on the right, to show how it would look if more were added.Ivory paisley waistcoat, pinned for the cuts to the shouldersIvory paisley waistcoat, collar made, showing cut and location for lapel

 

 

 

 

 

Waistcoat, National Trust Inventory, 1790 - 1810, Cotton and silk, Chastleton House, Oxfordshire.

Waistcoat, National Trust Inventory, 1790 – 1810, Cotton and silk, Chastleton House, Oxfordshire.

Regency waistcoats sometimes had distinct lapels, but more often, the front panel rose to the collar above the button line, and that upper portion was propped open by the cravat. Unfortunately, when I removed the two Vs from the vest’s bottom front to straighten the line for a Regency look, I couldn’t put it on like the latter design, as it was lined in herringbone, the same as the back panel of the vest. The option was a small lapel.

Ivory paisley waistcoat, final

 

 

 

 

If you have additional fabric, a detail that appears on some, but not all Regency waistcoats is a small pocket on each side, which can be faked with a piece of finished size of about 1-1/2″ by 5″. I tried to make them with what I had left, but they were too small.

This vest had matching satin-covered buttons, perfect for Regency. One was cut off with the bottom V, and there was one spare. Because Regency had lots of buttons, I’ll add more in between the current buttons if I have time after my other projects are complete for Louisville.

The two pieces put together look nice! There’s about 2″-3″ of waistcoat showing below the bottom of the waistline of the tailcoat, a fashionable length. The small lapel on the waistcoat fits neatly into the higher opening at the collar of the tailcoat. We’ll see the shirt ruffles and cravat fill that space in a future post!

TSRCE for Gentlemen: Green herringbone tailcoat and ivory paisley waistcoat.

TSRCE for Gentlemen: Green herringbone tailcoat and ivory paisley waistcoat.

Next post: Who knows? My time has become filled with editing for myself and a fellow author, fitness programs that stopped for August, as well as new activities.

I’m scrambling to complete the most important Regency costume projects now, as time is running out. The balance of Mr. Suze’s costume will come some time this month, and I have lots of little projects I want to finish for Louisville. If I can manage to write something to accompany photos, that will be the topic for upcoming posts!

The trials of Regency correctness in fiction writing: My guest post on Austen in August

Words coined during Queen Victoria’s era, critical plot points that require our hero to travel to London from Derbyshire and back twice in the same week, a twist that depends on English Parliament sitting in the fall in the wrong year–these elements creep into our Regency fiction writing every so often, and the poor author must re-think the scene. All three have affected my latest novel! On top of it, there’s technology and medicine, titles and inheritance law, etiquette and fashion… all must be in order in an Austen-inspired Regency romance, or beware!

When literary historian and blogger Roof Beam Reader was looking for guest blogs for his annual Austen in August series, I suggested a tongue-in-cheek summary of the challenges with keeping true to the era, and the energetic viewpoints of Austen enthusiasts regarding historical accuracy in Jane Austen Fan Fiction on some story boards. It was a new topic to him, and he was keen, as no one had taken this direction on his blog yet.

Regency lady writing: did she have issues with anachronisms? --From Ackermann's Repository for Art, 1813.

Regency lady writing: did she have issues with anachronisms? –From Ackermann’s Repository for Art, 1813.

Click here to read my post on Regency correctness on Roof Beam Reader’s blog! #AusteninAugustRBR

If you’ve already signed up for the Austen in August reading challenge, you can enter the giveaway, too! I’ve donated a signed copy of my Regency romance with a mystery twist Alias Thomas Bennet, a choice of reticule from a set including the two I upcycled for the “Pretty Little Purses” post for the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment, and a special “grown-up lady” lace cap to be made to order.