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Baby Names for Book Lovers

Regency caps

Baby Names for Book Lovers

baby-reading-bookAt the Jane Austen Centre we’ve had a fair few visitors who tell us that they were named after one of Jane’s heroines, or that they themselves named one of their children after Elizabeth Bennet or Elinor Dashwood, so at the Jane Austen News we were interested to read through a list that Bustle recently published with suggestions on what the ideal baby name for a literature fan might be.

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Children’s Underwear in Regency England

There they are, in portraits, paintings and engravings, with earnest faces and cute clothes. But what did they wear underneath? Surely not the whole understructure their parents wore?

Just like their mothers, both boys and girls would have worn a chemise. This basic garment was usually made of linen, and followed the lines of the adult version, with one exception: Children’s chemises often omitted the side gussets, which added width to women’s chemises, thus being basically T-shirt shaped. On the other hand in well-to-do families they did even sport lace ruffles at the decollete and sleeve seams.

Over the chemise followed a pair of stays. During the earlier Georgian period current medical opinion held that the tender bodies of infants had to be protected and shaped by stays, and in many costume collections we find heavily boned specimen made for children not even one year old. Towards the last quarter of the century, when enlightenment finally won the upper hand and children’s clothes began to show signs of classical influence long before they made their first appearance in ladies’ fashions, the small corsets became less resticting and less rigid, most of them being almost entirely unboned. The garment itself was retained, however, serving a new purpose now: Since the children no longer had artifcially formed “hips”, other ways to keep the petticoats up were needed and found in buttons attached to the stays, on which the petticoats could be fastened.

Infants’ stays, 1780 – 1810, showing cording on the front and buttons to fix petticoats and pantalettes. The only two bones are in the back to strengthen the lacing.

A plain under petticoat would have completed the underwear during the first half of the 18th century, there is no mention of drawers or pantalons yet. There is also no evidence of formgiving understructures such as hooped petticoats or hip pads for children: With the simple lower class clothes they would not have been neccessary, and except for most formal occasions the more fashionable lines seen on portraits of better-off children can be achieved without such devices when contemporary and rather stiff silk fabrics are used for the garments themselves.

By the end of the century drawers made their first appearance in children’s clothing for both boys and girls. They were, like the underpetticoats, buttoned to the stays to keep them from sliding down. Another new item were pantalons or pantalettes, although it can be argued they are not truly underwear, as they were quite visibly peeping from under the dresses commonly worn by both sexes under the age of five.

Somewhere between age three and seven, young boys were “breeched” and exchanged the infant’s dresses and pantalons for boy’s clothes such as the skeleton suit, usually also discarding their stays and chemises along the way. Clothing for girls just became gradually more like that of their mothers, the seams descending and (except for the very end of the Regency) the pantalettes vanishing. Stays (when worn) became more figure forming, and lost their buttons.

 

 

Ann-Dorothee Schlueter, Proprietress of Arts Et Metiers, in Germany is a textile historian and historical seamstress. She is registered with the Handwerkskammer, Berlin. Visit her website to see samples of her work and purchase items.

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The Regency Fashions of Childhood

the fashions of childhood

The Regency Fashions of Childhood

While children are not usually thought of in the world of high fashion, with his debut of The Repository of Fashion… in 1809, Rudolph Ackerman provided modern readers with a record of what was worn by even the smallest of the Ton during the 20 years his magazine was published.

As fashion evolved during the Regency, and figure hugging corsets gave way to loose, diaphanous gowns, so too, the fashions of childhood became simpler and while they still mimicked the clothes of their elders, a new style of short dresses and easy to wear pants and jackets came into vogue with overtones that can be seen even in today’s children’s wear.

What Ackermann did, in showing his “models” engaged in many different types of activities with their children, was prove motherhood to be fashionable- or at least something not to be hidden away and relegated to the attic nurseries of country estates. In doing so, he also left a legacy of the fashions of childhood unequalled by any other period source.

Aside from fashion plates and art prints, the only other visual reference to the time that we have are portraits from the period. These, too clearly show relation between the changing attitudes in parenting and clothing styles over Jane Austen’s lifetime. Even a cursory glance at those below will prove the point.

The first, by Joshua Reynolds, shows Margaret, Lady Spencer and her daughter Georgiana (later to be the famous Duchess of Devonshire) in 1759, a few years before Jane Austen’s birth in 1775. You can see the young girl is dressed almost as a miniature adult and, small as she is (about 2), stands stock still.

In 1787, Reynolds would paint the Marsham children. Jane Austen would have been 11 or 12 at the time– about the same age as the oldest girl in the picture. Here the children are given at least some childlike pastimes to entertain them while being painted and their clothes show the shift in fashion that came with the French Revolution. Though still mimicking the adults, their styles are much more comfortable and easy to wear.

A few years later, in 1794, Thomas Lawrence painted the famous Pinkie portrait. Here, a young girl stands with her back to the sea. The setting is out of doors, like the former, but much more casual in style, as both parenting and fashion had become. Her gown reflects the new “Regency Style” similar to the one seen in The Rice Portrait, which some believe to be Jane Austen, painted in 1790.

A portrait of The Fluyder Children painted in 1805 and a later one of Mrs. Henry Baring and her Children (1817) shows the complete turnover from stiff and formal attire, parenting and painting styles, to loose, playful and involved.


Many thanks to Heather Laurence for supplying high resolution scans of fashion plates, especially the fashions of childhood, in her collection. See more of her work and collection on her site, Solitary Elegance.

 

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The Breeching Ceremony of a Young Boy and His Rite of Passage

The alternative was a skeleton suit

From Petticoats to Skeleton Suits…

Over a year ago I read a fabulous blog post on the Regency Redingote entitled  Boy to Man: The Breeching Ceremony. The article is thorough and I was quite satisfied with its information until I ran into this quote, written by Jane Austen in 1801 to her sister Cassandra:

Mary has likewise a message: she will be much obliged to you if you can bring her the pattern of the jacket and trousers, or whatever it is that Elizabeth’s boys wear when they are first put into breeches; so if you could bring her an old suit itself, she would be very glad, but that I suppose is hardly done.”

This short passage told me much more about the topic and I decided to pursue it further.

Portrait of William Ellis Gosling, 1800 , Sir William Beechey, R.A. Image @Wikimedia Commons
Portrait of William Ellis Gosling, 1800 , Sir William Beechey, R.A. Image @Wikimedia Commons

 

During the 18th century boys and girls were dressed alike in baby clothes during their infancy and in petticoats as toddlers. In Beechey’s image, our modern eyes would not identify the infant as a boy unless he was labeled as such.

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