Saturday, July 14, 2018

More scandalous talk about Regency underwear

Getting dressed during the Regency seems to be quite an ordeal compared to today’s practices, but it really isn’t all that complicated. As I sit in my air conditioned office, glaring at the heat outside, it’s hard to imagine ladies would have been willing to do it. However, keep in mind that the weather in Regency England was much cooler tan it is today because they were near the end of a mini Ice Age. With such drafty houses and cold temperatures, staying warm would have required many layers of clothing.

The first to put on was a shift, also called a chemise. It was made of fine linen. They were almost exactly like those of the previous century, but the sleeves are shorter. A chemise provided a barrier between a woman’s body and the other layers of clothing, so the shift absorbed perspiration and was washed the most. Laundry methods used stringent soaps and boiling to achieve a high level of clean as well as to remove any stains or discoloration. Clothes could also be left out in the sun even after they were dry to be bleached clean. Since the washing process was so harsh, clothes wore out quickly and needed to be replaced frequently, therefore, shifts were usually pretty cheaply made–without embellishment. All of the shifts I saw in museums were fairly plain and unadorned. 

I had my shift made out of poly cotton batiste which is as close to an heirloom fabric as I could find. A fine weave muslin would have worked well, too. For my shift, we used this pattern:

As you can see, my shift is fairly shapeless which is exactly what they looked like. My seamstress gathered the neck and sleeves to make it easy to fit under any kind of sleeve and neckline, but this is not necessarily how they were all made. Clothes were custom made, so historical seamstresses each probably had her own favorite pattern. If I were to do it again, I would use bleached fabric rather than unbleached, because that’s probably what a lady in the higher class would have worn. Also, I would have cut it in a little more so there isn’t so much bunching when the rest of the layers go on.

The shift is lightweight and comfortable. It is also, I might add, probably the ONLY thing worn next to the skin. There are just too many convincing arguments that state ladies of high quality did not wear drawers or pantaloons underneath. I know, it seems shocking, but sensibilities were very different in Regency England. For more information about that debate, see my blog post on the topic.

Also, even though some ladies wore nightgowns or night rails, it seems other ladies simply wore their shifts to bed rather than changing, so they served multiple purposes.

Next week I’ll discuss the next layer, the corset stays. So “stay” tuned 🙂

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Friday, June 22, 2018

The Great Regency Underwear Debate

Historians, researchers, and authors have long debated what ladies in Regency England wore under their gowns. We know they wore a shift, or chemise, over which they laced up stays (a type of Regency corset but more comfortable), and then donned a petticoat, which was basically a long slip. We also know they wore stockings that tied or buckled. But our modern-day sensibilities insist that they must have worn drawers or pantaloons, right?

Not necessarily. There’s a bit of controversy about drawers or knickers.

We know drawers existed by 1806 because merchants were advertising and selling them. However, they did not cater to upper classes. Some women began wearing pantaloons of flesh colored or pink stocking that went to just below the knee, but these were by no means a commonly adopted garment. From what I have found, most women during this period did not, apparently, wear knickers or drawers. They were a direct imitation of men’s undergarments, and as such, risqué. Also, prior to the Regency, the only women who wore them were prostitutes, so obviously ladies of high society would want nothing to do with this kind of garment.

In 1811, Princess Charlotte wore them, but despite this, many considered the garment shocking and openly criticized her for wearing it. Remember, drawers were considered a masculine garment and women who wore them were denounced as being vulgar.

Long drawers with feet attached were introduced sometime during the Regency. By 1817, some fashionable ladies wore pantalettes, a longer, lace-edged variation of drawers that were meant to be seen below the petticoat. But this did not catch on for about a decade. Even then, pantalettes had two entirely separate legs. This picture to the right shows them sewn to a type of top, but most of them tied around the waist.

(Before you continue, I must warn you: the images below are a tad graphic, so please don’t send me hate mail.)

The lack of underwear was so common that social and political cartoons of the day reflected this. Thomas Rowlandson, a famous illustrator and cartoonist he did water colors of soldiers, wars, death and dying, the hunt, several humorous series, as well as some rather erotic pieces. One of these is called Exhibition Stare Case pictured to the left.

Many satirical cartoons by different cartoonists including Cruikshank, and Gilray show pictures of women tumbling off horses  or, in the case of the picture to the right, warming themselves in front of a fire. In all these drawings, women are clearly wearing nothing underneath their skirts. However, there also seems to be a lack of any sort of undergarment, so I’m not certain we can fully accept this as proof.

Obviously, back then, as today, political cartoons are only loosely based on fact. They are supposed to be absurd. However, so many of them reveal (no pun intended) the lack of ladies’ undergarments that one wonders.

Progress of the Toilet is a set of three images (one of which is shown below left) published by James Gillray in 1810 which pours ridicule on fashions of the period dictating how the shapes of women should be altered to meet current standards of beauty. He does show a woman wearing drawers. It doesn’t look like it, but she is wearing a chemise – you can see the sleeves and the edge around the top of her stays – but it’s tucked into her drawers. I don’t know the exact date of the image. One source said this series was created in 1810 but I have not been able to verify that. If it is contemporary to the Regency, it’s probably closer to late Regency than early. Regardless, I find it unlikely that ladies had adopted this as their norm by this date. It’s also possible the cartoonist showed drawers to add to the absurdity of his attempt to ridicule the complicated process of dressing for the day.

In the 1820s long pantaloons (sometimes incorrectly called pantalettes) were adopted. It gets confusing because men wore pantaloons–silk breeches that went to the knee–for formal occasions until well into the 1820s and beyond. At any rate, the feminine version of pantaloons were meant to show beneath the slightly raised hemlines of the era. They quickly went out of fashion for adults, but were retained by children well into the Victorian era.

To our modern-day sensibilities and cultural delicacies (if we have any left) makes the idea of not wearing some kind of panty or undergarment sound rather obscene but remember, they had far different viewpoints about a great many things.

Some experts claim that women wore drawers and others swear they didn’t. I suspect that just as today some men and women don’t wear underpants, there were those who did during the Regency. It doesn’t make it “normal.”

Other reading you might enjoy:

Corsets and Drawers: A Look at Regency Underwear

Ladies Underdrawers in Regency Times: Regency Underwear

A Primer on Regency Era Women’s Fashion

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Regency House Parties

by Donna Hatch

From the Archives: Regency House Parties

Cover art for The Guise of a Gentleman--smallA time-honored English tradition, dating back hundreds of years, is the House Party. In England, house parties served multiple purposes: the gathering of friends; an informal setting in which to discuss politics and possibly sway a member of Parliament; showing off one’s wealth to friends or anyone else the host is trying to impress; and it also could provide a last-ditch effort to help a young lady secure a marriage proposal if her Season had failed to produce such a coveted event—a hostess could easily bring the hopeful young lady in contact with the gentleman of choice and provide a variety of activities to show her best side.

House parties most often occurred during or toward the end of the Season, while Parliament was in recess, and were especially popular the autumn months of August and September because they coincided with hunting and shooting season. House parties usually lasted three to four days, from Thursday or Friday until Monday, including what is now known as the weekend. Part of the reason for the long stay lay in the difficulty of travel over dangerous and poorly-maintained roads.

Longleat House

Longleat House

Country estates were the perfect way to highlight the host’s wealth. Often a long and meandering driveway took guests through beautifully landscaped acres of land to the main house. There, an impressing outer stairway led to an imposing great hall. Everyone in attendance viewed art, furniture and other luxuries, such as carriages, a stable full of impressive horses, and lawn tennis courts. A house party cost a great deal of money due in part to the lavish meals provided to guests. Hosts served expensive imported alcohol and lavish dessert, and the best glasses, china, and silver were used, or purchased, for such an event. Hosts often outfitted their servants with new, expensive livery and sometimes hired additional servants to accommodate the strain of so many guests. Female guests usually brought their ladies’ maids, and some gentlemen brought their valets. If so, these servants had to be fed and given accommodations. If not, the host and hostesses’ house maids and footmen filled these roles. Families often ate and lived very modestly for months after a house party to make up for the cost. Others simply incurred enormous debt they had no hope of paying.

Guests during the Regency enjoyed a simple buffet breakfast whenever they arrived in the dining room which included eggs, fruits, toast, ham, pastries and jam. They drank tea, coffee, chocolate (which was hot and bitter like coffee). Men might also drink beer or cherry brandy. Some hostess served luncheon but this was a new tradition during the Regency. Some old-fashioned folk held to breakfast, dinner and supper. Luncheons could be informal meals in the dining room or picnics al Fresca, or they could be as formal as dinner. Afternoon tea always appeared, of course, and dinner was always formal, requiring a change into formal wear. Of course, for the ladies, every activity or meal seemed to have its own dress code and often a change of hairstyle as well.

Wolf and Fox Hunt by Rubens

Wolf and Fox Hunt by Rubens

Activities at a house party during the day usually involved the men hunting or shooting (depending on the season), the fox hunt, and billiards.  Alas, the ladies usually got stuck inside much of the day visiting, writing letters, and other tame activities. Sometimes, they went outside for walks or carriage rides, or they watched the men plays sports.

Appropriate games for ladies out of doors included croquet, lawn tennis, archery, shuttlecock, and lawn bowling or lawn bowls.  Indoor games that involved both sexes included word games, charades, musicales, dances, and card games. Baccarat gained popularity because the Prince of Wales loved this card game–probably because it was technically illegal. “Prinny” reportedly provided his own set of counters so he’d be prepared for an on-the-spot game. Eventually bridge took Baccarat’s place in popularity.

After dinner, the ladies left the men and retired to the drawing room, leaving the gentleman to drink port, smoke cheroots, and discuss manly topics such as horses and politics. Later, the gentlemen joined the ladies for cards or music or dancing or games. April 1816 Ball

The house party, like most events, evolved over time. However, its purpose and popularity lasted for generations.


Years of researching Regency customs inspired the bulk of this post, however, I also drew from:

Evangeline Holland / Posted in SeasonSociety

The Country House Party

Further Reading:
The Country House Party by Phyllida Barstow
The Marlborough House Set by Anita Leslie
Society in the Country House by Thomas Hay Sweet Escott
Manners and Rules of Good Society by A Member of the Aristocracy
Etiquette of Good Society by Lady Colin Campbell
“A Country House Party” by Lord Byron in A Satire Anthology by Carolyn Wells

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Friday, May 25, 2018

Dove Cottage, a cottage to inspire poets

                 The back of Dove Cottage,  copyright Donna Hatch

On the edge of Grasmere in England’s Lake District nestles a little cottage known as Dove Cottage, famous for being the residence beloved poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy Wordsworth. The siblings lived there in harmony from December 1799 to May 1808, enjoying their “plain living, but high thinking.”

The two-story limestone structure was originally an inn and pub called the “Dove and Olive Bough” during the 17th century. While living in what became known simply as “Dove Cottage,” the scholarly brother and sister wrote, designed gardens—and maintained them with their own hands—and enjoyed a simple country life.

Entrance to Dove Cottage, copyright Donna Hatch

The enchanting setting deep in the inspirational beauty of the Lake District provided one of the most productive times of Wordsworth’s writing career. Wordsworth often enjoyed long, intellectual discussions with other poets, authors, and scholars.

Dorothy Wordsworth was an accomplished seamstress. Her famous Grasmere journal is scattered with glimpses into every day life including sewing and mending along with writing and going for long walks. Her words inspired many her brother’s poems, and her journal often notates that she hoped certain passages that would give him pleasure. In her journal, she described her discovery of a field of daffodils which her brother later immortalized in one of his best-loved poems, and a favorite of my mother’s, “I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud.”

Donna enjoying a bench in the garden behind Dove Cottage copyright Donna Hatch

In 1802, William Wordsworth wed Mary Winn Hutchinson in 1802. His new wife, as well as her sister, moved into Dove cottage with the Wordsworths. Over the next four years, the family expanded to include three children. This surely must have created cramped quarters, so in 1808, the family sought a larger home and left behind their beloved Dove Cottage. However, the words they penned while living in Dove Cottage are preserved and celebrated.

…and a guided tour I took while visiting Grasmere


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Friday, May 18, 2018

New Release–Sweet Romance Collection

WITH A KISS: A Sweet Romance Anthology

Announcing a new collection of 10 brand new never-before published sweet romance novellas by USA Today bestselling & award-winning authors.

**On sale for a limited time only!**

This collection of Clean and Wholesome Romances in WITH A KISS includes complete stories by these ten amazing authors:

Traci Hunter Abramson
Rachel Branton
Rachelle J. Christensen
Joyce DiPastena
Danyelle Ferguson
Donna Hatch
Heather B. Moore
Luisa Perkins
Janette Rallison
Heather Tullis

 Pre-order here:
ALL proceeds for this anthology go to author Rob Wells to help with medical expenses

WITH A KISS: A Sweet Romance Anthology, A collection of 10 brand new sweet romance novellas by USA Today bestselling & award winning authors. **On sale for a limited time only!** Pre-order your copy of With a Kiss today and have it automatically delivered to your Kindle on May 22, 2018.

Romances in this collection:
DANCING TO FREEDOM by Traci Hunter Abramson: A Russian ballerina. An American hockey player. A forbidden romance. Can Katrina follow her heart when freedom is the one thing she lacks? Or will the Cold War cost her the only man she has ever loved?

RYLEE’S MIX-UP by Rachel Branton: Rylee Williams didn’t want to be a bridesmaid at her estranged sister’s wedding, the sister who’d grown up with the family she was supposed to have. So why does she find herself in a dress two sizes too big and no date for the wedding? Maybe it’s time to give up on her family once and for all. But a greased pig contest and handsome cowboy Beck Seeger might just change her mind—both about sticking it out and taking a chance at love.

THE REFUGEE’S BILLIONAIRE by Rachelle J. Christensen: Shawn Halstrom has an assignment: travel to Atlanta, Georgia to investigate The Heart of Atlanta refugee center so that Burke Enterprises can make a donation. The job should take two weeks tops, but he wasn’t planning on falling for a Cuban refugee named Carolina Diaz. She’s a single mother who isn’t interested in dating, even if the guy might be a billionaire.

JUST THIS MOMENT by Joyce DiPastena: Alys’s late husband thought her useful only for spinning thread. Now a mysterious monk has come to take her to a nunnery. Can a sightless woman like Alys exert her independence to forge a future of her own choice? And will the monk, who stirs forbidden longings in her, help or hinder her?

ORIGAMI GIRL by Danyelle Ferguson: Josephine loved teaching crafts at the children’s hospital until she was assigned to help Dr. Blake learn how to relate with his patients. As she helps the young doctor soften his sharp edges, relax his rigid folds, and open up to the people around him, she finds she can’t help but love the man he’s becoming.

SABRINA’S HERO by Donna Hatch: For weeks, Sabrina daydreams about a mysterious gentleman who frequents the lending library. Is he perchance an agent for the crown? A returning war hero? A highwayman? A fateful public assembly introduces her to the mystery man as well as an intriguing newcomer. Now she’s torn between a charming rake promising the adventure she craves, and a handsome barrister who offers security. Only one will stand by her when it matters most.

FALLING FOR LUCY by Heather B. Moore: Lucy Morley’s older sister is perfect, yet Lucy can’t even hold down a job, let alone stick with something like college. After another disastrous firing, she lands her dream job at a bookstore—and it doesn’t hurt that her new boss, Adam Parks, is pretty much her dream man. But if Lucy is good at one thing, it’s guarding herself from heartbreak. Adam has other plans in mind that include finding a way into Lucy’s heart.

MY DEAREST EMMA by Luisa Perkins: Since her husband died at 25, Johanna has worked at a busy hotel in the new railroad town of Danube, Minnesota, soothing her loneliness by writing home to her sister in Germany. When she meets August, a shy widower, her letters reveal a budding friendship. But Johanna soon begins to question whether their romance can survive a demanding employer, August’s jealous daughter, and the misgivings of two recently broken hearts.

COVERTLY YOURS by Janette Rallison: Paisley Spencer never needed a knight in shining armor—until she finds herself surrounded by three gangsters in a bad part of Phoenix. A handsome stranger intervenes, rescuing her from certain disaster. The only catch? Now she has to pretend to be his girlfriend for the next hour. She finds it’s a job she doesn’t want to end.

Novella by Heather Tullis: description coming soon

Pre-order your copy of With a Kiss today and have it automatically delivered to your Kindle on May 22, 2018.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

London Rookeries

During the late 1700’s London experienced a population explosion, and these newcomers—mostly working class—needed places to live. Unscrupulous landlords rented out rooms in medieval buildings. These areas became knowns as “Rookeries” and they were the very vilest of London slums.

Entire families crammed into single rooms with little to no ventilation because windows were taxed, so they were removed or boarded up. Since candles were expensive, many of these families lived in perpetual darkness. The ancient structures provided no easy access to water, leaving residents to carry their water from the Thames, which was so polluted by nearby cesspits and the filth that dripped through grates and by dumping into the river, that in the summer time, the stench drove most of the upper classes to the country.

Rookeries seldom provided ways to remove waste, so open sewers ran down the streets and mingled with mud. Animal dung and rotting carcasses alleys streets filled with almost-naked children and women wearing used, faded and ill-fitting clothes. Many Irish laborers, whose strong backs helped build so many London fortunes, lived in these rookeries and trudged to work daily to eke out enough to pay the rent but practically starving.

Such cheap and neglected places became breeding grounds for crime, prostitution, addiction, and all manner of filth. In some cases, newer but cheaply-made buildings were constructed between existing structures, cramming in more and more living space and creating tiny alleys where thieves prayed upon those foolish enough to venture there. It was reportedly so dangerous that attempts by the police to perform arrests often resulted in deadly violence. For about 100 years, the police simply avoided those places and advised citizens to do the same.

The poet George Galloway described one in 1792 as “a cluster of mean tenements densely populated by people of the lowest class.”

Thomas Beames, a clergyman, witnessed the unspeakable living conditions and poverty and wrote a report about it called The Rookeries of London: Past, Present, and Prospective published in 1852. He recorded: “A dirtier or more wretched place he had never seen. The street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours.”

I’m certain such a crowded, dark, filthy living conditions was also a breeding ground for disease, and with no means to pay for medical attention.

The dire living conditions at these dens of vice and poverty were so infamous that in 1816, a Parliamentary Committee was organized to access the London slums and seek solutions. Still, change took decades, partly because so many people had the attitude that these slums were the direct result of wickedness or idleness. They often derided the Irish laborers who lived there. Finally, journalists, novelists and social reformers convinced Parliament that the slums were largely caused by unemployment, under-employment, and little to no access to education.

Finally, the Victorians, in their pursuit for modernization and therefore sanitation, rid themselves of the rookeries and the last remnants of medieval London. As planned, those who inhabited the rookeries left. However, still in need of cheap housing, they relocated to Bermondsey, Brixton and Hackney where they continued to plague Victorians.

The Suspect’s Daughter, book 4 of the Rogue Hearts Series

In my novel, The Suspect’s Daughter,  a couple of scenes that take place in the slums of London, where the heroine, a gently-bred lady, is so horrified by the appalling conditions that she offers the young mother a job at her country home where the woman can better provide for her small children and where they will be safe. Though my heroine can’t help everyone, she helps those she can. It is a philosophy I embrace and that I hope resonates with my readers.


18th and 19th century London Rookeries Historical Hussies

Victorian London – Publications – Social Investigation/Journalism – The Rookeries of London, by Thomas Beames, 1852

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