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The Journal of Eveline Helm, Part Five – At the Assembly Rooms, at last!

Dear Reader, I hope that this journal of my time in Bath should prove to be helpful to you. In reading it may you be spared the numerous faux pas and embarrassments that I was not. I truly feel that if this work should prevent even one other young lady from public ridicule in the Assembly Rooms of Bath then it will have been wholly worthwhile.  Humbly yours,  Eveline Helm. June 1797  I am incredibly pleased to report that the sedan chair bearers did not drop me on the way to the Assembly Rooms as I had feared they might. As it turned out, I rather enjoyed my short ride; it was a smoother journey than I had thought, and certainly a very grand journey. My Uncle went ahead of us on foot, as gentlemen in Bath are wont to do, and was there to greet us as the doors of my Aunt’s and my own respective boxes were held open for us. I succeeded in stepping out from the small compartment with what I hope was some degree of grace, and found myself in front of the entrance, which consists of a grand pediment held up by four pale stone columns. There was little time to take in the grandeur of the outside, however, as my Aunt linked her arm through mine and guided me inside. Once admitted, we proceeded to tour the Rooms. The assembly rooms near home, to which I have been to dance before, are nothing (more…)
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Regency Bucks, Beaus and Dandies

Beaus and Dandies

Bucks, Beaus and Dandies

Though not specifically mentioned by Jane Austen, it does not take much reading up on the Regency to come across descriptive terms for generalizing a young man’s London habits. Bucks, Beaus and Dandies (and Corinthians) make their appearance throughout fiction set in this era. It can be hard to decipher just which character qualities are inherent to which, now obscure, terms such as Beaus and Dandies. The following definitions, excerpted from Jennifer Kloester’s 2005 book, Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, give a more complete picture. Heyer, herself, was known for her meticulous research and knowledge of the era and is considered one of the foremost experts in the field. This book is based on her own catalog of facts and historical insights.

Northanger Abbey's John Thorpe is an ideal Regency Buck.
Northanger Abbey’s John Thorpe is an “ideal” Regency Buck.

Continue reading Regency Bucks, Beaus and Dandies

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The Well Dressed Clergyman

As the daughter and sister of Anglican clergymen, Jane Austen was intimately familiar with the rites, rules and habits of church ministers. Clergy members and their families were among her closest friends and feature strongly in all her novels. What, however would a clergyman of her time have worn?

Portraits of the era give a good idea of what they would have had in their closet:

clergy
Clockwise srom top left: James Austen (Jane’s brother), George Austen (Jane’s Father, circa 1764), Henry Austen (Jane’s Brother), John Wesley, Parson Woodforde.

The well dressed Clergyman, then, would have dressed somberly, in a black suit, with with stock or cravat. Over this, while preaching, he would have worn the black Cassock, mandatory to his office. Many clergy chose to augment this sober attire with white bands, also known as Geneva bands (named for the birthplace of the reformation). Additionally, while performing some sacraments, such as weddings, baptisms and funerals he might add a white surplice (hence the fee paid for such services was called a “surplice fee”.) Continue reading The Well Dressed Clergyman

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The Small Sword: Self Defense and the Georgian Gentleman

It is easy to imagine, from reading Georgette Heyer, for example, that all Georgian men walked about, sword on hip, ready to fight for their honor in a duel at a moment’s notice. This ‘spoiling for a fight’ attitude might be a bit over stated, but the sword was, at least during the early Georgian era, a perfectly acceptable, and even expected accessory for the well dressed man. By Jane Austen’s day, however, swords had been replaced by pistols as a means of personal defense (not that all men walked about armed!) and the sword had been relegated to a lovely, if practical accessory of the military man. As the sister of naval officers, Jane was, no doubt, familar with the small sword as a sidearm.

Horation Hornblower, small sword in hand.
Horation Hornblower, small sword in hand.

The small sword or smallsword (also court sword, fr: épée de cour or dress sword) is a light one-handed sword designed for thrusting which evolved out of the longer and heavier rapier of the late Renaissance. The height of the small sword’s popularity was between mid 17th and late 18th century. It is thought to have appeared in France and spread quickly across the rest of Europe. The small sword was the immediate predecessor of the French duelling sword (from which the épée developed) and its method of use—as typified in the works of such authors as Sieur de Liancour, Domenico Angelo, Monsieur J. Olivier, and Monsieur L’Abbat—developed into the techniques of the French classical school of fencing. Small swords were also used as status symbols and fashion accessories; for most of the 18th century anyone, civilian or military, with pretensions to gentlemanly status would have worn a small sword on a daily basis. Continue reading The Small Sword: Self Defense and the Georgian Gentleman

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Beau Brummell and the Birth of Regency Fashion

Was Beau Brummell a Dandy? It is a popular misconception that a Regency dandy was a powdered and patched horror, dressed in silk and affectation. Nothing could be further from the truth. The original and greatest dandy of them all – Beau Brummell – would have recoiled with horror to be compared with these creatures. Though he had very refined senses – claiming to have caught a cold after sharing a room with a damp stranger and nursing a delicate palate (when asked if he ate vegetables, he is said to have replied “Madam, I once ate a pea.”) – these pretensions were just adjuncts to his raison d’etre: his appearance. He was very clear that clothes should never attract attention, “nothing too tight or too fashionable” he admonished. If heads turned to follow a man along the street, he was not well-dressed. Brummell’s maxim was “fine linen and plenty of it” He was never flamboyant, but manly and dignified, and though not tall, strived to be perfect in every way. Every day, his toilette would take more than two hours and would involve brushing his teeth, shaving, a thorough wash and scrub; followed by brushing his body all over with a stiff brush and finally pursuing any errant remaining hairs with a pair of tweezers. He prided himself on never needing scent because he was so clean. Brummell’s search for perfection in his dress led him to devise a stirrup to go under the foot and stop his pantaloons (more…)
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Neckcloths, Cravats, Stocks, Solitaires, Jabots & Macaronis

Cravats Cravats were developed from Croatian mercenaries honored by Louis XIV in France during the 17th century. It was not until early 19th century that the cravat achieved the height of fashion in France and England. The French called it ‘cravate’, French for Croat or Croatian. The word “cravat,” lost its French final “e” when it crossed to England. Once in England the cravat replaced the neck-high lace collars of Charles I and II. At first it was a straight narrow strip of lace or linen, hanging down from the neck. In the 18th century the jabot took over, the ruffled and embroidered shirt-front billowing up over the opening of the waistcoat almost to conceal the neckcloth, which now buttoned at the back. Later the neckcloth reestablished itself over the jabot, covering the shirt-front and evolving into the stock, which grew freer and more voluminous in its proportions as time went on. An endless variety of cravats appeared, including cravats of tasseled strings, plaid scarves, tufts and bows of ribbon, lace, and embroidered linen all had their staunch adherents. Nearly one hundred different knots were recognized. Collars grew higher at the turn of the 19th century. Pointed edges around the chin and cheeks became fashionable. Cravats were wrapped tightly around the neck ending in bows of varying length. Cravats, at this period, were sometimes as much as a foot high, with the points of the collars rising half-way up the face and obliging gentlemen to keep their chins and their (more…)
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Shoes Make the Man: Regency Footwear

Perhaps no image so thoroughly denotes the Regency Hero as that of a Gentleman elegantly, yet casually dressed in dark coat, buff troussers and tall boots. Who could resist a Mr. Darcy or Knightley presented in such a favorable light? And yet– those boots that so epitomize the time were still a new fashion only just becoming popular during Jane Austen’s day. Jessamyn Reeves Brown is an historian of Regency Fashion. Her research into Regency footwear shows that ‘prior to the Regency, both women and men wore what we now call “court shoes”: high-throated pumps with curved heels and side pieces that tied or buckled elaborately at the throat. As dresses became less structured and suits less elaborate, shoes did too. Heels dropped rapidly through the 1790s and by 1800 were very small indeed, while material was pared away to a minimum from the uppers. Men’s dress shoes lost their heels even before women’s did, but some retained the fine buckles of the 18th century for the most formal of occasions. Men’s shoes also became basic black quite early in the century – almost no other color is seen after 1800. Both men’s and women’s shoes of the 18th century had flaps attached at the instep and outstep that came up over the throat and were held in place with a buckle (most commonly) or were tied in place with bows. These flaps were called latchets, and they did not entirely disappear in the Regency.’ Discover more fascinating details of (more…)
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Officer’s Uniforms of the British Navy

Dressing Captain Wentworth Ah! Who can resist the thought of a man in uniform? Certainly not Mrs. Bennet (“I remember the time when I liked a red coat myself very well — and indeed, so I do still at my heart…”) From her ever warm admiration, Jane must have had similar feelings for Naval Officers. She would have been surrounded by them during her stay in Portsmouth, living with her brother, Captain Francis Austen. There, she would have had firsthand knowledge of “the character of the navy; their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness… convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.” What then, made up the uniform of a Captain in the British Navy? British Naval Uniform Regulations were first implemented by Lord Anson in 1748. They were, reportedly, lobbied for by the officers, themselves, who “wished to be recognized as being in the service of the Crown.” The color blue, while seemingly a natural one for the Navy to choose was actually decided upon by the then monarch, George II, who, seeing the Duchess of Bedford ride out in a habit of blue faced with white, was so taken by the combination that he chose the same for his officers’ uniforms. The “best uniform”, consisting of an embroidered blue coat with white facings, worn unbuttoned with white breeches and stockings, was worn for (more…)