What exactly is the Regency, anyway?

I don’t know why it is, but I seem to be writing a lot about things about which I had vowed never to mention. 

Like recently I broke my promise to myself that I would never ever write about the Prince Regent.  But there I was a few months ago typey-tapping out a post on what a wild sexy young thing he’d been when in his late teens and early twenties. 

(I know!  What came over me?) 

And now this…this term, the Regency. 

You see, the thing is, I loathe the inexact, twee use of this word.  It makes me want to thrash my laptop with a riding crop.  Or beat my head against the desk.  Or both.  Together or separately, I don’t much mind which.  And there is so much misleading, misguided misinformation out there about it that…well, we’re back to the laptop or my head taking a pasting…

So, I shall clear up the whole weebley conundrum for once and for all.  Now.  Today. 

The Regency…Well, to begin with, there are actually two Regencies in English history. Continue reading

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In Praise of Garters…

Can I just say, we did a very stupid thing when we let the fashion industry talk us out of these…

And no, I’m not talking about a gent’s black elastic jobbies that fasten about his little white spindle-shank leg to hold up his boring black socks.

I’m talking about the objects of beauty and desire and attainment, confections of ribbons and rosettes which were made to hold up a lady’s silk stockings and were tied just above the knee.

Once the waltz became fashionable–and that was introduced to England somewhere between 1806-ish and the spring of 1814–it became all the rage to wear fancy garters because when one twirled about, the gown would spin out and the garters would be revealed.

Fancy being a bloke back then–standing against the wall to gain a glimpse of these alluring limbs with these exquisite little creations about ’em.

And they were significant too.

There were special garters worn for a wedding, and the bridegroom’s removal of them was a signal and a proof that he had had access to the bride’s thighs and therefore to her.  It was a big deal.  And he would usually keep at least one of the garters, even taking it into battle with him if he were a soldier.   The other, of course, was often tossed out the window to his friends, again as proof, that he was getting on with the job.

But imagine it, pale silk stocking encasing the leg, and tied above the knee with these elegant adornments of lace, ribbon and rosettes…

Okay, shutting up now.

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?