Is Regency A Good Idea?

I’ve been very on-the-fence about whether I want to go Regency era or scootch back towards the 1790s with this costume. My dilemma is that I don’t like Regency. Why not? Because I find the styles very unflattering to pretty much any figure, even a skinny one.

What makes a regency dress really work?:

1. Proper undergarments – and by that I mean the corselette/bra that holds the bust way way up in the proper place. This underpinning is designed for maximum lift and clevage.
2. Proper waistline – this is related to the proper bust placement, as the empire waistline should be directly under the bust, and as high as possible. There should be no sagging over this line, and the distance between the lowest point of the scoop of the neckline and the empire waistline should be as short as possible. It appears that the empire waistline was sometimes higher than the underbust, definitely the natural underbust, which has by this time been obliterated by the corset. Bust and empire waistline faults are the number one cause of Regency Costume Fail.
3. Proper fabric – I know these dresses were made out of everything, but it seems like the lighter and more transparent the fabric, the better. The inspiration for these gowns was Ancient Greece, and drapey folds, or the Parthenon-wet-dress look was the ideal. Gauzey fabrics that drape in small folds agains the body look better than a stiff quilters cotton. Same goes for trims – the lighter the better, to match your light fabric.
4. Proper Neckline – it has to be as low as is comfortable, in both front and back. The elongation of the neck is key, and to do this, the collarbones, nape of the beck, and even a bit of shoulder are necessary (unless you just naturally have a swan neck). Decolletage was and is vitally important. Cut the necklines of those Simplicity and Butterick patterns down by at least half Hair goes hand-in-hand with the neckline. Hair must be UP in order to elongate the neck.
5. Length of skirt – short skirts that allow the feet and even ankles to be seen may be period correct, but they’re unflattering. Hit the floor with those hems, and if at all possible, keep a little bit of a train in the back. Trains elongate (there’s that word again!), and flutter prettily behind.

I suppose I could go on, but I won’t. Remember, these are my opinions, and what I’ve found to be true, so take them for what they are! The big trick, of course, is to accomplish all these things precisely and perfectly, which is not an easy task. Throw in there the need to be stick-thin and long-of-limb and we may have a problem.

So back to the original question…is making this gown on the cusp of Regency a good idea? Waistline high or natural? I have a hard time backing away from a challenge. I have not been thrilled by the images of other people’s Open Robes that I’ve found, but I’m so mesmerized by the extant garments (see prior post) and the drawing in Janet Arnold. I know drawings and fashionplates exaggerate and idealize, though Arnold’s drawing is probably pretty straight-forward. The trick is looking the part, then, 100%, no shortcuts.

One Comment

  • M'lady

    December 30, 2011 at 10:56 AM

    Ah, I see you agree with me. I find regency style very unflattering on me. I'm an hourglass…and without showing my small natural waist I look 3 sizes bigger and very frumpy. The only way I'm going to combat it is V neckline and not having the waist quite so high. My short stays I bought off the internet don't fit so I'll have to resort to my turn of the century style corset. *sigh*
    I keep looking at the 1790's and more transitional outfits as I'm hoping they will be more flattering.


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