Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion: Your Costume



Updated 11/04!

Need more information on how to create a costume? I've rounded up links to many other sites' helpful tidbits that apply to Regency costuming - even if the site is not specifically Regency-related.

For information on patterns to buy, visit the Pattern Reviews.

For information on what fabrics to use, go to the Fabric Page.

How do I...?

Apply Regency Makeup
What cosmetics were used in the period, and how were they applied? Keep in mind that while some women did wear cosmetics, modest ones did not. "I never used to like Miss C. because she rouged," wrote Anne Prevost, daughter of a Canadian Governor-General during the War of 1812.
Control My Hair
This site is aimed at Civil War reenactors, but covers questions of period pomades and other styling aids that can apply to Regency hair as well.
Create a Feminine Regency Hairstyle
Lots of pictures of how to dress your hair, modeled by none other than Jenny Chancey of Sense & Sensibility patterns. Another style is explained here.
Make a Convincing Man's Wig
If you wish to look like a gentleman of the late 18th century, or an older gentleman such as would have continued to wear a wig well into the 19th century, try this method to produce a wig that doesn't look as if it were made out of polyester batting.
Build Hair Rolls & Extensions
These clever techniques are useful for creating those attractive but impossibly voluminous ladies' hairstyles of the 1790s.
Make a Bodiced Petticoat
Adapt any Regency gown pattern you already own to create an all-in-one petticoat that supports the bosom.
Make a Smock
Also known as a shift or chemise. This is a more period-accurate approach to Regency underwear than the bodiced petticoat above. Follow the instructions for an Elizabethan T-tunic, just shortening the sleeves so they won't show. I would also recommend visiting the elegant site Across the Ages for a helpful diary detailing the creation of a Regency chemise without aid of a pattern.
Cord a Corset
The softer, more natural shape of the Regency torso was often enhanced by a corset that was corded rather than boned. These instructions focus on Italian Renaissance, but the technique translates.
Make a Corded Petticoat
Petticoats began to require some stiffening in the late Regency (1820s). Tone down these instructions, which are for a later, fuller skirt, by keeping the cording to the lower section of the petticoat and skipping the starch. Or try this one, which is Elizabethan but very similar to the modest cone of the 1820s skirt.
Make a Shirt
How to make a man's shirt, from pattern design to finish trim. Aimed at the Renaissance reenactor, but perfectly applicable to later periods.
Tie a Cravat
The above are somewhat confusing but interesting period instructions to accompany the image of Neckclothitania (shown on my Men's Clothing page) at the Regency Repository. Costume instructor Eleanor Keane offers hints and helpful photos here (be sure to click on "Styles of Neck Tie Knots" for a second page of photos and tips). And Jessica's Costume History Page gives tips and photos of her efforts on shanghied siblings and even the family dog!
Make a Basic Cloak
Make yours of red wool for an authentic ca.-1800 look.
Drape a Toile
A toile is a muslin mockup (sometimes used as a lining in the finished garment) that allows you to work out fitting issues before cutting into your expensive fabric. These instructions explain how to make a garment simply by looking at pattern shapes on a page and pinning fabric onto a mannequin. Scary to start with, but the best way to achieve a perfect fit while saving a fortune in patterns.
Find a Free Pattern for a Gown
Feeling ambitious? Here is a graphed pattern of an 1808 white cotton gown, waiting to be enlarged to your size and constructed. For advanced sewers.
Create Buttons
Thread-covered and, particularly, fabric-covered buttons were ubiquitous on Regency clothes - but metal-backed button kits weren't! Here, how to make them authentically.
Make Decorative Frogs
Tired of same-old rayon frogs? Dress up your pelisse with custom-made ones.
Handsew Eyelets
Metal grommets weren't in use until the Victorian era. There are actually several ways to sew your lacing holes - or holes for hooks-and-holes (a period alternative to hooks and eyes) - authentically. Here is another.
Do Spiral Lacing
How to lay out the holes and lace your Regency corset or the back of your gown authentically, since cross-lacing wasn't yet generally used.
Make a Felt Hat
With nothing more than styrofoam, glue, and craft felt, you can make your own top hats, half-moons, and winter bonnets.
Make a Buckram Hat
Create your own Regency styles with these techniques - the sky's the limit!
Make a Straw Hat
How to take apart a modern straw hat and recreate a period style. So clever! Even more clever (though less period-accurate): how to make a hat or bonnet from old straw placemats!
Tie a Turban
Distant Caravans offers an illustrated description of how to tie a nice-looking turban from two tasseled scarves. Admittedly, Regency "turbans" were actually pre-sewn into shape, but this method does produce a nice look. Use scarves with no tassels or tassels only at one end for a more typical Regency style.
Make Gloves
Can't find - or afford - the right thing? Design and make your own custom gloves.
Make a Reticule
These simple pouch instructions can be used to create a lovely reticule, if you use a pretty fabric and ribbons.
Create a Stylish Fan
How to turn a cheap fan into a beautiful period reproduction.

Period-Appropriate Physical Aids

Since my husband uses a wheelchair, I am particularly fascinated by period solutions to disabilities - but these should be of interest to everyone, since we all know someone who wears glasses!
Glasses
How to find period glasses and get them fitted with lenses. More here, although keep in mind that advice about lens and earpiece shapes refer only to Civil War.
Hearing Aids
Amazing! The ingenuity in creating and concealing these devices boggles the mind.
Wheelchairs
Scroll down this history of wheelchairs until you get to the "Bath chairs" (used, of course, by invalids at Bath) and an interesting small chair with two front wheels and a single wheel at the back!



Supplies.

Fabrics. First, visit the Fabric Page to determine what sort of fabric is appropriate to the garment you want to make. If you can't find what you want locally, or if you want the most period-accurate fabric possible, there are many suppliers of such on the Web, and I have several listed on this page.

Fastenings. Hooks and eyes are easily obtained, invisible, and appropriate. Frog fasteners are good for outerwear. Take care, if you use buttons on your clothes, that they are appropriate: possibilities include mother-of-pearl, bone, wood, pewter, and china. Self-covered buttons are also almost always correct; you can buy the two-part buttons to cover from any fabric store, but it's more period-accurate to cover small wooden beads (from craft stores) or even disks of cardboard. Thread-wrapped buttons were also popular (see how-to links above).

Trimmings. On gowns of such simple shape as those during the Regency, trim was very important. Even if a woman's dress was made by a professional "mantua-maker," she often created the trim herself. Purely decorative trims can make the difference between a dull gown and a really stunning one, or breathe new life into an old one. Jane Austen often talked in her letters about how she was trimming a new hat or gown, or redoing the trim.

In a letter to her sister Cassandra: "Ribbon trimmings are all the fashion at Bath. . . . I have been ruining myself in black sattin ribbon with a proper perl edge; & now I am trying to draw it up into kind of roses, instead of putting it in plain double plaits."

A couple of simple rows of satin ribbon a few inches up from the hem is a nice trim, and can be very dressy. In the earlier years, embroidery rising for a few inches from the hem was popular. You could perhaps use woven ribbon with a greek key design to emulate this. In the teens, several rows of tucks or self-fabric ruffles were often taken above the hem in lieu of trim.

A very easy trim is to run a satin or gauze ribbon around the waist. It does tend to be rather widening, though, unless you tie it into a soft bow in front and let the ends hang quite long, thereby emphasizing the vertical.

Very flattering for most women is to trim the neckline. Narrow piping can put a flattering color near the face, and by accentuating the scoop of the neck gives a vertical rather than horizontal emphasis. Running a piece of lace around the edge of the neckline was popular, and dresses things up.



Accessories

Accessories are so important to the overall effect. They are the biggest reason "period" movies from, say, the 1940s look so much a product of their time, rather than the time they're trying to portray. Of course one has to compromise, since cobblers and hatters aren't readily available. But some period looks are easier to achieve than others, and the total effect is worth the effort.

Shoes.

Shoes are an important part of your overall look, since they'll show every time you take a step, as well as affecting the way you stand and move. Below you'll find all-new sources of much more period-accurate shoes than I've been able to show before.

First visit my page on Footwear and determine what type of shoe you need. Is it a dance slipper? A half-boot? You wouldn't wear strappy satin pumps to work today, so when recreating the Regency, don't wear delicate slippers to an outdoor event. If your local Payless doesn't have the right style - or you want something more accurate - there are a number of providers listed on this page.

Hats & Bonnets

If you're going to an outdoor event, or even if you just want to arrive at an indoor one in style, you'll need headwear. There are a number of options on the spectrum from make-it-yourself to made-to-order.

Made-to-Order Headwear. Austentation offers extremely reasonably priced Regency hats and bonnets. Be sure to visit the Portfolio page, which has several examples that look very correct to me, particularly the Longbourne (at left), the Georgiana Darcy (when worn with scarf, as at right), and the Elinor. Also charming, on the Hats & Bonnets page, is the Eliza.

Victoria Louise, Mercers sells an "Antique Berry Wreath" with creamy white cherries for use as a headpiece, only $15. Also, Bradley Company of the Fox offers a variety of sheer white cotton day caps (married women wore them indoors and out, under their hats or bonnets) for around $15 apiece.

Headwear supplies. Hats and bonnets can be made by covering a buckram frame, or by decorating a ready-made straw or felt hat.

I haven't yet found any buckram frames of the right shape, but Enhancements offers a straw bonnet frame (#180, shown at left, $15) that looks like it would do quite well.


Bradley Company of the Fox offers a very nice straw capote (right) for early Regency day wear, and it's only $25. It could be worn plain but would be better if you tacked on a few artificial flowers or feathers and a bit of ribbon.

Bradley also sells a plain, wide-brimmed straw (must be worn with a wide ribbon across the top and tying under the chin), untrimmed, for only a few dollars. But check your local fabric and craft stores for inexpensive straws. I found a very similar hat at New York Fabrics (meant to be decorated with flowers and hung on the wall) for under $3 - and of course there were no shipping costs.

If you want a felt hat shape, go to Hatcrafters. This is where Amazon Drygoods and Enhancements get their felt hats--pass the savings on to yourself and go directly to the source. If you like Marianne's stylish bicorne in Sense & Sensibility, or if you want a small women's riding top-hat, you'll find the base for it here. The closest thing to a Regency bonnet they offer is their "Old Fashioned Bonnet." It comes in a range of colors, one size, and costs $36.

For evening, there's always Amazon Drygoods' #1018 Velour Turban. Obviously, velour isn't quite period, but it's close enough to velvet for fudging purposes. Add an ostrich feather to the knot at the top and you're all set. Comes in black, ivory, pink, red, navy, royal, fuschia, turquoise, and purple, $12.50.

If you're feeling ambitious, Enhancements also offers millinery wire in five different weights, in 20-yard coils, with prices ranging from $9.50 to $19.50; 60" two-ply buckram at $12 a yard; milliner's needles and thread; and wire joiners ($1 for 36). Or you can go to a web site called Miller's Millinery, which will sell you a 3-yard coil of heavy millinery wire for $3.50 and buckram (I don't know what weight) for a mere $4 a yard.

Feathers and other millinery trims can be had from craft stores such as Michael's or Ben Franklin. A few elegant pheasant feathers or a small spray or faux flowers (look for ones that imitate fabric, such as silk or velvet, rather than ones with a plasticky or polyester feel) make all the difference to a bonnet.

Gloves

Gloves are definitely a requirement if you want to look right. If you can't find the right thing locally (check everything from Macy's to vintage stores to costume shops), Amazon carries Elbow Length Finest Filet Cotton dyeable off-white gloves for $24.95 - not that I'm sure what "filet" means. They also offer Cotton Stretch Gloves in black, white, and ivory; wrist-length, $12; "full"-length, $24. Skip the crocheted and stretch-satin ones.

Parasols

A parasol is certainly a stylish addition for any outdoor event; you can get a plain black, white, or beige one from Amazon Drygoods that is 24" wide when opened and has a 32" wooden handle for $11.95, or a bright red or yellow one for $13.95 (I don't recommend the pink one). Sew or glue a fringe around the edge for real Regency chic. Amazon also offers a white or black lace model for $15.95.

Fans

A wide variety of fans are appropriate, but avoid those with big floral designs--too Victorian. Those painted with little scenes are appropriate, but it's hard to find a scene from the right period! As for plain fans, Grand Illusions Clothing Company offers the best bargains: carved sandalwood fans (which smell nice, too) for $6, and paper fans on wooden sticks for only $1.50! Victoria Louise, Mercers sells marabou-feather fans in various colors (stick with white) for $15. And Amazon Drygoods has a pierced faux-ivory folding fan, 12", for $4.95.


Jewelry & Miscellany

Jane Austen and her sister were each given a topaz cross on a chain by their brother. The garnet cross offered by Past Times is similar in style, and costs only $29.95. Referred to in the catalog as a "miniature garnet & silver cross," it measures 3/4" high and comes on a 22" silver chain.


A buckram muff frame is available from Amazon, ready to pad and cover, for $5.75. It's 7" long and 5" in diameter, which is absolutely a minimum possible size. Regency muffs could be absolutely enormous, and were extremely en vogue. La Mode Bagatelle includes a pattern for a muff and a reticule (the earliest form of handbag, and extremely useful) in their Regency Wardrobe pattern (see top of page).

If you make some sort of corset, you'll need boning. You can buy all sorts of plastic and metal stays via mail-order, but I am now a complete convert to the virtues of plastic cable ties from the hardware store. They won't work for later 19th-century corsets, which are too curvy, but should be fine in a Regency corset, and besides being cheap (about $7 for a pack of 100!) they come in a narrow width that more closely approximates early whalebone stays than Rigilene, featherboning, and much metal boning.


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Copyright 1997-2004 by David and Jessamyn Reeves-Brown. All rights reserved.
Note: to the best of my knowledge, all images used are in the public domain
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