Clothing

  • Clothing,  History,  Isobel Carr,  Regency,  Research

    Waistcoats, Fun and Fashionable

    One of the many things I love about the late eighteenth century is men’s waistcoats. In my opinion, they pretty much reach their zenith of beauty and design during the 1780s/1790s. As men’s suits become plainer, their waistcoats hang on as the major garment for adornment and design. Fanciful embroidery rules the day, often pictorial in nature, sometimes incorporating spangles, bullion thread, lace and netting overlay, and even paste/glass gems.

    They give an author a means of expressing character via clothing. Is the hero conservative in his clothing choices? Does he let himself have a little fun with a waistcoat depicting ballooning, fanciful beasts, humble rural landscapes and hardworking farmers? Is he peacock who lets his waistcoats run riot with lace and spangles? My novelette, Temptation Incarnate, has such a hero. My cover artist and I had a blast figuring out that we could add a pattern to his waistcoat (even if the detail is almost impossible to see; we did it for US!).

    Recently, Zack Pinset (Regency gentleman extraordinaire) gave a wonderful online workshop about Regency men’s clothing (follow the link and enjoy!). I immediately learned new things about men’s stockings from him (I had no idea about the channel for a tie/internal garter on some of them!). But it was his section about waistcoats that really caught my eye. Before the workshop was even over, I’d found the book he shared and pounced. My copy arrived last week, so I thought I’d share some highlights of Gilets Brodés modéles du XVIII.

    Below is an example of a pre-embroidered waistcoat. This is how most of these would have been sold. They would have been imported from China or France, in a one size fits most pattern that would be cut and altered to fit the wearer. It comes complete with pocket flaps and buttons.

    Fanciful Fungus
    Insects and arachnids. Very suitable for your scientist hero.
    Mussels and coral
    An idyllic rural scene

    If only my French were good enough to read the book … *sigh*

  • Clothing,  History,  Isobel Carr,  Plot bunnies,  Regency,  Research,  Risky Regencies

    Everything Must Sparkle

    I want to apologize for missing last month. As you know, there was kind of a lot of stuff going on, and frankly, I was just too distracted.

    I recently got a fascinating new research book: The Sparkling Company, Reflections on Glass in the 18th-Century British World. It was put out by the Corning Museum of Glass, and it’s a deep dive into all the ways glass was used during the era. It would be a fantastic book for anyone looking to know more about the industry and uses of glass for a book (perhaps one of your protagonists owns a glassworks of some kind?). I’m sure we’re all familiar with it’s more mundane uses (windows, drinking glasses, mirrors, lenses, and jewelry), but there was some really interesting information in the clothing section.

    Yes, they covered things like paste shoe buckles and buttons, but they also featured some more obscure uses such as “foil stones” (aka foil-backed paste) being sewn directly to clothing. This style was popular in both France and England in the 1780s (there are numerous reports of both the Prince of Wales and his sisters wearing garments decorated in this style).

    Detail of a man’s suit, c. 1780s

    Another type of glass that was a popular embellishment was jet (frequently described as “jais” or “geais” on fashion plates. This was simply small glass bugle beads that were usually black (though sometimes they are described as of “diverse colours”), and were one of the few things considered appropriate for mourning clothing (when you’re supposed to be sad, but you just need a little sparkle!). You see them combined on clothing with steel sequins/spangles, which would reflect the light, but not in a super flashy way.

    Detail of a fashion plate, 1798 showing a headdress with jet beads.

    They also used tiny seed beads strung together to create pictures on everything from shoes, to garters, to ridicules (sometimes called “sablé”). I usually think of this as a more Victorian form of decoration, but these examples are from as early as the 1730s.

    Beaded mule, c. 1730-1770

    And because you all know how much I love a fancy, naughty, garter…

    Beaded garter, c. 1730-1770.

  • Clothing,  Food,  History,  Isobel Carr,  Reading,  Regency,  Research,  Writing

    Books Every Georgian/Regency Author Should Read

    I recently found out that the blog I’d posted this on (Popular Romance Project) has been wiped from the internet, causing a dead link on my website. So I’m reposting it here to preserve it.

    One of the topics that comes up a lot among historical writers is what research books are essential. If you ask your top ten favorite authors, you’d probably end up with a pretty impressive research library (and I’d LOVE to see other authors tell us about their Must Have Books in the comments). Here are mine. I think these books are must reads for anyone wanting to create an authentic Georgian/Regency world, and I’m going to talk a little bit about why.

    The Rise of the Egalitarian Family: Aristocratic Kinship and Domestic Relations in Eighteenth-Century England by Randolph Trumbach (1978; ISBN 0127012508; OOP, used ~$40).

    When writing a love story, you need to understand the mores of the times. One of the many, many useful things that Trumbach does in this book is discuss the evolution of the love match as a social ideal in the Georgian period. It’s all bound up with the Enlightenment and the Hardwicke Marriage Act and the slow descent of the nobility’s dependence on land for their fortunes. By the Regency period, Trumbach maintains that the love match had ousted the arranged marriage entirely and was well on its way to trumping matches based on social advantage and monetary considerations. So if you want to have that tension between generations, this book is a great resource for understanding where everyone might be coming from in their viewpoint of what would be ideal.

    This book is also the main source for basic information that we use in every book, such as the time periods for mourning, marriage settlements, consanguinity. And it features tons of information about basic domestic issues such as the role of wives in the family and the raising of children. Really, it’s just an all-round great book for getting a solid understanding of what was going on inside people’s everyday lives.

    The Regency Companion by Sharon Laudermilk and Teresa Hamlin (1989; ISBN 0824022491; OOP, used ~$200, use interlibrary loan).

    This is just an all-round brilliant book. It contains a wealth of information about everything from the Season and courtship among the ton to basics about how people lived such as the clubs men frequented, the theatres, roles of servants, etc. I just don’t know any other book that provides the information this one contains. It’s essentially foundational.

    20,000 Years of Fashion by Francois Boucher (1973; ISBN 0810900564: OOP, used ~$12).

    I simply don’t know a better survey book for fashion. While I’m obsessed with clothing, I don’t think everyone else needs to be, nor do I think it’s a wise place to spend your time considering, “With a small bit of effort, he undid her gown and it fell to the floor” suffices to get you where you need to be. But I do think every writer needs to know enough not to make any glaring errors, and Boucher’s summaries and careful selection of images are perfect for providing that little bit of knowledge you need (and since it covers pretty much all of European history, you don’t need to buy a new book if you decide you’d rather write Victorian settings, or Medievals.

    The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England 1500-1800 by Lawrence Stone (1983; ISBN 0061319791: OOP, used ~$1).

    Stone not only delves into the basic makeup of the English family (and he mostly talks about the upper class, “Barons and up” as he labels them), but he has great charts that provide vital information regarding the average ages at which people in this class married, how many times they were married, under what circumstances they were likely–and unlikely–to remarry, etc. This book provides a sort of grounding for the history of your characters’ families and a general understanding of how the most basic building block of society evolved and functioned. I would also suggest his Road To Divorce to anyone who wants to write about characters with broken marriages.

    The British Aristocracy by Mark Bence-Jones (1979; ISBN 0094617805; OOP, used ~$10).

    I love this book! It’s extremely insightful about how the aristocracy think of themselves, what matters to them, and what the origins of those feelings are. Bence-Jones is an insider who lays it all out for us. I found the section on “The Concept of the Gentleman” extremely enlightening and also highly recommend it for the chapter on “The Aristocratic Character.”

    The Art of cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse (1774; free on Google Books)

    Though you might throw food in with the unimportant minutia, I think that’s a mistake. The devil of historic world building really is in the details, and nothing throws a well-informed reader like potatoes in a Medieval setting or iced tea in a Regency (or indeed in any book set in England, including a contemporary!). And this isn’t something you have to spend years studying to get a handle on. Glasse’s historic cookbook is free on Google Books and contains hundreds of period recipes. Plus, it adds depth to get little things like this right, and it’s fun to have you characters eat Maids of Honor rather than just lemon cheesecakes (and it’s good to know that period “cheesecake” is pretty much a modern cheese Danish too).

    Peerage Law in England by Sir Francis Beaufort Palmer (1907; free on Google Books)

    This is a basic guide to how peerages are inherited, disputed, and granted, with many examples laid out so you can really understand it. This knowledge is ESSENTIAL if you want to deal with tricky inheritances. Yes, it’s a very dry book, but you really can’t hope to just muddle your way though these issues. Basic questions that this book answers come up on my historical writers’ loop all the time (the most common one is usually about a peer losing his title if it’s proven that he’s illegitimate, which simply can’t happen; all challenges have to be made BEFORE the title is granted, during the review of the claim).

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