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Tambour Work

During the Regency era there were any number of ways to embellish a gown, from printing or painting directly on the fabric, to adding lace and other accents, or even embroidery. One method of embroidery, Tambour Work, was especially popular for it’s ease of application. Tambour is French for drum, and refers to the method of creating the embroidery.

According to Jessamyn Reeves Brown”s Costume Companion,

Tambour work was at least as popular as embroidery and was faster to produce. The fabric to be worked was stretched on a large frame held on a stand, and the lady used a hook like a tiny, sharp crochet hook to punch through the fabric and create a chain stitch. The result is almost indistinguishable from embroidered chain stitch except that it is so very fine and even, and the work goes more quickly. Tambour work is still used on couture clothing today.

Fine muslins were perfect for tambouring because the loose weave was easy to punch through without damaging. Most work of the era was white-on-white; subtle, but the translucency of the muslin contrasted with the opacity of the tambouring. In addition to tambouring their dresses, fine ladies tamboured fichus (neckcloths), shawls (not very warm, but pretty), reticules, and more.

By the 1830’s, machines had been created which could produce tambour work fabric 140 times faster than the average seamstress. Professional tambour artists were out of a job, and the ladies of leisure soon found other hand crafts to occupy their time and talents. Victorian tastes drifted away from the delicate details of the previous era and the art was virtually forgotten for a time.

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Shoes Make the Man: Regency Footwear

Perhaps no image so thoroughly denotes the Regency Hero as that of a Gentleman elegantly, yet casually dressed in dark coat, buff troussers and tall boots. Who could resist a Mr. Darcy or Knightley presented in such a favorable light? And yet– those boots that so epitomize the time were still a new fashion only just becoming popular during Jane Austen’s day.

Jessamyn Reeves Brown is an historian of Regency Fashion. Her research into Regency footwear shows that ‘prior to the Regency, both women and men wore what we now call “court shoes”: high-throated pumps with curved heels and side pieces that tied or buckled elaborately at the throat. As dresses became less structured and suits less elaborate, shoes did too. Heels dropped rapidly through the 1790s and by 1800 were very small indeed, while material was pared away to a minimum from the uppers. Men’s dress shoes lost their heels even before women’s did, but some retained the fine buckles of the 18th century for the most formal of occasions. Men’s shoes also became basic black quite early in the century – almost no other color is seen after 1800.

Both men’s and women’s shoes of the 18th century had flaps attached at the instep and outstep that came up over the throat and were held in place with a buckle (most commonly) or were tied in place with bows. These flaps were called latchets, and they did not entirely disappear in the Regency.’

Discover more fascinating details of men’s footwear on her Regency Companion Page.

“Polished” Hessians

Hessian (from Hesse in Germany) refers to a style of boot that became popular in the 18th century. Initially used as standard issue footwear for the military, especially officers, it would become widely worn by civilians as well. The boots had a low heel, and a semi-pointed toe that made them practical for mounted troops as they allowed easy use of stirrups. They would reach to the knee and had a decorative tassel at the top of each shaft. The Hessian boot would evolve into the rubber work boots known as “wellies” and the cowboy boot.

When describing the appearance of Marley’s Ghost in A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens mentions the tassels on his boots, indicating that they were Hessian style.

The Wellington Boot

The Wellington boot, also known as a willy, a wellie, a topboot, a gumboot or a rubber boot, is a type of boot based upon Hessian boots. It was worn and popularised by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington and fashionable among the British aristocracy in the early 19th century.

The first Duke of Wellington instructed his shoemaker, Hoby of St. James’ Street, London, to modify the 18th century Hessian boot. The resulting new boot designed in soft calfskin leather had the trim removed and was cut closer around the leg. The heels were low cut, stacked around an inch, and stopped at mid-calf. It was hard wearing for battle yet comfortable for the evening. The Iron Duke didn’t know what he’d started—the boot was dubbed the Wellington and the name has stuck ever since. (The Duke can be seen wearing the boots, which are tasseled, in this 1815 portrait by James Lonsdale.) These boots quickly caught on with patriotic British gentlemen eager to emulate their war hero. Considered fashionable and foppish in the best circles, and worn by dandies, such as Beau Brummell, they remained the main fashion for men through the 1840s. In the 1850s they were more commonly made in the calf high version and in the 1860s they were both superseded by the ankle boot, except for riding.

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Further information from Wikipedia. The Online Encyclopedia.

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Jane Austen On-line: Period Fashion and Patterns

Le Beau Monde, June 1808Everyone is familiar with the Empire waists and Grecian silhouette of the early 19th century. The classic styles and light fabrics were, no doubt, a relief from the heavily embroidered fashions of previous centuries. This simplification, which began during the French Revolution, transformed the fashion industry. Waists were raised to just below the bosom; sleeves were shortened and puffed; skirts became narrowed and elegant. Clean lines had come into vogue.

While these elements fluctuated during the next twenty years, the look remained much the same. Fabrics such as cotton prints and muslin replaced rich brocades and velvets. White was the color of choice. The desired effect was “Girlhood Innocence.” Cathy Decker, a fashion historian, has collected many original fashion plates from the early 1800’s, and has made them available for viewing on her website, The Regency Fashion Page.

Jenny Beavan, S&S
Costume designers for the recent Austen films have carefully studied period plates to provide viewers with a smorgasbord of historically accurate ensembles. One of the most famous designers, twice Oscar-nominated Jenny Beaven, created fashions for both Sense and Sensibility and A&E’s Emma. Dinah Collins’ gowns in Pride and Prejudice are stunning, though the necklines are a little low for the projected time period. Alexandra Byrne, costume designer for Persuasion, gets the most praise for period correctness. Her fashions, from the opulence of the titled elite to the humblest fisherman’s wife, appear close to perfect.

In 1996, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion vied for the Best Costume Design BAFTA. Similar to an Oscar, the BAFTA is awarded by the British Academy of Film and Television Awards. Persuasion won.

With all these sources of inspiration, it’s easy to desire your own Regency ensemble. The hardest part is deciding how to get started. Jessamyn Reeves-Brown has created a fascinating page full of links to resources, tips, fashion plates and historical information. Jennie Chancey, a noted seamstress, designed what many call the easiest Regency gown pattern. Her site, Sense and Sensibility Creations, is a treasure-trove of information, help and links. Her patterns can be purchased from the site. One other site, Austentation, focuses on Regency fashion accessories– hats, bonnets and reticules. They supply a list of most of the Regency gown patterns available, along with other period costumes, seamstresses, supply sources and historical information.


Originally printed in the JASNA-NY Newsletter, Spring 2002. Reprinted and modified with permission from the author. For a complete study of Jane Austen film fashion, read Jennie Chancey’s article at Celluloid Wrappers.