Friday, September 5, 2014

DRESS-OF-THE-DAY 5: P&P; Regency Dress Open to Interpretations

In celebration of NATIONAL SEWING MONTH (here in the United States), I've decided to do an intensive blog series (well, intensive for me who obviously does not always make the time to blog), featuring a dress (or two, or a style) each day, not previously presented on this blog. Some will be my own creations, whether I used patterns or designed them myself. Others will be pieces I admire. Either will include an analysis and maybe some sources, history and tips. (At least, that's the goal.) I also have some guest bloggers scheduled (exciting!)

And now on to the Dress of the Day!
 Perhaps, not strictly within my set parameters for theme... but it's a topic I find interesting...

Golden Age of Cinema's Interpretation of Historical Costuming vs. Accuracy

Choices for costuming in films is always interesting, but among my favourite contrasts are the interpretation of past eras by what are now 'past eras' for us... ie early 20th century movie versions of even early ages. The best example of this is comparing the 1940 Pride and Prejudice with any of the 'contemporary' adaptations, in particular the BEST one, the 1995 BBC version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.

The choice in the 40s was to simply push the era ahead from Regency/Empire to early Victorian, in particular Southern Belle opulence (even though accurate historical studies have shown that day-wear dresses, even in the Southern US were not so extreme in hoop diameters as Hollywood would have us believe)  despite the story's origin and setting being English.

THE Couple: Elizabeth Bennett & Fitzwilliam Darcy

This was obviously done in order to display the actress' slim-waisted figures and to engage in extreme frippery, costume-wise. But sometimes, less is more, and subtlety is far more intriguing in fashion and costuming. The Regency period of 'undress' was considered far more scandalous (when first appearing on the scene) than the heavily corseted, petticoated, layered and be-ribboned styles of the preceding 18th century (think Marie Antionette) and succeeding Victorian styles. Women tended towards favoring simple short stays rather than full corsets. Dresses were gauzy and thin, showing off the figure with every movement, necklines were daringly low in many cases.

The Ultimate Social Event: Dancing at the Ball

Also, note: period correct dances. It's the details that make a good rendition, for it's the details that build the appropriate setting and atmosphere, that transport you to the society and era of the story's context. It is through these details that the culture of that time period emerges. This is why some of us are sticklers for accuracy in historical pieces.

The Bennett Sisters in their Bonnets
 I think the bonnets in these two versions best illustrates their differing approaches to costuming in the separate P&P adaptations.

 How To...

Patterns: For some accurate 'Jane Austen' or Regency attire (with the ease of sewing from mainstream companies rather than hard core historical reconstruction), try patterns by both Butterick and Simplicity. Honestly, the Simplicity is my go-to for this era, and turns out much nicer than the awful ones they put on their oddly Keira Knightly model (before the release of that blasphemous version of P&P). 

Basic Fabric Guide: Day dresses were made of 'muslins' which is equivalent to a lightweight woven cotton, such as a batiste or voile. Party/Evening/Ball dresses were of silks, chiffons and taffetas.

And now that you've successfully navigated this blog entry, here's a reminder about the Steampunk Apron/Bustle Mini-Sweepstakes (details here).


  1. My recent regency dress is made with that pattern! I find the comparison of these pictures hilarious and I'm glad that there is a trend for better historic accuracy nowadays!

  2. I'm really enjoying this series! Thanks for sharing!

  3. "Frippery" -- what a wonderful word. And thanks for the education on historical clothing!