One thing that seriously impacts/inspires/limits/challenges my sewing is the fact that I have to dress myself. No spouse, significant other, understanding neighbor or eternally patient lady’s maid…I must get in and out of these undergarments and clothing on my own, or risk getting my 15 minutes of fame by appearing on the front page in the midst of arrest for indecent exposure. (Frankly, not my first choice.)
This is especially problematic with my Regency long stays. I have to put them on over my head and wriggle in like an armless tube worm donning a spandex sheath dress. By the time it’s on I’ve worked up a sweat. It’s particularly annoying when I’m sewing and fitting as I go. Each stop to fit takes up an hour or so when you count getting into and out of the stays. Sure, I could just leave the silly things on…but have you ever tried spending the day sewing while wearing Regency long stays that keep you firmly lashed to a ginormous wooden busk? I tried it once and didn’t last long.
This has made it to the front of things in my mind because there are a mere six weeks left in the year (no, I don’t know how that happened either) and I have promised myself I will finally finish a somewhere-around-1800 dress for myself before New Year’s Eve. I’m not demanding a certain color or style…I just want one that fits my uneven sloping shoulders and doesn’t leave the girls served up like an all-you-can-eat buffet. However, the thought of wrestling those stays on and off a dozen or so times does not exactly bring to mind hours of joyful sewing.
But there’s more than one way to support the girls, Regency style. I ran across this on Pinterest. It’s not new, but it’s new to me and perhaps it’s new to you, too. In any case, it’s worth sharing. The French term for this method is “lazy” lacing which would indicate it’s perfect for the single costumer who must manage on her own. It looks positively simple and lightning fast. (You may have to adjust the sound, as the recorded volume is rather low and her son is “helping” with background mommy chatter.)
According to the videographer, this method and style was patented in 1796 and used throughout the early 19th century. She made hers based on one in an 1810 fashion plate and I can see a center busk sewn in place.
This looks like the perfect short stays for me. It’s long enough that it comes to the wearer’s high hip, instead of mid-ribcage. The shoulder straps attach in the front and cross in the back so they won’t fall off the first time I reach for something, which is currently a problem. They are wide and flat, so they won’t dig. Best of all, because they cross independently of each other, my uneven shoulders would be easily accommodated. I don’t know if a pattern already exists, but I’m on the hunt. If anyone knows of a pattern for short stays just like these, please let me know. It may take a number of trial muslins to get the right fit, but I think it would be worth it to have a set of stays that I can whip on in about five minutes without assistance.
The other surprise discovery is this Walpole cartoon, published in London in 1799.Look at those stockings – they caught my eye immediately because they are supported by the pantalettes – I think it’s too early to call them “drawers” – seemingly attached (buttoned or tied) at the outside edge. No less than three of the caricatures are wearing stockings in this manner. Only the seated figure appears to have her stockings supported with garters secured above the knee. The skinny woman’s stockings are simply falling down. In addition, the four pairs of pantalettes hanging up on pegs all have ties dangling from the outside edge of the hems.
This is new to me and it’s a much bigger surprise than the alternative corset. Social satirists keep their metaphoric fingers on the pulse of society’s practices and trends so I have no reason to disregard the stocking treatments as a figment of Mr. Walpole’s imagination. Although holding my stocking up in this manner would probably feel less secure and even a bit less comfortable, varicose veins run in my family and being able to wear stockings without a tight band around my knee, whether above or below, is a fantastic option.
This also belies the notion that women didn’t really start really wearing pantalettes until the 1820’s or 30’s.
So there you have it: two new ways to look at Regency dress. Speaking as one who is more than happy to color outside the lines, I love it.