First up this week in the ‘Starter Regency Gentleman’s Outfit’ is the shirt, a remarkable item of Regency clothing. In those days underwear was pretty well not thought of, and a gentleman’s shirt was very long so that he could wrap it around his whatnots to keep his breeches clean. Last year in Bath, hubby got his shirt wet after a spot of Regency Bathing, and had to go out again without it. What with no undies and no shirt, he refused point-blank to bend over to help me out of a grating in which my shoe heel was embedded. Why? ‘Because you can see through the sides of the fall-front when I bend over!’ he insisted. ‘So?’ I demanded, enraged at his ungentlemanly behaviour. ‘I haven’t got anything on underneath,’ he grated through clenched teeth, ‘and I’m in the middle of Bath surrounded by people!’ I had to get myself out of the grating…
Make the shirt long but remember you can resort to modern undies if your Mr Bingley insists. These shirts did not button all the way down (and anyone who has watched the recent-ish Beau Brummell film will spot the glaring mistake!) but had a small opening more like the placket on a polo shirt. You can button or lace it as you choose. I just held up a bedsheet against hubby to get an approximate idea of size, and cut out a big rectangle, to which I added sleeves and a collar. The sleeves have a dropped shoulder and are very gathered, and the collar needs to be tall and upstanding. The collar on this first shirt only stands up with the help of a neckcloth, as I had no idea how to sew it otherwise. I intend to make a better shirt in linen soon.
Accessories. Remember Robert Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility? Two hours to choose a toothpick? You don’t need to go quite that far, but some very necessary accoutrements to perfect the outfit are:
- Top Hat (the taller the better). These caused a minor sensation when they were first introduced, with reports of bolting horses and fainting ladies. Probably apocryphal… Modern top hats are made from wool, and are much heavier and clumsier than antique hats – the old ones were made using silk or beaver fur and some very nasty glue indeed. Hats vary enormously but I got one from Ebay fairly cheaply, due to it looking as though it had been sat on. You could easily spend several thousand pounds buying a perfect antique top hat that fits really well, but as this post is concerned with creating a budget outfit we won’t go there…
- Neck-cloth. In my case, essential for keeping the shirt collar up… You could devote an entire book to neckwear from this era (I expect someone already has) but for our purposes a linen or silk scarf works fine. I used a fine white silk scarf given to me by a friend, wrapped a couple of times around the collar and knotted.
- Gloves. A pair of plain fine leather or good cotton gloves in white will look elegant.
- Pocket watch and fob. Ironically, considering the lack of proper pocket on the breeches, hubby does possess a real Georgian silver watch. It was a family heirloom and dates to approximately 1790. A thing of beauty; and weighs a ton, figuratively speaking. It doesn’t go, either – one of its jewels fell out sometime in the last couple of hundred years. But it definitely deserves a proper pocket. The evolution of the fob came about this way:
Acquire a watch (many were large ‘turnip’ types like this one, due to the fusee movement, which was a conical pulley with a fine chain running around it), instruct tailor to put pocket in breeches into which watch fits snugly. Oh dear, can’t get fingers into pocket to get watch out again as tailor made it a snug fit so watch wouldn’t fall out… Great idea! Attach strap of some sort to watch in order to pull it out of pocket! Even better idea! Attach seal to end of strap so can also send letters to people, and make it even easier to haul watch out when I want to check the time. Plus it looks nice. Particularly when lined up nicely with the fall-front.
We did have a leather strap joining the watch to the seal but it was rather old and broke so I couldn’t photograph it. I plan to embroider a new one with hubby’s initials. You only need about 4 – 6″ length from the pocket to whatever you plan to hang on the end – and the fob can vary in width – whatever looks elegant. The new one will be about half an inch wide. Have a look at some antique dealers and see what they have in stock for inspiration. I have seen jewelled fobs, and ones made from woven hair.
5. Cane. Apart from regulating one’s walking pace, I’m not sure what these were really for in the Regency era. Certainly a gentleman must have a cane, and in the hilarious 1967 Avengers episode ‘The Correct Way To Kill’ they are allied to umbrellas for the purpose of hailing taxis. Perhaps the Regency gentleman used it to wave to his friends on the other side of a crowded London street.
One thing occurred to me after creating this outfit and parading around Bath alongside it, and that was the origins of gentlemen’s clothes in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Their clothes evolved for comfort and practicality on horseback – the most likely means of getting around. So I wanted to know whether this outfit would work in the saddle. Luckily hubby has a horse (not quite the usual breed for a gentleman – ‘Bob’ is a cart-horse! But very well-bred, being a Suffolk Punch), so he dressed up and went for a trial…