Pray excuse my blatant use of the original, unofficial title of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, but it was exceedingly appropriate here for once 🙂
Let me explain.
Last weekend we partook of a Regency Ball in Bath – marking the end of the week-long festivities going on there during the 14th annual Jane Austen festival. It was our first ball there, and my first visit to Bath – Regency is not my favourite period and I felt that I couldn’t be bothered to make something specifically for the occasion, but as last December I had to make an evening gown for the 1820 Christmas feature for NBC (details here), I thought – I have the frock, I might just as well use it! Since Lucas had appropriate kit ( his wedding gear plus a pair of new breeches I cobbled together ), the decision was made and tickets were bought.
More on the clothes that I finally did make in other posts – today we are looking at our own ‘First Impressions’…
The Ball was a fantastic event- even better, there was a dance practice in the afternoon, preparing us for the exertions of the evening, and the town was lovely – especially the gardens. In the evening there were about 200 people strolling around, dancing, drinking, playing cards and other games – a very convivial evening. The food was fantastic and there was plenty of it, and the musicians excelled.
All together, a perfect evening – we danced until we could hardly walk, we talked and laughed ’til we couldn’t speak and generally had fun.
Of course, all through the evening, my professional costumier’s eye was noting the details of the clothes being worn. Naturally, there were no ‘authenticity police’ rigorously barring the entrance to all those whose kit didn’t pass ‘historical inspection’ – so a huge variety in quality was observed.
Some dresses were amazing, some mediocre, some fairly awful – however,this was not a fashion show but a social occasion so it didn’t really matter. The idea was for everybody to have fun – and so no unkind words were said by anybody, which I thought was terrific – after all, many guests simply rented the costumes for the evening, or cobbled things together for themselves at the last minute, whereas others had evidently been sewing for years and preparing for the occasion for months. Good breeding shows in good manners, and manners were excellent all round that night!
Having said all that, my professional inner self was taking notes – I noticed a few interesting facts and thought I share them with you.
It was interesting to notice that on average the gentlemen’s wear was of a much higher quality than ladies’: all the men looked very dashing, be they in regimental or civilian gear. I may not be too enthusiastic about the ladies wear of the era, but by Jove, the men’s fashions were just amazing. What was even more interesting – the cut of the dolmans, jackets, tailcoats, etc, made all the blokes walk and move differently, with a proud and graceful posture – no slouching, no dragging feet or shuffling to be seen. Amazing!
As far as ladies wear is concerned, I realised a very peculiar thing. The costumier in me looked at every gown, true – but as the evening progressed I noticed that the ladies who stood out most and looked the most authentic were not necessarily the ones with the best dresses… It was the lasses who took care of all the elements together who looked the best overall. I have previously ranted at length about period silhouette, hair, accessories, etc (links to the relevant posts at the end of this post), and now I have the perfect proof.
Some amazingly well made dresses, all hand stitched silks, lovingly embroidered hems, etc, looked rather sad without their proper undergarments, (and yes, a lady’s posture without them is immediately recognisable); a few otherwise lovely gowns were also somewhat marred by modern hairdos and faces caked with make up and mascara.
On the other hand, there were gowns that were not really that well made, or where the fabrics were not that fantastic – but they looked spot-on as the wearer invested in proper undergarments (or perhaps had a naturally Regency suited figure ;-), had a proper hairdo (and not necessarily a complex one – there were a some very good, simple hairstyles that worked beautifully!), and went easy on the modern make up.
Add a pair of gloves, a shawl and sometimes a reticule – and all together the wearer stood out from the crowd – not merely a woman in fancy party dress, (however good it might be), but a woman truly wearing the clothes of the era.
The effect of taking such care was really amazing- indeed it was often easy to overlook how simple a dress really was, or what fabric was used – because it was the whole picture that caught the eye, not the mere details.
And it so happens that a girl in a borrowed, poorly- fitting or cheaply made dress looked better (and at no great cost!) than some ladies who spent a fortune on an elaborate silk gown but neglected the rest. The underwear and details do make such a difference – So voila – the First Impressions!
And yes, some first impressions would not pass a closer look unscathed – but for this particular occasion it simply didn’t matter 🙂
Disclaimer: It is not my intention to offend anyone with this post, criticize their outfits etc. it is just an impartial observation about the difference the attention to detail can make.
Promised links –
and a few photos from the event!