~ Outerwear ~

In which we discuss shawls, cloaks, spencers, and pelisses.

Gwyneth Paltrow is Miramax's Emma.

Emma is wearing one of the large, square cashmere shawls that were so very expensive and so very chic in the Regency. She has, very properly, folded it into a triangle before donning it. This is a very elegant tone-on-tone version, but they were also available in white with pastel or red border designs, or the reverse.

Shawls like this are very elegant if you can manage them properly, but they do tend (especially when fringed) to fall into the soup.

Portrait de femme by J.A.D. Ingres, 1809.
Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ingres's sketches are incredibly lifelike and detailed--wonderful for the costumer. This woman is wearing not one but two shawls: a small one around her neck, possibly pinned in place, for warmth and modesty; and another larger, more glamorous one carried on the arm, probably mostly for show.

Perhaps it's the Regency version of toting around an expensive designer handbag.

Fashion plate of 1797 walking dresses courtesy the Regency Fashion Page.

These fashionable ladies are battling the wind in their oblong early-Regency shawls. The shawls are certainly long, as was the fashion, and they must have been a bit troublesome to manage. Note how unconcerned the women are with coordinating the shawls in any way with their dresses. Note also the enormous muff, very popular during this early period.

Shawls of this type would be very easy to make. The one in front is simply a long white rectangle with a red border, and what appears to be a black lace ruffle. The green-striped one in back is even simpler, being totally devoid of trim.

Fashion plate, 1799 morning dress, from the Regency Fashion Page.

This particular shade of red, called coquelicot, was absolutely It for a few years, particularly in trims and accessories. The shawl, while very striking, would also be very easy to make. It is absolutely plain except for a Greek key design around the border, which could be done with stitched-down soutache or even fabric paint.

The fad for all things classical around the turn of the 19th century was what made the Greek key design so popular. It's very much a mark of the time, and can be added to dress or cloak hems as well.

1810 opera gown in Ackerman's Repository, courtesy the Regency Fashion Page.

This very elegantly dressed woman is attending the opera in a short cloak with a standing collar and a hem that rises toward the front. This would be very easy to make using a modern pattern, and is quite elegant. Note her turban, which was a popular item for evening wear.

1800 woollen cloak from the Gallery of English Costume, Manchester.

This is a beautiful example of the bright red cloaks that were common wear for several decades. Well-established garb by the onset of the Regency, they lasted into the 1830s, although they were out of style by then. They were made of wool and often had large hoods, as this one does; this example is particularly nice, the hood and collar being lined with silk.

1816 watercolor by Diana Sperling, shown in the book Mrs. Hurst Dancing.

This very amusing image of a group walking to a dinner party through a muddy lane also demonstrates the bright red cloak shown above in action. Obviously, young women in the country were still wearing them as late as this (1816).

I love the gentleman's escaping shoe!

Lizzie Bennet from the A&E/BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

This is a beautifully made spencer that dates to the early teens (those little pointed caps over the sleeves mark the period). This particular one has a scoop neck, which seems to be much less common. After all, it is supposed to keep you warm. The garment has a sewn-in waistband and buttons up the front.

It's interesting to note that the seamstress seems to have made an entire straight long sleeve, and attached a puff sleeve over it: look at the gap between the puff sleeve and the long one. This may be to keep the puff from being pulled flat by the weight of the long sleeve. Also note the so-much-of-its-period length of the sleeve--right over the top of the hand. It could easily be even longer (over the first knuckle), especially for earlier years.

Spencer from the sewing business Sense & Sensibility.

Here is a very handsome spencer in a practical day fabric made by Jennie Chancey of Sense & Sensibility from the La Mode Bagatelle pattern. This pattern could be used to create a creditable imitation of the spencer above, as well.

Anne Elliott from Sony Classics' Persuasion.

Another beautifully constructed spencer; this one has a particularly handsome back. The pleats in the skirt and the little belt add a lot to the design.

Note also the beautiful shawl.

Jessamyn Reeves-Brown in a spencer of her own creation.

This is a spencer I made of black velveteen, which doesn't photograph well but is very beautiful and comfortable--and washable. The edges are piped in black, and it's fastened in front with what's sold in fabric stores as a "kilt buckle." It worked well, because the buckle comes on tabs of fake black leather which you can sew right through onto the fabric.

The spencer has a standing collar and a little tail in back.

1818 walking gowns, Braun & Schneider.

Clothes got fussier in general as time progressed, and spencers were not immune. Note the lace at neck and along the armseye, which was very common. The "Renaissance" style standing lace collar was a part of the Romantic influence that was beginning to take hold, pushing out the clean-lined elegance of the "Classical" style.

As waists on dresses dropped, they dropped on everything else accordingly. You can see that these waists are beginning to slide downward, even from the back.

1812 fashion plate from the Regency Fashion Page.

A pelisse was either just a spencer with a skirt attached, or more like a fitted bathrobe with darts. It could be heavy or lightweight depending on the season, and were necessary objects if one wanted to be stylish.

This particular model, more on the fitted-bathrobe line, is very handsome, and has lovely plushy fur trim, but it looks like it wouldn't do much to keep one's ankles warm. It fastens across the chest with three or four buckles or long frogs, and again at the knees to keep it from flying open. I suspect, however, that unless one added extra buckles between the knees and the waist, it would gap open foolishly when one sat down.

A late-1810s pelisse from Reflections of the Past.

This pelisse is more on the skirt-attached-to-spencer plan. A drawstring ends the "spencer" part, and hooks and eyes close the front. This is obviously a summer-weight garment.

The profusion of ruffles and trim, as well as the high neck and deep collar, are typical of the late teens. It's interesting that the ruffles are in a plain muslin gauze, not self-fabric windowpane check. The ruffles continue down the front and all the way around the hem.

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