Category Archives: costume

Historical Costume : 1800-1831 Royal Jewellery to bling it up

Just before the start of the first lockdown — and doesn’t that seem a lifetime ago? — I spent an afternoon in the jewellery galleries at the Victoria & Albert Museum, in London. What struck me was how much of the fabulous bling on display was royal, or had royal connections. At the beginning of the 19th century, a lot of money went on bling. And the ladies of consequence were happy to flaunt it.

Napoleonic bling

In 1806, Emperor Napoleon was intent on securing an alliance with the Prince-elector of Baden as part of the Confederation of the Rhine. To cement the alliance, Napoleon arranged a marriage between his adopted daughter, Stéphanie de Beauharnais, and the elector’s heir. Napoleon presented the bride with this beautiful set of emerald and diamond jewellery. Continue reading

An improper blog : embroidery and the pains of fashion

Apologies to our visitors expecting our normal Sunday morning blog. Things got a bit complicated in the hive this week, and there was no time to prepare a proper blog.

Instead, for an improper (and late) blog, I offer a few pretty pics, especially for those who like our costume series. And normal service will be resumed next weekend 😉

That poor seamstress again?

My blogs have often mentioned the poor seamstress who made those fabulous gowns and, probably, received a pittance for her work. Below are some examples of embroidery from the Hereford museum collections. I don’t know whether these are the work of a seamstress or by a lady, sitting comfortably by her fire. They’re worth a look, whoever did them. [Click to enlarge]

embroidery with flowers

Beautiful flowers, and a finely stitched edging (above) Continue reading

Historical Costume 1800-1820: boots and bags

A couple of weeks ago, in my blog about footwear, there wasn’t room to cover ladies’ boots.
So today I will. Plus some other essentials for the well-dressed lady.

Half-boots

buff cotton and leather half-boots 1815-20 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

cotton & leather half-boots 1815-20 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

If you’ve read your Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, you’ll be familiar with the term “half-boots”.
But what were they?
And what were they made of?

The pair on the right, from the marvellous V&A collection, is made of striped cotton with buff-coloured leather toecaps. The sole is leather and there’s a little heel. From the picture, it looks as though they, like the shoes I discussed in my last blog, are not made for left and right feet. They also look as if they’ve hardly been worn. If they were worn, it probably wasn’t in the rain and mud, judging by how clean and shiny they still are. Continue reading

Historical Costume, 1790-1830 : Shoes, slippers

riding boot with spurWhy shoes? Well, a few weeks ago, I was ranting about boots. Specifically, the fact that, in images intended for Regency covers, all the male models seem to wear knee-high boots, even with evening dress.

This kind of boot, from the Wade costume collection at Berrington Hall, really doesn’t look appropriate for evening, does it? Imagine dancing with a man wearing those 😉

To be fair, the cover images don’t normally include spurs, as this original does, carefully separated by tissue paper to protect the boot’s leather.

I haven’t found a cure for the boot problem yet—other than cropping out the blasted things—but it gave me the idea of doing a blog about footwear.

And, for the record, an example of the kind of shoe the gents should wear with evening dress is below. (Yes, I admit they look more like slippers to us, but the V&A says they’re shoes.)

men's velvet shoes 1805-10 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

men’s velvet shoes 1805-10 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Right and left shoes?

When I was looking at historical examples of footwear, I realised that right and left shoes were usually the same. Interchangeable. That was a surprise. Continue reading

Designer Stubble: the Bane of Regency Book Covers

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the hurdles I’d jumped over (and, on occasion, fallen at). while republishing vintage books. Some of you may have noticed that the covers for my four Aikenhead Honours books did not feature any heroes.
Why?
The dreaded designer stubble.

Aikenhead Honours covers without designer stubble

No designer stubble in sight?

Portrait of Duke of Wellington, painted by Goya, 1812-1814

Duke of Wellington, by Goya. No stubble.

Designer stubble, I contend, is the bane of a cover designer’s life, if she’s trying to create something that’s reasonably faithful to the Regency period.

Regency men often had side-whiskers, but their chins were clean shaven.
Today’s cover models? Not so much.

In fact, hardly at all.

Try typing “Regency gentleman” into any site that offers stock images — places like Shutterstock, Adobe, and so on. I bet that at least half of the images that come up will show a male model with designer stubble. Or a beard. On some sites, almost every single so-called “Regency gentleman” has chin hair of some kind. Continue reading

Historical Costume 1800-1820 : Parasols Up and Down

1820 pelisse robe © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

You may have seen the image above in my blog about pelisses, a few weeks ago. I’m repeating the picture here because of that parasol. Or is it an umbrella? It rather looks like one. In fact, apart from that tassel, the proportions look very modern.

Parasols : for the sun, not the rain

Parasols, especially early in the Regency period, had different proportions, as you can see from the examples below, all courtesy of the Hereford Museum costume collection.

On the left is a pale pink silk parasol, very small, with a long handle, a neat metal ferrule and a tassel. On the right is a pale pink lace parasol, again with a long handle. If you look closely — click on any of the images to enlarge them — you’ll see that the long ivory handle of the lace one is carved. Its ferrule has a ring rather than a tassel.

pale pink Regency parasol, Hereford Museum collectionpale pink Regency lace parasol, Hereford Museum collectionBoth Pale pink?

Do you begin to see a theme here?

There’s another one — also pale pink, but with a fringe this time — below. Continue reading

Historical Costume 1800-1820: Keeping Warm in a Pelisse

© Victoria & Albert Museum, London

1819 pink velvet pelisse trimmed chincilla © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

It’s winter. Dark and gloomy. Though, here in UK, it’s still quite warm. Or at least not as cold — yet! — as winter sometimes can be.

We have houses with central heating and double-glazing to keep out the cold and the draughts. Back in the Regency, they weren’t so lucky. Though, to be honest, I remember a house we bought in the 1970s that was incredibly draughty. I used left-over curtain material to sew a draught-excluder in the shape of a snake for the gap under the sitting-room door.

And I grew up in a non-centrally-heated house with a draught screen as part of the standard furnishings, about six feet high and with four brocade-covered panels. We had draughts and we definitely needed it. Continue reading

Female images : the message on romance covers?

Historical Covers : what do they say to readers?

I usually write Regency romances. So I have to keep an eye on developments in the market. And covers are a vital part of getting readers to pick up a book.

female images to match the story

What prompted a modern woman to pick up a Regency romance?

If I were to generalise from the many Regency covers I’m seeing these days, I’d say that quite a lot of them look too modern. They don’t say “Regency” to me.

I’m not sure whether it’s the heavy make-up, or the hairstyles, or the clothes, or just the knowingness that 21st century models seem to display. Whatever it is, very few of the females on today’s Regency covers look (to me) anything other than a modern woman playing at being in the Regency. Continue reading

The mental image of a character : the influence of covers

A Mental Image from Voice alone

a blank face so we create our own mental imagesHave you ever met someone on the phone — a business colleague, perhaps — and created a mental image of them from voice and conversation alone? If you later met them face to face, how did the reality measure up to your mental picture?

I vividly remember doing just that with a woman who subsequently became a close colleague when I was working in London. From her voice on the phone, from her senior position in the organisation and from what she said to me, I pictured a middle-aged, rather motherly figure with mid-brown hair in a beautifully-coiffed jaw-length bob. It was a pretty strong mental picture, though I have no idea where it came from. Continue reading

Historical Costume 1800-1820: a spencer for a skimpy gown?

In BBC's 1995 Pride and Prejudice, Mary and Jane wear spencers, Lizzie wears a shawl, and Lydia wears…er…nothing

In BBC’s 1995 Pride & Prejudice, Mary and Jane wear a spencer, Lizzie wears a shawl, and Lydia wears…er…nothing

What to wear if it’s cold? A spencer?

replica Regency gowns with spencers

Replica spencers (BBC’s Persuasion)

As the Pride & Prejudice picture shows, the high-waisted Regency gown needed a particular kind of outerwear.
A normally-waisted coat would have ruined the shape of the lady’s silhouette. So fashion called for something special. The answer was the spencer.

From about 1804, the spencer was a short-waisted jacket with long sleeves. It could be prim and proper, buttoned up to the neck, as modelled by Mary Bennet (above). Or it could be rather more risqué, accentuating the bosom, as Jane Bennet’s does.

But why was it called a spencer? Continue reading