Love those elegant scenes of Regency Balls in Pride and Prejudice? What about the glamorous hair-do’s, the sparkling jewels and accessories? How did the ladies prepare themselves, beforehand? How long did it take? Read on to discover the secrets kept behind closed boudoir doors.
This excerpt from Before the Season Ends provides a glimpse of Ariana Forsythe, Regency debutante, preparing for an evening out with Mr. Phillip Mornay, known as ‘the Paragon.’ Mrs. Bentley is her wealthy aunt and sponsor for the Season. Although eagerly anticipated, Balls and other evening entertainments were certainly a most serious business– especially during one’s first Season!
[At length] Mrs. Bentley sought out her niece to direct her remaining hours in preparations for the ball that night. It seemed outlandish, but she insisted Ariana soak in a hot tub, and then quickly into and out of a cold one. She called this “polishing the skin.” [Note that drawing a bath in those days bears little resemblance to the task, today. The water had to be heated, first, and then laboriously carried in bucketfuls up the stairs to the bedchamber or dressing room until the tub was filled. A simple tub bath, in short, was never simple.]
Harrietta (the lady’s maid) then took over, trimming the nails on Ariana’s feet and hands, and supplying her with an enormous array of vials and lotions, perfumes and powders and other solutions. Some were for her face and neck, others for her hands, elbows, and even her feet!
[The lady’s maid would also have put the young lady’s hair into “papers” hours earlier–the Regency equivalent of rollers, and just as popular for curling the hair then, as rollers are, today. In addition, she would take out the papers, braid, comb and coax the hair into an acceptable style, and help put in place the pins, jewelery, or other manner of headwear that was necessary for an elegant style. Depending on the lady being dressed, she might also be called upon to help apply powders or a mild rouge to the face.]
Later Ariana was allowed a small meal, followed by tea. Then, to her surprise, Mrs. Bentley announced it was time to “earnestly prepare for the evening.” Ariana had to wonder what they had been doing all along, if not earnestly preparing for the evening!
They fussed over her hair, her chemise, her stockings, her gown. Mrs. Bentley had insisted upon a small corset; only wantons, she declared, did without them. But now she decided it needed to be tightened, and the gown was promptly removed; the stays were tightened; Once satisfied, they pulled the gown carefully back over her head and arms and smoothed it into place.
By the time the two women had finished pulling, pinching, poking and pressing, Ariana felt more than ready to face the ‘Paragon’. Her hair was coifed elegantly atop her head, with curled tendrils about her face. (Ariana wished she had jet black hair, but Mama said her lighter tresses matched the light in her eyes, and indeed, this night her words rang true.) Ariana was a picture of sparkling, beauteous youth.
Still, Mrs. Bentley insisted upon loaning her a matching set of jewels consisting of a necklace, earrings, brooch and bracelet. And, as a last dignifying element, a tiara: a delicate, lightly embellished headpiece, which was placed gingerly over her head and fastened into place with pins.
When at last she stood quietly resplendent in a pale pink gown of satin and net, with elegant white gloves that reached past her elbows and pale pink satin slippers upon her feet, even Mrs. Bentley had to smile. “You do me credit, my gel,” she said, almost affectionately. “Even Mornay will be smitten, I daresay, eh, Harrietta?” “Oh, yes, ma’am!” breathed Harrietta, fully as pleased with the way Ariana had turned out as her mistress. “So tall and strikin’ as miss is, just like a princess!” Ariana’s aunt smiled. “I thought at first you were too tall,” she admitted, “but it turns out that ‘tall’ can be ‘statuesque’ as well!” Ariana was bustled out of the room and downstairs, to wait in the parlour.
We have all you need to prepare for a ball at our online giftshop,explore our popular costume section!
Linore Rose Burkard is the author of Before the Season Ends, an Inspirational Regency Romance, from which this article excerpt was taken. She spent a great deal of time researching the period while writing her book. Coming soon from Harvest House Publishers: A new edition of Before the Season Ends, (Dec. 2008) followed by its sequel, The House in Grosvenor Square.( April, 2009)Visit her website to learn more about Ms. Burkard, or to subscribe to her free monthly eZine, “Upon My Word! Facts, Fashion and Figures of the Regency.”
Regency Lady illustration by kind permission of Brenda Sneathen Mattox. To view her extensive line of historically and literary inspired Paperdolls, including Elizabeth Bennet, Elinor Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse, visit Fancyephemera.com.