What’s a fall front, you ask…

It seems only fair that since I’ve given such a full and frank appraisal of a gentleman’s clothes, circa 1812, I ought to offer the same care and attention to the ladies…

Just to be fair, you understand. 

So, the first thing I should tell you is leave all those pre-conceptions behind.  For many of them weren’t constructed as we think women’s gowns were…with fastenings at the back. 

So, how did they work? 

Imagine if you will that the top of the gown is like a short-waisted jacket–almost like, what are they called, ah yes, a shrug or bolero– into which you would slip your arms.  (This is for the ladies in the audience…)

Then the attached skirt was gathered on a tape or ribbon which was tied at the front.  Then the front of the gown, attached as it was to the front bodice, was buttoned, tied, or pinned in place over the bosom, probably at four points–two on each side, one just below the shoulder at the top of the neckline, and at the waist on either side.  When these were unfastened, obviously the bodice front would fall–hence fall front. 

Underneath, yes, the corset.  Not the boardlike flattening corsets of 30 years previous.  No, these were designed to make the most of a woman’s charms by pushing up the breasts so that they (here’s that classical reference stuff again) resembled the improbably high bosoms of ancient Greek godesses as seen on all the statues.  In their results, if not their construction, Regency corsets were not dissimilar from today’s push-up bras.

Underneath that, a shift.  I fancy this would protect this tender skin from any biting or pinching that a tight corset might get up to… Be that as it may, it was a looseish, often white, sometimes pale pink or beige, slightly gathered about the neck slip which came down often as far as the knees, or longer.  It might be made of cotton lawn, linen or silk.

The pale pink or the pale beige silk was designed to create the impression that the woman was wearing nothing at all under her gown. 

And, for those who wish to know, yes, dampening one’s petticoat, as Lady Caroline Lamb and others were said to have done, would cause the silk to cling to her waist and thighs so that everything was on show. 

Stockings were worn, held up with garters tied about the thigh.  Fancy garters were de rigeur if one was expecting to waltz. 

And finally, colour.  Much is made of the fact that they wore a great deal of white or pale-coloured muslin. 

The fashion for white muslin goes back at least as far as Marie Antoinette in France.  She and her ladies in waiting were known to wear simple white muslin gowns as they played at being milkmaids at le Petit Trianon at Versailles.  And the fashion continued well into the early years of the 19th century.  There was as mentioned above the desire to resemble classical Greek statuary and for their gowns to recreate the image of the classical draperies found on such statuary. 

But white muslin also has the benefit of sending a clear financial message to the on-lookers.   For the very nature of the fabric meant that it could not be laundered frequently and survive–hence the wearer could afford to replace her clothes as often as she chose.  And, those pale colours soiled easily, and required frequent washing–so the wearer could afford the luxury of a laundrymaid. 

And now you know…

And for those of you who may wonder, why do I know such stuff?  Well, it’s what my characters (male or female) would have known, so I must know it too, don’t you see?


7 comments on “What’s a fall front, you ask…

  1. junebugger says:

    ..and thus the heaving bosoms.

    Lady Caroline Lamb. I saw her in this BBC movie called “BYRON” (have you seen it?). Crazy woman. Well, at least, in the movie she seemed it.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Yes, I did see that. A bit odd, wasn’t it. I imagine she was as wild as portrayed–though she wasn’t blonde.

      A very close friend of Byron’s always insisted that theirs was not a sexual relationship, and certainly she was nothing like the women with whom he usually had affaires. Like the Prince Regent, Byron preferred his mistresses older and ampler in every way. So Caroline Lamb’s boyish charms would have held little allure for him, one is led to believe.

      Though he also had affaires with young men, certainly in Europe. (It was outlawed here in the UK.)

      But they also omitted to illustrate his excessive gambling, and the violence in his nature…so one was left not realising that were he living today, he’d probably be locked up for assault and grievous bodily harm at the very least. And drugs…

      • junebugger says:

        “But they also omitted to illustrate his excessive gambling, and the violence in his nature…so one was left not realising that were he living today, he’d probably be locked up for assault and grievous bodily harm at the very least. And drugs…”

        I guess Byron is the epitome of a Regency Rake. Not so charming when put in this perspective…. Must one live such a violent life in order to write such beautiful poetry. haha

      • M M Bennetts says:

        I don’t believe Byron was the epitome–very few men had to leave the country because their excesses were such that if they didn’t leave the country they’d land in prison. It wasn’t just the women in general, it was also his affaire with his half-sister; it was that in the papers filed for his divorce, sodomy was cited (again illegal in the 19th century); and then there were the persistent rumours that he had a taste for under-age boys.

        And then there were the debts, and had he not fled, he would undoubtedly have landed in debtors’ prison.

        He, and subsequent sychophantic generations, pretended he left because his politics were too radical, but that’s just crock. His maiden speech in the Upper House was nothing great. And I believe he only spoke twice after that…

  2. junebugger says:

    Very well, then he is the epitome of a villain. But then again I’m sure he wasn’t that black and white.

  3. JSD says:

    Please email me re: a new imprint/publisher that does only HF —


    • M M Bennetts says:

      I very much regret to say that I don’t know of any. Harper Collins still publishes Patrick O’Brian’s work as well as that of George Macdonald Fraser; Bantam publishes Allan Mallinson as well as the superlative Janet Gleeson; Hodder and Stoughton publish Neal Stephenson; and Orion publishes C.C. Humphreys.

      But serious historical fiction set during the Napoleonic wars has pretty much been dominated by the naval/military interest over the last decade…which is why I am convinced May 1812 will do well because although it does have the political/espionage angle, it’s focus is still the war on the home front as it were, which was vital.

      Sorry not to have been of more help.

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