Wednesday, June 16, 2010

An Overview of Regency Stays/Corsets

I know, it’s very soon to post a new topic, but I was sketching today, and found myself doing a little study of Regency stays--thinking about perhaps making myself a new set just for riding. So this is my new post. ;)

I gave away my customized transitional stays (click here to see photo journal of the project) to my dear friend because frankly, it fits her better. So did my 2008 Winter Ballgown… that brat.

I digress… So I started thinking about making a new set, and started looking at patterns, and I realized I hadn't done a good comprehensive post about Regency corsetry at all, and it was due time.

The Regency stay is unique in historical corsetry because it is one of the very few periods where the corset was designed for something other than shaping the torso/waist. The Regency corset was a lifting device; and it was designed to present a lady’s assets on a proverbial platter. The gown was supposed to fall in a long, columnar line below the empire waistline.

In my few years of pursuing projects in the period costume, I've learned a lot about making Regency pieces, so please read these tips if you haven't done any corsetry yet:

An important truth you must know in corset and stay-making… boning is not meant to hold you. All boning is meant to do is to keep the fabric of the garment taut and to prevent it folding or wrinkling. The *cut* of the corset is where the shape comes from…. And in the case of the regency corset, the gusseting is key. Gussets are not fun to do, but they are crucial in shaping your ‘platter’ to suit your assets, and in setting the long stays on your hips so that the rest of the taught fabric will continue to hold you while you go about your day.

How to sew a gusset (tips on a post-it).

A busk is a flat, wooden stick that helps to keep the front of a corset straight, tight, and keeps your gusset cups upright and separated. It was sometimes known that gentlemen would carve and smoothen a busk, and etch his nam into it for their favourite lady so she could wear his handiwork close to her heart. How romantic. :) The busk slides into a narrow, long pocket sewn into the front of your stay.

If a regency corset is made correctly to fit its wearer, you should never be so tightly trussed up that you are uncomfortable; as you would be in a corset from another period. A Regency corset should act as a really great supporting miracle-bra; and for some lucky ladies, that is all they might need. A miracle bra.

So, for those of us who cannot get away with just using a miracle bra to acheive the desired Regency silhouette... here is a breakdown of the period's corsets, some sample images and some pattern recommendations. If you know of good patterns, not mentioned here, please feel free to add links in your comments.

The three general categories of Regency stays:

* The Short Stays *

The short stay is in essence, the miracle bra of the regency period. It is small, and reasonably comfortable.
Best suited for these body types:
  • Smaller cup sizes. Not recommended for anyone above a C-cup; despite the option of going to a D on most patterns. Large breasts often push the front-closure forward, and the lack of busk or length causes the boning to angle into your chest, it can be uncomfortable, and look less than flattering. Recommend transitional or long stays for larger cup sizes.
  • Smaller body sizes. I don't recommend this corset if you are a plus-size fit. The boning just is not compatible with any padding on the tummy.
Easy to make as stays and corsets go. It was actually my FIRST costume project for the ORS. I was daunted at first, but once I got three layers together, I was very proud of myself to find how nicely everything sort of fell together. A beginner could pull this one off, with determination.
Recommended patterns for short stays:
  • Minimal boning required
  • Boning recommendation: zip ties, spiral steel.

Hovering between short and transition stay is the Kyoto Museum's wrap-around brassiere. This is an unusual design, and there is a pattern available for you to try (link provided above).

Kyoto Museum Regency Brassiere

* The Transitional Stays *
Best suited for these body types:
  • Cup size: Medium to larger cup-sizes (C & D+)
  • Body size: Small, medium to thicker body sizes. If you are a bit rubenesque, you might find that the boning on the front might cut a bit into your belly when you sit, and the belly might push the boning up when you sit as well as well, further pronouncing your ‘platter’.
Definitely more involved a project, mostly because most transitional stays have tabs or are wraparound projects. A beginner could pull this one off, with determination and care, but it’s definitely a project recommended for intermediate sewers.
Recommended patterns for transition stays:
  • Minimal to moderate boning, depending on your preferences.
  • Boning recommendation: cording, caning, zip ties or spiral steel.

The Daisy wrap-around stays
* The Full Stays with Busk *

Best suited for these body types:
  • Cup size: Pretty much any-sized cup with the right gusset-work and shaping.
  • Body size: From thin to curvy this corset suits them all. The busk is a wonder for the fuller-figured, more-endowed woman. I recommend this corset to all. It’s not half as complicated to make as you think, however you can challenge yourself with it by doing some intricate cording to make it really a work of art. Here is a helpful tutorial on how to do cording from Jennie LaFleur.

Difficulty:Definitely more involved a project, but easier than the wrap-arounds and the tabbed transitionals. A beginner could pull this one off. Seriously. An advanced seamstress could make it amazing.
Recommended patterns for Corset:

  • Minimal to extensive boning/cording, depending on your preferences.
  • Boning recommendation: cording, caning, zip ties, light steel or spiral steel.
The Shift

The shift plays a crucial role in tandem with any of the above undergarments. Your gusset cups will lift and cup your assets, however the shift's drawstring neckline is meant to capture and contain the upper half of your breasts; and act as a friend once said as the 'top half of the bra' so to speak. So when you are looking for shift patterns, be sure to pick one that has a drawstring neckline.

Achieving a Proper Fit

In order to fit your corset or stays well, you should probably read this post on fitting before you begin construction of your stays. It will help you make sure that the stays you choose are helping you achieve the proper silhouette.

I hope this little post will help you decide what works best for you, and also inspires you to make your own stays, they are not as difficult as you imagine, and you can customize them to be something extraordinary if you want. Good luck, leave comments and don't hesitate to ask questions... I'd be happy to help. ;)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Let's talk habits

Two of our most beloved ORS members are organizing a wonderful new event. A Fox Hunt!

Naturally, as the ad says, we will be hunting faux-foxes, sans horses and baying hounds—but we WILL be hopefully all trussed up in our finest riding habits as we run about seeking out those sly little fellows hiding in the shrubbery. So I thought a post on the Regency Riding Habit to be much called-for.

Personally, being an avid Horsewoman since I was four, this project has caught my interest. I’ve ridden sidesaddle in the past, however my habit was more Victorian in style than Regency. I have been simply DYING to make a regency riding habit, despite my horse not quite being trained enough to wear a side-saddle… however, this isn’t going to stop me from moving forward on this project, and I have been looking at a number of fashion plates to get myself motivated. There are TONS of blogs out there featuring a variety of habits in a compendium of colours… so I’ll let you do your own picture searches. Right now, I’ m past pictures and am now well into the patterns and research. HOWEVER, as the mainstay of regency research given to us by the irascible Cathy, who taught me SO much with her invaluable website, I offer you this single link. (Pay some attention to the hats too!)


Here is a link to an extant garment, shared by Dawn Luckham, costumer extraordinaire!

Dawn wrote: "Extant habit in linen or cotton (Holland is a fine quality linen). Note the light colour!"

Meg Andrews' Hot Climate Riding habit.
Click here for a detail

Kyoto Costume Institute's Extant Habit
Estimated 1810.(detail here)
This habit has a longer waist than the others depicted here today, but it is a perfectly lovely example of a period riding habit.  The buttons are adorable.  Here is a modern interpretation of this garment:

Patterns of habits:

There are very few patterns out there to work with… here’s what I found; The Rocking Horse Farms pattern (scroll down the page to find the pattern) also comes with a shirt. I have no reviews of it, but as RHF patterns go, they are usually decently drafted and easy to follow.

Reconstructing History’s Habit (ostensibly based on the pattern by Janet Arnold)… I’ve heard mixed reviews of RH patterns… they are certainly not a beginner’s pattern.

Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1 book contains the a nice habit, in addition to a number of other amazing Regency patterns, from bib-front gowns to half-robes and a robe. Definitely worth the price of the book… trust me.

Habit projects:

Now, I’ve been following Katherine; a young lady who is almost a legend in the costuming world around here, for quite a while. She is amazing. Her website is addictive, so before you click through, finish up reading this post, because you’ll forget all about it once you start browsing her photo-essays of her various costume projects. Katherine tackled a number of Regency pieces. One of these includes her Regency riding habit. Her project photos are enlightening—and explain a lot about construction.

What Katherine shows us is that she can take a pattern (Janet Arnold’s) and piece it out to customize the design. If you look at her construction page, you can get an idea how she constructed her pieces. Her inventiveness for the habit shirt is also wonderful:

That girl is a wonder; and she hand-stitches EVERYTHING. ::blargh::

I think the primary difference between a habit and a spencer is that you are supposed to wear the spencer over your clothing. A riding habit is your gown in essence. Many women used the riding habit as traveling clothing as well. The habit would be made of a lighter material than the spencer. A linen, or very light wool, or heavier cotton, perhaps. A nice jewel or earth-tone was appropriate.

The riding habit comes in two primary pieces (three if you count the shirt). The first piece is pretty much a short spencer—add a nice peplum and you’re good to go. It doesn’t take too much to modify your collar and front to your preference. Scanning the variety of fashion plates out there can inspire your design. Riding habits often had a distinctive military look, or sometimes, they looked like tiny versions of the gentlemen’s frock coat.

I look at these patterns and I see a lot of similarities from a riding habit and the Ravenrook/Mode Bagatelle Spencer pattern for the spencer (see views G for the peplum and H for the collar and the rest)

You can easily take this pattern and turn it into a viable riding habit using lighter fabrics, and taking in the seam allowance a tiny bit, so that it is closer-fitted.

Taking that pattern for the spencer, you can create something quite authentic looking; and using the skirts from View C, you can create the trained skirts (or untrained if you don’t want a train) that you need for your habit. Using the bodiced petticoat bodice (view A), you can use the back and side pieces to create the little bodice that holds the skirt up; trimming the front part off just shy of under the arms, and making sure to cut your back on a fold so it's one contiguous piece. (See Katherine’s habit skirt on her page linked above for a better idea, or my drawing above as well).

If you own the Sense and Sensibility Pattern for a spencer, and you are inventive, you can surely use that pattern to construct your habit jacket with it. You’d have to probably work in the peplum yourself, but it will provide a good framework to begin.

Sense & Sensibility's Chemisette pattern (as well as LMB's chemisette in their pattern package) would work extremely well for a riding shirt (although they both lack sleeves). But like Katherine, you can be inventive; because the white ruffled cuff inside your jacket sleeves would be very pretty. Depending on your collar, you will want to fill in your neckline, and even apply a small cravat or some ruffles to the front.

Finally, the Burnley and Trowbridge pattern for a spencer is very habit-like and it has a darling peplum.

I am going to attempt to hold a workshop before September to help people construct these delightful garments, but in the meantime, let these images be your inspiration to create a riding habit you can feel elegant in. :)

What to wear underneath

There is also the question of what would be the appropriate underthings for a habit.  It depends on whether or not you are actually going to ride a horse sidesaddle or if you are doing it for the simple sake of costuming.  In the case of costuming, the standard undergarments will suffice; although there are some little period breeches (featured on Koshka the Cat's habit post) that are modeled after men's breeches that women were known to wear. But a pair of pantaloons or pantalettes will do if you aren't comfortable in just a shift and petticoat.  And stockings of course.

For the actual rider, I do not recommend you wear a petticoat unless you have made it with lots of volume, you need a lot of freedom of movement under those skirts. A shift and your corset over a pair of riding leggings or jodhpurs would be your best bet, although I have seen women wearing standard riding breeches underneath their habit skirts (sometimes full seat breeches for stickability) with only one tall boot on their left leg and a short boot on the right, which is a standard sidesaddle practice.

Regency Ladies' Riding Boots

Depending on your commitment to authenticity, your selection of appropriate boots is fairly broad.  If you can find a pair of all-leather lace-up standard paddock boots, you're in luck. Ariat makes nice paddock boots, and they're specifically designed for riding. I'd recommend these for people who actually intend on riding in their Regency habits.  ((See my post on Regency Sidesaddle Riding)) These boots look the part, and serve a practical purpose. Here is a sample of actual riding paddock boots: Click Here. 

If you're not too concerned with having actual riding boots, but you want something that is authentic with your habit and also with other Regency day-wear, you should get these: Click Here.

If you're looking for something that looks the part, but doesn't cost too much, and doesn't really need to be too practical, a pair of good lace-up Jazz boots look the part. Sample Here: Click Here. More samples: Click Here. They range at about $30 - $40


Update! Look at this reproduction piece I stumbled on via another period blog; it includes photos of a garment for sale--here is the link for the sale page, but since sales are temporary by nature, I wasn't confident that this link would remain active forever, so I sniped the pics from the site and made a little collage so that if the link breaks, you can still see this beautiful garment.

The sale caption reads: c. 1999 repro 1810 Deep Navy Cashmere Wool Felt Empire Trained Equestrian Riding Gown and Jacket (Riding Habit) from Jane Austen's Mansfield Park 1999 film version! COA! Every once in a while I'm able to get my hands on some fabulous period reproduction pieces that are beautiful enough to compare to the original period gowns. This one captivates your heart! You will never find another quite so realistic. The jumper gown can be worn buttoned up at the sides as you see, or just unbutton to wear straight. The jacket has violet-blue velvet collar, cuffs and buttons. The wool feels like cashmere. Wonderful! Near mint condition. Purchased directly from the production company and comes with COA that calls it "Andrea's Vest and Jumper". I'm not sure who Andrea was in the flick, but in this instance it's all about the costume itself, not the actress.