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Category: Clothing

75As is often the case, today’s post is brought to you courtesy of Twitter. After the first episode of Wolf Hall aired, there was a raging debate about the colors used in the costumes. I think the main thing that set people off was Henry’s brocade doublet and his bright red schaub coat (how sad is that I only know the German name for that garment, because I’ve spent all my time in that period studying Landsknecht costuming?).

Several people said they were simply too bright, too vivid, etc. to be historically accurate. They landed particularly on the reds as being impossible to achieve in that era (and then purple got brought up, which I’ll tackle next time I post). When I was done scraping my jaw off the floor, the tweets were fast and furious.

madderTo put it in a nutshell: YOU DO NOT NEED ANILINE DYES TO GET DEEP, BRIGHT, INTENSE COLORS! (and anyone who’s ever looked at extant textiles should know this)

Let’s outline the dye options open to Henry VIII (c. 1525, when he was trying to divorce Catherine):

First and foremost, there was madder root. Madder was cheap and plentiful. It produces decent reds, but is probably not what is being used to produce fancy brocades for the KiWall Hanging 16thCng of England. Top left you can see Dharma Trading’s madder root swatches, and as you can see, madder is pretty vivid on silk (and would be so on wool).

The next option is kermes, a red dye made from the body of a Mediterranean insect. It was used    throughout Europe and was a highly desirable (and very expensive) dye stuff. If you had money, fabrics made with kermes dyes were readily available. They were widely in use by the Church and by the nobility (and the wealthy in general; we know they were widely cochinealavailable, because they had sumptuary laws about red in some places). The detail of a 16thC wall hanging to the right is most likely dyed with kermes.

After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, you also have Mexican cochineal (first shipment in 1523, so it’s entirely possible that fabrics made with cochineal would have already joined those made with kermes on the open market). Bottom left you have Dharma Trading’s cochineal swatches, which on my compter are trending a little more purplish than they do in real life.

So, while I may have quibbles with the costuming on Wolf Hall (none of Anne’s gowns fit properly which I think is due to the fabric choices being too light for those style gowns; why are some of the men running around in jerkins with no doublets?!), I don’t have any qualms about the color of Henry’s brocade doublet or his overcoat.

For more examples of naturally dyed red clothing, see my post from last year about red Georgian era gowns.

I asked in a reader group what topics people were interested in having covered on blogs these days and got a whole list of things that I’ll be tackling in the coming months, but the one that seemed the most fun right off that bat was ridicules/reticules.

When hoops were worn and skirts were full, it was easy for a woman to carry about her sovereign purse, pines, etc. in her pockets. These were large, easy to access through the “slits” formed in the top of the petticoats by their being fashioned as a double-apron. But when the round gown became a thing at the end of the 18th century, pockets were no longer feasible. So what was a lady to do? She still needed to carry a few things with her as she went about. The earliest ridicule I’ve seen looks very much like a single pocket. Which makes perfect sense. You’d just tie the waist ties together to form a loop/handle and carry it with you (fashion historians often surmise that this is where the original name “ridicule” came from, as it women were ridiculed for carrying about their pocket).

The Victorian and Albert Museum has quite a collection of these, and all the images I’m sharing today are from their archive (I’m noting this as per their user agreement). As always, click for a larger copy of the image.

Classic set of pockets. These were tied around the waist, over the stays and underskirts, but beneath the top petticoat (aka the lady’s skirt).

18thC embroidered Pockets (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

18thC embroidered Pockets (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

This first bag is transitional, it retains the rough shape of a pocket, but has a drawstring at the top. It’s beautifully embroidered with flowers and a bird, most likely done by the woman herself as the embroidery does not appear professional in quality.

Silk, embroidered with silk thread, with string tassel and straps. c.1790-1800 (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

Silk, embroidered with silk thread, with string tassel and straps. c.1790-1800 (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

The museum didn’t give much information about this little bag, but I love the hedgehog styling of the knit dags.

Knit bag, c. 1800 (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

Knit bag, c. 1800 (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

Netting was a popular pastime, and it’s possible these bags were made by the woman who used them. The smaller red bag is a “finger-ring purse”, the perfect thing for a lady who just needed enough money on her for vails or small purchases.

Netted silk and thread, with hinged gilt frame, 19thC (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

Netted silk and thread, with hinged gilt frame, 19thC (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

This is a very basic square purse with absolutely amazing ribbon embroidery.

Embroidered silk satin with chenille thread, appliquéd with silk muslin, lined with silk taffeta. c. 1820-1830 (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum). muslin, lined with silk taffeta. c. 1820-1830 (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

Embroidered silk satin with chenille thread, appliquéd with silk muslin, lined with silk taffeta. c. 1820-1830 (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

Wool embroidery on canvas (basically needlepoint) bags. This was another common pastime. You see everything from slippers to purses to pocketbooks (wallets) to fire screens worked this way.

Canvas, embroidered with wool. 19th. (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

Canvas, embroidered with wool. 19th. (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

Candice Hern also has a lovely collection that’s worth perusing if you haven’t already. She has everything from small beaded sovereign purses, to larger netting reticules and even miser purses of the kind a man might carry in his coattail pocket.

Thanks to Eileen for the question!





One of the questions that seems to come up a lot when I ask what people want me to blog about is underpants. Did they? Didn’t they? Didn’t they feel naked without them? When I asked on FaceBook what topics I should think about covering in the next few months, this one again floated to the top, so here we go …

comfort 1815 no drawers

“Comfort”, 1815. No drawers.


The earliest depictions I’ve seen of drawers on women are 14thC German allegorical images on the topic of the woman “wearing the pants” in the family. In all of them, a man is usually also reaching for them, clearly desperate to reclaim the “power” they represent or is being beaten with a distaff or stool (or both). Clearly these images cannot be taken as documentation for women wearing underpants. In Textiler Hausrat, by Dr. Jutta Zander-Seidel, she states: “Underpants were not a usual component of women’s clothing in the 16th and 17th century [the eras of study in her book]. . . for the general populace, the use of these garments are not known before the beginning of the 19th century.”


Extant linen women’s drawer’s, c. 1820


The earliest drawers that I can document for women are from the 16thC and are Italian. They are documented in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 4. They are voluminous, split-crotch drawers with embroidery all over them. Clearly not mere “underwear” and not a fashion that I’ve seen outside of Italy. It should be noted that these are commonly depicted as the fashion of Venetian courtesans, who wore open gowns that displayed them.

Gilray, 1810. Woman in drawers.

Gilray, 1810. Woman in drawers.


So when DID women start wearing drawers of some kind? As Dr. Jutta Zander-Seidel states, the early 19thC. Knee-length drawers of peach coloured stockinette are reported to have been worn as early as 1806, but they were considered fast and unladylike, and from everything I’ve see and read, were not commonly adopted until later. They had a split crotch, usually being made up of two entirely separate legs on a drawstring waistband. An illustration from 1810 shows a lady wearing them, so it can be construed that they were becoming more accepted by then, but given the numerous examples of women NOT wearing them, they were clearly not universal. I see more frequent examples from the 1820s onward though.


Extant pantalettes, c. 1830s


Another thing that crops up in the 1820s is pantalettes. Unlike drawers, these were meant to show just below the hem of the skirt. You see them first in the teens (there’s a report of Princess Charlotte scandalizing people by wearing them). Again, their adoption does not seem to be anywhere near universal, and they were gone by the 40s, relegated to children’s wardrobes. Like drawers, they were made up of two separate legs. I see very little representation of these in art, but if you look REALLY closely you will occasaionly spot them peeking out from under a skirt here and there.

1822 pantalettes

Street scene, 1822 (you can just make out pantalettes under the skirt).


A note of warning for Regency authors: Beware of Bloomers. This garment was named after the famous suffragette Amelia Bloomer, and she is Victorian. So don’t use the term “bloomers” when you mean drawers or pantalettes.

Ok, now on to the good stuff: wearing them.

In my personal experience, they’re completely unnecessary. You’re wearing at least three layers of skirt (chemise, petticoat, gown) and all the fabric does a pretty good job of keeping you covered and discreet. All drawers really are is a major challenge when you need to pee? TMI? Sure. Here’s some more: when you can’t bend at the waist and you can’t pull them on and off, having to pee through a slit you need to hold apart while also holding up your skirt is a royal PITA (suddenly those sawhorse-looking stands for a lady’s chamber pot make a lot of sense!). Also, can we talk about chaffing? A bunch of loose fabric between your thighs combined with a little perspiration equals major chaffing. So yeah, in period garb I’m a fan of going commando and I won’t be putting my heroines into drawers.

One of the topics under recent discussion was all the different types of gowns a Regency lady would have worn and how people could possibly have told the difference. Morning Gown, Domestic Costume, Walking Dress, Promenade Costume, Carriage Dress, all of these appear somewhat similar when you look at the period fashion plates, and you’re not wrong to be confused (and there’s a LOT of crossover).

The first thing to understand is that the name used for the fashion plates describes the activity being undertaken more than the garment being worn. The second thing to note is that often the most distinguishing factors are the accessories rather than the gown itself. The same basic white gown might have been worn for morning activities around the house and then with a quick change of accessories, been transformed into something to wear on a walk into the village or out to pay morning calls (which are more like afternoon calls in real life) if one was in Town.

So let’s look at the prints themselves (these are all from Ackermann’s):


Very informal Morning Gown with a little pelerine over the shoulders.

A domestic costume is exactly what it sounds like. Something informal and meant to be worn strictly indoors when at home. These are pretty much universally made of white linen fabrics and they’re gussied up with some kind of robe, pelerine, mantle, or shawl for warmth. These tend to be on the loose side, and were probably worn with jumps rather than stays. They’re also invariably shown with caps (roll out of bed, hair not done, probably still in curling rags, put your cap on). While your hero is having breakfast downstairs in his banyan, your heroine is having breakfast (probably in her room) in her Domestic Costume. In a family situation, the mother and elder girls might also be eating downstairs in this attire. And they might wear it all morning while they wrote letters, went over menus, etc.


Morning Gown. Note the gloves and the very high collar. She has a loose, open robe over the gown.

When it came time to receive guests or to leave the house, she would change into a morning gown. Morning gowns are just a tad more formal than domestic costumes. So she’d likely put on her stays and have her hair arranged (though still in a cap!). Most of these outfits are shown with some kind of over garment, usually in the same fabric as the gown), and sometimes with gloves. This is the state in which she could come downstairs for a meal if there were guests or if she were a guest.


Walking Dress. She now has a bonnet and a colorful mantle on, as well as a parasol.

If she were walking into the village or going out to pay morning calls, she would swap out the simple over garment for a cloak, coat, spencer, etc., put a bonnet or hat over her cap, and maybe grab a muff or parasol depending on the time of year.


Promenade Dress. Note the halfboots, the veil, the watch and chain, the ridicule. She’s out to see and be SEEN! (and quite interestingly, NO HAT!)

A promenade costume is usually just a fancier update to accessories. It’s meant to be showy because you’re wearing it in the afternoon at the park or other location where fashionables went to see and be seen (you even see in the descriptions in Ackermann’s that the gown part of the “costume” is called a “morning gown”). And you pretty commonly see halfboots instead of slippers in the description and illustration.

So there you have it, your heroine might have changed costume four times today, or she might have just swapped around her accessories if she were frugal or not wealthy enough to have brought 50 gowns with her to a house party.

In my last post I talked about the difference between morning gowns and walking costumes and other “informal” types of dress. Today we’re going to take a peek at riding habits.

Habits are something you’re probably all familiar with, at least in concept. They’re composed of an extra-long skirt and a spencer jacket. They might also involve a waistcoat and a habit shirt (worn with a cravat), or with a chemisette with a frill for a more feminine look.  Sometimes they follow the high-waisted silhouette of the Regency era, and sometimes they don’t (a rare chance to show off your heroine’s waist!). Most often, they’re made of wool of some kind (stuff, bath coating, kerseymere, etc.), but there are extant examples of summer habits made of linen.

Habits are worn with some kind of hat, gloves, and either pumps or low half-boots (yes, pumps!). No tall riding boots for women as far as I can document (I’ve seen ONE cartoon of a woman in riding boots, but she was also shown with 5 o’clock shadow so we can hardly take her adoption of a masculine boot seriously).

First is this sketch of an extant 1810 habit by Janet Arnold for her book, Patterns of Fashion. It’s particularly great because Arnold details all the innards of the garment, including just how the skirt stays up (it’s really a “bodiced petticoat”), and we get to see the watch pocket, and the fact that their are hook and eyes connecting the jacket and the skirt. The pattern also lays out the series of tapes on the inside of the skirt that can be used to loop it up invisibly so that the train/length is hidden and you can walk.

1810 habit

Habit, 1810 (sketch by Janet Arnold)

1810 habit detail

Detail of 1810 Habit.

Here are couple of basic habits. They could be masculine in style (as is the à la militaire one from 1817 with its “lacing”), or they could be  feminine and frilly (I can’t find a public source for this one, so I’m sending you to Candice Hern’s site for all the filly glory).


Habit, 1803

1817 habit

Habit, 1817





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