A Georgian Lady’s Wardrobe

Susan/Miranda, stepping up to the podium to welcome frequent commenter Kalen Hughes back to the blog….

Lord_scandal Kalen Hughes’s new book, LORD SCANDAL, is a June 08 release and she’s here to talk about the clothing of the late Georgian era. Romantic Times Book Reviews described Kalen’s take on the late 18th century thusly: “Hughes’ lusty, emotional second romance perfectly depicts the Georgian era in all its naughty glory — with house parties, races, matchmaking, gossip rags and duels. This author is on her way to stardom.” For  more about Kalen the author as well as her books, please stop by her site: www.kalenhughes.com.

Since the age of three, Kalen has been involved in various living history events from the Middle Ages to the Roaring 20s. She is an expert historical seamstress as well as a scholar of fashion and clothing. We’re delighted to have her as a resource here today. Let the questions begin!

Hi, everyone. It’s so wonderful to be back here. I had such a great time last year when my debut book, Fashion_plate_1786_caraco_et_jupon LORD SIN, came out and I visited the Wenches and talked about Regency fashions. This time around I’m going  to go back in history a bit and take a look at the fashions of the parents and grandparents of those Regency era characters (several of the Wenches write Georgian-set books, so this is familiar territory for them and hopefully for many of their fans).

1780s_linen_stays_2 The clothing of the Georgian era is heavier than that of the Regency. The fabrics are richer, the corsetry is stiffer (though I personally find 18th century stays to be the most comfortable of all), and everything just seems a little grander (in presentation as well as scale). Hoops (called panniers by the Victorians) and false rumps or bums (more familiar as the Victorian “bustle”) were worn throughout the period. I’m going to concentrate on the fashions of the transitional 1780s/1790s (when my books are set), but if you have questions about earlier eras, just ask!

The underpinnings are a tad more involved than those of the Regency. Our Georgian heroine would stillFalse_rump_repro_2  be wearing a basic white linen shift, stockings, garters, and stays (no drawers!). Her stays (corset) would be much heavier and much stiffer than those of her Regency-era daughter, and she’d be wearing some kind of contraption to pad out her hips. The large hoops of the mid-century have gone the way of the dodo (which of course, still exists in the 1780s). The fullness of the skirts has moved from the side to the back, and false rumps (bum pads) are now worn to plump out the skirts (rather like an Elizabethan bum roll). These pads could be made of wadding (rather like a pillow) or The_new_rigatta they could be made of cork. This fashion lead to cartoons like the one shown here called “The New Regatta” which shows several women shooting the Thames, balanced on their rumps. Women’s fashions have always been open to the wicked pen of the satirist.

Over all this she would have worn her gown. It might be a robe á l’anglaise (sadly the wonderful a robe 1785_robe_anglaiseà  la française, which its hanging pleats had gone out of style for everything but court). These styles of gown are usually open at the front (below the waist), allowing the petticoat to be seen (note: “petticoat” applies to all of a woman’s various skirts during this time period, not just to those that are underskirts). The petticoat could be made to match or of contrasting fabric. If not “open” the gown would have an “apron skirt” which was sewn in at the back, but was open at the sides and was pulled up to tie around the waist (under the bodice of the gown). The gown could be made with a Linen_gown_1760_1780_hooks_2 “compère” front (meaning that it fastened closed over the chest) or it could be made to be worn with a separate stomacher. Regardless, the dress most likely pinned shut. Yes, pinned. A lady’s pin money wasn’t so much for sewing as it was to buy the pins required to keep her gowns on! The main alternative to pinning was for the lady to be sewn into the gown (try getting that back on at a ball, LOL!). A very few gowns, comparatively, laced shut or were held closed with hook and eyes.

A lady of this period might also have worn the newly popular Perriot jacket and a petticoat, or she Extant_chemise_dress_1783_1790 might even have worn the very daring robe à la rein (or chemise gown), made popular—and infamous—by Marie Antoinette. As the 1780s pass into the early 1790s, the fashions of the Revolution come to England and we begin to see “round gowns” (meaning that the gown goes all the way around the body, no separate petticoat necessary), usually worn with some kind of open robe over them (think of gowns worn by Marianne in the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility).

I know this is a bit bare-bones (oh the pictures I could show you if I had unlimited room and time) but I think I’ve covered the basics. I’m more than happy to answer questions, show you more pictures and explain any garments you might have questions about. I even have some images of the insides of gowns if you want more info on just how they worked. So ask away!

Undressing Your Heroine

Susan/Miranda, here once
again and delighted to introduce Guest Wench Kalen Hughes for Part Two
of her blog on Regency Era (and any other time period that may strike
her fancy) fashion.
Kalen is not only a specialist in historical dress,
a frequent speaker at conferences, and an accomplished historical
seamstress, but also the author of several acclaimed historical
romances. (Please check out her website at www.kalenhughes.com.)

Last week Kalen dressed and undressed a typical gentleman of the time.
In case you missed this wonderful blog and the fascinating discussion
that followed, here’s the link: http://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/2007/09/undressing-your.html#comments
The links to the illustrations and photographs alone are worth bookmarking!

Now she’s back to do the same for a lady. Questions are most welcome,
too, though for the sake of Kalen’s sanity, please try to keep ’em

Kalen, the wardrobe’s yours….

 I’m back this week to talk about women’s clothing. There are lots of layers to those reportedly scantily 1812 clad Regency heroines, and today we’re going to look at them all. *grin* To the left we have a fashion plate from 1812 (courtesy of Candice Hern’s wonderful collection).

Let’s start from the skin out. The very first thing our heroine puts on is her chemise 1802_shirt_1810_shift(which she might still call her shift). It’s going to be white. It’s going to be made of linen, and it’s going to be an extremely simple garment, perhaps with a drawstring at the neckline. It will most likely have short sleeves (though it might be sleeveless) and it will probably reach to about mid-calf (you don’t want it to show below her skirts!). In the picture to the right the shift on the left is c. 1810. This is the base layer as it’s easy to wash (unlike the stays!).

Next she is laced into her stays, which she may call her “corset”. The term is in flux at tDivorce_corset_1800his time, “stays” being on its way out. They are usually made of lightly boned cotton or linen, most are white, and the most common style has a busk down the front (picture a ruler running from just below the belly button to the middle of the bust).

The picture here is an extant example c. 1810-1820 that belongs to the Kyoto Costume Institute. Note how different this is from the flattened breast of the 18th century; for most of the Regency the desired look was up thrust and separated, rather like a push-up bra, or a “cross your heart”. Am I the only one who remembers those ads?

The next thing our heroine puts on is her petticoat. Unlike the “petticoats” of herPetticoat_early_19th  mother’s generation, this is an actual item of underwear (in the 18th century all of a women’s skirts were her “petticoats”). Throughout the era only a single petticoat was called for, and since the waistline was so high, most were made like jumpers or pinafores. It might tie in the back, or it might button.

Garters_and_stockings_1820s Our lady’s stockings are most likely of cotton or silk. They are machine knit in the round (no back seam), and are probably a pale colour (most likely white), without the elaborate clocks at the ankle that were common in the 18th century. They are held in place by garters, which most likely have several rows of metal springs in them and close with a big metal hook and eye.

If she’s not off to a ball or the opera she may add a chemisette at this point. Chemisette_1800_1825Basically  it’s a white lawn dickey with a high collar that buttoned or tied up the back and had a drawstring at the bottom and tied just below the bust.

Now she has all her underwear on. *phew* Wait, wait!!! I hear you say. Where are her drawers? Well . . . the “fast” lady of the era wasn’t the one going “commando”, she was the one wearing drawers! They did exist, but our lady certainly isn’t wearing them.

Net_dress_1811 The next layer is the gown itself. There are different styles of gowns, but essentially they are all “round gowns” of one kind or another (meaning that the one garment goes all the way around the lady, without requiring a petticoat/skirt to complete it). Our lady is donning a simply silk underdress with a red net overdress (this type net is machine made, and still available to this day from France; It’s used for very high-end wedding veils). Close_up_of_net_dress_2

Close up of the same red net dress over a white underdress. And yes, the two layers are made seperately so that they can be swapped out in this way.

Her shoes are likely to be simple pumps (rather like modern “ballet flats”). This is the most common shoe of our era. Some rather plain examples exist, but examples with fancy pleated frills, decorative appliqués, paint, rosettes on the toes, etc. are all relatively easy to find. I’ve even seen them with spangles (sequins). Some have a ribbon (again, much like a modern ballet slipper) that starts about mid-foot (in the middle of the arch) then wraps around the ankle and ties. Some have Shoe_collage a drawstring like a modern ballet slipper. They were made of everything under the Printed_gloves_1800_1810 sun: kid (fine leather, like the gloves), silk, canvas, leather, jean (a heavy twilled cotton), etc.

Were our heroine to leave the house a whole slew of other clothing would be necessary, a spencer, pelisse or cloak, gloves, and a hat or bonnet. To the right we have a few pairs of lovely printed kid skin gloves from about 1810 (I’d pretty much kill to own a pair!). These are the kind that would have been worn with a long-sleeved dress or with a coat.


Because Mary Jo asked . . . Short_stays_1795_1810Regency corsets came in many forms. There were short stays, which seem to have been most prevalent in the 1790s-1810 (see example to the left) and again in the early 1820s (see fashion plate to the right). There was also a longer corset (see the example in the section above), which Costume_parisien_1822 came down over the hip, and was used to smooth the entire line, which appear to be the most common style worn throughout the era (and beyond). These stays were frequently constructed with little to no boning (they’re sort of like a fabric girdle), but most of the reenactors I know have found that if you’re bigger than a size 2, or have more than a B-Cup, you need at least light boning (or the whole thing wrinkles up and bunches around your waist). There were E19cbra also rather flimsy, wrap around things, that are very close to a modern brassier once on (great example in the Kyoto Costume Institute, c. 1800). Almost all styles during this period had shoulder straps and laced up the back, and nearly all the examples I’ve seen are spiral laced (meaning that they lace up like they’re sewn shut, not in a cross-pattern like a tennis shoe; see the Regencybackexample to the right). If they were boned, it would have been with whalebone or reed. The longer ones would also usually have had a busk, which makes it impossible to bend at the waist. Another thing that’s important to note is that the shoulder straps make it nearly impossible to have a full range of arm motion (no climbing trees or getting books down off high shelves). For good examples of the period’s underwear see the A&E production of Pride and Prejudice (the Colin Firth version) and Wives and Daughters. 

Undressing Your Hero

Susan/Miranda, stepping up to the podium to make an introduction….

Sometimes here at WordWenches, we have historical experts (like Dr. Josh King) as guests.  Sometimes we have other historical authors (like too many to list) come visit us.  Today we’re fortunate to welcome a guest who combines both qualities, as well as being a frequent visitor to post.

Cover Kalen Hughes is the author of the acclaimed LORD SIN, which landed her on Amazon’s "Hot New Releases" list as a first-time author. Her next book, LORD SCANDAL, will be released in June, ’08.  For  more about Kalen the author as well as her books, please stop by her site: www.Kalenhughes.com.

But today it’s Kalen Hughes, specialist in historical dress, who’s our guest-blogger.  Since the age of three, she has been involved in various living history events from the Middle Ages to the Roaring 20s, and is an expert historical seamstress as well as a scholar of fashion and clothing.  We’re delighted to have her as a resource here this Wednesday, and next Wednesday, too.   Let the questions begin!

I was extremely excited and honored when the Wenches invited me over to talk about historical clothing. As many of you already know, historical costuming is a major hobby of mine. I spend oodles of time both studying and recreating (and sometimes wearing) the clothing of past eras.

While my own novels are set in the late 18th century, today we’re going to take a look at the layers of 1812 clothing a gentleman would have worn c. 1812 (note, the layers are the same for the entire extended Regency era, roughly 1790-1830). To the right we have a fashion plate of just such a man. He’s wearing the most fashionable hat of the day, pantaloons, top boots, and an open dress coat over a double-breasted wasitcoat.

Please feel free to ask about other eras if you’re curious. In picking the garments for our hero I’m going to go with the most common versions, not the exceptions (but if you have questions about exceptions just ask!).

Let’s start from the skin out. Our hero’s “underwear” consists of a shirt, stockings, and drawers. The Shirt_1810_1830 shirt is going to be of white linen. It is not much longer than a modern shirt, but it is considerably fuller in both the body and the sleeves. One very important thing to note: it does not open all the way down the front (regardless of what is depicted on countless romance novel covers)! It has a partial neck-opening from the collar to about mid-chest. So the shirt had to be pulled on/off over the head. It buttons closed at the throat, though this is hidden by the cravat. The cuffs are wide (2”-3”) and button closed in an overlapping fashion (like a modern dress shirt, not like a French cuff)

Drawers are not universally worn (there are reports that some men simply tucked their shirt tails over 1805_mens_drawers_2  and under), but they certainly existed. JP Ryan describes the extant pair of drawers she based her pattern on thusly: “In design, these under drawers are like a separate lining for men’s breeches. The drawers have a shaped waistband with an open front fly. The waistband is fastened with two buttons, and is laced closed in the back. The seat is full, the legs tight, with sufficient fullness through the crotch for full freedom of movement. The fly front rise is short, with the waistband fitting around the hips and stomach. The knee-bands are designed for ties.”

Socks_1Our hero is most likely wearing a relatively thick pair of stockings (most likely of cotton or wool). The curator at the Costume Museum in Bath says that for dress occasions they wore a cotton stocking under the silk stocking to hide their leg hair.

Coats come in several varieties, and the terminology is confusing, and sometimes contradictory (esp. as the Victorians messed them all about). On most of the coats in our period (shooting coats excepted) the pocket flap is for decoration only. The actualCoat_1805_1810  pocket (if there is one) is inside the coat, usually in the tail (as with the extant example on display at the Jane Austen Center in Bath). This pocket was sometimes reached from the outside of the coat, and sometimes from the inside (which seems inconvenient, to say the least). Information on when the breast pocket appeared varies. I’ve heard that Brummell invented them in 1813, but J. P. Ryan says she’s seen them on extant 18th century coats.

Our hero is most likely in a dress coats (also called a tail coat). It has a cutaway front and tails in the back. It could be single or double breasted, and while most are made of wool (usually in a dark colour), extant examples in other fabrications (such as plaid linen) do exist. Blue coats are invariably shown with brass/gold buttons, all others with self fabric covered buttons.

Pantaloons_c1800 As for our hero’s “unmentionables”, let us put him into buckskin breeches. Though breeches, by the Regency, are considered old fashioned, buff leather ones are still commonly worn for “morning” or “country” attire. These are the jeans of their era. Most have a front fall, a flap that covers the front opening. This fall goes only from about hip-bone to hip-bone. The waistband buttoned, usually with 2-3 buttons, then the fall closed like a bib over the otherwise open front area of the pants. Belts were not worn. Pants of all types would have been held up by “X” crossed braces (suspenders).

Waistcoats all button up the front. They could be single or double breasted (like coats) All the examples I’ve seen have a method of tightening at the back. Some have ties, some have buckles and straps. Waistcoat_makover_1_2The front is the fancy, decorative part, with the back (and sleeves on some 18th century examples) being plain (just like a modern day suit vest). The interesting thing to note for Regency-ear examples is that they are square/flat across the bottom.

Cravat_and_padCravats are simply long rectangles of material that are tied around the neck. Mostly they were white, but colors were not uncommon among the working classes and the sporting and dandy sets. Though Brummell made the starched cravat fashionable, it wasn’t jut starch that was responsible for the stiff nature of the Regency cravat: there is a horse hair pad hidden inside! The “Belcher” neckcloth (named after the man who made them fashionable, the famous pugilist Jem Belcher). These colorful cravats were also called peacock eyed. They are the origin of the cowboy bandana. I think our hero might be just enough of a Corinthian dandy to sport one of these, don’t you?

Boots were the sneaker of the Regency era. Previously they had been worn only for riding, hunting, etcReproduction_top_boot. Now, they’re part of proper morning (informal) attire. They come in many forms for Regency_top_hatsmen, There was the top boot (also called the English, John Bull, Jockey, or tall boot), Hessians (also called the Austrian or Hess boot). Some reach the knee, other examples only come up to the calf. Both lengths of boot are worn with pantaloons of varying length, and with breeches, sometimes exposing a good deal of stockinged calf.

Our hero would complete his ensemble with gloves (most likely of a yellow/buff or brown) and an beaver hat (what we would call a top hat, or an opera hat). So that’s it. He’s dressed. I know we said "undressing", but now you can picture it in reverse. *grin*