Tag Archives: costume

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.

So Regency folk weren’t alone. (And, unlike me in Scotland, they might have had draught screens as beautiful as the Chinese example below, dating from 1825-1865.)

chinese screen © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Chinese screen © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Modern women have learned to wear layers to keep out the cold. We wear trousers, or thick tights, and boots if we need to. Or thermal underwear. Fashion can go hang if the weather is bad. But Regency ladies don’t seem to have had so much choice.

How did a Regency Lady Keep Warm in Winter?

replica Regency gowns with spencers

Bath costume collection

So how did the Regency lady keep warm when the wind was howling or the snow was falling?

1817 pelisse and spencer fashion plate © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

1817 pelisse and spencer © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

I’ve blogged before about the spencer. It could look incredibly elegant but it didn’t even reach to the lady’s natural waist so it couldn’t keep much of her warm.

One alternative was the pelisse, a type of overgarment that conformed to the high-waisted style of Regency dresses. In the fashion plate [left] from the V&A, one lady is wearing a full-length pelisse; the other wears a spencer. The pelisse is heavily decorated which would have added extra layers of fabric and extra warmth.

The images below are of a very similar pelisse, dating from around 1818. Interesting colour, isn’t it?1818 brown silk pelisse © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The decoration is equally elaborate, as you can see, but the pelisse might have been quite warm, being made of silk taffeta and lined with holland (a plain linen or cotton fabric) except for the front skirts which were lined with cream silk. Again, there are several layers of fabric in places like the shoulders and the front. It does look better than a spencer for keeping a lady warm though rain would have played havoc with that silk fabric — imagine how it would have spotted.

Pelisse Eye Candy for Costume Lovers

1825 redingote male © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

© Victoria & Albert Museum, London

A lady’s pelisse was also sometimes termed a “redingote”.

But “redingote” can also refer to a man’s double-breasted topcoat with a full skirt. The OED says the French word is a corruption of the English “riding coat”. Made me smile.

You may enjoy the gent in the 1825 purple redingote shown here. Check out his beautifully curled hair and the astonishing height of his neckcloth. [Click on any of the images for a larger view so you can see the detail.] The backview of the redingote is shown in green on the chap in the background holding the horse.

Ladies’ pelisses weren’t always as elaborate as the brown silk example above. In earlier years, they could be pretty simple like the red and black version shown below. It is from a Parisian fashion plate and uses the name of redingote (spelled with two t’s).

1800-5 pelisse print © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

© Victoria & Albert Museum, London

This pelisse/redingote from about 1800-05 is made of red fabric with a black velvet collar and cuffs to the plain sleeves. It has simple tabbed fastenings and is not full length. It isn’t clear whether it would have been warmly lined or not. In summer, pelisses were generally unlined; in winter they were lined. But the colour of this one was certainly warm. And eye-catching.

Within a few years, though, pelisses were becoming more elaborate and using lots more fabric. Have a look at this rather sumptuous version [below left] from about 1810, with a heavily gathered back and a high collar. The cut of the back and the sleeves looks fiendishly complicated for the seamstress. And next to it, in green, is an 1814 example of the height of French fashion for the pelisse or redingote: this elaborately stitched coat is made of finest merino wool and lined with astrakhan, and it’s just the right length so that the lace frill of her gown shows enticingly under the coat hem. Her ankles, too. Well, why not?

1810 pelisse print © Victoria & Albert Museum, London   © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

1810 pelisse and 1814 green redingote © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

To round off my illustrations of pelisses that might possibly keep a lady warm, I’m including two more prints, from 1816, each of two ladies wearing colourful pelisses. Pale pink edged with green, anyone? And if you look closely, you’ll see that the lady in the pale blue pelisse has tucked a purse into her belt.

© Victoria & Albert Museum, London  © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Parisian fashion plates of pelisses, 1816, © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Alternatives to a Pelisse?

Of course, a lady could have wrapped herself in a shawl to keep warm but that wouldn’t have been nearly so fashionable. The model below is carrying a rather splendid shawl. She appears to be wearing a pelisse, too, but actually that’s a pelisse robe, a gown masquerading as a pelisse and dating from about 1820.

1820 pelisse robe © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

1820 pelisse robe © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

I’ll be blogging about gloves, and other accessories like shawls at a future date. And some day, there may even be a blog about what the lady wore under those glorious Regency gowns 😉

Joanna Maitland, author


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

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