Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Undressing the Regency Lady


A Regency lady might have worn very light fabrics (old-fashioned muslin was more like voile or batiste is today) but she did wear a few layers to compensate. It was said that a regency lady’s gown should be of such light fabric, she should be able to fold it up and have it fit into her reticule. It is no surprise that in wintertime, the mode of the period caused many a Regency lady to succumb to pneumonia.

Because of their penchant for light, airy fabrics, they had to make up for the opacity needed to make them presentable (except for those shocking merveilleuses; ladies known to wear very little beneath their very sheer gowns; thin muslin shift at best) with the undergarments.

Les incroyables et les merveilleuses
This period image is of an outlandish early-regency dandy offering money for ‘services’, mistaking this merveilleuse for a prostitute. She wards off his payment (with crossed fingers); she is dressed in the most daring of period fashions. Oh those French! Shocking!

Here is another images that shows less of transparent fabrics and more of the widening of the neckline. The stays were meant to present the lady’s assets on the proverbial platter. The gowns in this image surely support this idea to its best adavtage.

Of course, on the most part ladies wore decent clothing. And here is a breakdown of what you might see if you stripped away the muslin gown.

The Shift:
This shift is the simplest of garments. It also acts as a dress-shield, keeping (on the most part) you from sweating on your outer layers. Shifts are about knee length to mid-calf-length.

Patterns:
http://www.kannikskorner.com/patwomen2.htm (Woman’s Shift 1790-1820)

http://sensibility.com/patterns/regency-underthings-pattern/ (Sense & Sensibility Regency Underthings Pattern)

The trickiest part of this garment is the gusseted sleeve. This youtube tutorial explains it wonderfully. This is a great garment for beginners to try.



The neck should be adjustable with a drawstring.

You see, the shift acts like the top half of the 'bra'. The regency stays will lift and cup the lady's assets, but the stays are shallow and they risk spillage if they are not contained. The shift's drawstring neck should gather an inch or two above the edge of the gussetted cups on the stays and rein-in those wild bosoms. The shift is very important and when dressing, one must spend some time making proper adjustments so that they are doing their job and not so tight that they risk closing in the neckline so much that they peep out from under the gown. See below.



Stockings:
Patterns: http://www.kannikskorner.com/patwomen2.htm (Scroll down to Stockings, Pockets and Mitts)

Source for finished stockings; JAS Townsend.


Pantalettes
Pattern:
http://www.mantua-maker.com/catalog.html (Scroll down to Regency section)

Quoted from Dawn Luckham of the RSA board:

"When pantaloons or pantalettes first began to be worn by adult women they were worn long enough to be seen. That was the whole point.

C. Willett Cunnington writes in the “History of Underclothes” that they commonly extended down the leg to just below the calf, where rows of tucks and lace and pretty detail would be applied.

Also from “History of Underclothes”: “From Lady Stanley’s letter of 1817 – ‘We were insulted by the presence of (Lady) Charlotte (Lindsay) in a green silk Spencer, green silk boots, and trowsers to the ankle much below the petticoat.’”

As I mentioned before, pantalettes were generally just a couple of tubes of fine fabric (not usually wide legged – just straight tubes) fastened about the waist with a ribbon. They were not without their problems:
And this funny little story written by a young lady comes from 1820.

“ They are the ugliest things I ever saw: I will never put them on again. I dragged my dress in the dirt for fear someone might spy them. My first dimity pair with real Swiss lace is quite useless to me for I lost one leg and did not deem it proper to pick it up, and so walked off leaving it in the street behind me, and the lace had cost six shillings a yard. I saw that mean Mrs. Spring wearing it last week as a tucker….I hope there will be a short wearing of these horrid pantalets, they are too trying. Of course I must wear them for I cannot hold up my dress and show my stockings. No one does.”

A footnote to this story indicates it comes from Mrs. Earle: 'Two Centuries of Costume in America'."

Read more: http://regencysa.proboards.com/

These are an interesting set of garments, and I personally am not brave enough to go commando by any means, so I tend to make myself full bloomers rather than these interesting garments. However, there are die-hards out there who are determined to be accurate (in spite of the prospect of a chilly bottom). They do make for a nice aesthetic, when a lady lifts up her layers of petticoats to reveal the cuffs of a nice pair of corded pantalettes. Very cute.

The Stays:
Once the lady has her undergarments on, she’ll put on her stays. Now I’ve depicted a set of full stays with a busk, but there were many styles and varieties of stays during that period, ranging from the tiny short stays to the one pictured above. Here is a detailed post on the regency stays and corsets that could help you decide which set is best suited for you. It also includes pattern links.

Update: 8/26/2011: Here is a lovely little video stolen from 'Undressing the Historical Lady, performed by Miss Maggie Waterman. This is a perfect demonstration of what regency undergarments look like in person. You can learn more about Miss Waterman by clicking here: Undressing the Historical Lady. (Note, Miss Waterman's shift appears sleeveless, which is perfectly correct).



The Bodiced Petticoat






Though rarer than just plain stays, there was such thing as a petticoat undergown that had some boning in it that would provide support in place of a set of stays. This works best for ladies that are a B-cup or lower. I think with a C-cup or more, you should probably think about getting a set of stays. However, bodiced petticoats also served another purpose when not boned. They also could serve as a means to smooth out all the lumps and bumps of your undergarments and stays. There are lots of ways to make one of these. The Ravenrook’s Mode Bagatelle pattern provides a pattern for it—however you can easily take the pattern of your gown bodice and modify it to create a bodiced petticoat. Widen the neckline, of course, and make it sleeveless, add some soft (minmal) boning for structure, and you’re good to go.

Instructions on how to make a bodiced petticoat from a gown pattern.

Pattern:
http://www.ravenrook.com/clothier/bagatelle/regency.jsp (Mode Bagatelle)

I’ve also seen people add a skirt to their short stays to create a bodiced petticoat.

Check out Katherine’s bodiced petticoat, shift and pantalettes here:
http://www.koshka-the-cat.com/regency_underthings.html


The high-waisted simple petticoat:






In the movie below you see Katherine wearing this. It is a regency skirt on a waistband with two arm straps.

The pattern for which you can either take from a commercial pattern or you can 'McGuyver' one using some creative thinking.

You can follow the basic directions for a round-gown (see my personal post on Regency Drop-front/bib-front gowns) and sew it onto a waist-band you’ve sized to your empire waist. Add straps and voila. It will add volume and shape to your gowns, in addition to some lovely layers. I suggest 3.5 - 4 yards of fabric if not less. It should come to the line just above your ankles.

Dressing:
Katherine, costuming maven extraordinaire has made a delightful movie of how to put on a drop-front gown. What makes this video relevant here is that you can see her in her regency undergarments, including the high-waisted petticoat.



There you have it. Your regency underthings explained (for ladies, of course). Next post by me will be the men’s underthings explained. :)

4 comments:

Stephanie Ann said...

I love these. Regency dresses are so pretty. I especially loved the video. Thanks.

Meg said...

So flattered to accidentally find my sleeve tutorial here of all places! I hope it is helpful. I just wanted to stress that this was my first entirely handsewn project and that I consider myself a very basic seamstress -- if I can do it, anyone can :) I highly recommend the Kannik's pattern because it has great instructions and research.

Anonymous said...

i love you're drop-front dress. I have a question about the pins. Did they just use straight pins like we have, and if so, wasn't that kind of dangerous? I would think it would be so easy to get pricked - and also the pins would be visible.
thanks

Angela Salisbury said...

I have a question: can you wear a victorian overcast corset with a regency dress? I like the support the victorian corset offers. Does the full length regency corset offer the same support for good posture?