Sunday, August 23, 2015

Regency Fashions for Ladies by Victoria Chatham

Fans of the Regency era will, no doubt, be quite familiar with terms like muslin and superfine, half boots and spencers. It doesn’t matter in what era we set our novels, our characters need clothes, at least for some of the time depending on how hot the romance is. The Regency fashions were looser and less form fitting than in earlier eras emulating as they did the flowing neoclassical styles of Greek and Roman statuary.

So what, exactly, did a Regency lady wear under her gown? The fact is – not much! Short-legged drawers with a drawstring waist were only just coming into fashion in the early 1800s but were more popular by 1811. Our Regency belle would also have worn a chemise designed to protect the outer clothes from perspiration or prevent a silk or muslin dress from being too revealing. A chemise rarely had any trimming as the coarse soap and boiling water in which it was frequently washed would have reduced trimmings to rags in no time.

The chemise was worn next to the skin and the corset, either short or long stays over it. The short stay fitted just below the bust and the long stays reached the hipbone and created a smooth vertical line. Both styles of stays were kept in place by shoulder straps. A petticoat, usually with a scooped neckline, short sleeves and fastened at the back with hooks and eyelets, was worn over the chemise and stays. Usually trimmed at the hem, it was meant to be seen when a lady lifted her outer dress to avoid mud or to otherwise prevent it being soiled. Stockings were made of silk, knitted cotton or wool and held up by garters.

Dresses were often made of soft, clinging muslins but the oft mentioned morning dress was high necked, long sleeved and made from plain, serviceable fabrics such as wool and linen. The thin twilled fabric sarsnet, or sarcenet, was woven with different colors in the warp and weft so that when the fabric moved there was a subtle shift in color. Evening dresses, or ball gowns, were satin and silk creations, fitted under the bust, short sleeved and with low necklines. An apparent contradiction in terms was that being fully dressed referred to evening wear which showed quite a bit of skin and d├ęcolletage, and being underdressed meant wearing a high neckline as in morning clothes. Colors indicated status as young ladies wore bright colors such as pinks, pale blues and lilacs, while mature ladies dressed in purple, deep blue, yellow, strong reds or black.

Outerwear included capes, wraps, shawls, spencers (a short waisted fitted jacket) and pelisses. Rather than a pocket, which was worn under a dress with a slit in the side for access, ladies carried a reticule, or a bag closed with a drawstring and often decorated with beads. This in essence was the lady’s handbag in which she could keep her vinaigrette and handkerchief. No respectable lady would dream of leaving the house without her hat or bonnet and, at home, married women usually wore caps. Short gloves were worn at all times during the day and long gloves reaching the elbow or higher during the evening. The latter would be removed for dining.

Flimsy flat soled slippers of silk, satin, kid or velvet would be worn indoors. Often embroidered or otherwise decorated, they were usually tied with ribbons and sometimes had a short heel. For walking, a lady had her half boots made of kidskin or nankeen, a canvas type fabric. She might even resort to slipping a pair of pattens over her shoes, which lifted her up out of the dirt and mud and prevented both shoes and hem from getting dirty.

No lady would dream of leaving the house without wearing a hat, usually some style of bonnet trimmed in numerous ways. Chip straw was not actually straw, but thin slivers of wood woven into shape. Grosgrain, a ribbon most often used for trimming hats and bonnets, is still in use today and is a coarse weave, tightly woven fabric. It resembles a fine cord that lies perpendicular to the long edges with the warp (the threads which run lengthwise on the loom) being lighter than the weft (the threads that run across the loom). Grosgrain has to be sewn carefully as it frays easily and holds pin or needle marks. It was usually made of silk or wool and occasionally a combination of the two. It was most often used for trimming hats and bonnets.

Tom Tierney’s Fashions of the Regency Period Paper Dolls

Victoria Chatham is proud to be a Books We Love author.

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