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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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Shapewear Nightmare – Regency Underwear

shapewear nightmare

Shapewear Nightmare

A wonderful article on the (im)practicalities of underwear, from the Regency period through to the modern day likes of the Wonderbra.

Kindly reproduced here with permission from its author, Laurie Viera Rigler, who is also the author of the popular Jane Austen Addict novels.

***

It may be the third millennium, but not much has changed*  since the days of getting laced into a corset so stiff that one could barely lean over, let alone breathe. It’s no wonder ladies had to carry around smelling salts, or “vinaigrettes,” as they were called in Jane Austen’s day. Those Mr. Darcy types may have been swoon-worthy, but it was likely more a lack of oxygen than romantic flutterings that caused ladies to faint.

It wasn’t only ladies who were wearing corsets or “stays.” The Prince Regent was a favorite target of cartoonists for trying to mask his size with a corset.

Today, we call these instruments of torture “shapewear.” Sounds friendly and appealing, doesn’t it? After all, who doesn’t want to have a shape?

The promise and the reality of shapewear, however, can be two very different things. If you’ve ever had a shapewear nightmare of your own, you will love Melissa McCarthy’s story.

 

But here’s where we can really explore the WHY of shapewear–and ROFL in the process. This is about three guys who decide to test out a girlfriend’s Spanx just for a laugh, and get more than they bargained for. Brilliant.

If sheer discomfort isn’t enough to inspire you to choose jiggles over bodily strangulation, this fab piece in Bustle talks about the compression of organs, yeast infections, and other fun stuff that shapewear supports.

In any case–and whether you are still armoring yourself in shapewear, stowing them away in a rarely visited corner of your wardrobe, or indulging in a full-on ceremonial burning**– may you temper it all with a good laugh and a healthy dose of compassion–for yourself, and for all of us who have ever worried about measuring up to an impossible standard.

On that note, here’s another funny and heartfelt piece in Bustle: The Seven Emotional Stages of Wearing Spanx for the Very First Time. Here’s one of the seven GIFs from the piece: Emotional Stage #1:

Excited Fingers Crossed GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

*There is, of course, one very important change since Jane Austen’s day. Which is that while we can get our knickers in a twist over the pressure to wear shapewear, Jane Austen could not. Why? Because we’re talking pretty much a panty-free zone. Which I suppose made it way easier to do one’s business in these:

IMG_0693 - Version 2

 

 

 

 

**Although the whole bra-burning thing is a myth, we’re wondering if somehow, somewhere, women are setting a trash can full of shapewear on fire.

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Children’s Underwear in Regency England

There they are, in portraits, paintings and engravings, with earnest faces and cute clothes. But what did they wear underneath? Surely not the whole understructure their parents wore?

Just like their mothers, both boys and girls would have worn a chemise. This basic garment was usually made of linen, and followed the lines of the adult version, with one exception: Children’s chemises often omitted the side gussets, which added width to women’s chemises, thus being basically T-shirt shaped. On the other hand in well-to-do families they did even sport lace ruffles at the decollete and sleeve seams.

Over the chemise followed a pair of stays. During the earlier Georgian period current medical opinion held that the tender bodies of infants had to be protected and shaped by stays, and in many costume collections we find heavily boned specimen made for children not even one year old. Towards the last quarter of the century, when enlightenment finally won the upper hand and children’s clothes began to show signs of classical influence long before they made their first appearance in ladies’ fashions, the small corsets became less resticting and less rigid, most of them being almost entirely unboned. The garment itself was retained, however, serving a new purpose now: Since the children no longer had artifcially formed “hips”, other ways to keep the petticoats up were needed and found in buttons attached to the stays, on which the petticoats could be fastened.

Infants’ stays, 1780 – 1810, showing cording on the front and buttons to fix petticoats and pantalettes. The only two bones are in the back to strengthen the lacing.

A plain under petticoat would have completed the underwear during the first half of the 18th century, there is no mention of drawers or pantalons yet. There is also no evidence of formgiving understructures such as hooped petticoats or hip pads for children: With the simple lower class clothes they would not have been neccessary, and except for most formal occasions the more fashionable lines seen on portraits of better-off children can be achieved without such devices when contemporary and rather stiff silk fabrics are used for the garments themselves.

By the end of the century drawers made their first appearance in children’s clothing for both boys and girls. They were, like the underpetticoats, buttoned to the stays to keep them from sliding down. Another new item were pantalons or pantalettes, although it can be argued they are not truly underwear, as they were quite visibly peeping from under the dresses commonly worn by both sexes under the age of five.

Somewhere between age three and seven, young boys were “breeched” and exchanged the infant’s dresses and pantalons for boy’s clothes such as the skeleton suit, usually also discarding their stays and chemises along the way. Clothing for girls just became gradually more like that of their mothers, the seams descending and (except for the very end of the Regency) the pantalettes vanishing. Stays (when worn) became more figure forming, and lost their buttons.

 

 

Ann-Dorothee Schlueter, Proprietress of Arts Et Metiers, in Germany is a textile historian and historical seamstress. She is registered with the Handwerkskammer, Berlin. Visit her website to see samples of her work and purchase items.

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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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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.

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

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Dressing Elizabeth Bennet|Regency Undergarments

Lizzie

A New Exhibit at the Jane Austen Centre

Lizzie
Lizzie stands 75 cm. tall and wears a promenade dress circa 1813. She is shown in her chemise, donning stockings.

Lizzie
Here, we see her in her stays (corset) and drawers. Stays were always worn over a chemise and, during this period, were designed to push the bosom up and slim down the hips. Drawers were a new addition to the female wardrobe in the early 19th century. These are made of silk stockingette.

 

Lizzie
Next comes the petticoat, constructed with an 'apron front' and side ties which pass around the body
Lizzie
Lizzie On top of all this she wears a fine white lawn dress, also made with an "apron front". Lastly she puts on her shoes, hat and shawl and takes up her parasol, ridicule* (bag) and gloves. She is ready for her promenade

 

All these garments are based on research of fashion plates and garments C.1813 in museum collections. This amount of underclothing would have been typical for a young Englishwoman like Elizabeth Bennet. Although the dresses themselves were diaphanous, the undergarments were decorous and only the most daring style leaders (mainly in Paris) took the fashion to extremes and wore the ‘semi-naked’ look so beloved by cartoonists of the time.

“Elizabeth Bennet” (Doll and costume) was researched, designed and hand-made by Susie Ralph. Susie does do commissions – ask at Centre’s shop or email us: curator@www.janeausten.co.uk.

*Often mistakenly called a reticule. While `reticule’ was the proper name for a lady’s purse in later times, duing the Regency it is consistently referred to as a riducule.

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