Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen Costuming’

I have a ROM membership, so I visit often. I ventured to the fourth floor for their Riotous Color exhibit, and took some photos of their 19th century gowns for the world to see and study. Since this is all so image rich, I will post each gown individually.

The ROM describes this patterned silk dress as being semi-formal. I would guess they came to that conclusion for the following reasons:

1. It’s made out of silk, which is a formal fabric.

2. It’s not decorated heavily, which would suggest that it is not a super formal dress.

3. It is long-sleeved. Many of the ballgowns of the period were short sleeved.

4. It has a train, which would suggest that it is formal. However, in the first half of the decade, almost all dresses had trains, regardless of their formality and purpose. There were many complaints made during the day about how women of all classes would be gathering up their long, dirties trains. But throwing the train over one’s elbow allowed a woman an opportunity to show off her legs.

5. I am no expert on printed fabrics, but I am guessing that a printed silk would be expensive. Dyes on silk do like to run, and a multi-colored wood-blocked print would probably be pretty difficult. Yet, the long sleeves and lack of decoration suggest the gown is not meant for very formal wear.

I would guess that a printed-silk, trained gown would be worn at home by a relatively affluent woman.

Here’s the photos:

GOWN 1800-1805

1805 print gown

The gown is made of printed silk with a straight front. Long sleeves that cover the wrists, straight line across the neckline. The female figure is columnar, yet active. The architecture of the gown does not create the body, unlike the previous era. This is a reflection of the chaotic social mobility of the era.

Side shot 1805 gown

Pleated, high waisted back with train. Straight front. Very typical of early Empire. The train becomes an extension of the neck, the whole thing culminating in a head crowned in soft curls.

1805 gown back

Closer shot of the back. The back of the bodice falls on the body as though the neckline were bell-shaped, though of course it’s not cut like that. This nice effect broadens the shoulders and emphasizes the curve of the neck.

1805 gown silk pattern

Close up of the pattern on the silk. It was printed with wood blocks. Amazing how they did that stuff!


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Beau Brummell, regency fashion leader in his ivory pants. Millitary officers were, after all, fashionable attractions in ballrooms and in marriage.

I’ve cut out the pieces of my Jane Austen-era ivory wool pants. From what I understand, light colored pants were preferred for evening and formal wear. Ivory was also the standard color for millitary pants as well. White pants pair well with the image of the status conscious British redcoat with their formality and strict discipline. But in reality, their physical circumstances were dirty and trying enough to kill those with weak constitutions way before musket shots were fired. So, how do ivory pants fit into both the backdrops of the bloody battlefield and the boisterous ballroom?

Wellington and his men in their fancy pants. White pants in the heat of battle on horseback?!

Naturally, ivory and white pants are the hardest to maintain, and a clear pair of light colored pants would demonstrate that one had the lifestyle, habits, morals and capabilities to keep them clean. When one imagines all of the British army officers of the late 18th and early 19th century struggling to keep their clothes clean in almost all of corners of the earth, one is astonished that the British Empire was able to form at all. Discipline must be something like a muscle – the more one uses it whether in laundering, musket-loading, or cutting back gastronomically – the more it is able to give back. To a British army officer, keeping one’s pants clean may have been seen as a reflection of the care he was capable of putting into detail-oriented warfare.

I remember reading in one of my Jane Austen-context books that military officers were incredibly fashionable to have as guests and admirers. The army was more fashionable than the navy, and the higher rank the officer basically the more his appeal would be in a ballroom or dinner party. So, the appeal of the white/ivory pants in evening and high fashion wear was a reflection on how British manhood was defined. High maintenance but relatively durable pants were a commentary on the discipline, physical skill, and service to society a man could provide all while keeping his clothes nice and clean.

Anyhow, thinking about this won’t get my pants done. Off to work.

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I am making a Regency suit for my significant other. We will be attending the Jane Austen weekend here in Toronto, and I am dizzy with excitement when I think of the costume possibilities. The components of this ensemble will be as follows:

1810-ish men's wear

  • Tailed Coat: will be one of wool broadcloth in a very, very dark grey.
  • Undershirt: White linen
  • Waistcoat: will be made of a pale yellow striped silk.
  • Breeches: will be made out of ivory wool.

I will be making the suit for a civilian gentleman.

I’m drafting my own pattern for my ballgown. At first, I was thinking of taffeta for myself, as there are few fabrics that scream “ballgown” more than taffeta. I am glad I thought twice about the silk taffeta before I purchased the 5 necessary yards at an exorbitant price. I’m planning on doing plenty of dancing at Fort York, and I know from experience that although one can dance in formal, stiff fabric, dancing in a lightweight silk/cotton blend would probably be way more pleasant.

Granted, I am a married woman. It would hardly be becoming if I were to frolic and bounce around a la Lydia Bennett. Taffeta would be a good choice for the evening wear of a woman with her husband in attendance. But, I think I will endeavor to add dignity to my ballgown without compromising the dance-ability of the gown. To this effect, I have in mind a silk-cotton base gown with a sheer silk ivory overlay possibly trimmed with some antique embroidered lace I have stashed away. I could make the base gown in either ivory or a color such as pale blue, lilac, or coral.

When I read the Austen letters way back in the day, I remember lilac was mentioned frequently as a fashionable color, particularly in 1805-1806. And to make a reference to Austen’s writing, in Northanger Abbey Isabella Thorpe once told Catherine that she wore a great deal of purple, though she felt she looked awful in it. I feel it would be a safe assumption to say that purple may have been fashionable in the mid decade to recognize all that empire building on the continent. There are few things that scream Napolean more than his golden bees on a rich purple satin background.

I digress towards the subject of purple once again! Honestly, I only brought the color up to reflect on the irony that lilac was indeed a very fashionable color during the Austen time though it is very seldom used in Jane Austen films. Those who rely on film to give them a sense of Jane Austen fashion may miss all the purple. Film makers prefer rather to use muted corals, roses, and sometimes pale blues, I believe to perhaps emphasize the myopic, interpersonal human relations that make the Jane Austen style. Purple, which traditionally suggests mystery, that which is not understood, as well as worldly and Imperial ambitions, would make trite the complaints of the heiress Emma or Elizabeth Bennett’s unyielding quest for the ideal husband. With that in mind, I will not wear lilac at Fort York in Toronto. And besides, it looks awful with my complexion, too.

Note: Ski season and a dreadful case of food poisoning severely interfered with the previous plaid bustle plan. Fabric for said project has been stored away, as I now have a deadline for something new.

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