This past year at Costume College 2018 I had a great time in costume, not only at the evening events but also during the day, when I wore my green 1920s dress and my pink cotton Regency dress. They were both cool and reasonably comfortable, which is definitely something I’m going for in future daytime outfits. I also had the vague idea that I’d like to start wearing more outfits that lent themselves to interesting poses or props, the better to take fun pictures with people (so many of mine are boring!). It’s no wonder, then, that in the middle of a random conversation about costumes and period-looking eyeglasses that I was struck with an inspiration for a fun daytime outfit– Mary Bennet, the third Bennet sister in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Mary’s primary defining characteristics in the book are being plain (compared to her prettier sisters), moralistic, and terrible at singing/playing the piano. Her father teases her by calling her “a young lady of great reflection,” and she is described as having “a pedantic air and conceited manner.” She frequently “makes extracts” from books she has read, and tends to offer them at inopportune moments. In the movies she is often depicted as wearing spectacles and extremely drab clothing, and in fanfiction she frequently reads from Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women, though in the actual text there is no mention of spectacles and Fordyce appears only once, as read by Mr. Collins.
I decided that Mary would make for a fun character to play– I’d be able to stare disapprovingly over my spectacles at people and quote ridiculous lines from Fordyce, and best of all I’d be able to wear comfortable Regency garb all day! Unfortunately, all of my Regency gowns are a bit too colorful to suit my idea of Mary, so I had to make a new one.
I figured that brown would be a good color– practical, kind of drab, not so dark as to suggest mourning, and it could realistically have been overdyed from an older sister’s lighter-colored gown once it was passed on to Mary. Also, if I wanted to wear it to a non-Mary event I could easily accessorize with some rich reds or greens and give it a whole new look. I found a nice cotton/silk blend on sale ($3.95/yd) at Fashionfabricsclub.com that had a diagonal pinstripe running through it, that I thought would lend itself to some subtle design elements with the stripes.
To make the off-white stripes a little less prominent I overdyed the fabric– and wasn’t that the adventure (in the worst sense of the word).
I started off trying Jacquard iDye Chestnut, which was supposed to be a nice reddish-brown. Unfortunately, it was definitely NOT reddish-brown, but instead was a dark gray-blue shade that completely screwed up my fabric. I ended up getting new fabric (so much for keeping this inexpensive) and starting again, this time doing test swatches. A little experimentation led me to try dyeing the fabric in a 1:1 combination of iDye Gold Ochre and Chestnut (I know, probably a mistake, but the swatches worked!), which turned the white stripes a yellowish-cream, but which ended up looking kind of anemic overall. So I tried AGAIN and overdyed the whole thing in iDye Crimson (had it left over from another project), which warmed everything up to a medium brown-orange tone, which was better but still kind of washed-out looking. Finally, in a last-ditch effort I overdyed the whole thing in iDye Brown. That worked, and made the stripes a lighter brown. Seriously, I could’ve just gone with regular Brown to begin with and it probably would’ve been fine! (sigh) I hate dyeing things.
For the design, I’m going for something kind of like these extant gowns:
While high necklines would have been historically accurate at the time I personally find them unflattering, so I’m doing a square neck filled in with a chemisette. I’ve added an extra tulip sleeve on top of the long sleeves to make them look more interesting– perhaps not something Mary would’ve worn, but I wanted to avoid the “I’m wearing a sack” look and adding an actual puff sleeve on top seemed a bit too fluffy. (and per the fashion plate below, tulip oversleeves were a thing!)
To add some design interest I’ll match the stripes on the bodice to form a V shape. I think it’ll turn out well, and honestly, if I look a little dowdy I can just say it’s intentional!