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The Battle of Fishguard

Another moment sufficed to explain the mystery. A dress of very elegant materials, but of very simple form, was drawn forth by the dainty hands of Mrs. Selby, and displayed before the wondering eyes of her mistress. It consisted of a very full short petticoat, the fabric of which it was composed being very rich satin, but the colour of that dark, sombre tint of which the homely duffle garments of the west-country peasants were generally made, before the high-pressure cotton-mills had caused all local peculiarities of costume to give place to their patterned calicos. The upper part of the dress was of very delicate cambric, and bore a picturesque approximation to the short-sleeved under-garment of the females of all lands.

But the most remarkable feature of the dress was a small red cloak, such as little Red Riding-Hood has made immortal throughout the world of Romance, but which has the more solemn stamp of historical renown accorded to it in the Duchy of Cornwall. The head-dress was a somewhat fantastical little black hat, fastened under the chin by a blue ribbon, while the dainty and diminutive black shoes, though the material was black satin, had buckles high up on the instep, and heels that marked a very remote period in the art of shoe-making, lint the whole dress, such as it was, would decidedly have required an interpreter, had it not been made familiar to the London world by a very popular picture recently exhibited, which bore in the catalogue the title of—”The Cornish Heroine.”

Mrs. Cuthbert certainly contemplated this dress with more surprise than satisfaction. She was by no means ignorant of the tradition which attributed the safety of the Cornish coast, at a moment of threatened invasion, to the imposing appearance of a multitude of red cloaks, so arranged as to make the wearers mistaken for cohorts of the stouter sex; but she could trace no connection between this old story, and her present position as the honoured mistress of a mansion favoured by the presence of the Sovereign.
-The days of the Regency, George the fourth; or, Town and country
By Frances Trollope, 1857

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Regency Mourning: An In-depth Look

Regency Mourning

A grand thought has struck me as to our gowns. This six weeks’ mourning makes so great a difference that I shall not go to Miss Hare till you can come and help choose yourself, unless you particularly wish the contrary. It may be hardly worth while perhaps to have the gowns so expensively made up. We may buy a cap or a veil instead; but we can talk more of this together…Now we are come from church, and all going to write. Almost everybody was in mourning last night, but my brown gown did very well… It makes one moralise upon the ups and downs of this life.
-Jane Austen to Cassandra
March 5, 1814

Mourning Fashion:

mourning fashion
Belle Assemblee Morning Dress, 1818

Outward manifestations of grief have changed in mourning rituals over the centuries. These days when we think of 19th century mourning, we tend to confuse elaborate Victorian rules of the 1860′s with the less rigid mourning etiquette of the earlier 19th century. Mourning fashions during the Regency Period are fully described in Dressing for Mourning in the Regency on the Jane Austen Centre’s website. Only the wealthy could afford the specially made fashionable mourning outfits shown in the fashion plates featured in Ackermann’s Repository or La Belle Assemblee, but the rising popularity of fashion magazines meant that the details of dress quickly spread through the provinces. Most people remade mourning clothes from an existing wardrobe, adding new linings to cloaks and pelisses, covering existing bonnets with a new piece of crape, and dyeing old dresses. Jane Austen wrote about her mother in 1808: “My Mother is preparing mourning for Mrs E. K. – she has picked her old silk pelisse to peices, & means to have it dyed black for a gown – a very interesting scheme.

One can imagine how an illustration like the one on the right would inspire women to add mourning details to their wardrobes, but such an expensive outfit would still be beyond most women’s means. The middle class was rising in Continue reading Regency Mourning: An In-depth Look

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The Choker Necklace

This supposed drawing of the Austen family shows Mrs. Austen wearing a fashionable black ribbon choker.

Chokers (necklaces that sit tight to the throat) have been popular throughout history– from Anne Boleyn’s famous “B”, to Empress Sisi’s simple black ribbon. Today they can be found made of anything from hemp to diamonds.

choker necklace
Georgian Aquamarine & Diamond Garland Choker

During Jane Austen’s lifetime, chokers were worn in many forms, from this vintage Georgian aquamarine and diamond creation, tied on with ribbon, to strands of pearls, to a simple ribbon tied about the neck. During the French Revolution, female French expatriots used to wear a thin red ribbon choker as a silent testament to their own narrow escape and in memory of their many friends and family members who were not as lucky. Soon all of London wanted to wear the red ribbon, beginning one of the first times in history when a ribbon has been used as a gesture of solidarity and sympathy with a class of victims.

Ribbon chokers might also be accented by a jeweled slide or cameo pin.

choker necklace
Georgian society women had a penchant for black ribbon chokers. Left: Young Georgiana with her Mother, Georgiana, Countess Spencer (1761) Right: Actress Sarah Siddons, 1785.

Here are a few images of chokers throughout history, from Anne Boleyn (1507-1536), to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744–1818) to Queen Victoria (1819–1901) and Mary of Teck (1867–1953) who preferred the style with ropes of pearls.

choker necklace
Chokers have been a popular choice for Britain’s queens.

 

Laura Boyle is an avid Regency enthusiast. Find more fashion information or purchase your own choker necklace from her shop, Austentation: Regency Accessories

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Gentleman’s Watches and Fobs

Gentleman's watches

“We have been exactly a quarter of an hour here,” said Edmund, taking out his watch.

“Oh! do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.”
-Mansfield Park

Gentleman’s Watches in the 18th and 19th Centuries

In 1675, Charles II of England introduced long waistcoats. As this became the fashion, men’s watches began to be worn in the pockets of the waistcoat instead of pendant style from the neck.

In 1704, English watchmakers Facio de Duillier and P. and J. Debaufre developed a method for using jewels as bearings. Though in 1715, this practice was still rare, byabout 1725 it was common to find a fairly large diamond endstone mounted in the time piece. The most common watches of the early 1700’s had pair cases in gold or silver, both of which were plain. Dials were mainly champlevé, but were slowly replaced by white enamel dials with block numbers. Continue reading Gentleman’s Watches and Fobs