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Looking Sharpe: The Well Dressed Infantryman

Wickham - An example of an infantryman

“This was exactly as it should be; for the young man wanted only regimentals to make him completely charming. His appearance was greatly in his favour; he had all the best part of beauty, a fine countenance, a good figure, and a very pleasing address.”
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen

British Military of the Regency Era – The Infantryman

Wickham and Lydia- P&P Jane Austen had a great respect for the British military, as any of her readers will attest. The following article, reprinted from the The Sharpetorium, gives an idea of what it was like to be an infantryman in His Majesty’s service in the early 19th century. The example, Pvt. Richard Sharpe (33rd Regiment of Foot; Light Infantry), is the hero of Bernard Cornwell’s novels. Continue reading Looking Sharpe: The Well Dressed Infantryman

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September in Regency Bath

Anywhere but in Bath

This month, the Austens are making an early start.

After a travellers’ breakfast on this cool, bright morning, they are making for the White Hart Inn in Cheap Street, a stone’s throw from the Abbey Churchyard, to take their places on the Taunton Mail. Alas – this coaching hostelry, which features in “Persuasion” as the backdrop to the Musgroves’ family party and Anne Elliot’s poignant defence to Harville on the constancy of women, has been pulled down. But Cheap Street still leads us down to Stall Street and the site of the old South Gate of the medieval city, over the bridge across the Avon and up the steady incline of the Wells Road – or “the Wellsway” as it is now called. This would have been the Austens’ holiday route from Bath to Wells and thence to Taunton, Exeter and the sea.

Though well connected, the Austens were far from wealthy and Jane, Cassandra and their elderly parents almost certainly travelled by a public stagecoach, which would lumber along at the – to them – brisk pace of eight miles an hour. If the summer had been dry, with any luck the annual exodus down to the wilder shores of the West Country could take only a couple of days. Only? Only a couple of days of rutted road in an unsprung coach, with at least one overnight stop in a strange bed. Many retired folk would have stayed safe at home. But the Austen parents appear to have been game old birds when it came to travel. Despite his relatively advanced age, the Reverend George Austen’s distinguished silver-haired figure would be seen every September leading his womenfolk away from the fleshpots of Bath, like a benign and tidy Old Testament Prophet, to seek new scenes and fresh faces. He must have been cheered to see his daughter Jane regain her old spirits as the streets and squares of Bath were left behind.

It is no secret that Jane loved this time of year the best of all. Her future heroine Anne Elliot, was to speak for her creator when she was made to “dread the possible heats of September in all the white glare of Bath“. In addition, Anne grieved at the possibility of having to forgo all the influences, so sweet and so sad, of the autumnal months in the country.” Jane had had a longing for the sea for many months. In her letters of 1801, the year of the move to Bath, she had salved the wound of her loss of the Hampshire countryside with anticipation of “summers by the sea or in Wales”. If they were going to have to go to Bath to live, at least Bath would be nearer to the Dorset or Devon coast. She would perhaps be able to enjoy the glories of the changing leaves under a peacock sky and beside an azure sea.

The Austens seemed to have visited fashionable Sidmouth in 1801, quaint Dawlish and mellow Teignmouth in 1802. They discovered the jewel of west Dorset, Lyme Regis, in the mild St Martin’s summer of November, 1803. The march of headlands to the east, peaking with Golden Cap and the sweep of Lyme Bay make this a particularly open-armed, large-scaled piece of the coastline. To the west is the tumbled exotic jungle of Pinhay or Pinny as Jane called knew it, with its “green chasms between romantic rocks, scattered trees and orchards of luxuriant growth“. By contrast, Lyme itself is cherished by the sturdy arm of the harbour wall which is known as the Cobb. A curious set of rungs acting as steps between the Cobb’s levels seem to have set Jane’s imagination working. Here, maybe, some gallant Captain could show an endearing vulnerability. Perhaps he could fail to catch a flirtatious young lady as she jumped down. She could hear him exclaim “Oh God, her father and mother!” and the young lady would lie there, still and white but not dead. There would be no tragedy in her books. All would be revealed to be a work of Providence. Jane Austen walked on the wall and considered, her imagination taking off with the billowing clouds and the tumbling waves. It was good to get away from the city.

Born in 1775, Jane saw both the high water of the Age of Reason and the turn of the tide into Romanticism. Tourism for the leisured classes was undergoing a revolution. Until 1800, “taking the waters” at Bath had provided a “rest cure” that was entirely eighteenth century in concept a chance to meet and greet like-minded urbane folk in a cultured and elegant environment, to promenade with them by day and dance with them by night, in a well-ordered, mutually agreeable and preordained social ritual. Now, in the opening years of the nineteenth century, the craving for something grander, more sublime was in the air. The Wordsworthian concept of the “huge and mighty forms” of nature, Byronic longings for those qualities of wildness and remoteness which bring you to a greater knowledge of yourself, were for the first time connected with the idea of a holiday excursion.

Jane Austen, the sceptical teenager of the Age of Reason, was to show herself in later life a true romantic or even a Romantic with a capital R in the literary sense.. Like Anne Elliott, she had been forced into prudence in her youth she learnt romance as she grew older the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.” After Jane’s death, Cassandra scribbled in the margin next to these words in her own copy of “Persuasion” – “Dear, dear Jane this deserves to be written in letters of gold”.

What exactly was the romance in any sense of the word that attracted Jane to this stretch of coast? “And a very strange stranger it must be who does not feel charms in the immediate environs of Lyme and wish to know it better..” What on earth does she mean when she says here, in a letter of 1804, from Lyme to Cassandra in nearby Sidmouth, that it was “absolutely necessary for me to have the little fever and indisposition which has been all the fashion this week at Lyme”? Were her pulses racing simply at the rolling of what Byron calls “The deep and dark blue ocean”, or was there some other, more human factor at Lyme that affected the normally ironic, detached Jane?

Why do we suspect her of a coded message? Only because of the long-held legend in the family of Aunt Jane’s West Country romance, a faded rosebud thrown down by Cassandra to the nieces, possibly to stop their impertinent curiosity over their famous aunt’s love life. But oddly, Jane was to echo that exact phrase “little fever” when writing of Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove’s infatuation with Captain Wentworth. With them, “it was not love, it was a little fever of admiration, but it might, probably must, end in love with some.”

But perhaps we are being fanciful. Perhaps Jane’s “Romance” was purely in her responses to the natural world. Maybe she simply yearned for the sight and sounds of “the waves that make towards the pebbled shore,” reminding us how “our minutes hasten to their end” – according to Shakespeare. Forty-one years is not long enough to saunter along the shore, travel-stained and stiff-limbed, to untie one’s bonnet strings to get the hem of one’s gown recklessly wet as one walks along the very edge of the land. Eternity is not long enough to linger and gaze as all must linger and gaze on a first return to the sea, who deserve to look upon it at all.

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A Tour of Regency Fashion: Day and Evening Dress

Le Beau Monde, June 1808 The Regency Era (often given as 1812-1830, though the dates are flexible) officially began when the Prince of Wales became Regent of England after his father, George III, was declared insane. This period was dramatically different from what came before it, Georgian decadence and excess, and from what followed, Victorian morality. The fashions, of course, reflected this change.

In the eighteenth century fashions were highly elaborate, made of heavy brocades and satins with copious lace trim and quilted, beaded underskirts supported by a complicated infrastructure of hoops and panniers. The entire confection would be crowned with elaborate wigs, tall feathers, and huge hats. By the 1790’s, a radical change was in the air.

The change was precipitated by the French Revolution and its “democratic” tenets. Noblewomen and their maids alike dressed in the new style as silks gave way to light muslins, clinging lines, high waistlines, and arm-baring sleeves. These new styles were classically influenced, modeled on the ideals of the Greek and Roman worlds that were aped by the Revolution.

Throughout the Regency, there were certain elements of fashion that remained fairly consistent. Necklines were low and wide, filled in for daytime with fichus, scarves, or chemisettes; a high waistline; a fitted bodice, and fitted sleeves, either short and puffed, elbow-length, or long. There were trends; waistlines went up and down, more elaborate trims came into vogue, especially at the hems and necklines of gowns, and medieval and Renaissance details became popular, especially in England. As always, the French tended to be more daring in their fashions!

Day Dress
In the early Regency (approximately 1797-1805), the most common style of dress for day wear was one that was very classic in feel and simple in style– what we often think of toady as “typical Regency”. It was high-waisted with a wide neckline and rather long sleeves. Chemisettes (a style much like a modern dickey!) or fichus, often made of filmy fabrics, were used to fill in the neckline. Often there were no back fastenings; The two photos [I sent] were of the same dress, dressed up for evening and down for day. I made it from the La Mode Bagatelle Regency pattern (which can be bought at the Sense and Sensibility website). It's kind of expensive, about $48, but you can make about 10 different dress styles from it, as well as a pelisse and spencer. Very authentic, too, but a bit hard to sew. a woman could simply pull the dress over her shoulders and tie up the drawstrings. The term “chemise dress” was very descriptive of these dresses. (pictured on right)

Early Regency dresses, even day dresses, also had trains, though this trend faded around 1805. Also after 1805, the longer, tighter sleeves began to give way to the shorter, puffed style. The drawstring fastening was often augmented by a hook or button in the back, at the neckline. Waistlines continued to fluctuate, and around 1807-08 new, smooth bodices, not gathered but fitted with darts, began to emerge.

Opera Gowns, from Ackerman's Repository of the Arts, 1810 Early styles of dress had skirts of classical simplicity with very little trim or embroidery. They were also quite narrow, with all the fullness gathered in the back with the train. In the 1810s, gowns started becoming more elaborate. Tucks and flowers adorned hemlines. The English were especially fond of “Renaissance” details – ruffs, slashed sleeves, and lace (See the fashion plate on the left.). Heavier fabrics were needed to support these details, and silks and satins returned to vogue.

By 1816, waistlines were at their highest, though often just a small band of fabric, and hems were at their most elaborate.

Evening Dress
Early Regency evening dress retained some eighteenth century richness, with colored silks and metallic trims, but the style was Classical, with high waists, narrow silhouettes and close-fitting, longer sleeves. A train was de riguer, as it was for day dress.

On the whole, evening fashion tended to resemble day dress styles. When trains disappeared for day dress, they became optional for evening. Waistlines raised and lowered; fabrics became simpler, then returned to more elaborate silks, satins, and velvets. Sleeves grew and became more gathered and puffed.

From: The Gallery of Fashion 1790-1822, Plates by Heideloff and Ackermann with Introduction by Sacheverell Sitwell and Notes on the Plates by Doris Langley Moore (Batsford Colour Books. London: B.T. Batsford, 1949). Moore describes the dress thus: 'Evening dress of gossamer satin, body and Spanish slashed sleeves of pink satin, cap with rosebuds ... An evening or musical party full dress of gossamer satin, with festoooned trimming, bordered with rouleaux of rose-pink satin. Body and Spanish slashed sleeves of pink satin. Cap ornamented with rosebuds.' By 1815, the original classical simplicity of dress had all but vanished. Layered gowns (underdresses of silk or satin, often colored, and overdresses of sheer lace or gauze) came into vogue. Hems were very elaborate, with artificial flowers, beadwork, lace and netting used. Ornamentation on the sleeves echoed that of the hems. (See fashion plate on the right).

By 1825, the waistline approached the natural state, skirts were growing wider, and the fashion style of the Regency was ending. Soon it would give way entirely to the elaborate hoops and corsets of the Victorian age, sending fashion back full circle.

Buy dress patterns to make your own Regency gown at the Jane Austen Centre Online Giftshop!

Coming Soon! A Scandal in Venice Ammanda McCabe is an author of Regency Romances and speaker at an upcoming writer’s conference where her subject will be Regency Fashion. Her first book, Scandal in Venice, will be released this month. Order it today from Barnes and Noble!

Ammanda’s gown was made with “the La Mode Bagatelle Regency pattern (which can be bought at the Sense and Sensibility website). It’s kind of expensive, about $48, but you can make about 10 different dress styles from it, as well as a pelisse and spencer. Very authentic, too, but a bit hard to sew. I’ve also made a gown from Simplicity 9221. It’s easier to make, and looks fine with a few easy changes (like no zipper).”

Select Bibliography
Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 1. Quite Specific Media Group, Ltd.: 1975.
Asheford, Jane. The Art of Dress. Harry Abrams: 19



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A Lady’s Evening Ensemble

This Evening Ensemble was researched, designed and constructed by Yvonne Roe, Gloucester.This Evening Ensemble and many other gowns can be seen on display at the Jane Austen Centre, which boasts a fine hands on collection of Gentlemen’s, Ladies’ and Children’s wear.

The main over part of the gown is made from a length of Indian silk, shot in two shades of green, using the woven borders as part of the design. The undergown is plain cream silk decorated with pearl braid and a tuck. At this time, many enterprising traders went to India to make their fortunes, sending gifts of shawls and local fabrics to their female relatives at home. There are several examples in costume collections of dresses made from such items, with the cut of the gown being carefully adapted to take advantage of the borders, doubtless giving their makers quite a challenge so as not to waste a precious inch. The dress on display is based on an original in the collection at Snowshill Manor [NT] and a similar design was worn by Mrs Weston in the latest television adaptation of Emma, at the Crown Inn Ball.

The sleeves are interestingly detailed, with tulip-shaped oversleeves over the popular puffed shape; the sleeve band is decorated with gold cord and pearl braid.

Headdresses for the evening would range from a simple ribbon round the wearer’s curls to an elaborate turban twisted from lengths of silk, decorated with brooches, cords and, of course, some imposing feathers. The older lady would wear a cap made of very fine lawn, often elaborately frilled and flounced.

Morning Dress, Costumes Parisiens, 1801. This simple morning dress is slit down the front and tied by white tasseled cords that allow provocative glimpses of the lace trimmed underdress. A cashmere shawl of green, pink, and yellow squares is draped over the lady's shoulders. Shawls or stoles completed the evening ensemble – often, Indian cashmere was the choice which was later copied by British manufacturers and endured as a fashion until the 1860s. The shape gradually evolved from rectangular to a large square; fabrics could be fine wool, silk, cotton or a mixture, often with colourful woven borders, usually in the Kashmir pine-cone design, in bright colours, which later became the pattern we know as Paisley – [because that town became the centre of the shawl weaving trade]. The stole on display is of fine silk georgette with green silk edging and gold fringe.

All sewing was done by hand at this time and there were only a few diagrammatic patterns available. Fashion magazines, such as La Belle Assemblee, Ackerman’s Repository or the Lady’s Magazine showed eager readers fashion plates of the very latest modes in London or Paris, and those ladies fortunate enough to be visiting centres of fashion, such as Bath, wrote letters home with detailed descriptions and sketches of what the fashion leaders were wearing. This information was then used to create their own interpretations of “the latest thing” for those at home. Newspapers, too, reported on current fashion; from the London Recorder, 1806: The dresses of ladies were in general white muslin, with a slight intermixture of lilac and peachblossom. The headdresses were either Grecian or Egyptian; ostrich feathers were generally worn; on the whole, the Drawing-room wore a much more brilliant aspect than usual.

London Evening Dress from La Belle Assemblée; March 1808 Even gentlewomen often made their own gowns, and certainly, in households such as the Bennet’s in Pride and Prejudice, the sisters would have made some of their own clothes. In every locality there were seamstresses, often called mantua-makers, who would make for those who could afford it and the ideal ladies’ maid was able to make, repair and alter her mistress’s clothes.

Costume researched, designed and constructed by Yvonne Roe, Gloucester. Special to the Jane Austen Centre, Bath.


Supplemental fashion plates, by permission from Cathy Decker, The Regency Fashion Page.

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“I was very lucky in my gloves–got them at the first shop I went to…and gave only four shillings for them; upon hearing which everybody at Chawton will be hoping and predicting that they cannot be good for anything, and their worth certainly remains to be proved; but I think they look very well.
Jane Austen, 1813

During the 19th century, ladies always wore regency gloves outside (so did gentlemen). In addition, they wore them for the most part indoors as well (always at balls, for instance). Made of cotton or kid, they were protection for the hands against dirt and the elements. Continue reading Gloves

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Gigs, Cabriolets and Curricles

Gigs, Curricles, and Cabriolets

What are the differences between gigs, cabriolets, and curricles?

Mr Thorpe is very boastful of his newly acquired gig in “Northanger Abbey”. He has just purchased it and he describes it as ‘curricle hung’. He goes on to say, “seat, trunk, sword case, splashing-board, lamps, silver moulding, all you see complete, the iron work as good as new, or better.” The whole cost him only 50 guineas. Much of this is, of course lost to us now, but while we might not know the detail, we understand that he is as proud of his gig as any young man might be of his first car.

So what was a gig and what was all that detail about? For a start, a gig referred to a light two-wheeled vehicle which usually comfortably seated two people and was drawn by either one or two horses – in Mr Thorpe’s case he has a single horse to draw his vehicle along. Another gig mentioned by Austen can be found in “Persuasion”, and with much less pretension. It is driven by the Admiral, and can fit three when Anne squeezes onto the seat with him and his wife. Continue reading Gigs, Cabriolets and Curricles