Historical costume pics: gowns, petticoats, dolls, even men

  1. Regency Gowns: Who Would be a Seamstress?
  2. Regency evening gowns: delicious detail at bosom and ankle
  3. Regency gowns: clean, alter, mend the damage
  4. Historical Costume 1780s : Polonaise Gown
  5. Historical Costume 1780s : Caraco. But what IS a caraco?
  6. Historical Costume 1800-1820 : the simple Regency gown?
  7. Historical Costume 1800-1820: a spencer for a skimpy gown?
  8. Historical Costume 1800-1820: Keeping Warm in a Pelisse
  9. Historical Costume 1800-1820 : Parasols Up and Down
  10. Designer Stubble: the Bane of Regency Book Covers
  11. Historical Costume, 1790-1830 : Shoes, slippers
  12. Historical Costume 1800-1820: boots and bags
  13. An improper blog : embroidery and the pains of fashion
  14. Historical Costume : 1800-1831 Royal Jewellery to bling it up
  15. Historical Costume 1800-1850 : the Lady’s Riding Habit
  16. A Close Shave (or the gentle art of Pogonomotomy)
  17. Historical costume pics: gowns, petticoats, dolls, even men

Woman businesswoman working, files, clockThis past couple of weeks, I’ve been editing, nose to grindstone, so there hasn’t been much time to think about anything else. So today, Saturday, faced with a blank screen (and editing finished last night, yippee) I’m a bit short of blog ideas.

What, I ask myself, would Libertà visitors like to read about? What can I produce before midnight? And answer came there—pictures, specifically, costume pics. I know you like our costume blogs, because they get lots of hits. So today, I’m going to give you mostly costume pics. To let you drool a bit. What’s not to like?

The Regency Gown: really see-through?

Replica Regency gowns from TV seriesThe three gowns above are TV replicas. I found them in an exhibition at the Bath costume museum about Jane Austen novels in film and on TV. The replicas look, to me, more substantial than the originals. By that, I mean that the original materials often look very thin and flimsy. I don’t think that’s age. I think they were meant to be. In the early nineteenth century, evening gowns were often see-through. Even with a petticoat—and back then, there was usually only one petticoat which was itself very thin—the body underneath would be visible.

Regency evening gown white spotted muslin

An evening gown in see-through white spotted muslin (Hereford Costume Collection)

See what I mean? What you’re seeing in the image above is two or more layers of muslin, and it’s still see-through. Imagine how it looked when the wearer was covered by only one layer.

Here are some costume pics in close-up of the same gown, including the glorious hemline. Drooling permitted.

Neckline of see-through white spotted muslin evening gown Hemline of see-through white spotted muslin evening gown

The gown above isn’t a one-off in terms of see-through quality.  Try these two for size.

See-through yellow evening gown with hemline decoration (Hereford Costume Collection)See-through embroidered muslin evening gown, Hereford costume collection
(Hereford Costume Collection)

The yellow one is absolutely fabulous, I think. The lily of the valley hemline is stunning. It looks like appliqué, but I don’t think it is. It was probably woven into the original fabric. As for the one on the right… It’s see-through and a half, I’d have said. Even with a petticoat, it wouldn’t leave much to the imagination, would it?

Underneath the see-through gown: the (see-through?) petticoat

I mentioned thin petticoats above. There might also be no petticoat at all.
C. Willett Cunnington and Phillis Cunnington wrote what is possibly the definitive guide to the history of underclothes.  in their section on the petticoat (1791-1820) they quote this wonderful comment from the Chester Chronicle of 1803:

The only sign of modesty in the present dress of the Ladies is the pink dye in their stockings, which makes their legs appear to blush for the total absence of petticoats.

The Cunningtons also confirm my point about flimsy materials:

What was so shocking to the sense of prudery in Regency times was the novelty of a dress of such transparent material as to allow of a liberal revelation of the human shape, such as had not been seen in this country before.

And I have evidence in costume pics to back them up. Have a look at these petticoats, from the Hereford Costume Collection.

petticoat-gathered-back-flounced-hempetticoat-gathered-back-flounced-hem-closeupNote the gathers and fullness at the back. This one has a flounce at the hem as you can see from the close-up (right).

The close-up also shows clearly how thin the material is.

petticoat-gathered-back-scalloped-lace-hem-frontpetticoat-gathered-back-scalloped-lace-hem-backviewThis beautiful petticoat (left) deserves to have been seen, doesn’t it? I love the lacy scalloped hemline.

The back view shows the thinness of the material particularly well.

Again, there’s fullness at the back.

So, if our Regency heroine wears this under one of those skimpy gowns above, what’s going to be hidden?

Possibly not a lot?

Do costume pics prove even little girls had see-through dresses?


Hereford Costume Collection

Actually, no. I don’t think they did. But on their dolls, it was a different story. Above is a spotted muslin dress for a doll. It’s beautifully made and definitely see-through. (You can get an idea of size from the hand holding it.)

Regency doll (head missing)Regency-doll-underwearI can’t resist showing you this Regency doll from the Hereford Costume Collection, even though, sadly, she’s missing her head.

She’s wearing an over-the-knee pink tunic dress (suggesting a date of 1812-1820?), with gold trimming at the hemline, neckline and sleeves, over a long white petticoat with a fancy tucked hemline.

You can tell that the petticoat is see-through, once it’s lifted to show you what’s underneath 😉

Those gorgeous pantalettes are actually lined, as you’ll see if you look closely at the doll’s left ankle [click the pic to enlarge it].

Here are some more costume pics of Regency doll’s clothes. Some of them, especially the blue-green spencer, show signs of considerable wear. Not surprising, really. The child who owned these doll’s clothes would almost certainly have spent a lot of time dressing and undressing her doll.




The white cambric doll’s dress (left) is definitely see-through.

The printed cotton dress on the right is rather more respectable.

But then, it’s not an evening gown, is it?


Let’s not forget the gentlemen?

As I’ve said in a previous blog, there’s something about a gentleman in a military uniform. Remember this scene from the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice?George Wickham and Lizzie Bennet from BBC Pride and Prejudice

So I’m going to close this blog with costume pics of the real thing, rather than the splendid replica uniforms from the BBC TV re-creation of Regency England.

Regency military uniform jacket frontRegency military uniform jacket backThis is a real military uniform jacket (in the Hereford Costume Collection). It’s similar to the long-skirted officer’s coatee of the 27th Regiment of Foot, from 1810 (shown in Wellington’s Infantry (1) by Bryan Foster.)

It doesn’t have lots of gold lace trimming, as Wickham’s does, above, though the cut is similar.

It was meant to impress, from both front and back. Look at all those buttons. They don’t look as if they’re actually much use for buttoning the jacket (though there are working buttonholes), but originally they would certainly have been eye-catching.

What’s more, there were shiny buttons on the back, too. If you look closely, you’ll see that there are buttons on those pocket flaps. So when this army gent walked away, the eye would have been drawn to his waist. And then further down…

The effect was improved by those saucy turned-back coat tails, don’t you think?
Ladies were definitely meant to look. And to admire. I do. What about you?

Libertà co-founder Joanna Maitland

Joanna the costume fan. Happy sighs.

Imperfect Past of Romantic Author

fog of memoryThis week I have been contemplating the imperfect past of a romantic author, namely me.

It is imperfect in two distinct ways. First – it was often a pretty messy present at the time. Second – I’m not at all good with recalling precise details. In fact, the only bits I remember with any clarity are the stuff where I went badly WRONG.

London skyline with St Paul's dome and skyscrapers in fogExample: I’m drifting with a vague image of some day, pleasantly foggy, footsteps on wet pavement maybe. And then BAMM!! I’ve fallen over a stranger’s suitcase.

I’ve probably pushed the poor chap into the gutter, to boot. And he’s bleeding and going to miss his train and I can’t even apologise properly because he doesn’t speak enough English…

You get the picture? Wince-making, right? Continue reading

Writing your Manuscript using Word Styles: The Easy Way

oops! on key on keyboardWe’ve just passed the submission deadline for the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme. And I’ve heard whispers from some readers that the MSS they are being sent to read are not as professionally prepared as they should be. That’s sad. And unnecessary, too.
Professional layout isn’t difficult. Especially with Word Styles.

Some aspiring writers, I’m sure, tell themselves that the most important thing is to get their pearls onto the page. They can sort out the niceties of formatting later. But that’s a waste of effort. It means doing stuff twice when it could be done once, Right First Time. So this blog is about how to set yourself up to get your MS Right First Time, while you’re actually creating it.

This blog is long—sorry—because I’m trying to explain every step of what you need to do. But it won’t take long to do it, and you only have to set up these Word styles once, so it’s no great chore. In fact, it’s an investment. Once you’ve created them, you can keep using them in every story you write.

Easy write, right? 😉Hello I'm a Time Saver badge

What does a writer need by way of Word Styles?

Continue reading

Pauline Borghese’s House

Joanna’s blog of three weeks ago, set me thinking about Pauline Borghese’s house in Paris. JoannaPauline Borghese's house was talking about her visit to the Villa dei Mulini where Napoleon lived during his first exile. She described an enormous gilt mirror flanked by busts of Napoleon himself and “a woman in antique dress”. Tradition has it that the woman is Pauline Borghese.

Well, I thought that was odd. Maybe it would have been impolitic to take a bust of Josephine. But surely Napoleon had fallen out with Pauline (not for the first time) because she disliked his second wife, Marie Louise of Austria. Why would he want a bust depicting a family he had fallen out with?

So I dug about a little. And it seems that, after her brother’s first defeat, Pauline sold up everything and went to live in Elba. Apparently she was the only one of his siblings to visit him during that time. Continue reading

Inspirational oddities : objects, costume, places

The oddest things can be inspirational. For me, at least.

chinese screen © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Chinese screen 1825-1865 © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Quite often, it’s objects or artefacts that inspire me. Take this gorgeous Chinese lacquer and embroidered silk screen, for example. It may date from as early as the 1820s and is now in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection. I found it when I was looking for ways of illustrating a blog about the Regency pelisse, which ladies wore outdoors to keep warm.

Inside, they wore shawls. Houses, back then, tended to be draughty, hence the need for draught screens, like this one. Continue reading

Inventive Punctuation and the Popular Novelist

exclamation mark in fireLet me start with an admission: I love inventive punctuation. Of course, you can do an awful lot, just by changing a comma into a dash. But some people go the whole hog into brackets, asterisks and the wild excesses of the exclamation mark. It all fascinates me.

Most people, of course, ignore it. Well, readers pick up the writers’ signals, I hope. But they don’t actually play around with the stuff. Why should they?

For some people, though, punctuation is a real headache, indissolubly tied to (horrors!) grammar. It’s a terrible shame.

That was the reason that, several years ago, Elizabeth Hawksley and I wrote a simple guide. Its working title was Punctuation for the Petrified, which the publisher vetoed for excellent reasons. It reflected our feelings, though. We wanted people to learn a few principles, have a source book to check things that worried them and, above all, relax and have fun. Continue reading

The Elba Intermission : Napoleon’s First Exile

Napoleon signs his abdication, April 1814 by Bouchot

Napoleon signs his abdication, April 1814 by Bouchot

I was reading Louise Allen’s book, The Earl’s Marriage Bargain, this week—much recommended—and it reminded me of the Elba intermission because the story starts in the summer of 1814, after Napoleon’s abdication. It’s such a useful period for Regency authors. It allows us to bring war heroes home and confront them with all sorts of society dilemmas that they’ve been missing.

In the Peninsula and then France, they’ve been in largely male company and they’ve been subject to the rigours of war. They’ve seen death and destruction. They’ve seen horrors that they can never share with their loved ones. And they’ve suffered fierce heat, bitter cold, privations and hunger, too.

Vauxhall Gardens - 1820.At home again, they have to try to be the kind of tonnish gentlemen who can make idle conversation with ladies in the ballroom. Yes, I know that Wellington insisted his young men should dance well. And I also know that there were females around, not all of them camp followers. But society, in the Peninsula, was not the same as coming back to Society, with a capital S, in England. Continue reading

Who made Georgette Georgian?

  1. Special Licence Marriage — Heyer’s Research Failing?
  2. Heyer Heroes And Falling in Love With One
  3. New Heyer Stories? Guest Post by Jennifer Kloester
  4. Day 8 of 12 Days of Christmas : 8 Maids a-Milking & Heyer
  5. Beautiful heroines, handsome heroes : never ugly, never bald?
  6. Georgette Heyer Study Day
  7. The Romantic Hero Revisited — Essential Hero Qualities
  8. Heyer’s children : too young, too old, just right?
  9. Georgette Heyer: the problem of brothers (for sisters)
  10. Who made Georgette Georgian?

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer with antihero the Duke of AvonWe are coming up to the centenary of Georgette Heyer’s first published novel, a Georgian romance called The Black Moth, in September this year. I, like many people, first encountered Heyer as the great exponent of Regency Romance. So it startled me, when I first read the The Black Moth, to find it solidly placed in the middle of the eighteenth century.

And that is not the only odd thing about the book. It is also clearly the prequel of These Old Shades, another Georgian romance. It is also a favourite of huge numbers of her fans, and her first runaway best seller. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, but The Black Moth is clearly the back story – well, a good slug of it anyway – of the devastatingly supercilious Duke of Avon. Continue reading

Weather in stories, with thanks to Snoopy

Stifling weather…

As we’re sweltering in this hot weather, I thought it might be interestng to blog about weather and writing. With a nod to the patron saint of writers, Charles M Schultz‘s wonderful Snoopy. That’s the Snoopy who longs to be a bestselling writer and who always—well, nearly always—begins his stories with his tried and tested formula about the weather.Snoopy start with weather: it was a dark and stormy nightTo be fair, there are variants and I had fun searching them out. With a grateful acknowledgement to Schultz and the Peanuts strip, here are a couple of weather variants you might enjoy. First there’s subtleSnoopy applies subtlety to the weather Continue reading