Tag Archives: costume

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.

We had quite a few phone conversations. (This was long ago, in the days before social media, so there were no online images that I could view.)

motherly mental image turned into glamorous blondeAnd then I met her.

When she walked in, I was shocked.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.

She had a wild mane of curly ash-blonde hair, she was bubbly and she was fun. She was senior and responsible, certainly, but neither middle-aged nor motherly. Oops 😉

Mental Image : the Influence of a Book Cover

Cover of Sara Craven's last bookA few days ago, I was given a copy of the last book by the late, great Sara Craven, bestselling writer of deeply emotional romances and much-missed friend of the Libertà hive. I didn’t read the blurb on the back — I didn’t want anything to spoil the unfolding of a taut, unputdownable Sara Craven story — but I couldn’t help looking at the cover.

It’s lovely. That dark-eyed beauty with long straight ebony hair certainly registered with me. Yes, she could easily be the heroine of a Sara Craven romance. (For some reason, the chiselled, bearded hero didn’t make as deep an impression. It was the woman who set my imagination working. Something to do with the light on her jawline, maybe?)

Me-time: Cup of tea, book, mental images of charactersTime for me-time. Delicious luxury.
I sat down with a cup of tea and began to read. The voice of the ebony-haired beauty sang out from the first page. i was quickly hooked into her story and dying to uncover her secrets.

About three pages in, my mental image was shattered. Sara’s heroine, Alanna, had a cloud of dark auburn hair. What? Did that mean it was curly as well as red? What’s more, her eyes were green. Nooo! Not possible. She was already in my subconscious as that dark-haired, dark-eyed siren.

I read on — of course I did; it’s a fabulous read, a real belter of a story — but I’ll admit I had difficulty “seeing” Alanna in my mind’s eye after that, because my original mental image had been so wrong.writing for a reader - stressed

How to give Readers the “right” Mental Image

Is there a solution?

For my self-published books, the choice of cover model is my responsibility. And I try very hard to get it right. Mind you, it can be difficult, because I generally write historicals and because — whisper it ever so softly — many of the picture studios that produce shots for use in cover art don’t seem to have a clue about the period they’re supposed to be representing. If you don’t believe me, look at a typical example: female in ball gown, kneeling male in evening dress and…?

Riding boots in the drawing room?

…and boots. Riding boots! 

My #1 and biggest beef, by far.

Think of a cover scene.

It’s outdoors. He’s dressed for riding. Boots? Yes, fine. Totally appropriate. But how often is that kind of shot used?

More often, he’s in the lady’s drawing room. Boots? Well, possibly Hessian boots and pantaloons. Certainly not knee-high jobs for riding.

Ballgown and riding boots?

Often in these shots, though, he’s seducing the heroine at a ball. We know that, because she’s wearing a ballgown.
Hero in boots? No. Never.
Dancing shoes. Plus knee breeches, quite possibly, and silk stockings. But NOT boots.

I have a solution here that I’m happy to share. I usually ask my cover designer to hide the boots somehow — with the title, or a logo, or simply by cropping the shot. If it’s my own cover, I will NOT have my hero wearing riding boots at a ball.

Will photo galleries ever get the message? I’ve never yet seen a gallery shot featuring dancing pumps.
If you find one, please do let me know.

The Right Mental Image : Beef #2

A Regency Invitation, Edition in Polish

A Regency Invitation, Polish Edition

My second biggest beef is facial hair. In the Regency period, gentlemen were clean-shaven. They didn’t have moustaches or beards. And they absolutely did NOT have designer stubble.

Here’s one of my own covers that made the facial-hair mistake (though only in the background). Please don’t complain to the poor author, dear readers. I tried to get that beard photoshopped out as soon as I saw it, but I was too late. Much gnashing of authorly teeth.

Sometimes, both my beefs appear in a single shot. Have a look at these examples of a Regency couple: not only boots, but designer stubble as well. ARGH.

OK, that’s 2 beefs about the male models.
What about the females? Surely those are right?
Or a bit more right?

Rake’s Reward
Regency Lords & Ladies Collection


That, I fancy, is a topic for another blog.


And in the meantime, I leave you with the only one of my covers to include a gent in knee breeches. Problem is that, although he’s in period, he’s not exactly my mental image of a hero…

Sigh.Joanna Maitland, author


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

Regency evening gowns: delicious detail at bosom and ankle

White evening gown, 1800, Bath costume museum

Bath Costume Museum

Regency evening gown, replica, Bath costume museum

Bath Costume Museum

Detail does matter. The Regency lady going to dinner, or going to a ball, wanted every detail of her appearance to be perfect. Especially if her aim was to attract a potential husband. (She might, of course, have been a married lady looking for a little diversion with a new lover.)

Did the gentlemen in question notice these details? Possibly they did, because most of the details on these gorgeous gowns were around two areas of the female body that drew the masculine eye — the low-cut neckline exposing much of the lady’s bosom, and the naughty ankle, glimpsed as the lady walked or danced. Continue reading

Regency Gowns: Who Would be a Seamstress?

white gowns worn by Bennet sisters in BBC 1995 Pride & Prejudice

BBC’s 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice

Regency gowns are familiar to anyone who has ever watched a Jane Austen adaptation on TV or film. We expect to see ladies floating around in high-waisted dresses, probably made of fine white muslin. We expect to see large quantities of bosom on display. But from our modern perspective of mass-produced clothing and home sewing machines, we rarely think about how these supposedly simple Regency garments were made.

By female hand and eye. Every last cut and stitch.

Continue reading