Category Archives: costume

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

Historical Costume 1800-1820 : the simple Regency gown?

1807 white muslin wedding dress © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

A Regency gown might not be so simple?

1807 wedding dress asymmetric embroidery on front

A Regency gown might look simple but the wedding dress shown above clearly is not. Mainly because of the hand-embroidered muslin, rather than the fairly standard design.

That stunning dress was worn by a seventeen-year-old bride, Mary Dalton Norcliffe, for her marriage to Dr Charles Best in York on 11 June 1807. It’s made of Indian muslin and the V&A suggests the embroidery was done in India, too. Not only is there beautiful embroidery all round the hem and train, there is asymmetric embroidery across the front of the skirt, recalling the classical toga. You may find it easier to see the white-on-white embroidery in the close-up, shown left. Continue reading

Historical Costume 1780s : Caraco. But what IS a caraco?

What is a Caraco?

Striped silk sack-backed caraco, 1760-1780

Striped silk sack-backed caraco, 1760-1780

Caraco isn’t a word that many of us are familiar with. It’s not in many dictionaries, either. It is in Wikipedia, though, along with this illustration of a lovely caraco jacket, dating from 1760 but altered in the 1780s. The original is in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

So… what is a caraco?

It’s a woman’s jacket, usually waisted and thigh length, with a front opening. It could be worn as the bodice of a gown and was termed a “caraco dress” when it was complete with a skirt. Some simple versions had high waists even as early as the 1780s.

According to Wikipedia, the original French caraco was often worn with a stomacher to fill the front opening, as with the silk one in the picture above. The English version was designed to meet in front and didn’t need a stomacher. Which is a pity, as stomachers can be truly beautiful, like these from earlier periods… Continue reading

Historical Costume 1780s : Polonaise Gown

Polonaise not Panniers!

1780 polonaise replica

1780 polonaise replica

1787 polonaise original

1787 polonaise original

This blog looks at the lovely Georgian polonaise gown, as a follow-up to my earlier blogs about the hard work of the seamstress and the lady’s maid. We marvel at these gowns in museums — and most of us know that every stitch was hand-sewn — but do we stop to think about the detail of the process?

Shown left is a modern replica of a 1780 polonaise gown, made in plain white fabric to show off the detail of construction. Shown right is an original gown dating from the late 1780s and with the back only partly lifted.

Normally, the back of the polonaise would be lifted in two or more places to show the petticoat beneath, as shown below. Continue reading

Stirling Castle & Mary Queen of Scots’ Dad!

Stirling Castle, sitting on extinct volcano

Apologies for the tongue-in-cheek title to this post. I’m guessing that if I had headed it “Stirling Castle and James V”, quite a few of our readers would have said, “Who he?”

Stirling's statue of James V as Old Testament prophetHe is James V, King of Scots. Yes, he was the father of the rather better-known Mary, Queen of Scots.
James V and Stirling Castle had quite a relationship. (And did you know that the mound on which the castle sits is actually an extinct volcano?)

Portrait of James V of ScotlandBoth these images represent James V. In the statue, he has a long flowing beard, like an Old Testament prophet, ready to usher in a golden age for Scotland. In the portrait, he has his normal neat beard and gorgeous clothes.
He didn’t make it to prophet status. James died when he was just 30, leaving one legitimate child (Mary), who was only 6 days old. James also left at least 9 illegitimate children, so he was definitely neither saint nor prophet 😉 Continue reading