Thursday, October 2, 2014

“A Very Useful Gown”: Regency Inspiration in Lolita

“I have determined to trim my lilac sarsenet with black ribbon just as my China Crape is …Ribbon trimmings are all the fashion at Bath, & I dare say the fashions of the two places are alike enough in that point, to content me. – With this addition it will be a very useful gown, happy to go anywhere.”
-Jane Austen, 5 March 1814

One thing that always disappoints me is that I will never look really well in a regency gown. The high waistline of the empire waist doesn’t particularly suit my frame. However, as it gets to be fall and I start looking for comfortable clothing to wear out and about, the regency calls to me.

And, because this is the sort of person I am, I did research. I watched movies (lots of Jane Austen). And I ended with a great desire to do a post about regency-inspired Lolita.


The best way to achieve the regency silhouette is to wear a high-waist JSK or OP This is not the time for skirts because they will cut in too much at the waist. Round or square necklines work best for the open, classical look of the regency

As for fabrics, white muslin is the most iconic but there are all sorts of looks you can go for, especially if you’re making the dress yourself. Subtle prints in lighter colors would be most common, as would natural fabrics like cotton.

In terms of color, a classic color palette is going to serve you best. Because dyes were expensive and pigments were made of natural substances during the regency, muted colors are going to be the order of the day. Yellows and natural hues like lavender, violet, peach, and rose are going to serve you well for a regency-inspired look. Of course, you can use other colors like rich reds or deep greens as well.

If you really want to get a feel for the prints or colors of the regency, take a look at illustrations from the time or online costume archives like the one from the Kyoto Costume Institute. This blog post has a good collection of fabric examples if you’re leaning toward a print instead of a solid.

Below you can see a gown from the period (more information can be found at the Kyoto Costume Institute) and an Emily & Shirley Temple Cute OP for comparison.


Lovely Ladies in a Spencer and Shawl

One of the best outerwear options for regency-inspired Lolita is the spencer jacket. This cropped jacket can easily be worn over a JSK or OP to accentuate the high waist and make it the right weight for sprint or autumn use. Spencers usually featured long sleeves and high necklines. They can be simple or heavily decorated. If you want one, look for cropped jackets, make on from a commercially available pattern, or check out the options floating around on Etsy.

Shawls are another great option. Lighter and better for summer, shawls make a really cute and elegant addition to your outfit. Particularly stylish during the regency were paisley shawls. This “Persian pickle” design (yes, that’s what it was called) was quite popular in shawls at the time. Shawls are everywhere - my favorites are simple pashminas - so you're sure to find one in a color you love.

Another iconic regency accessory is the red walking cloak. Cloaks and capes in general will serve you well, but red is iconic. This is the ideal choice for winter coords, and the red looks adorable against a white dress. This is an option where you can go heavily toward brand; this lovely cape from Innocent World is really beautiful for a regency-inspired look, but you can very easily go rufflier as needed.

Hair Accessories

Poke bonnets are one of the most recognizable accessories you can wear. These forward-facing bonnets frame the face nicely and can be trimmed in almost any way you want. Want one that will go nicely with your strawberry-print dress? Add some millinery strawberries! Is your style a bit subtler? Add ribbons and roses. You can gussy up a plain straw bonnet or add fabric (as in this tutorial) to completely change up the look. This is a great one for DIY-oriented ladies because you can buy a plain straw bonnet (I recommend those from Austentation for variety of shape and simplicity) and change it however you like.

Bonnets not for you? No problem. There are still plenty to choose from:
As the Regency era progressed long hair became increasingly popular and full ringlets began to appear near the side of the face. Hair ornaments for balls included jewellery, bandeaux, turbans and wreaths of grapes and towards the latter end of the Regency era flowers, turbans and ostrich feathers were seen to adorn the hair. (Overseale House)
Most of these can be DIYed, too! Turbans come in a variety of different styles, from the DIY-light wrapped turban to the more involved turban cap. Bandeaux are also easy to DIY, or you can use simple commercial headwraps with a period hairstyle to get the look. And, if you want some hairstyle inspiration, check out these posts from Jane Austen's World.


Other Accessories

Reticules are the handbags of the Regency era. They're simple drawstring bags that are very easy to make yourself if you are so inclined. But the simplicity of a drawstring bag doesn't mean the bag has to be boring. This actual bag from the period is shaped like a pineapple (and you can make your own!).

As for jewelry, keep it simple! I like to look at Regency jewelry boards on Pinterest (like this, this, or this) for inspiration. Go for pearls and beads, cameos, and simply set stones.

If you're feeling a little exposed by the lower necklines of the dresses, add a fichu or chemisette. The fichu is a shawl-like piece that covers the neckline. It can be made of lace, linen, chiffon, or any other color you like. The chemisette is much the same, but more shirt-shaped in nature. Both of them are a great way to add a touch of modesty. Fichus are easy to make and fairly easy to find on Etsy; chemisettes are a touch harder to find, but a little searching should yield results.

As I said before, I have a hard time wearing regency-inspired clothing myself. What about you? Do you rock an empire waist?

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