Regency Apron Research

I did it again! I finished a project without writing all the blog posts first. So now seems a good time to unravel the planning behind the Regency apron I just finished for the Historical Sew Monthly.

Some of you may still remember my Regency half apron from 2016. Now I wanted one that covers the top of the dress, too, because that is where I usually dirty myself. ;) To get inspired, I had a quick browse through the full apron styles and colours popular in the Regency era. That was the perfect excuse to look through one of my favourite collections of period fashion plates, the “Costumes d’ouvriéres parisiennes” by Georges-Jacques Gatine and Louis-Marie Lanté, published in 1824. You can view it here on Gallica.

The first thing I noticed was the range of different colours. Black was very fashionable, because hey, it hides most stains. It’s for a similar reason that 18th-century surgeons turned to blue aprons. (See this post by Susan Holloway Scott). Of course, there was lots of white around, too. From my research into the other apron, I already knew about rosy and powder pink being fashionable. But that did not prepare me for this very flashy purple. Just wow. And the one below is not the only example in the collection.

Earthenware seller, in a stunning purple apron, c. 1824.

Beyond the high-waist half aprons, like the one above, there is one rare example of a pinner apron among the plates. Offhand, I could not think of an extant one in this style.

Dairywoman wearing a pinner apron, c.1824.

Much more widespread were bib aprons with narrow shoulder straps, at least based on how many there are in these fashion plates alone. Here are two examples, one black and one white.

A hatter, in a black, strapped apron, c. 1824.

Chamber maid, with a back view of the shoulder straps, c. 1824. See how they are angled?

Sabine made a beautiful repriduction of such a strapped apron. On her blog, I saw a different strap style, too, which makes the apron look a bit like a pinafore, or smock. I still wonder which parlor game these ladies might be playing, too.

Apron with wide straps, Le Bon Genre, Plate 89, June 1816, British Museum.

This made me think a bit, since shoulder straps are my known enemy, in historical and modern clothes. As a lady with sloping shoulders, I could really use a smock-style to keep those straps from slipping. That is why I have been ogling this Russian folkwear apron at the Met for quite some time now. It has a nearly full bodice in the back. But that style is not really documentable for general Regency fashion.

Russian apron, 19th century, Metropolitan Museum, New York.

But then I found this beautiful smock apron in the Colonial Williamsburg collection, and I fell in love! It dates between 1800 and 1820 and is made from blue-white checked linen tabby.

Checked high-waist apron, c.1800-20, Colonial Williamsburg, Accesion No. 1995-33.

In New England, blue and white checks were quite common for aprons, as was the high-waisted smock style. Kitty Calash wrote a wonderful research post on surviving examples and the provenance of checked linens. She also made one for herself.

This became the main inspiration for my own apron. As time was short (yay for short-term sewing projects), I went out to get some checked fabric and settled for a printed cotton tabby. When I found a yarn-dyed variety, known as “zephyr cloth” here, halfway through sewing the thing, I was a bit annoyed with my planning skills. Oh well, next time. One can never have enough aprons, right?

Nessa

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