Mr Bingley No.2 – Dressing Hubby for Jane Austen week!

Following on from last week’s post about creating a budget/starter gentleman’s outfit for the Jane Austen Grand Regency Promenade, we can move on via the stockings to the waistcoat and tailcoat.  Yes, I did say stockings.  If you choose knee-breeches rather than long trousers for your Bingley get-up, then you will need some lower legwear that recreates the silk or woollen stockings worn in those days.  And if you intend to go to a ball in the evening, they will be essential!  For a great starter stocking you can’t beat the microfibre thigh-high hold-up ones sold by the million on Ebay for less than £2.00.  Opaque white will look superb, although you may have some trouble (depending on his inclinations) persuading your Mr Bingley to don such attire…

Pretend Silk Stockings edit
A Regency lower leg!

For the evening, avoid your riding boots and find a pair of plain black leather shoes from a charity shop or thrift store suitable for the attachment of an ornate buckle – the above were Clarks, hardly worn from a charity shop for a couple of pounds.  I found a belt in another charity shop consisting of ornate links joined by a chain, just asking to be converted to shoe buckles!  The effect is wonderfully decadent, perfect for the corrupt but beautiful Georgians.

Moving up leads to two wardrobe essentials which no Regency gentleman can be without – apart from convention and etiquette, the cut of a man’s waistcoat and tailcoat revealed quite a lot about his habits and income.  The tailcoat style underwent many developments from the late eighteenth century to the last years of George IV’s reign, but for the ‘Jane Austen Regency’ era it is quite flexible, the main elements to include being a tall collar, no backseam (unlike a modern tailcoat) and a fairly long arm.  There are plenty of patterns available for making your own, but allow plenty of time because there is a lot of tailoring involved.  I decided that I didn’t have time to make one, and I was extremely lucky to find one for sale on Etsy which had been used as a theatrical costume.  It’s beautifully made and was an astonishing bargain for about £50.  One of the features of Regency fashion was a high-cut coat front exposing an inch or two of waistcoat, which should have a level front unlike the earlier pointy ones.  Hubby’s waistcoat was my big tailoring debut; I bought a pattern from Rocking Horse (many Regency garment patterns available) and dug out some glorious fabric which came to me years ago from Harrods via my sister’s Mother in Law; the Prince Regent himself would have adored it, the weave is tropical birds, palm trees, pineapples – think Brighton Pavilion in jacquard…

Regency Waistcoat
Regency waistcoat – Brighton Pavilion design…

Although it looks quite simple it took several weeks to make, and that was without the optional pockets!  Some sources suggest that a waistcoat should have self-covered buttons, others vary.  I had no suitable buttons so tortured the fabric onto those patent self-cover metal things from craft shops.  Murder for the fingernails…

Waist and Tailcoat close up
Regency era tailcoat.  (A gentleman ought really to keep his gloves on…)

Next week I’ll do the easier bits – the shirt (vital in more ways than one!), the accessories and you should be well on the way to a perfect Dandy!

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Mr Bingley! – Dressing Hubby for Jane Austen week

With Bath’s Jane Austen Grand Regency Promenade coming up in September, I recalled the difficulty I had sourcing a gentleman’s outfit for the first time – and thought I would share a few tips over the coming weeks for all budding Mr Bingleys out there (no, not Darcy – everyone does Darcy!).

The first year hubby and I went to Bath for Jane Austen week was the year of the Guinness Book of Records attempt for the Most People dressed in Regency Costume in One Place (I think that is what it was called, anyway!) and it was pretty much a spur of the moment thing, with only a couple of months to make two outfits!  And I didn’t know the first thing about Regency attire.  So here are some tips to avoid the obvious (and not so obvious) mistakes which end up giving a bad joke shop flavour to your outfit.  We also had a tiny budget, so all these tips will help if your income is a bit less than £5000 per year…

  1. Avoid zips!  Nothing ruins a JA outfit quicker than a zipper – because they weren’t even invented then.  Patents for ‘Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure’ and such delights did not appear until the 1850s; well into Victoria’s reign, and even then were not pursued commercially until much later.  With my anti-zip radar focussed, I went on a search for men’s long boots – and found the Bargain Of The Year on Ebay; 3 sets of riding boots, one long and two jodhpur, all caked in dust and hard as rock, for £6.00.  My friend had a fit when she saw them, thinking them only fit for the dustbin, but a good wash, and about 10 coats of leather conditioner later, the smartest pair of hunting boots I’d ever seen were gleaming at me so violently I could have put a frame around them and used them for a mirror.  Then we had a teeny setback – hubby couldn’t get in them as they had moulded to the original rider’s legs, and by the look of it, he had spent at least 12 hours a day in the saddle.  So out came the steam wallpaper stripper, furious steaming of boots to soften the leather, and in with hubby’s foot, quick.  Took a few goes, and admittedly it was several hours before we could get him out of them again (and there is more to that story…) as they shrunk to fit!  Any long riding boot sans zip will do the job – but if you can get a pair with an oxblood coloured leather strip at the top, so much the better, as that was the type most in use at the time (the tasselled ‘Hessian’ boot is another alternative – more on that later).

    boots close up
    Long riding boots with no zip
  2. Decide on your leg wear – trousers or breeches?  Without going into a history of the trouser (more on that elsewhere!) the basic types considered wearable for the period would be knee-breeches (my personal favourite for sheer elegance) or a long trouser/pantaloons.  Any legwear should be as close-fitting as possible to look right (you don’t want to look like a sailor!) – and there are ways and means of achieving this.  One is to get very complicated and cut things on the bias – and you really need some dressmaking/tailoring skills to do this well.  The easier, and arguably cheaper alternative is to use a stretchy material.  I managed hubby’s breeches by mutilating his only pair of show jodhpurs – and I defend my decision on the basis that he only wore them to one show, anyway – I cut the lower legs away and used the material to produce the wide waistband behind the fall-front, which is absolutely essential, because, of course, there were no flies as we know them.  The fall-front was a buttoned flap which covered the front join of the trouser, and the gentleman’s modesty… If you are converting existing garments, just cut either side of the front seam to form the flap, and join some fabric onto the cut edge behind it, with some fastenings to keep the trouser together.  Whatever you use will be hidden by the flap. For the most authentic result you want a trouser that has a big baggy seat- without stretch fabrics, the poor old Georgians could only sit down if they had plenty of cloth in reserve.  But for a starter Regency outfit, it won’t matter, as your seat will be covered by your tailcoat.  And a gentleman never, ever took off his coat in public!
breeches close up
Knee-breeches converted from jodhpurs
behind the fall-front
Behind the fall-front (bulge is watch pocket – no time to do it properly!)

Finish off your knee-breeches with two or three buttons at the knee and a channel along the lower hem, through which you can thread a tape or ribbon to adjust the fit of the legs.  (This is something I omitted due to lack of time, and I had to sew the bottom of the legs together as the buttons weren’t strong enough on their own!)

These breeches have seen two years service in re-enacting now, and are still holding up.  I really think I ought to make a new pair…This time with a proper watch pocket!

I hope you have found these tips useful.  Next week’s post will feature the waistcoat and tailcoat of ‘Mr Bingley’s’ get-up!