More Scandalous Talk about Regency Undewear–the stockings

After all my scandalous talk of Regency underwear, here, here, here, and here, I am finishing off with a tamer post about the last layer of undergarments–the stockings. See? Not scary at all 🙂

Regency ladies wore stockings held up with garters either at the thigh or just above the knee. These stockings pictured at the left are knitted in blue and white silk. Stripes on any and all garments were popular in the 1790s but had faded by the Regency Era. These stockings pictured date from around 1800 so they are nearing the end of their heyday for stripes before giving way to the plainer styles—and almost always white–either plain or knitted in a lacy pattern stitched with white or colored embroidery.

The picture to the right is of a Georgian lady putting on her stockings. Her stockings are white, almost certainly silk, and she is tying them on with ribbon garters.

Our Regency lady would have worn knit stockings of cotton or silk (or wool during cold weather), held up with garters that tied, buckled, or hooked. Below is a fun engraving showing ladies getting dressed, inclding putting on stockings.

Ladies (and gentlemen, too, for that matter) often wore thicker stockings under their fine silk stockings for additional warmth if it was a formal setting where silk would be more fashionable. As an added beenfit to wearing white cotton underneath their silk, the thicker fabric help hide their leg hair. Shaving leg hair is a fairly modern–and largely American–custom; certainly Regency ladies didn’t think to shave their legs.

Now that our Regency lady has on all her undergarments, she can now don her gown, although, of course, she may certainly have put on her stockings after dressing in her gown rather than before.

More Scandalous Talk about Regency Undewear–the stockings syndicated from http://donnahatchnovels.tumblr.com/

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Last Chance to get amazing anthology, WITH A KISS syndicated from http://donnahatchnovels.tumblr.com/

Regency Underwear, the Petticoat

Over her shift or chemise and her stays, a Regency Lady wore a petticoat. This resembles a sleeveless jumper with a scooped neckline. The petticoat helps create a smooth canvas over which ladies wore the transparent muslins and silks of the era that were intended to flow elegantly around a lady’s form.

Period petticoats tie shut at the back. It is anchored at the back with hooks and eyelets. This pattern is smooth at the front and sides, and pleated at the back to keep the streamlined silhouette while still allowing room for leg movement. Petticoats were often embellished at the hem with tucks or embroidery. Mine merely has a small drawstring.

As you can see, I had my shift made from unbleached muslin and my petticoat made with a whiter fabric called sateen. We could have used bleached muslin, too. If a lady were very wealthy, she might be able to afford bleached muslin for her shift, too, but since petticoats were the only garment to be frequently washed, they had to be replaced much more often due to the harsh washing practices of the era.

Some sources say that petticoats were intended to be seen, since a lady often needed to lift her outer dress to protect its far more expensive and delicate fabric. However I don’t know why she wouldn’t just lift all her skirts unless she’s trying to protect her stockings.

In very cold weather our Regency lady probably worn additional petticoats for warmth, but her gowns would have to be made large enough to accommodate them, unless she is wearing an apron-style gown that is less fitted.

I did find a period petticoat that had only shoulder straps instead of a bodice, but the style pictured seems to be the most popular.

To make this petticoat, we choose cotton sateen, which is a satin weave used to create a shimmery look. Sateen is made with spun yarn instead of filament. (The sheen and softer feel of sateen is produced through the satin weave structure.) Sateen is similar to muslin so it still feels authentic and has a really nice feel to it, a nice shimmer, and it drapes beautifully.

In looking at these photos, I probably should have ironed them before hand, but I can barely stand to iron nice blouses, much less an undergarment. Life is too short for that 🙂

Regency Underwear, the Petticoat syndicated from http://donnahatchnovels.tumblr.com/

Regency Stays: facts and myths

During the Regency, Corsets were called Stays. This style of stays is called long stays. This is the kind of stays nearly every women, rich or poor, wore.  The material we used to make my stays was cotton twill. Later, I discovered that another good choice for stays or corsets is Coutil (or Coutille), a woven cloth created specifically for making corsets. I don’t know how authentic it is, but it has a nice, stiff feel.

The cotton twill fabric is stiff and tightly woven to inhibit penetration of the corset’s boning which is called stays and what gives this garment its name. Both Twill and Coutil have a high cotton which has good dimensional stability, or a resistance to stretching, which makes it a good choice for clothing, and especially such as a stressed garment. My grommets are metal, but authentic Regency stays have stitched button holes. Some day, when I have nothing better to do, I will hand stitch around my grommets to make them look more authentic.

As you can see, I am wearing my stays over another garment called a shift, or chemise. You can read more details about it here.

Some women preferred short stays, or demi stays. These seemed to be mostly worn during the summer or if they were especially small busted, or if they didn’t have someone to help lace up their stays—although that would have been very rare—but these provided less support and lacked the smoothing effects of the long stays so they were not anywhere near as popular. It is believed that more of the working classes wore short stays, (probably because they were thinner or because the short stays cost less) than members of the upper classes. However, many sources suggest most working women wore long stays, too. Working class women usually shared a room with someone else so there was always another pair of hands to help lace stays in back.

Regency corset stays are quite comfortable. They don’t pinch. It’s simply not possible. Unless the boning is working its way out, they don’t poke. Unlike Victorian corsets which can be tightly laced, Regency stays don’t make it difficult to breathe. With the exception of the mid to late 1800’s, corset stays were not designed to give women a small waist, but to lift the bustline, and to give women a smooth base for clothes. In fact, until the introduction of the metal grommet (1828) and the 2 part metal busk (1829), tightening a corset enough to dramatically change one’s figure was nearly impossible. The fabric or the holes would have given out first. The corset merely provided the right silhouette for the loose, flowing gowns of the Regency.

If your heroine doesn’t wear stays, she’s not going to be able to wear the clothes of her era. At least, not with any class. She would look frumpy in them. Even if she chooses to wear them loosely laced, she would still be wearing them. Just as women today look either saggy or trashy (or both) when they walk around in public without a bra, so too, would a Regency woman.

While corsets are not uncomfortable, they do restrict the wearer in ways you may, and may not, expect.

The front center of our Regency stays has a wooden busk. This is roughly the size and shape of a common school ruler. The busk is designed to help the garment lay flat, as well as lift and separate the breasts. Because of the busk, our Regency lady not able to bend freely at the waist, but will do so from the hips. The busk also encourages excellent posture. Slouching is not really an option in a long corset due to the busk.

Now, there are a few possible discomfort factors. Other stays wearers tell me they sometimes have tiny indentations from where the shift underneath the stays has creased the skin. These may itch a little for a few minutes. Rubbing them helps, I am told, but I’ve never had this problem.

If you lose weight, your corset can become uncomfortable—more so than if you gain a bit, as your breasts may slide down and get “squashed”. Plus, if it’s loose, it may rub.

If the boning works out of the channel at the top or bottom, it can jab but that won’t happen if it’s well made.

Overall, Regency stays really are quite comfortable and nice to wear. My main gripe is how long it takes to get into them, and that I can’t do it by myself. Otherwise, I’d be tempted to wear stays every day instead of a bra.

Regency Stays: facts and myths syndicated from http://donnahatchnovels.tumblr.com/

More scandalous talk about Regency underwear

Getting dressed during the Regency seems to be quite an ordeal compared to today’s practices, but it really isn’t all that complicated. As I sit in my air conditioned office, glaring at the heat outside, it’s hard to imagine ladies would have been willing to do it. However, keep in mind that the weather in Regency England was much cooler tan it is today because they were near the end of a mini Ice Age. With such drafty houses and cold temperatures, staying warm would have required many layers of clothing.

The first to put on was a shift, also called a chemise. It was made of fine linen. They were almost exactly like those of the previous century, but the sleeves are shorter. A chemise provided a barrier between a woman’s body and the other layers of clothing, so the shift absorbed perspiration and was washed the most. Laundry methods used stringent soaps and boiling to achieve a high level of clean as well as to remove any stains or discoloration. Clothes could also be left out in the sun even after they were dry to be bleached clean. Since the washing process was so harsh, clothes wore out quickly and needed to be replaced frequently, therefore, shifts were usually pretty cheaply made–without embellishment. All of the shifts I saw in museums were fairly plain and unadorned. 

I had my shift made out of poly cotton batiste which is as close to an heirloom fabric as I could find. A fine weave muslin would have worked well, too. For my shift, we used this pattern:  http://www.marariley.net/shift/shift.htm

As you can see, my shift is fairly shapeless which is exactly what they looked like. My seamstress gathered the neck and sleeves to make it easy to fit under any kind of sleeve and neckline, but this is not necessarily how they were all made. Clothes were custom made, so historical seamstresses each probably had her own favorite pattern. If I were to do it again, I would use bleached fabric rather than unbleached, because that’s probably what a lady in the higher class would have worn. Also, I would have cut it in a little more so there isn’t so much bunching when the rest of the layers go on.

The shift is lightweight and comfortable. It is also, I might add, probably the ONLY thing worn next to the skin. There are just too many convincing arguments that state ladies of high quality did not wear drawers or pantaloons underneath. I know, it seems shocking, but sensibilities were very different in Regency England. For more information about that debate, see my blog post on the topic.

Also, even though some ladies wore nightgowns or night rails, it seems other ladies simply wore their shifts to bed rather than changing, so they served multiple purposes.

Next week I’ll discuss the next layer, the corset stays. So “stay” tuned 🙂

More scandalous talk about Regency underwear syndicated from http://donnahatchnovels.tumblr.com/

The Great Regency Underwear Debate

Historians, researchers, and authors have long debated what ladies in Regency England wore under their gowns. We know they wore a shift, or chemise, over which they laced up stays (a type of Regency corset but more comfortable), and then donned a petticoat, which was basically a long slip. We also know they wore stockings that tied or buckled. But our modern-day sensibilities insist that they must have worn drawers or pantaloons, right?

Not necessarily. There’s a bit of controversy about drawers or knickers.

We know drawers existed by 1806 because merchants were advertising and selling them. However, they did not cater to upper classes. Some women began wearing pantaloons of flesh colored or pink stocking that went to just below the knee, but these were by no means a commonly adopted garment. From what I have found, most women during this period did not, apparently, wear knickers or drawers. They were a direct imitation of men’s undergarments, and as such, risqué. Also, prior to the Regency, the only women who wore them were prostitutes, so obviously ladies of high society would want nothing to do with this kind of garment.

In 1811, Princess Charlotte wore them, but despite this, many considered the garment shocking and openly criticized her for wearing it. Remember, drawers were considered a masculine garment and women who wore them were denounced as being vulgar.

Long drawers with feet attached were introduced sometime during the Regency. By 1817, some fashionable ladies wore pantalettes, a longer, lace-edged variation of drawers that were meant to be seen below the petticoat. But this did not catch on for about a decade. Even then, pantalettes had two entirely separate legs. This picture to the right shows them sewn to a type of top, but most of them tied around the waist.

(Before you continue, I must warn you: the images below are a tad graphic, so please don’t send me hate mail.)

The lack of underwear was so common that social and political cartoons of the day reflected this. Thomas Rowlandson, a famous illustrator and cartoonist he did water colors of soldiers, wars, death and dying, the hunt, several humorous series, as well as some rather erotic pieces. One of these is called Exhibition Stare Case pictured to the left.

Many satirical cartoons by different cartoonists including Cruikshank, and Gilray show pictures of women tumbling off horses  or, in the case of the picture to the right, warming themselves in front of a fire. In all these drawings, women are clearly wearing nothing underneath their skirts. However, there also seems to be a lack of any sort of undergarment, so I’m not certain we can fully accept this as proof.

Obviously, back then, as today, political cartoons are only loosely based on fact. They are supposed to be absurd. However, so many of them reveal (no pun intended) the lack of ladies’ undergarments that one wonders.

Progress of the Toilet is a set of three images (one of which is shown below left) published by James Gillray in 1810 which pours ridicule on fashions of the period dictating how the shapes of women should be altered to meet current standards of beauty. He does show a woman wearing drawers. It doesn’t look like it, but she is wearing a chemise – you can see the sleeves and the edge around the top of her stays – but it’s tucked into her drawers. I don’t know the exact date of the image. One source said this series was created in 1810 but I have not been able to verify that. If it is contemporary to the Regency, it’s probably closer to late Regency than early. Regardless, I find it unlikely that ladies had adopted this as their norm by this date. It’s also possible the cartoonist showed drawers to add to the absurdity of his attempt to ridicule the complicated process of dressing for the day.

In the 1820s long pantaloons (sometimes incorrectly called pantalettes) were adopted. It gets confusing because men wore pantaloons–silk breeches that went to the knee–for formal occasions until well into the 1820s and beyond. At any rate, the feminine version of pantaloons were meant to show beneath the slightly raised hemlines of the era. They quickly went out of fashion for adults, but were retained by children well into the Victorian era.

To our modern-day sensibilities and cultural delicacies (if we have any left) makes the idea of not wearing some kind of panty or undergarment sound rather obscene but remember, they had far different viewpoints about a great many things.

Some experts claim that women wore drawers and others swear they didn’t. I suspect that just as today some men and women don’t wear underpants, there were those who did during the Regency. It doesn’t make it “normal.”

Other reading you might enjoy:

Corsets and Drawers: A Look at Regency Underwear

https://www.janeausten.co.uk/corsets-and-drawers-a-look-at-regency-underwear/embed/#?secret=QshLHtjlFk

Ladies Underdrawers in Regency Times: Regency Underwear

http://www.fashion-era.com/drawers-pants-combinations-knickers-fashion.htm

https://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2011/11/regemcy-era-ladys-prodigious-layers-of.html

A Primer on Regency Era Women’s Fashion

https://www.kristenkoster.com/a-primer-on-regency-era-womens-fashion/embed/#?secret=jCqYDR1LY2

The Great Regency Underwear Debate syndicated from http://donnahatchnovels.tumblr.com/

Regency House Parties

by Donna Hatch

From the Archives: Regency House Parties

Cover art for The Guise of a Gentleman--smallA time-honored English tradition, dating back hundreds of years, is the House Party. In England, house parties served multiple purposes: the gathering of friends; an informal setting in which to discuss politics and possibly sway a member of Parliament; showing off one’s wealth to friends or anyone else the host is trying to impress; and it also could provide a last-ditch effort to help a young lady secure a marriage proposal if her Season had failed to produce such a coveted event—a hostess could easily bring the hopeful young lady in contact with the gentleman of choice and provide a variety of activities to show her best side.

House parties most often occurred during or toward the end of the Season, while Parliament was in recess, and were especially popular the autumn months of August and September because they coincided with hunting and shooting season. House parties usually lasted three to four days, from Thursday or Friday until Monday, including what is now known as the weekend. Part of the reason for the long stay lay in the difficulty of travel over dangerous and poorly-maintained roads.

Longleat House

Longleat House

Country estates were the perfect way to highlight the host’s wealth. Often a long and meandering driveway took guests through beautifully landscaped acres of land to the main house. There, an impressing outer stairway led to an imposing great hall. Everyone in attendance viewed art, furniture and other luxuries, such as carriages, a stable full of impressive horses, and lawn tennis courts. A house party cost a great deal of money due in part to the lavish meals provided to guests. Hosts served expensive imported alcohol and lavish dessert, and the best glasses, china, and silver were used, or purchased, for such an event. Hosts often outfitted their servants with new, expensive livery and sometimes hired additional servants to accommodate the strain of so many guests. Female guests usually brought their ladies’ maids, and some gentlemen brought their valets. If so, these servants had to be fed and given accommodations. If not, the host and hostesses’ house maids and footmen filled these roles. Families often ate and lived very modestly for months after a house party to make up for the cost. Others simply incurred enormous debt they had no hope of paying.

Guests during the Regency enjoyed a simple buffet breakfast whenever they arrived in the dining room which included eggs, fruits, toast, ham, pastries and jam. They drank tea, coffee, chocolate (which was hot and bitter like coffee). Men might also drink beer or cherry brandy. Some hostess served luncheon but this was a new tradition during the Regency. Some old-fashioned folk held to breakfast, dinner and supper. Luncheons could be informal meals in the dining room or picnics al Fresca, or they could be as formal as dinner. Afternoon tea always appeared, of course, and dinner was always formal, requiring a change into formal wear. Of course, for the ladies, every activity or meal seemed to have its own dress code and often a change of hairstyle as well.

Wolf and Fox Hunt by Rubens

Wolf and Fox Hunt by Rubens

Activities at a house party during the day usually involved the men hunting or shooting (depending on the season), the fox hunt, and billiards.  Alas, the ladies usually got stuck inside much of the day visiting, writing letters, and other tame activities. Sometimes, they went outside for walks or carriage rides, or they watched the men plays sports.

Appropriate games for ladies out of doors included croquet, lawn tennis, archery, shuttlecock, and lawn bowling or lawn bowls.  Indoor games that involved both sexes included word games, charades, musicales, dances, and card games. Baccarat gained popularity because the Prince of Wales loved this card game–probably because it was technically illegal. “Prinny” reportedly provided his own set of counters so he’d be prepared for an on-the-spot game. Eventually bridge took Baccarat’s place in popularity.

After dinner, the ladies left the men and retired to the drawing room, leaving the gentleman to drink port, smoke cheroots, and discuss manly topics such as horses and politics. Later, the gentlemen joined the ladies for cards or music or dancing or games. April 1816 Ball

The house party, like most events, evolved over time. However, its purpose and popularity lasted for generations.

Sources:

Years of researching Regency customs inspired the bulk of this post, however, I also drew from:

https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2010/12/28/entertaining-visitors-in-an-english-country-house-such-as-downton-abbey/

Evangeline Holland / Posted in SeasonSociety

The Country House Party

http://www.edwardianpromenade.com/season/the-country-house-party/embed/#?secret=7kBCqkVlnH

Further Reading:
The Country House Party by Phyllida Barstow
The Marlborough House Set by Anita Leslie
Society in the Country House by Thomas Hay Sweet Escott
Manners and Rules of Good Society by A Member of the Aristocracy
Etiquette of Good Society by Lady Colin Campbell
“A Country House Party” by Lord Byron in A Satire Anthology by Carolyn Wells

Regency House Parties syndicated from http://donnahatchnovels.tumblr.com/