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Friday, June 24, 2016

Insights into Regency Fashion - Alton Regency Week

Did you know that paddings were used to accentuate certain body parts as early as Regency times? That women would use shoulder paddings to puff up their upper arms and men would accentuate the bulging muscles on their thighs using paddings underneath their light, figure-hugging pantaloons? 

You hear about women of the Regency period making shirts for their husbands and brothers, but did you realise that they also made shoes for themselves or their children?

Well, neither did I, but I learnt some interesting details about Regency Fashion as I attended a talk on Fashion of the Regency Period yesterday at Chawton House Library

The talk was one of the many interesting events held during the Regency Week in Alton. I would have loved to participate in all of them, but being a busy mum, I only had the chance to attend one of the events. Having written a blog about Regency Fashion before, I opted for the talk on fashion as I was curious to see if I could learn something new and get a glimpse of some authentic Regency fashion accessories. 

The informative talk was given by Dr Kathrin Pieren, curator at the Petersfield Museum and a history fellow at Southampton University. Dr Pieren began by describing the political background and the earlier, highly frilly and decorative rococo fashions. She explained how the radical changes brought about by the French revolution and the Napoleonic wars influenced the fashion, the constrictive corsets and crinolines giving way to the more practical, free-flowing statue-like dresses in the style of Roman statues and military styles. Using various images from the Petersfield Museum collection amongst others, Dr Pieren also demonstrated the significant influence that the Prince Regent and the fashion icon, Beau Brummel had on the fashions of the day, and how the fashion gradually changed back towards more restrictive styles after the end of the Regency period. 

The highlight of the talk was the brief display of fashion accessories that Dr Pieren had brought from the Petersfield Museum collection. 

This embroidered gentleman's silk waistcoat from the 1770's is exquisite, with beautiful detail and shiny fabric. The earlier fashions were much more elaborate and the waistcoats were still visible,  as opposed to later on in the Regency period when the light-coloured waistcoats were plain and hardly visible, worn under a the dark coat. 

The later waistcoats were a lot shorter, like this one worn after the Regency period. 

Walking sticks were an important accessory for Regency gentlemen, giving them a sense of stature as well as something to hold and "play with". This black example has an ivory dog carving as a handle. 

These Regency ladies' shoes puzzled me as they seemed quite tiny and narrow. Were people really much smaller than us back then? The shoes remind me of Jane Austen's glasses which were absolutely tiny and looked like something a 7-year-old might wear. The shoes do look comfortable, but not particularly long-lasting, and I assume that ladies must have spent a great deal of time mending as well as making shoes. 

This beautifully embroidered, sheer child's dress is extremely light and made of white Indian muslin as per the fashion of the Regency period. The material reminds of the dresses that I have seen worn by ladies in India even today. Muslins were the order of the day, but it does make you wonder how ladies and children survived in these materials throughout the cold English winters. To be sure, there were layers of undergarments underneath, but it must have been a relief to wear heavier garments (with more restrictive undergarments however) in the Victorian era. 

Petersfield Museum has a Historic Costume Gallery and it would be lovely to go and see the entire collection on display at the museum. 

At Chawton House, I also bumped into fellow blogger, the lovely Sophie Andrews of the Laughing With Lizzie blog (in the blue spencer) and her friends who have formed The Jane Austen Pineapple Appreciation Society (!!), all in costume. It was lovely meeting the young ladies and sharing our passion with all things Jane Austen and Regency!

Some lovely photo opportunities later, I was sad to leave the beautiful Chawton House, basking in atmospheric midsummer's evening sunshine, but pleased to have finally made it to Regency Week. 

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