Anatomy of a Dress II – The Regency Bodice

Hello everyone,

In the wake of HSF Challenge #5 “Bodice”, it is time for another part of my “Anatomy of a Dress” series. This time it will be about the fitted Regency bodice, of course. So, here we go:

The “Diamond Back”

This term is probably not the most heard when talking about Regency bodices, but it describes the overall look of them very well. It is the commonest period way of fitting Empire bodices, but it is not universal after all. But more about that a little further down the page. First of all, here are some more details on the “classic” Regency bodice:

The diamond shape originates from the fact that most bodices were fitted to the wearer’s body by inserting a seam between side back and center back. Additionally, the shoulder seam was usually low, not far away from the back seam. This completed the “diamond”. Here is a little schematic of this seam placement I made based off a dress in “Costume in Detail” (I think it was that book at least):

Schematic of the classic Regency back seams and their placement

One important thing about the back seams is that they looked a little like our modern Princess seams. But they were much less curved. In some cases they sat very close to the center back line. These kinds of seams shaped the “diamond” down to a kite-like shape. There is a bodice on Sarah Jane’s blog which illustrates this variant very well. This extant bodice from the Digital Museum is another good (and very pretty) example of the generic diamond bodice:

Extant bodice from the Digital Museum.


Alternative styles of fitting

Depending on the style of garment, the bodice was part of, there were some alternatives on how to fit a bodice to the wearer:

  • Mirroring the back seam on the front: This was done quite frequently. Bodices of this style had four individual pieces, the mid-back and mid-front, as well as a side back and a side front piece. In some rare cases, the seams were only used on the front. This was most often done on undergarments.
  • Pleats and tucks: Both of these are also found on a number of Regency bodices. They were used near the center back or center front sections of the bodice, depending on where the closure of the garments was placed. Pelisses, redingotes and other period jackets for once had back pleats if this technique of fitting was used, like on this extant summer redingote for example:

Back pleats on an extant redingote.

Dress bodices and Regency undergarments often had these pleats at the bodice front. In the case of bodiced petticoats, straight or diagonal pleats were used to create a snug fit in the bust area. The bodice of the petticoat I am replicating for HSF #5 has both pleats and vertical tucks to create a perfect fit:

Pleats and vertical tucks on the bodiced petticoat (Metropolitan Museum).


Creating ease – The Regency armscye

When Princess seams are used on modern bodices, these often become very snug. To prevent that, techniques like clipping and whatnot are used. The Regency solution is so much more elegant: A very deep armscye that is rounded out at the back. You can see this in the picture from the Digital Museum above, but also in this period pattern from the Colonial Williamsburg collection. Notice the rounded shapes of both the front and back sections of the armscye and the sleeve cap which is also very curvy towards the back.

Bodice pattern from the Colonial Williamsburg collection.

Once I get to patterning my petticoat, you will see some of those round shapes in the back as well. I think creating them will be another little adventure. :) This should be all the bodice research for today. Now I am itching to get my hands on a piece of paper, to Regency-fy that modern “Empire” bodice for the challenge. Just wait for it. ;)

Yours,  Nessa

Anatomy of a Dress – Regency Dress Measurements

Have you ever gawked at an Empire gown, wondering just how long and wide it is cut?

Well, I have. Since I have taken up sewing, every piece of clothing that grabs my attention turns into pattern pieces in my head. When it comes to measurements and dimensions though, I am quite the klutz. So, all these little numbers and yardages became one of the first things I researched about Regency fashions. The first insight into measurements came from this ball gown pattern, found in the Jane Austen Centre’s Online Magazine:

Authentic Regency ball gown pattern with measurements

Authentic Regency ball gown pattern with measurements

But, as these measurements were taken from an authentic period gown, some adjustments to a “modern” woman’s body are often needed:

Even though the 18-teens were only 200 years ago, most of you will be taller than the average Georgian woman. When I, a dwarf of 5’1″, first drafted a skirt based on the above pattern, the hem came down somewhere above the ankle. I needed to add another 3 inches to the skirt length. Most of you will need to add even more.

That is one thing. Another is the empire waist. Most of the sources measuring on period gowns estimated the waist circumference at around 25 inches. Now, most women I know today have an under-bust measure of at least 30 inches. And, taking into account the numerous layers of undergarments plus the fact that some of the drawstring-closed dresses are supposed to have a gathered waistline… oh dear. ;) My advice is to simply add the necessary amount to your draft, based on your personal needs. In the schematics you will see below, I left out the circumference estimate, since it is really a matter of girth and taste.

As you can see, that first approach was not really satisfying. So I went on researching. On Jennie Chancey’s Diary of a Dress I have found some very helpful insights into train lengths and construction. Then at the library, I ran into several annotations in various costuming handbooks and also some remarks about women’s riding dress in an early issue of Wiener Moden-Zeitung. All my findings, I have put into two compact little schematics for you. As a base, I used this pretty gown on Maggie May’s Clothing:

Schematic of a Regency gown (front)

Schematic of a Regency gown (front)

dress-back

Schematic of a Regency gown (back)

I hope you will find my scribblings helpful. As to the specialties of closure (hooks vs. single or double drawstring) and  sleeve construction, I will try and cover these topics in their own posts. Just wait for it…

Oh, and before I forget…

There is also a new page on this blog. :) It is called “The Sewing List”. Being a list person, I have put on it all the sewing projects I am currently working on and those planned for later. Hopefully it will give you a little overview of the ideas cluttered in the sewing area of my brain. ;)

Much love,

Nessa