Back to Top

Tag Archives: Regency fashion

I beg your indulgence for offering a second post based on my visit to the Concord Museum back in June, but there was just so much to love and share in that small exhibit on “Fresh Goods”! I do recommend it, if you are within a reasonable distance of Concord, Massachusetts. It runs through the end of this month. (Besides, Concord is such a great place to visit, with a rich history and strong literary connections as well. But let me not digress.)

When I hear “needlework” in connection with our Regency period or earlier times, I tend to think of those often-dreaded embroidery samplers, or funeral memorials, or other sorts of decorative needlework to be framed and hung on walls, handkerchiefs, or pew cushion covers and altar hangings to be donated to the local church.

What I saw at Concord reminded me that in those times, the essential skill of embroidery had many more practical applications.

For example, have you ever seen “pocketbooks” like these flame-stitched examples from the exhibit? (Sorry for the white dots-light reflections!) More like what we would call wallets today, they were flat and meant to fit into a man’s deep coat pocket or perhaps inside his waistcoat (but you wouldn’t want to spoil the fashionable line!). A woman could have carried one of these, also, when “pockets” were still tied around the waist and concealed underneath the skirts. Harder to do once the columnar styles of the Regency fashions came in! The design of the embroidery was a popular pattern in the late 18th century and early Regency. I’ve seen it on upholstered furniture of the same period, for instance. It is based on even older examples of needlework known as Bargello or Hungarian point. Can’t you just picture the hours of stitchery a loving wife put in to make one of these covers for her man, so he could be at the peak of fashion?

The expert quality of the embroidery on this beautiful example of a classic Regency dress was amazing, as was the effort put into making a plain muslin gown into something far more fashionable. My untrained eye could not see how the museum people determined that this dress was hand-embroidered to imitate spotted muslin, but that is what they said! I wish I had better photos of it to show you. Of course, thinking about a young woman spending endless hours working on her dress for the sake of fashion catches my imagination and tugs at my heart, since she apparently couldn’t get or couldn’t afford genuine spotted muslin. She knew just what she wanted!

Moving on from needlework, I want to share this beautiful bright red shawl (that I would have loved to take home). I am no expert on the history of dyes, so I’m not sure when chemical dyes first began to be used, but I do know that red this bright was historically a challenge to produce.  I also loved that they had a portrait of the owner wearing this shawl –it must have been a favorite of hers, clearly special! She was Ellen Tucker, who married famed Concord resident Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1829. (Sadly, she died of tuberculosis just 2 years later). A quick survey of Regency fashion prints show up lots of examples of red shawls, so she was certainly a la mode!

Shawls were such an especially important accessory during the Regency, I was surprised not to see more examples of them in the exhibit, but perhaps the museum does not have many in their collection. Given the skimpiness of the ladies’ dresses in the Regency period plus the lack of central heating, well, everywhere, you can understand why shawls were an essential accessory. Just to double up, one print shows a dress made from shawls on a lady preparing to don her shawl!

 Regency shawls were generally much larger and longer than modern ones –all the better to wrap around oneself, but is it any wonder that young ladies had to be taught the proper way to drape and wear them to be fashionable? Yet another social pitfall I’m pretty sure I would have failed as a Regency lady…although here is a picture of me in costume (some 20 years ago!) wearing a shawl with my dress, just to prove it had not quite slipped off yet!

Perusing the fashion plates looking at shawls, I ran across these two plates, one 1809, one 1822, that both show the popularity and continuance of the color and style of this fabulous purple dress that was in the Concord exhibit. It doesn’t fit into today’s blog theme very well, but you can see why I didn’t want to leave it out! It shows dramatically how Regency style evolved from the very straight early styles (the white dress) to the more triangular emphasis of the 1820’s, leading toward the Victorian era.

Do you enjoy doing needlework? If so, what kind? Or would you have found it an unhappy chore if you lived during the Regency? Do you think you would have had the patience to embroider an entire dress like the white one pictured above? Or, how about shawls? Do you ever wear them? What do you like or dislike about them? I’ll be wearing one Sunday at a bridal shower if the restaurant’s AC is too cold!

1820 embroidered net overdress

Before we get into the lace-talk, I just wanted to alert those of you on Facebook to a new Regency group (I know, another one!) that has formed. Last week I was featured at Regency Kisses: Lady Catherine’s Salon (no, not THAT Lady Catherine!) and we went on a virtual/pictorial tour of England based on the settings in my books. Fun!

It’s an open group, although you have to join. We feature a different author each week, with giveaways and other entertaining activities. If you like this sort of thing, please consider checking us out. The “home” group of eight authors write “sweet with sizzle” Regencies, so if you like all heat levels, you might find some new-to-you authors to check out. Type the group name into the FB search bar and it should come up. Or, huh, I suppose I could be helpful and give you a link, eh? LOL.

Please don’t go right now! We still want you to keep on being loyal readers of the Risky Regencies blog. We keep considering changing to some other format, maybe even a FB group, but many of you aren’t on FB and don’t want to be, either, and we respect that….

So, my most recent research rabbit hole has been lace. This time it wasn’t for a story, though. I thought I was going to need a new Regency gown. The Beau Monde Chapter of the Romance Writers of America is 25 years old this year, and we are celebrating at our conference in NYC in July! A gown for the Soiree is optional, but I’ve always worn a gown when attending such events, and since I am a founding member, this seems an unlikely year to suddenly stop doing so.

Through a friend, I recently acquired an entire bolt of beautiful lace, and another large chunk of a different lace, also beautiful.

How pretty either one would be incorporated into a new Regency dress! I knew that the machines to produce English net dated to even before our period, and such net is often the base for lace designs, but when did they begin to be able to mimic hand-made lace with repeating patterns over a large area? I scoured through Ackermann’s prints, looking for dresses with full lace overskirts, and I quite naturally looked up the history of lace.

The introduction of machine-made net is quite well reflected in the styles of Regency gowns you can see in the fashion prints: net overdresses, sheer sleeves, etc. The machines, once refined, could even create patterns of intersecting strands and “spots” or stripes.

Ah, but actual patterned lace? That is a different thing altogether.

In our period, patterned lace was still made by hand, either using bobbins or various kinds of needlework techniques such as appliqué. You can find plenty of lace embellishment on gowns, but it is generally quite narrow, in bands or ruffled edges, because of the way it was made. Both needle and bobbin lace seem to have developed in Italy and Flanders during the early 16th century. Prior to that time, open-work decorative trims were made by cutting away and embroidering existing fabric. The new techniques created the openwork from threads, which could be linen, silk, gold or silver-bound silk, or much later, cotton.

Black spotted net overdress

The first machine lace was introduced in 1769, but the mesh raveled when cut. John Heathcoat developed a machine by 1809 that solved that issue and could produce “wide bobbin net”. But it wasn’t until 1837 that Heathcoat’s existing machine technology was successfully adapted (by Samuel Ferguson) to be able to produce a repeating pattern, as the jacquard machine looms could do. That is how the Victorians were able to have lovely lace curtains for their windows, and also makes sense of why they would, since it was a new and fashionable thing to have!

I could make a very pretty Regency gown using one of those laces I was given, but it wouldn’t be accurate, and that would always bother me. How would you feel? Even if I pretended the lace was all hand-done, I wouldn’t be comfortable, thinking of the huge amount of hours of poorly-paid labor that would have had to go into the making of it, if it were real. (I don’t think I know how to think like a super-wealthy aristocrat. Wouldn’t the lace-maker be grateful for my custom order and all that work?). Have any great alternative ideas for me to use all that lace?

In the meantime, it looks like I may be able to squeeze into my old dress, after all, with a few alterations. Here is a picture of me wearing it with Risky Elena, at the Beau Monde soiree back in 2003. (I do pretend the embroidery was hand-done. There’s a lot less of it!) I’ve worn it more recently than this photo, but not in years. I may not be able to move very much, LOL! Losing 25lbs would solve the problem, but I know that’s not going to happen!  J

Needlelace: and

Bobbin lace: and

Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By