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Dressing Up Regency Style with hats, bonnets, reticules and scarves

Trying on some Regency Costume

We’ve recently added a new section to the exhibition where we allow our visitors the opportunity for dressing up using Regency bonnets, top hats, shawls, fans, reticules and parasols. As you would imagine, it is going down very well and everyone is having a lot of fun.

When you visit you must try it yourself.

Help with dressing up and pictures

Our friendly staff are always on hand to offer tips and advice on how to wear the various bonnets and accessories. They will also offer to take your photo on your own camera if you wish. The staff will also suggest good places to stand to get that authentic shot.

This is proving an extremely popular part of the exhibition and we intend to increase the quantity of items to try on to include various dresses and spencer jackets.

There are often hoots of delight as our visitors have fun posing in front of the full length mirror or in front of one of our Regency displays


What Jane Austen said in a letter to her sister Cassandra whilst she was holidaying in Bath in 1799

Flowers are very much worn, and fruit is still more the thing. Elizabeth has a bunch of strawberries, and I have seen grapes, cherries, plums, and apricots. There are likewise almonds and raisins, French plums, and tamarinds at the grocers’, but I have never seen any of them in hats… Elizabeth has given me a hat, and it is not only a pretty hat, but a pretty style of hat too. It is something like Eliza’s, only, instead of being all straw, half of it is narrow purple ribbon. I flatter myself, however, that you can understand very little of it from this description. Heaven forbid that I should ever offer such encouragement to explanations as to give a clear one on any occasion myself! But I must write no more of this. . .

Jane Austen to Cassandra
Queen’s Square, Bath
June 2, 1799


How to trim your Regency Bonnet  Advice from our online magazine.

A Youtube video on how to make a Regency poke bonnet 















































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Beaver Hats Build a Nation

But the merit of the curricle did not all belong to the horses; Henry drove so well — so quietly — without making any disturbance, without parading to her, or swearing at them: so different from the only gentleman-coachman whom it was in her power to compare him with! And then his hat sat so well, and the innumerable capes of his greatcoat looked so becomingly important! To be driven by him, next to being dancing with him, was certainly the greatest happiness in the world.
Northanger Abbey
Jane Austen

Beaver fur was the raw material for a high quality felt suitable for hat making. Felted beaver fur can be processed into a high quality hat that holds its shape well even aftersuccessive wettings, making it the material of choice for the hats worn by English gentlemen.

At first, British hatters imported beaver pelts from Russia and Scandinavia. When these populations dwindled under the overtraping due to the high demand for beaver fur, hatters turned to the American Colonies for their raw materials. Hats made exclusively from the undercoat of a beaver were the most expensive and of the highest quality. Lower quality, half-beavers, hats could be made of beaver fur mixed with wool or hare fur, to produce a hat that was similar in style, less durable, and less expensive in price.

Hat production was a staple of the British economy. This industry employed many workers from low skilled carders to highly skilled journeyman and master hatters. Their production supplied not only the fashion industry, but also military contracts.

Beaver pelts for hat making were acquired from trappers who were often Native Americans by a network of trading posts. The revenue from beaver pelts and deer skins fueled the economy of the Colonies and Federal America and moving on to areas that weren’t trapped out created a westward push. The price a beaver pelt brought rose steadily over the 18th century, progressing from around 5 shillings to about a Guinea by the year 1800, when the animals had become nearly extinct. John Jacob Astor controlled the largest American fur trading company. The beaver pelt was the first great American commodity and the trade in them made Astor a millionaire. Something on the order of 30,000 beaver pelts a year were exported from North America in the 1790s. The introduction of steel traps and heavy demand for pelts brought the animal to the brink of extinction. By 1834, Astor recognized that all fur-bearing animals were becoming scarce and retired.

The felt hats were produced in a process that involved removing the unwanted outer guard hairs, shaving the dense inner coat, arranging the shaved fur or fluff in random directions know as carding, and agitating the fluff producing a loose felt called a batt. Then the shaping of the hat could begin with the addition of heat and moisture and finally a stiffing agent like gum Arabic followed by steaming and ironing. At last, a silk lining could be sewn in.

Britain exported several hundred thousand pounds worth of beaver hats per year to other European nations. In 1700, 69,500 beaver hats were exported from England and almost the same number of felt hats. By 1760, just over 500,000 beaver hats and 370,000 felt halts passed through English ports. Over the seventy years from 1700 to 1770, 21 million beaver and felt hats were exported from England.

The clothing industry and fashion are important forces in history that are often overlooked in a war based history perspective. A swimming rodent with a luxeriant coat played an important role in the development of North America. Beaver pelts were the first great American trade commodity. The beaver pelt provided an article of exchange that brought metal manufatured trade goods to America and bullion to English coffers. Maybe it is time the teaching of history went into the closet.

A. Carding (combing the fibers) and Bowing (cleaning and fluffing)

B. Matting (various layers of the fiber into felt)

C. Basoning (manipulated the batt of felt into a triangular shape called a capade or gore that will become the crown of the Hat)

D. Flanging (attaching the brim)

E. Blocking (forcing the hat body onto a wood form
and stamping the moisture from it)

Why not browse our costume section at our online giftshop for costume, patterns and accessories?

Reprinted with persmission Sharon Wagoner, Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit this site for a historical tour through Regency London!