Project Boudoir: Regency Nightwear

Before I vanish for a short trip down south, it is due time to finally share some research on Regency-era nightwear with you. As mentioned before, the materials to be found online are not as plentiful as usual. There are, however, a few rather good ones I will also list for you below. I will try my best to put together some key facts for you; and also clarify a thing or two. Here we go:

Nightgown, Undress, Negligée or Morning Dress?

This post will mainly deal with the clothes worn at bedtime. Those are, of course, a part of Undress, which loosely referred to the more comfortable clothing, worn around the house. Some nightwear items, such as the cap and bed jacket, could also be part of Morning Dress. But more on that further below.

Usually though, Morning Dress and negligées do not refer to sleep-wear, even though they are also part of Undress. They were usually worn around the house after getting up and before going back to sleep. This might also be why, nowadays, we sometimes call our nighties “negligées”. Back in the Regency era, however, the term referred to looser-fitting dresses for home wear.

The frock pattern from Janet Arnold’s “Patterns of Fashion” is an example of a negligée. Because of the fine silver embroidery on the hem, though, even Janet Arnold was not entirely sure if this was really the case. But perhaps this dress belonged to a richer lady. As with everything, their morning attire was as stylish and fashionable as the rest of their wardrobe. I do not think this has changed much over the centuries. But, no matter how plain the Regency morning dress, it beats a baggy pair of tracksuit bottoms any day.

Janet Arnold’s Regency negligée at the V&A.

If I was to define the difference between night and morning wear, I would draw a line at the point when the lady puts on her stays. In the morning, softer stays were common. This includes wrap stays, such as the ones in the next picture I found on Leimomi’s blog or the “bra” exhibited at the Kyoto Fashion Institute, and short or half stays. But those were definitely no bedtime item. ;)

Soft wrap stays, found on The Dreamstress.

Nightgowns and Accessories

If negligées were not worn in bed, then what was? The main garments were the bed shift and nightcap. But ladies often wore an extra layer on top, namely the bed, or night, jacket.

Bed Shifts and Shirts

Basically the bed shift or night shift was a type of chemise. It was made from plain linen or thicker cotton and worn by both men and women. As opposed to daytime chemises, which tended to ended a little below the knee, bed shifts usually reached a little lower, to somewhere between the calf and ankle. They could have long sleeves, as was the case up to the 18th century, but shorter sleeves were also common. In some cases, especially men also slept in their daytime shirts. One source, I do not quite recall which, also talked about ladies sleeping in their daytime chemises.

Georgian / Regency bed shift, posted by Hope A. Greenburg.

But usually, the shift was not the end of the story. As bedrooms tended not to be heated at night, especially women usually wore at least one extra layer on top of it. In the painting you can see a late-eighteenth-century lady in her bedtime finery. In the early Georgian and Regency eras, she might have worn the same amount of garments, but made up to be lighter and less voluminous.

“Mrs. Wheatley Asleep” by Francis Wheatley (1790s).


Bed Jackets and Additional Layers

Since sleeping in the cold is never fun, and for modesty’s sake, Regency ladies wore a bed jacket on top of the shift. It was a loose-fitting, shirt-like cotton or linen jacket. I managed to find two extant examples on the internet, the one in the picture and another on Historikal Modiste. Both are tied at the neck and gathered a little at the back. They also feature a wide collar to keep the throat and chest covered at night. Sometimes, bed jackets were also worn in place of dressing gowns around the boudoir. Hence they had a little overlap with garments worn for Morning Dress.

Extant Regency bed jacket, found on Vickiegarden.com.

If it got really cold at night, a thin fichu was sometimes worn over the jacket as well. This fact comes from an 1820s article on the French ladies’ toilette. An English translation of it can be found in “The Lady’s Strategem” by Frances Grimble. As it contains a whole wealth of info on period home wear and toilette, this one is on my wish list for when I can afford it. ;)

Nighttime Head Coverings

To keep the head warm, and to keep the hair in order, at night, night caps were worn. As opposed to the boudoir cap I made, they rather resembled mob caps, often tied around the top. “The Female’s Friend”, a domestic periodical from the 1830s-1840s, features a night-cap pattern very similar to the Regency style. It is available for free on Google Books.

When the hair had survived the night, still looking presentable, the lady took off her night-cap. If not, she kept it on, exchanged it for the boudoir cap or tamed her mane with a cloth headband. To cover the hair while dressing or to hide the day’s hairdo while setting, a boudoir cap was worn as well.

Night cap pattern from "The Female Friend" (1837)

Night cap pattern from “The Female Friend” (1837).

This was the gist of what I have found in my project research. I hope it was helpful. Maybe you even learned a few things about the Regency era you always wanted to know. If you are intrigued and want to know more about period bed and boudoir attire, feel free to have a look at the list of sources at the bottom. :) Now that I have filled you in on the historical background, I will start blogging about the two cozy nightwear items I am working on and their make up.

The linen shift should be finished soon and then the bed jacket will follow. Please stay tuned.

All the best, Nessa

Sources:

An overview of morning dress by Candice Hern.

An overview of 1790s ladies’ night shifts by Joanna Bourne.

Explanations on Regency nightwear and an extant bed jacket on Historikal Modiste.

The latter source also featured a few helpful quotations from ”The Lady’s Strategem”  by Frances Grimble.

HSF #16: From the Calico – My First Regency Dress

It is official, I am a laggard. This is the first time I am a little late posting a challenge item for the HSF. But, now that the craziness of the last eight weeks is slowly subsiding, I am slowly getting the hang of sewing and blogging again. (And yes, I did not forget the week roundup I promised you last time. But so many new, exciting things have happened; so it ended up being postponed until I find the right words to tell you all about that.)

But first things first. Here are a few facts about making the dress and how it ended up in the “Terminology” challenge:

This is my first attempt at a Regency gown and the very first time I altered a pattern almost entirely based on the mock-up. And the good news is: there were barely any alterations needed. Because of this, I was able to keep the toile and re-use it for the bodice lining. Since the gown was originally meant for the “Paisley and Plaid” challenge last month, this was my way of smuggling it into the HSF after all. ;) To do so, I needed a fitting term from The Dreamstress’s Historical Fashion and Textile Encyclopedia. Luckily I ran into “calico”, which is also sometimes used to refer to mock-ups, along with toile and muslin. And, because this aspect was pretty important to me, it fit.

Cutting out the bodice pieces from the calico.

Since this is a first attempt though, I am not entirely happy with the result. The other day my side seams decided to rip clean through because there was a little too much strain on them. And then there are a few issues with the trim, half of which merely exists because the skirt came out a wee bit too long and I forgot to shorten it until everything was made up… *headdesk* But, in the end, I quite like those tucks and the dress is actually wearable. Still, I cannot wait to start the next one, if only to iron out those silly beginners mistakes. ;)

Now, that was enough moping, here are the challenge summary and photos:

The Challenge: HSF #16 – Terminology

The Term: Calico (European use)

Fabric: 5 yards of “Moscow check” poly-cotton for the dress and old calico bed-sheet for the mock-up and lining.

Pattern: Janet Arnold’s 1806-09 Muslin frock, without major alterations.

Year: Early 1800s-1810

Notions: 1 3/4 yard soft cotton tape and 2 ecru shank buttons for the back closure; 5 yards of satin ribbon and 5 yards satin bias tape.

How historically accurate is it? Pretty accurate. The pattern is derived from an extant gown, about 80% of the seams are hand-sewn and the lilac check fabric was sampled in an early issue of Ackermann’s; except that the fabric I used had some synthetic fiber content.

Hours to complete: about 70 hours.

First worn: For the photos and fitting.

Total cost: about € 35 altogether.

And here are a few pictures, posing with one of great-grandad’s very old books. ;)

The front view.

The back view.

And now, unto the next challenge. Hopefully this time it will be on time. And I will keep you posted again more regularly from now on, promised. :)

All the best, Nessa

Fitting the Regency Clone

It has been a while since my last post… but a lot has been happening here, on the private and university-related ends of life. So the sewing has taken a little break. But today it is back and I can finally give you an update on my latest Regency project:

Currently I am making the 1805 frock from Janet Arnold’s “Patterns of Fashion”, for which I finally fitted the toile today. And let me tell you, making this gown has been a marvel so far. The pattern was taken from this extant evening dress on exhibit at the V&A:

The extant 1805 frock.

And, ever since enlarging the original pattern, I have dubbed this project “the clone”. This is not because I am re-making something extant, but because the original dress would fit me straight off the stand, without any alterations. Ever since realizing how its wearer’s bust and underbust measurements fit mine to the tee, I have been wondering whether there was a clone of me running free in the Regency era. And, I would have absolutely loved to meet the lady in question. Judging from the intricacy of her frock, she must have been from the French upper class. Perhaps I should write a short story about our meet-up one day.  ;)

When fitting the toile today, things got even funnier. While patterning the front piece, I had originally added an extra three inches to the neckline band and another four to the sleeve band, just to be sure. And, lo and behold, I ultimately ended up taking almost the whole extra length back out,  down to the original dimensions. You can see where I pinned off the excess fabric in the pictures below.

Fitting the toile. (Please ignore the gathering thread having slipped out on the right) ;).

 

Fit of the back neckline and sleeve.

 

The last thing I need to do now is to jump into my petticoat and stays, to make some final adjustments. And, with the toile fitting so well, I will not have to worry about making another lining; I can simply use the piece as they are. The toile was made from a scrap of an old cotton sheet and is very comfy to wear. Hence I see no reason to throw it out. This whole project will probably never stop to amaze me. :)

I will try to get back to you once the bodice and sleeves are finished. See you all in a little while.
Love, Nessa