Category Archives: costume

Silk, Silliness and Sumptuary Laws

Silliness and Sumptuary Laws

Greek temple at Paestum, ItalyTime: 7th century BCE. Place: an ancient city under Greek law. A fanciful tale by Joanna…

A free-born woman, drunk and reeking of wine, leaves the city accompanied by two female slaves. She is wearing a splendid gown with a purple border, and has gold jewellery in her ears and round her neck. Outside the gates, she meets a man wearing a Milesian-style cloak with a gold-studded ring on his finger.

What do you think might be going on in this silly tale of mine?

The answer was inspired by this first written record of sumptuary laws which made me gasp and then chuckle when I first read it.

gavel balance judgement integrityA free-born woman may not be accompanied by more than one female slave, unless she is drunk; she may not leave the city during the night, unless she is planning to commit adultery; she may not wear gold jewellery or a garment with a purple border, unless she is a courtesan; and a husband may not wear a gold-studded ring or a cloak of Milesian fashion unless he is bent upon prostitution or adultery.

In the light of the laws above, you have probably worked out what the man and woman are up to. But I’ve got them sticking to all the laws in the book while they’re at it 😉

Clearly, in those days, any wife would know what her man was planning when he went out wearing his Milesian cloak. Or even just his gold-studded ring. Continue reading

Sexy, seductive silk—and sexy, seductive IN silk

Silk is a fabric that delights the eye and, particularly, the sense of touch. Run your fingers over a piece of silk—smooth, luscious, sensuous. And slightly baffling, too, in the way it can be so very tough while seeming so fine and fragile. Colorful threads of Thai silk

Silk seduced me the first time I saw it. I loved the jewel-like colours that the magical fibres can take. The ones shown above will make Thai silk. Aren’t those colours sumptuous? (Which makes me think, in passing, of Sumptuary Laws and the prohibition on the wearing of materials like silk by “inferior persons”. Possibly a topic for a future blog?)

Sewing silk: joys and pitfalls

Paisley pattern silkWhen I was in my teens and early twenties, I made a lot of my own clothes. A friend who was an air stewardess offered to sell me a dress length she’d brought back from Thailand. I couldn’t resist. The silk was mostly ruby and garnet coloured, with a paisley-type pattern, with hints of sapphire and amethyst. Gorgeous. (The pattern was something like the one shown here, only much, much nicer and without the orange.) Continue reading

Beau Brummell has lots to answer for…

This last week, I’ve been comfort-reading, which means Georgette Heyer. And the influence of Beau Brummell crops up an awful lot.

James Purefoy as Beau Brummell

James Purefoy as Beau Brummell

He is there, even in novels like Arabella that are set after his flight to France. Brummell might be gone from the scene, literally, but he’s still around, in spirit.

cartoon of Regency dandy 1818

Wadded shoulders and wasp-waist for the dandy

Until that moment [Arabella] had thought Mr Epworth quite the best-dressed man present; indeed, she had been quite dazzled by the exquisite nature of his raiment, and the profusion of rings, pins, fobs, chains, and seals which he wore; but no sooner had she clapped eyes on Mr Beaumaris’s tall, manly figure than she realized that Mr Epworth’s wadded shoulders, wasp-waist, and startling waistcoat were perfectly ridiculous. Nothing could have been in greater contrast to the extravagance of his attire than Mr Beaumaris’s black coat and pantaloons, his plain white waistcoat, the single fob that hung to one side of it, the single pearl set chastely in the intricate folds of his necktie. Nothing he wore was designed to attract attention, but he made every other man in the room look either a trifle overdressed or a trifle shabby. (Arabella, Chapter 6)

“Nothing he wore was designed to attract attention…” That could have been a description of Brummell himself. After all, Brummell was the one who said: “To be truly elegant, one should not be noticed.” Continue reading

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?

Continue reading

A Close Shave (or the gentle art of Pogonomotomy)

Life is getting difficult for writers of Georgian and Regency romance

Shave? Our Regency heroes have traditionally been clean shaven. In fact a quick flick through Mills & Boon’s book of cover designs, The Art of Romance, has  only one cover with any facial hair on a man. It is a small, neat  moustache. I confess I haven’t read the book, but I am not convinced that he is the hero. However, a quick look in any street or on social media will tell you that beards are now becoming fashionable. Designer stubble is already creeping in, will full beards follow?cartoon shave for a penny

My latest Harlequin/Mills & Boon release is set in the Highlands in 1746, so I think we can get away with a small amount of facial hair…

but how about designer stubble? It is definitely considered sexy now, isn’t it?

Bridgerton character without a shaveIt  certainly  didn’t  put  off the  fans  of  Bridgerton!

To be fair, stubble isn’t as inappropriate as we might think, in some circumstances. Read on….. Continue reading

Historical Costume 1800-1850 : the Lady’s Riding Habit

Berrington Hall stables with lady's riding habitIn this occasional series on costume, we’ve featured a lot of day wear, but never what ladies wore when they went riding. The image above shows the Berrington Hall stables and a green riding habit on a mannequin. The waist is around the normal place and it doesn’t have full upper sleeves, so it probably dates from the late 1820s or early 1830s though it could be Victorian.

The development of the riding habit

Judging by the Paris prints, the riding habit changed a lot in the early part of the 19th century. In the Regency period, they looked pretty much like pelisses, except with much more skirt. Here are two, dating from 1816 and 1817, courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum collection.

1816 print of riding habit © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

1816 print of riding habit © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

1817 print of riding habit © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

1817 print of riding habit © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

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