Monday, February 6, 2017

Regency Ball Gown

My first chance to attend a Regency themed event finally arrived with the Regency Romance Ball in Salt Lake City, held the first weekend in February each year. It is put on by the Jane Austen Society of North America (Utah Region), and Old Glory Vintage Dancers. I only heard about it for the first time about a year and a half ago, but as the event always falls on the same weekend as my local Shire's SCA event, I had to make the tough decision this year to skip my local event and head South to go to the ball. It was certainly worth it!

I started making the costume plans several months ago, to give myself a lot of time to make my own costume and some items for my husband. I've never done early 19th century before, so I took my time with this project. I managed to finish it all with more than a week to spare, so I was quite prepared!

My outfit consists of a gown and underthings: short stays (corset), chemise, and petticoat. The short stays were purchased from RedThreaded on Etsy. I found them well constructed and of good quality, but I chose to opt for a standard size instead of a custom order for two reasons: one, it's more expensive for a custom size and these corsets are pricey to begin with; two, I wanted to get working on the bodice patterning so waiting longer for a custom size would have held me up. The corset works well enough, but the bust is too small and the underbust is too big. I simply leave the top two eyelets unlaced so I have maximum room in the bust cups. If I end up doing a lot more Regency costuming later on, I'll make my own so it fits better, or make the bust gussets bigger on this corset.

The chemise is made from a light cotton muslin, and of very simple construction. Two long rectangles for the body, two short sleeve squares, two armpit gussets, and two hip gores. It has a drawstring neckline. I found it very comfortable. I based it off some extant chemises like this one, circa 1810, from UVM.
 The petticoat wasn't made specifically for this project, but it works very well underneath the gown. It's about 3.25 yards of silk taffeta, knife pleated to a waistband, and it closes in back with a hook and eye. I have worn this petticoat under Renaissance-era gowns, Edwardian skirts, and now Regency. It would work well for 18th century, too. I have petticoats that open on the sides, but I decided I wanted just the one closure for this petticoat. It has a deep hem- I used the full width of the fabric (54"), so the hem has about 10 inches of extra fabric folded inside to stiffen it.

To start the patterning of the gown bodice, I got out the Sense and Sensibility/Simplicity pattern that we see everywhere. I had gotten it on Joann's 99 cent clearance many years ago. I did three mock ups with this pattern and none of them worked for me because I wanted a smooth-front bodice instead of the gathering the pattern calls for. It's simply not designed to be altered that way, so I find no fault with that pattern, except for the fact that if you're over a B cup, the gathers won't fit over your bust, so alter according to their website instructions.

I got out my 16th century kirtle pattern and decided to alter that instead. The finished pattern is nothing like what it started as. The side seams got moved to the back, the straps moved back, and it has some darts under the bust for shaping. Overall I'm happy with the pattern, but I would have done the darts differently. They're accurate for this era (see Norah Waugh's "Cut and Construction of Women's Clothes"), but I simply folded them over like a pleat instead of sewing them like a proper dart, so they pouf a bit. I didn't want to remove and then reattach the skirt to change the darts, and it worked well enough. But if I make more Regency clothes down the line, I will use another pattern. The sides of the bust also wrinkle and pull, so I would start over with the pattern. But not too bad for my first try at this era!

The fabric for the gown is an aqua/seafoam silk taffeta with gold embroidered Fleur de Lys. While the Fleur de Lys is the emblem for French royalty and therefore isn't a typical "Regency" pattern as the Regency refers to 1811-1820 in England, I decided that the 1814 restoration of the Bourbon monarchy would be excuse enough to wear that pattern. I was inspired by several gowns that had intricate embroidery or beading patterns, and didn't find many other patterned fabrics that would achieve that look. I did seriously consider buying a sari or African George silk fabric, but decided to just get the patterned fabric and sew trim onto the hem. Here are some extant gowns that were my main inspiration (I think most if not all are French in origin):

The bodice laces up the back with hand-bound eyelets in a spiral lacing pattern. Next time I would make the back a bit shorter. The sleeves are just a large, rounded sleeve head, very short, gathered on top into the armscye, and on bottom into a narrow band. The hem trim is from India, and was only $4 a yard on Ebay. It's marvelous, high quality, and has sequins and heavy embroidery. The waistband/belt is just narrow gold trim with sequins from Joann's. I had a hard time matching the wider trim, as it's a more antique gold, which is hard to find in stores, especially with sequins.

Now for the accessories: gloves, headband, shoes, jewelry, and the hairpiece. The gloves are silk, and my third pair from Greatlookz (highly recommeded). The shoes are American Duchess, the Bronte, and I had them dyed by They did a great job and I would again recommend- only $17 with shipping back! The necklace and earrings are genuine pearls, and some of my most treasured pieces. The necklace was given to me by my mom, and they were a gift from my father to her. The earrings were a gift from my best friend, and they tend to get worn a lot! The headband is from Sapphire and Sage, which I purchased probably 8 years ago, and it's holding up well after years of use. The hairpiece started as clip-on bangs, which I wet curled with foam rollers, let dry, then smoothed with curl cream. I simply put the headband over the fake "bangs" and went out! They stayed put all night and really made the whole outfit. My own hair is in a simple bun, which looked not so great, as I cut my hair recently and the ends are a bit too spiky when put up. I had to pin the crap out of it and it still didn't look good. At least the "bangs" kind of distracted from the sloppy bun!

I want to talk about the event a bit, in case any readers are interested in attending in future years. This was the 7th annual ball. We had the good fortune to be seated at a table with one of the founding organizers, so we got some history about the event. This was the largest ball they have done, with 294 tickets sold! I find that outstanding and impressive. I was thinking it would be more like 150! They rent out the large ballroom at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City. It was an utterly fantastic venue. I have rarely been able to attend an event in such a perfect venue, and so very well organized and ran. They served a nice dinner, probably did 20+ dances, had gaming tables, served dessert, and had a professional photographer there. We got a room at the hotel for the weekend, and simply took the elevator downstairs for the ball. Here's what the ballroom looked like:

My husband and I danced about 5 dances. I found this gown to be much easier to dance in than my 1860s gown. I didn't really dance at all at the Virginia City Victorian Ball because my dress prevented me from lifting my arms, the hoops were cumbersome (I'm not used to or trained in dancing with hoops), and I was worried that someone would step on my hem and tear my gown. This ball had everyone dancing. It was rare to see people not dancing. There were easily 250 people dancing all at once in this room; it was a sight to see! I can't recommend this event enough. We will absolutely attend again.

Speaking of my husband, I did a little sewing for him as well. I made his waistcoat, shirt, and cravat. I bought his drop-front trousers from Gentleman's Emporium, and had a velvet tailcoat custom made from a seller on Etsy. We didn't take many pictures of him, but because the venue and backdrops were so lovely, I had him take a lot of pictures of me for the blog. The room with the pink damask wallcloth was the women's restroom lounge! It was my favorite room for pictures, much to my husband's embarrassment!

All in all it was a great event that was well worth attending, and worth the effort to make a pretty costume. There were only a small handful of people who didn't wear a version of Regency-era attire, out of nearly 300 people. They did a little costume contest, which I was nominated for, and although I didn't win, it was an honor to be considered. I highly recommend this event if you are able to attend: people came from Arizona, Wyoming, Montana (us and two friends), and even a couple from Montreal! It's worth traveling for.

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