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Why Do We Have No Pockets? The Regency Removed Them

The Regency is to blame for no women's pockets

How frustrating is it having no pockets? Very. Just need to take your keys and a phone out with you that day? Don’t want the inconvenience of having to take a bag with you? Too bad, you’ll still need a bag of some kind because very few women’s clothes have pockets in, and those that do have pockets rarely have ones that are strong enough or big enough for purpose. Ask any women about pockets and you’ll see you’ve touched a nerve.

However, it wasn’t always like this. In the 17th century, women had vast pockets, although they weren’t always built in to their clothes. Often they were stringed, silken drawbags which were tied around their waist and worn under their petticoats. The petticoats and skirts had openings in the side seams so women could easily get to their invisible pockets and get whatever you needed from inside. The quasi-pockets were big enough to carry money, a comb, a small bottle – you name it (within reason).

Woman’s Pockets
England, mid-18th century
Made from silk and linen
Measuring: 15 1/2 x 8 in. (39.37 x 20.32 cm)

The change came at the end of the 18th century and into the Regency period (1811-1820) when petticoats and voluptuous skirts went out of fashion and instead the slim-line, empire-waist Regency gowns came to the fore. These dresses had no room for pockets – it would mess with the lovely silhouette, so pockets had to go. In their place came reticules (Jane Austen even referred to one as a “ridicule”). These were essentially what had been worn on the underside of the dress, only now your hands were tied up with holding onto it, and opportunistic thieves could more easily snatch them.

Meanwhile men went on to have more pockets, not less. A gentleman of the 1940s had, thanks to his suit jacket, waistcoat and trousers, an average of two dozen pockets!

The Regency may have given us some beautiful fashions, but it also, in some ways, ended our hands-free capability. Strange how little quirks of fashion can still influence us today.


Jane Austen Day with Charlotte

Jane Austen News is our weekly compilation of stories about or related to Austen. Here we will feature a variety of items, including craft tutorials, reviews, news stories, articles and photos from around the world. If you’d like to include your story, please contact us with a press release or summary, along with a link. You can also submit unique articles for publication in our Online Magazine.

Don’t miss our latest news – become a Jane Austen Member and receive a digest of stories, articles and Jane Austen news every week. You will also be able to access our online Magazine with over 1000 articles, test your knowledge with our weekly quiz and get offers on our Online Giftshop. Plus new members get an exclusive 10% off voucher to use in the Online Giftshop

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Make Your Own Virtual Georgian Wig

Making your own Georgian wig

Before the relatively demure fashions of the Regency period came into Vogue, the Georgian ladies (and gentleman to a lesser degree) reveled in creating the most outlandish and elaborate wigs. To do this they built the hair up using padding and hair pieces and then gooey pastes from pig’s fat were used to keep it all in place.

Next, once the tower was tall enough, they applied coloured hair powders, bows, flowers, fans, feathers, even in some cases small ships!

The taller the wig, the most ostentatious the decorations, the better.

While we may not be keen to actually wear one of these Georgian wig structures – as, not only are they are rather expensive and unwieldy, they’re also very heavy – we do rather like designing them. This is where a website which we came across earlier this week comes into play.

The Victoria and Albert museum created a free online tool which allows you all the fun of making your own whimsical wig, without having to do any of the brushing and architectural balancing! We rather enjoyed ourselves seeing who could make the wildest wig, so we thought you might like to know about it too!

You can find the wig-builder here.

 


Jane Austen Day with Charlotte

Jane Austen News is our weekly compilation of stories about or related to Austen. Here we will feature a variety of items, including craft tutorials, reviews, news stories, articles and photos from around the world. If you’d like to include your story, please contact us with a press release or summary, along with a link. You can also submit unique articles for publication in our Online Magazine.

Don’t miss our latest news – become a Jane Austen Member and receive a digest of stories, articles and Jane Austen news every week. You will also be able to access our online Magazine with over 1000 articles, test your knowledge with our weekly quiz and get offers on our Online Giftshop. Plus new members get an exclusive 10% off voucher to use in the Online Giftshop

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Reasons Why Regency Fashion Rocks!

Jane Austen News

Reasons Why Regency Fashion Rocks!
Continue reading Reasons Why Regency Fashion Rocks!

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Staying In the Estate That Inspired Pride and Prejudice 

Staying In the Estate That Inspired Pride and Prejudice  Continue reading Staying In the Estate That Inspired Pride and Prejudice 

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Having a Spot of Jane Austen Nuncheon

Jane Austen Nuncheon - What was it?

Jane Austen Nuncheon

10 Weird and Wonderful Things you Probably Don’t Know About her World

For more than two hundred years, Jane Austen’s books have remained best-selling classics – smart and witty glimpses into the drawing room of the day that never seem to fall out of fashion. However, despite being renowned for her social commentary, as a novelist Jane Austen focused on the story and emotions of her characters, rather than the wider world they inhabited. She also worked on the rather modest assumption that her readership would consist entirely of women from her time and social class, all of whom needed very little contextual explanation. If only she knew!

So, to coincide with the anniversary of her best-loved novel, Pride and Prejudice, Country House Library thought we’d take a journey back to a time when women wore crinoline and men looked dashing on a horse, and explain a few of the things about her world that you might not know. The first of these: a Jane Austen nuncheon.

1) Breakfasts Were Large

As it was common for Jane Austen’s contemporaries to get up at 8am and occupy themselves for a couple of hours before eating – for instance a man might work, whilst a woman might sew, breakfast usually didn’t happen until around 10 o’clock. When they did eventually sit down to eat it would also probably consist of leftovers from the previous day’s dinner, for example in Mansfield Park they start the day with, ‘cold pork bones and mustard’. Yum!

2) Afternoons Hadn’t Been Invented Yet

In Jane Austen’s time, the entire period between breakfast and dinner at 4pm was called morning, whilst any time after that became evening. Knowing this puts many of the timeframes described in her books into focus, and all those long hours tramping around wet fields that Elizabeth and Jane Bennet somehow manage to squeeze into their morning during Pride and Prejudice, suddenly make a lot more sense.

3) Dinner was a Social Statement

Exactly when you choose to sit down to dinner indicated how ‘on trend’ you were. For instance in Pride and Prejudice, Jane tells us that the Bingley’s dined at 6.30pm, and had we been of her time we would have understood that by insisting on a fashionably late dinner time they were actually showing off how sophisticated they were, not to mention sending the Bennet family a clear message – ‘compared to us you are socially inferior, country yokels’.  

4) Anyone for Nuncheon?

Afternoon wasn’t the only thing that hadn’t been invented yet, neither had lunch. Instead, Jane Austen’s contemporaries would snack on whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted between breakfast and dinner, with cold meats playing a big part once again. This kind of on-demand grazing was referred to by Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility as ‘nuncheon’.

5) Call me Sir, Child!

In the Regency period it was normal to call your parents Sir, Ma’am or Madam, rather than Mother or Father. From reading Pride and Prejudice, we can tell Elizabeth and her Father are incredibly close, but by calling him Papa she is actually making a break with the social norms of the time, causing 19thcentury readers to instantly recognise her as an unconventional character.

6) Don’t Talk to Me (First)

The 18thcentury’s complex rules of speech didn’t just apply to children and parents, and one that stands-out to modern readers is that a person of a lower social status must never speak first to someone considered higher than them. When Mr Collins gets this rule wrong in Pride and Prejudice, we are meant to see him as lacking in social skills, and therefore a poor choice as a husband.

7) Sewing was Big

Clothes at the time were expensive, and had to be mended and remade many times over. Whilst a servant might do the boring bits, the ladies themselves had to do any high-end finishes and embroidery and would also sew and mend for the men in their lives. For instance, in Mansfield Park, upon hearing that her brother Sam has successfully got into the Army, a delighted Fanny Price embarks on a veritable sewing marathon to get the many bits of his uniform ready in time.

8) You had to Teach Yourself

Female children were traditionally given very little formal education, and often had to pick up their father’s books and educate themselves. Given the basic level of education they had to start with, and how dry and technical the books of the time were, this was no easy task, and when you consider that Jane taught herself more-or-less everything she knew, it’s even more remarkable that she pretty much invented the modern novel.

9) And Pay to Work

Whilst aristocratic ladies were busy reading and sewing, most aspiring gentleman were busy chasing the most fashionable position of the day – Army Officer. As a job this was made even better by the fact that they rarely did anything, with all the real work done by their sergeants, leaving them free to preen and flirt. This would have been well known during Jane’s time, and a beautifully subversive element in Northanger Abbey is how General Tilney and his two eldest sons spend so much time self-identifying by their military titles, despite lacking any ability whatsoever.

10) And Finally – Money

When reading Jane Austen’s books, we get a sense of who the richest characters are from the reactions of those around them, but we might not understand how rich these people would be by today’s standards. For instance, Elizabeth Bennet’s husband choice number one – Mr Collins, earns £500 per year, roughly equivalent to today’s average UK wage of £24,250 – perfectly fine to live off, but in no way lavish. Mr Darcy meanwhile pulls in a whopping £10,000 a year – over £485,000 in today’s money.

 

*****

Want to re-read Pride and Prejudice with your new Jane Austen nuncheon knowledge? Country House Library has over 200 vintage Jane Austen titles to choose from, including a beautiful, original 19thcentury copy. You can find them all here and read their Editor’s Picks Here.

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Historical Knotwork – The Sea Chest Becket

Historical Knotwork of a sea chest becket

Historical Knotwork – A Naval CV of Sorts

This sea chest becket (handle) is exactly the sort which would have been found on the naval chests used by sailors in Nelson’s Navy. Not only is it a beautiful item in itself, it’s also an object which would have worked as a sort of “knotwork CV” for any boy who wished to be hired.
Nelson himself joined the Royal Navy in 1771 at the age of twelve. In that era, children of this age were old enough to take up training or apprenticeships and it was normal for boys to go to sea to train as officers and, if they passed the examination before the Commissioners of the Admiralty, they could expect to be lieutenants at the age of eighteen.
If any boy (or trained sailor for that matter) needed to prove his worth to a prospective captain or other marine employer, then a sea chest becket such as this one would show his skill with ropes, and prove that he would be a skilled pair of hands to have aboard ship. However, usually they would not be done by the sailor, but would come already installed on the chest. Those with the skill to make them would get the chest with plain beckets and then replace them when he had the time.
How is it made?
This sea chest becket is made from a rope centre, spliced at either end,  padded with canvas (or “pudding’d” to give it it’s technical term) to give it a bit of shape, and then covered with a variety of hitches and techniques. Each historical knotwork technique would be needed on board ship for a different use.
What are the knot and what would they be used for?
Techniques visible from the top down are:
double crown knots…
…ring bolt hitching on the top loops beside the red washers…
…moku hitching…
…and coach-whipping.
Each section is joined by a Turk’s Head, which hides the joins of the different coverings and makes for a decorative touch.
These knots could be used on board ship for such things as making stair handrails (moku hitching), covering metal rings so that they would not slip or rub and were easier to handle (ring bolt whipping), stopping masts from chaffing on the ropes, or creating stoppers (as is the case for the double crown knot).
A pair of these beckets would be fastened to each end of a sea chest with a wooden boss, similar to the one shown here.
If you wanted a last bit of detail on your sea chest beckets they could be painted (and commonly were)  with shiny oil blacking and with the accents picked out in gold. Some genuine examples from the Georgian era have been coated over again until they take in a lacquered look. One of the big advantages of leaving the beckets unpainted is that you can see the knotwork better.
*****
This sea chest bracket was made at the Orkney College Maritime Dept, to be presented to Princess Anne who presided over their graduation ceremony this year (2018).
The knotwork information and photos were kindly provided by Mark Shiner, who also made the bracket itself, and who is the curriculum leader for Maritime Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands – Orkney College.
Words by Jenni Waugh.
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Jane Austen’s Bracelet

Included in the collection at Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton are a few pieces of jewellery owned by the Austen women. These include Jane’s gold and turquoise ring, and the topaz crosses brought back from a voyage by the Austen’s younger brother, Charles. Both of these are available at the Jane Austen Gift Shop as beautiful replica pieces. And now, due to great demand, we have at last added our version of the third piece: Jane’s lovely beaded bracelet.

Jane Austen's Bracelet
Courtesy Jane Austen’s House Museum / Peter Smith
Our lovely new replica

Made exclusively for us in Somerset, each bracelet is intricately hand strung with Miyuki Glass Seed Beads, and completed with a Sterling Silver Gold Plated Box Clasp. It’s a must for fans and collectors alike, as well as a delightful accessory in its own right.

Even Jane approves..!

You can see our lovely new replica bracelet here

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