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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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Shapewear Nightmare – Regency Underwear

shapewear nightmare

Shapewear Nightmare

A wonderful article on the (im)practicalities of underwear, from the Regency period through to the modern day likes of the Wonderbra.

Kindly reproduced here with permission from its author, Laurie Viera Rigler, who is also the author of the popular Jane Austen Addict novels.

***

It may be the third millennium, but not much has changed*  since the days of getting laced into a corset so stiff that one could barely lean over, let alone breathe. It’s no wonder ladies had to carry around smelling salts, or “vinaigrettes,” as they were called in Jane Austen’s day. Those Mr. Darcy types may have been swoon-worthy, but it was likely more a lack of oxygen than romantic flutterings that caused ladies to faint.

It wasn’t only ladies who were wearing corsets or “stays.” The Prince Regent was a favorite target of cartoonists for trying to mask his size with a corset.

Today, we call these instruments of torture “shapewear.” Sounds friendly and appealing, doesn’t it? After all, who doesn’t want to have a shape?

The promise and the reality of shapewear, however, can be two very different things. If you’ve ever had a shapewear nightmare of your own, you will love Melissa McCarthy’s story.

 

But here’s where we can really explore the WHY of shapewear–and ROFL in the process. This is about three guys who decide to test out a girlfriend’s Spanx just for a laugh, and get more than they bargained for. Brilliant.

If sheer discomfort isn’t enough to inspire you to choose jiggles over bodily strangulation, this fab piece in Bustle talks about the compression of organs, yeast infections, and other fun stuff that shapewear supports.

In any case–and whether you are still armoring yourself in shapewear, stowing them away in a rarely visited corner of your wardrobe, or indulging in a full-on ceremonial burning**– may you temper it all with a good laugh and a healthy dose of compassion–for yourself, and for all of us who have ever worried about measuring up to an impossible standard.

On that note, here’s another funny and heartfelt piece in Bustle: The Seven Emotional Stages of Wearing Spanx for the Very First Time. Here’s one of the seven GIFs from the piece: Emotional Stage #1:

Excited Fingers Crossed GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

*There is, of course, one very important change since Jane Austen’s day. Which is that while we can get our knickers in a twist over the pressure to wear shapewear, Jane Austen could not. Why? Because we’re talking pretty much a panty-free zone. Which I suppose made it way easier to do one’s business in these:

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**Although the whole bra-burning thing is a myth, we’re wondering if somehow, somewhere, women are setting a trash can full of shapewear on fire.

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The Jane Austen Topaz Cross

Jane Austen Topaz Cross

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In response to huge demand, the Jane Austen Gift Shop is delighted to announce this beautiful replica of Jane Austen’s topaz cross pendant. Many months in the making, it is on sale now!

Along with her turquoise ring, the topaz cross must be the most iconic jewellery item associated with Jane, and it’s of especial relevance to us here at the Jane Austen Centre, because she was living in Bath at the time she received it.

In a lovely letter to Cassandra, written 26th and 27th May, 1801, Jane tells her sister that she had been “to the very top of Kingsdown and had a very pleasant drive,” before adding that “One pleasure succeeds another rapidly.”

Buy the Jane Austen Topaz Cross

On returning from her day out, she found two letters waiting for her, one from Cassandra and one from her brother Charles, who was serving with great distinction in the Royal Navy. Charles Austen had received a reward for his role in capturing an enemy privateer, and Jane’s response to Cassandra was appropriately wry:

He has received £30 for his share of the privateer and expects £10 more – but of what avail is it to take prizes if he lays out the produce in presents to his Sisters. He has been buying Gold chains and Topaze Crosses for us; – he must be well scolded.

Charles duly sent both Cassandra and Jane topaz crosses: the originals are shown below, and Jane’s is the one on the left:

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As Jane’s letter makes clear, they were to be worn on a gold chain. That the crosses, and her brother’s gift of them, were important to Jane is suggested by the fact that she incorporated the episode into her novel Mansfield Park (1811-13), when Fanny’s brother William, a naval midshipman, gives her “a very pretty amber cross” which he “had brought her from Sicily.”

Our cross is a beautiful scaled-down replica (the original would look too large and dominant with a contemporary outfit), made to the highest standard from gold-plated silver and citrine, and comes just in time to make the perfect Christmas present for any devoted Janeite!

Now on sale – Buy the Jane Austen Topaz Cross

 

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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.

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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 compared to the Bath Assembly Rooms.  After we had deposited our cloaks in the cloakroom to the right on leaving the entrance vestibule, we turned and entered the ball room through the opposite doors on the left. The room was vast; it was at least one hundred feet in length and forty wide, and its ceiling was of triple height. Halfway up the duck-egg wall was a series of tall windows, flanked on either side by a painted Roman column set into the wall which were letting in the last light of the day. Around the room, below and above these windows, were intricate moulded plasterwork borders. And, in the centre of the room, there hung five great chandeliers which, as my Aunt whispered in my ear (though loudly enough to be heard above the noise) each held forty candles! Just think! What with this and the windows, the room was all light and beauty. Thankfully the four grand fireplaces, two set into each of the longer walls, which would also have raised the light levels in the room, were empty, but even so, given the sheer number of people in residence and coupled with the balmy June night, the heat in the room was a very great one indeed.

The number of people I have just mentioned fell into two categories; those seated on and standing by the three tiers of seats placed around the edge of the ballroom, and those who were up and dancing a country dance which I did not immediately recognize, but which might have been Lady Moncrieff’s Reel. The minuets had taken place already, beginning at six, and had then given way to the country dances at eight. Later the music would stop so that the tea, coffee and light refreshments might be served at nine in the large tea room on the other side of the Assembly Rooms. After that, the country dances would resume. By nine o’clock I was certain that the dancers who had arrived at six would be most glad of some refreshment, however light, not to mention the musicians who had been playing all evening.

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But then I must mention the musicians! In the balls which I have attended before (the larger ones are those I am referring to rather than the dances among friends which are struck up in the joy of the moment after a dinner) only four musicians have been engaged, as is the custom, and they have played the usual piano, cornet, violin, and violoncello. However, the number of dancers in attendance here is of such a great number; my aunt tells me that there are upwards of five hundred people here on a regular basis, and that there are a dozen musicians playing from the minstrel’s gallery.

“I do not envy them their role,” said my Aunt, turning to me as we watched the couples dance. “Not only do they play here but they are also employed each morning in playing at the Pump Rooms, and then in the evenings they take their turn playing here or at private concerts. Even their afternoons are not their own, for they might then be occupied in playing for a private party at a gentleman’s lodgings, or at one of the large inns. Imagine! I am sure I do not know how they do it!”

“Surely, there are other bands in Bath who might take some of their custom from them and therefore allow them a respite from constant playing?” I said.

“None such as they. They were fully employed to act exclusively as the Bath Orchestra. For that reason, despite their heavy workload, they are not so badly done by; at least they can live safe in the knowledge that they shall be paid and able to pay their rent.”

“I suppose you are right,” I said, and let my attention stray once more to the dancers.

It was as in London, and as my Aunt had said, that the most fashionable dress material was white muslin, and derivations thereof. Lady upon lady clad in white, cream, and ivory whirled about the room, escorted by gentleman in fine silk waistcoats and jet-black tailcoats. White was not the only colour worn by the ladies (there was one peacock blue dress in particular that I had trouble drawing my eyes away from), but it was by far the most popular.

As for the gentlemen, some of the gentlemen I saw had adopted another of the London fashions and sported finely starched cravats that were tied in such complicated styles which travelled so far up their necks that I was surprised that they were able to move their heads. Beau Brummel may be considered the arbiter of men’s fashion, but in my most-humble opinion I do think that he might also be the arbiter of much of their discomfort.

My Aunt and I left the ballroom, vowing to return by and by once we had seen the remainder of the Rooms. Not that they were a revelation to my Aunt, but she is such a kind and considerate woman that she said she could not dream of settling herself until I had been acquainted with the Rooms in their entirety.

The next chamber we entered upon leaving the ballroom was the octagonal card room. Decorated in a deep rich yellow, its centre was taken up with table upon table of gentlemen and ladies, but mainly gentlemen, all playing various card games. I spotted Speculation, Brag and Whist among the games in progress, and also after a short time I spotted my Uncle, happily ensconced at a table in the far right, next to another unlit fireplace (the card room, like the ball room, also had four). He was laughing and talking with many other fine gentlemen, for, prejudiced as I am, there really is no other way to describe my Uncle, whom I did not first recognise.

“I knew we should find him here,” my Aunt said to me with a fond smile in her voice. “It never takes him long to find himself a table. I fear we may have now lost him for the evening. Now my dear, where should you like to see next? I am afraid that we cannot enter the tea room at present, but we might peruse the octagon ante-chamber if you should wish?”

“Is there much to see in the ante-chamber?”

“As much as you might see in any other ante-chamber.”

“In which case,” I said. “If you don’t mind, I should very much like to go and watch some more of the dancing.”

“But of course.”

We wove our way back through the know of people surrounding the card room doors and into the ball room. The reel was still in progress so my Aunt and I scanned the tiers of seats and spotted two seats together in the second row; the front row being already full near to where we were, and navigating to another part of the room while the dance was in motion was not a wise idea. However, before we had moved more than two steps towards our intended destination, we found our way barred by Mr Dawson, the Master of Ceremonies.

“Mrs Denison, Miss Helm, allow me to introduce Mr Thomas Palmer…”

webJenni Waugh Headshot The journal of Eveline Helm’s time in Bath has made its way online thanks to Jenni Waugh, one of our tour guides at the Jane Austen Centre.

She writes: “I couldn’t resist sharing Eveline’s exploits. I hope everyone else finds them as interesting and entertaining as I did!”

 

 

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Regency Caps: Draped and Ruffled

“I have made myself two or three caps to wear in the evenings since I came home, and they save me a world of torment as to hair-dressing!”
Jane Austen, 1798

Ladies’ Regency Caps, by Laura Boyle

Caps have been worn by men and women from before time was recorded. By the Regency, however, they had become feminine attire. Caps were worn by all classes of women for many different reasons. Widows and mothers wore caps. Some married women chose to wear them. Housekeepers and servants wore them. Children wore them. Old maids wore them. The only ones who didn’t were young ladies, during that period of time when they were no longer children, and not yet old maids (or as Caroline Austen put it, “ladies who were not quite young”), though Jane Asuten took to wearing them at the age of twenty-three.

Cap and BonnetWorn mostly indoors, the cap was also often placed under a bonnet or hat for added warmth and comfort. They were not usually worn on formal occasions during the Regency. Sleeping caps were necessary to preserve the bed linens from the many oils and greases used in women’s hair at the time.

Most caps were made in light colors and fabrics like lace, muslin or lawn, though a widow might wear a cap made of or trimmed in black. With time, caps became as lavishly trimmed as any other creation of the time. By the Victorian era, caps became smaller, and while still worn, they were often no more than a token band or lacey doily on top of the head. Soon they disappeared from fashion altogether only to be later reintroduced as menswear (think deestalkers and baseball caps). Some of the more popular cap types during the Regency were:

Mob CapThe Mobcap
Made familiar by Betsy Ross and Martha Washington, the mobcap was still worn during the early 19th century, though it was not as popular (or large!) as it had been a generation earlier. Mobcaps were usually trimmed with ruffles or lace and ribbon. Continue reading Regency Caps: Draped and Ruffled

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A Ballgown for April, 1812

“Oh, to be in England now that April’s there”, quoted Austen contemporary, Robert Browning. No doubt he was referring to the lovely countryside, abloom with spring’s bounty (Wordsworth’s Ddaffodils, perhaps?) rather than the hustle and bustle of a large city like London, where the social season was still in full swing.
1870-London-season-cartoon
1870 cartoon satirizing the coming of the London season
The London social season evolved in the 17th and 18th centuries, and in its traditional form it peaked in the 19th century. In this era the British elite was dominated by landowning aristocratic and gentry families who generally regarded their country house as their main home, but spent several months of the year in the capital to socialise and to engage in politics. The most exclusive events were held at the town mansions of leading members of the aristocracy. Exclusive public venues such as Almack’s played a secondary role. The Season coincided with the sitting of Parliament and began some time after Christmas and ran until midsummer, roughly late June. The social season also played a role in the political life of the country: the members of the two Houses of Parliament were almost all participants in the season. But the Season also provided an opportunity for the children of marriageable age of the nobility and gentry to be launched into society. Women were formally introduced into society by presentation to the monarch at Court.*

Continue reading A Ballgown for April, 1812

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Parasols

Ackermann’s Repository, 1813, Morning Walking Dress
Ackermann’s Repository, 1813, Morning Walking Dress

The exquisite creamy complexion of the Regency maid, though a far cry from the powdered beauties of the previous century, required much care, if one wished to avoid a sunburn or freckles. One need only recall the Bingley sisters’ disdain at Elizabeth Bennet’s “brown” complexion, gained from her summer travels to acknowledge that the bonnet and parasol were essential to outdoor activities. Made of anything from lace to cotton and silk, they could also be effective against light rain.

“Charlotte was to go [to Sanditon]. . . & to buy new Parasols, new Gloves, & new Brooches, for her sisters & herself at the Library. . .”
Sanditon; Chapter 2

The word “parasol” (Spanish or French) is a combination of para, meaning to stop or to shield, and sol, meaning sun. “Parapluie” (French) similarly consists of para combined with pluie, which means rain (which in turn derives from pluvia, the Latin word for rain). Hence, a parasol shields from sunlight while a parapluie shields from rain. (Parachute means shield from falls.)

That the use of the umbrella or parasol—though not unknown—was not very common during the earlier half of the eighteenth century, is evident from the fact that General (then Lieut.-Colonel) James Wolfe, writing from Paris in 1752, speaks of the people there using umbrellas for the sun and rain, and wonders that a similar practice does not obtain in England. Just about the same time they seem to have come into general use, and that pretty rapidly, as people found their value, and got over the shyness natural to a first introduction. Jonas Hanway, the founder of the Magdalen Hospital, has the credit of being the first man who ventured to dare public reproach and ridicule by carrying one habitually in London. As he died in 1786, and he is said to have carried an umbrella for thirty years, the date of its first use by him may be set down at about 1750. John Macdonaldrelates that in 1770, he used to be greeted with the shout, “Frenchman, Frenchman! why don’t you call a coach?” whenever he went out with his umbrella. By 1788 however they seem to have been accepted: a London newspaper advertises the sale of ‘improved and pocket Umbrellas, on steel frames, with every other kind of common Umbrella.’ 
Continue reading Parasols

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An Examination of Regency Petticoats

Regency Petticoats

Regency Petticoats: What Were They Like?

A petticoat or underskirt is an article of clothing for women; specifically an undergarment to be worn under a skirt or a dress. The petticoat is a separate garment hanging from the waist (unlike the chemise which is more shirt like in nature, and hangs from the shoulders.) In historical contexts (sixteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries), petticoat refers to any separate skirt worn with a gown, bedgown, bodice or jacket; these petticoats are not, strictly speaking, underwear as they were made to be seen. In both historical and modern contexts, petticoat refers to skirt-like undergarments worn for warmth or to give the skirt or dress the desired fashionable shape.*

A highly decorative Regency petticoat, complete with shoulder straps to help it stay in place.
A highly decorative Regency petticoat, complete with shoulder straps to help it stay in place. Note the plain front and gathered back. From the Oregon Regency Society

Prior to the Regency, any number of petticoats might be worn under a gown, with the outermost layer often meant for display, like the elaborate underskirt worn in this portrait:

Madame Pompadour at her Tambour frame, 1864, by Drouais.
Madame Pompadour at her Tambour frame, 1764, by Drouais.

Naturally, these Regency petticoats would fasten at the waist, however, the connical shape of Regency gowns, not only meant a reduced number of petticoats (one to five) mostly meant to stay hidden, they also had to fasten as high as the bust to accommodate the raised waistline. Some petticoats were even “bodiced”, including a bust support, which could even be worn in lieu of stays. As in any era, having the correct underpinnings was paramount to carrying off the fashion of the day.

Continue reading An Examination of Regency Petticoats