Nicola here, introducing this month’s Ask A Wench feature. Recently on my Facebook page I’ve started to post an item called Saturday Swagger, sharing some of the gorgeous historical portraits I’ve seen and love. One of them was this 17th century miniature of Sir Edward Herbert reclining in a come-hither pose. When she saw it, fellow author and Word Wench friend Sophie Weston of the Liberta Blog commented: “The Boots! The Boots!” Happily, this set us all thinking about those aspects of historical costume that we particularly enjoy, and the result is this blog piece in which we ask: “What is your favourite item of historical clothing, to wear, to make or simply to appreciate?” So here are the Wenches' thoughts on this topic of sartorial splendour and we would love to hear yours!
Anne here: I'm definitely with Sophie Weston on the appeal of men in boots. There's something very masculine about a man wearing good leather boots — even if, as was the case in the Regency, many gentlemen were terribly fussy about their boots and were careful not to get them muddy or even splashed. My heroes do love their glossy boots, but they would never let their appearance get in the way of rescuing the heroine, or performing any other bold and brave masculine action. In fact the inspiration for my current hero (a duke) is David Gandy as he appears in these images, which are copyright so I can't show them here. But click on the link here and scroll down for a visual man-in-boots treat.
An image that I can show is this one of a hussar officer in 1895 wearing Hessian boots — no other than a young Winston Churchill. The word Hessian comes from the German district of Hesse (not the sacking material). These military riding boots became tremendously fashionable in the Regency era, not only for military men and, according to Wikipedia, were the forerunners to Wellington boots, and also cowboy boots.
Pat here: Hmmm, this is a tough one. I love flashy capes, but I think I like redingotes more. And tight breeches and boots. . . yum. A high top hat is always elegant—which leads me to the ladies and their headgear and I think that’s where I’ll land. I love hats. I am an utter sucker for hats. I don’t have manageable hair, and I burn easily, so I love the idea of hiding under a bonnet or a stylish leghorn. Even indoors, I could cover my hair in a cap and not have to work at making it look good!
Here’s a link to some fun Regency accessories!And the really cool part of hats is that I could decorate and redecorate to my heart’s content! Roses, giant peonies, ribbons, chiffon. . . the possibilities were endless. As it is, I have several straw hats I decorate with scarves to match my outfit, but my creativity isn’t as appreciated these days!
More pretty pics here!
Andrea: I find a gentleman’s cravat fascinating. A deceptively simple piece of clothing, it offered a Regency Tulip of the ton endlessly interesting ways to assert his individuality. There were guides on how to tie different styles—the Mathematical, the Waterfall, the Mailcoach, the Oriental, just to name a few. (Here's a fun site on how to tie a cravat. But I imagine a creative fellow might have had some fun inventing his own unique style—a jaunty tweak to the tails, a bit of ruffling in the linen. There was, of course, an art to the perfect knot. It’s said that Beau Brummel could go through a dozen or more lengths of starched linen before being satisfied that his cravat was “comme il faut.” In paintings of the era, the cravat draws the eye, as it helps frame the face—and to me it’s interesting in how much it adds to signaling a gentleman’s character—is he confident? . . . Soulful? Or a prancing popinjay? (Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of a mature Duke of Wellington shows a fellow who can’t be bothered with tying a cravat—just drape a medal around it!)
And as an author, I can’t help imagining the fun a lady of the era must have had in unknotting those elaborate designs . . . and observing the gentleman sans cravat!
Mary Jo here, and my vote is for capes and cloaks that swirl and dance romantically! Admittedly they may be a little draftier than a coat with buttons, but they look so beautiful. Mysterious ladies, dashing heroes on horseback, Gothic heroines gazing at castles with their cloaks flaring in the wind: such great imagery!
Really, what would Zorro be without his cape? A ninja or the Man in Black from The Princess Bride. (Not that there is anything wrong with them! )
Here is a back view of my caped wedding gown because nothing says romance like a grand, flowing cape. <G>
Nicola again: I’m with the other wenches on all of these items of clothing. They conjure up a sense of romance and historical atmosphere that our imaginations can work with! Probably most of them were a great deal less comfortable and convenient to wear than our own everyday clothing but they look good. Speaking of uncomfortable, no one has mentioned either codpieces or ruffs…
One of my favourite things is children’s clothing from history, especially the glorious miniature adult versions of outfits like the one in this picture of a girl who is four years old. I can’t imagine she was allowed to play outside in that dress though. It's far too special!
Over to you now! What is your favourite item of historical clothing, to wear, to make or simply to appreciate? Do you make and wear Regency gowns? Would you thrown your bonnet over a windmill? And we haven’t even mentioned men in kilts yet…