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Jane Austen News – Issue 87

the Jane Austen News learns more about JASP

What’s the Jane Austen News this week?  

A Look At Lizzy Bennet’s Drawers

This week at the Jane Austen News we had great fun reading Bustle‘s piece on underwear in the time of Jane Austen. At the Jane Austen Centre our guides are often asked what the underwear of the era was like, so it was nice to see that we got a mention in Bustle‘s article too.

In brief (sorry, the pun was too good) Melissa Ragsdale explained why, although the screen adaptations may look terribly genteel and elegant, in real life Regency England it wasn’t all tea and cake and comfort.

If you like feel like a lot of women and long to get home at the end of the day and ditch your bra and relax in a nice pair of comfy PJs, well, it would have been much worse back in Jane’s time…

Unlike Victorian corsets which hooked in the front and laced up the back, older corsets only laced up the back in a zigzag fashion using one string—cross lacing would be invented later on—and stiffened in the front with a carved wooden or bone busk which created a straight posture and separated the bosoms for the “heaving” effect, so popular at the time.

Although if you like going commando, you’d have been in luck…

According to the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, ‘drawers’ (which were like loose shorts, and often crotchless) were invented in 1806, but it wasn’t common for adult women to wear them until after 1820. Drawers went on to merge into ‘knickers’ and ‘combinations’ during the Victorian era, and modern “panties” didn’t exist until the 1920s.

To see what else Melissa found out about Lizzy Bennet’s underwear drawer you can read the full article here.


Think Jane’s No Longer Relevant? Think Again

For anyone who thinks Jane Austen’s stories are no longer relevant to real life, The Jane Austen Society of Pakistan is out to explain why her words still ring true for them.

Laaleen Sukera, a journalist and the founder of JASP, has been speaking to The Economist in an article published this week, and explaining why Jane Austen is so popular in Pakistan, one of the main reasons being because the etiquette and customs of the Regency are still alive and well in society. A couple of examples:

  • Weddings are the equivalent of the Bath Assembly Rooms – it’s where people go to search for suitable partners.
  • There is still a ‘season’ – three months crammed with parties, weddings and balls where girls put on their best jewels and finery and check out the most eligible suitors on offer.
  • Inheritance laws still heavily favour male heirs.
  • Marrying your daughters to rich men, from good backgrounds, who can take good care of them, is still the main focus of many families.

Austen resonates with us because Regency England is so much like today’s Pakistan. I know her books are 200 years old and set in small English county towns and villages but, really, her themes, her characters, her situations, her plots, they could have been written for us now.

At the Jane Austen News we found it fascinating to read all about the parallels between Regency England and Pakistan, and on Austen’s popularity there. The full article (well worth a read!) can be found here.


 Online Role-Playing with Jane Austen – A Report

If shoot-em-up adventures or burning-rubber car chases aren’t your kind of thing, but at the same time you’re not completely averse to the whole idea of playing video games, then the latest reviews of a new virtual roleplaying game called Ever, Jane might well be of interest to you. Continue reading Jane Austen News – Issue 87

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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

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Dressing the Part: Children’s Clothing in Regency

Children’s Clothing in Regency and how it evolved

For the first time in History, around 1770, children began to have clothes that were designed just for them; they were no longer dressed as miniature adults. This is very noticeable in portraits of the time, the adults still wearing stiff formal costumes, while the children appear relaxed and free; the boys in shirts which are open at the neck, the girls in simple gowns with a sash at the waist.

Many experts attribute this, at least in part, to the influence of Rousseau. In ‘Emile’, published in 1762, translated into English the following year, he dealt not only with methods of raising children, but also with their clothing. “The limbs of a growing child should be free to move easily in his clothes: nothing should cramp their grown or movement; there should be nothing tight, nothing fitting closely to the body, no belt of any kind. The plainest and most comfortable clothes, those which leave him the most liberty, are what he likes best.” How different from the boned and panniered dresses for girls and the satin suits for little boys of previous times. Naturally, this process was not an instant change, but by 1800 it had permeated all levels of society. The most significant fact is that what the children wore gradually became the model for adult clothes. Thus, a young girl born about 1770 would wear almost the same style until she was 50! The “trousers” which were part of the boys costume were almost universal by 1830 for adult males and are still their most important garment today.

princess Charlotte Later in the period, when skirts became shorter, girl’s nether garments began to be shown. In 1811, there is a description of Princess Charlotte, then 15 years old, talking to Lady de Clifford and “sitting with her legs stretched out after dinner and show[ing] her drawers which it seems she had and most young women now wear.” It was considered that the Princess was now too old for such a display, but she countered that the Duchess of Bedfort showed even more of her drawers.

In winter, dresses may have been made of wool, and flannel petticoats worn. The neck and chest were very much exposed in this style and spencers and tippets worn for warmth. Cloaks would be worn for traveling and shawls and stoles made their appearance for the fashionable child.

Dress your own Regency fashion girl, click here for our range of children’s dress patterns and paper dolls!

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Corsets and Drawers: A Look at Regency Underwear

Fashionable young ladies of the Regency were fortunate to escape one constriction that had haunted the lives of their mothers and would later fall to their daughters and granddaughters: The Boned Corset. Where both the Georgian and Victorian sillouette called for unnaturally small waists and straight backs, designers during the Regency were captivated by the “natural Female form.” Drawing inspiration from classic greek and roman statuary (all things ancient Greece were the rage at this time) they allowed for column dresses with minimal flouncing. Where once layers of hoops and petticoats reined, now almost modern dress shape took over. Waists were raised to just under the bosom while skirts hung free.

These new styles called for an all new type of support garment. Thus was born the short corset, forbearer to today’s modern undergarments. Unlike Victorian corsets which hooked in the front and laced up the back, older corsets only laced up the back in a zigzag fashion using one string—cross lacing would be invented later on—and stiffened in the front with a carved wooden or bone busk which created a straight posture and separated the bosoms for the “heaving” effect, so popular at the time. Pre-Regency corsets constrained the body from the hips to the bust line and were held on with straps over the shoulders where gown sleeves could be laced on. These corsets could be a separate garment worn under clothes, or used as the bodice of the dress itself. It would be worn over a chemise and stockings (knee to thigh high and held up with garters). In the 1700’s petticoats and panniers would be worn over that, though during the Regency this was slimmed down to one petticoat—and only if necessary. Drawers would not be invented until 1806. Until then, women walked free of any other undergarments.

The “new” Regency Corset was a clever combination of straps, tapes and laces. They came in many styles—some for controlling the figure, some for pushing the bosom up and out in a shelf-like display. Two of these types are shown in this picture of 1819 stays from the Kyoto Museum in Japan. They would be stiffened with cording or stays, though the tight whale boned figure was still decades off. These corsets were mostly supportive, similar to today’s bras—and not constricting or dangerous to health as some later corsets would be. Of course, not all women even wore corsets! Some settled for a boned chemise (or boned, bodiced petticoat) or a chemise with a ribbon tied underneath the bosom for enhancement. It all depended on the style being sought, the shape of the wearer and the financial investment that they wished to make.

Many stories are told, both of the fun and exasperation girls had in modifying their underclothing to suit their styles and needs. Tales are told of girls who wore pink stockings (shocking!) to simulate bare flesh and others who dampened their chemises for a see-through effect through their white and pastel gowns (popular with the men, I’m sure!) Drawers, a modified version of the Men’s garment, tied at the waist with a string and split in the middle, were uncommon for women’s wear for the first 20 years of the 1800’s, though popular on young girls. Princess Charlotte is supposed to have worn them with glee, much to the astonishment of several other ladies, though this woman did not have the same happy experience: “They are the ugliest things I ever saw: I will never put them on again. I dragged my dress in the dirt for fear someone would spy them. My finest dimity pair with real Swiss lace is quite useless to me for I lost one leg and did not deem it proper to pick it up, and so walked off leaving it in the street behind me, and the lace had cost six shillings a yard…”

Of course- Men had their own items—Undershirts are a relatively new invention, but before the advent of men’s drawers, they had nothing but their long shirts to tuck into their pants. Later, drawers- similar to shorts with a drawstring and buttoned flaps were invented, much to everyone’s relief. At the time of the Regency, men would normally be wearing cotton drawers, a linen or Muslin shirt, perhaps a corset (yes, not even the men escaped!) depending on the man, stockings and then pants (or knickers), cravat, vest and coat.

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