Amazing Historical and Contemporary Facts From Your Favorite Authors.
All Dressed Up: Going to the Ball with a Regency Cinderella
Offered by Elizabeth Boyle
Author of One Night Of Passion
Sometimes the most fun about writing historicals is choosing your heroine's outfits. I loved "dressing up" as a child, and indulged that fantasy in the fullest as I was writing ONE NIGHT OF PASSION, in which my heroine transforms herself for one night. Such a scene demands a special dress, so my job as the heroine's fairy godmother is to make sure the gown she wears is romantic, beautiful and visual, but also accurate. To do this, I surround myself with dress prints from the Regency, photos from one of my research trips, and my favorite source books open to all the right pictures.
So please join me as I recreate Georgiana Escott's ballgown for the Cyprian's ball in ONE NIGHT OF PASSION.
Underneath It All
Every lady wore these four essentials: Corset, Chemise, Stockings and Garters. While we think of corsets as more Victorian, the slim lines of the Regency gowns and the more fitted styles that preceded them required the use of a corset, or "stays" as the English ladies called them.
A corset was usually made of linen, with whalebone or steel reinforcements. Often it would be lined with cotton to be more comfortable for the wearer. Georgie, with her less than slim features, definitely needed a corset to fit into Mrs. Taft's dress.
?Kit continued to dig through the trunk. "Before you put it on, you'll need this." She pulled out a linen corset, the once white ties, now yellowed with age.
Georgie grimaced, but she knew she'd never fit into Mrs. Taft's gown without some help.?
Part of my research has included trips to museums that feature Regency era costumes. I love it when I can get a firsthand glimpse at authentic fabrics and dress construction. Here is a photo I took of a Regency era corset from collection at the Daughters of the American Revolution House in Washington, DC. Though yellowed with age, this example is layers of satin, batting and cotton quilted together. A single piece of steel was inserted into a pocket in the front to act as a stay. The corset was then laced up the back to fit the wearer.
Over the corset went a chemise, a simple, straight gown made of muslin, cotton, or linen, that may be decorated with embroidery or trim. While a Regency evening gown may be so sheer as to be seen through, a lady's chemise kept her modestly covered. Completing her underclothes, were a pair of silk stockings held up by knitted wool garters. Favored colors for stockings were white or pink.
This is always where my imagination loves to run wild. The gown. Oh, even to say the words just makes my palms itch. I love fabric anyway, but the muslins, velvets, silks, drouguets and satins of that era must have been gorgeous. For Georgie's gown, I chose a changeable silk, one that shifted from purple to blue. Changeable silk was made by weaving one color for the warp thread and a different color in the weft. This fabric was very popular in the late 18th century because in the candlelight the fabric shimmered and sparkled as the wearer moved through the room. The piece I saw at the DAR House ignited my imagination, and I had to use an example in my next book.
?Immediately, she plucked out her favorite, a gown of changeable silk, the color shimmering from a rich, royal purple to hints of blue. The low-cut bodice revealed just enough of her breasts to tempt a man to come closer. The sleeves were a gauzy, filmy silk affording a scandalous suggestion of bare limbs to be seen before they were hidden again in the rich, delicate lace encircling her wrists.
A wide satin ribbon wound around her waist and tied in the back in a large bow, the ends trailing in a flutter nearly to the ground, and begging to be undone. From there, the skirt fell in a wide circle to a cut-work hem that danced and swayed as one moved, and hinted at well-trimmed calves and silken clad legs beneath.?
Hemlines remained pretty staid during the Regency, occasionally revealing a well-turned ankle, but necklines and sleeves varied immensely, giving way to some very shocking displays. Many of the dresses, especially evening gowns were made in two, sometimes, three pieces. In most romance novels you won't see the heroine battling the ties, buttons and inordinate amount of pins that went to hold her gown in place. Yes, pins. A lady had a entire collection of pins to keep her gown on. Men often complained of being impaled by pins in the crush of a party. However, as the Regency era moved to the more simplistic and classical lines of dress, the dresses were more often one piece and didn't require as much help to stay on.
The Remaining Essentials
The final touches were just as essential as all the others, perhaps moreso. Our Regency Cinderella would need a shawl, reticule, gloves, fan, and of course, shoes to complete her costume for an evening out.
A shawl was the perfect compliment to a lady's gown. Made of lace, cotton, wool or silk, they were a simple wrap used to cover for modesty's sake, or for warmth in the chilly world that lacked central heating.
?Straightening out her gown with one hand, she sighed over the state of it, then tugged her lacy shawl back into place over her bare shoulders.?
Gloves were an absolute essential. A lady never went anywhere, even when receiving guests in her own home, without her gloves on. In the daytime they were often colored or made of printed fabrics. At night, the only acceptable color was white.
Other essential additions to Georgie's costume would include a reticule and a fan. Here is the perfect fan for a lady, also from the DAR collection.
Since my story is a Cinderella story, this meant my heroine also needed the perfect pair of shoes.
?Then she spied them. White satin, they were covered in beautiful silk embroidery, echoing the decorations along the hem of her gown. She slipped them onto her feet, but to her dismay they didn't fit.?
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Slippers at this time were often made of silk and low-heeled. They tied on with ribbons, like this pair from the DAR House. These are remarkable pair to have survived so long, since evening slippers would usually last through only one wearing, becoming stained or soiled before the end of the evening.
Elizabeth Boyle is the author of six Regency set historical novels. Her July release, ONE NIGHT OF PASSION, is her own fractured version of Cinderella. Winner of the RWA RITA award, as well as appearing on the USA Today bestseller list, Elizabeth's books are often described as "pageturners", full of adventure and passionate romance. Her heroines, you can be assured, are always well-dressed. Or in the process of being undressed...
P.S. If you would like to see a wonderful collection of reticules, visit Candice Hern's Website Candice also has a collection of dress prints that will give you some ideas of the changing fashions during the Regency.