When writing this post, I initially started writing about how a problem facing many historical costumers is carrying all of our bits and bobs when many dresses come without pockets, and how finding appropriately period purses can be difficult. And I was going to talk about how that’s what prompted me to want a chatelaine, which was basically a multi-tool for 19th century women… but then I had to admit to myself that my desire for a chatelaine really had nothing to do with needing to carry stuff with me, and everything to do with it just looking really cool.
So what is a chatelaine? Basically it’s a hook or pin that women would attach to their belt/waistband. It would have several chains hanging from it, and dangling from the chains would be an assortment of useful items– pencils, watches, perfume vials, buttonhooks, needle cases, notebooks, coin purses… basically anything a woman might want to have handy.
Of course, these items weren’t strictly utilitarian– many chatelaines were made of silver, gorgeously embellished, and just generally decorative. Here are some of my favorites, mostly from the 1880s-1890s:
So, with all of this beautiful inspiration, is it any wonder I wanted one for myself?
The problem, of course, is that antique chatelaines with any attachments at all tend to sell for no less than $200, and easily reaching $2,000 depending on condition and complexity. I wasn’t about to spend that much, so I had to improvise.
Okay, this isn’t an “I made this” post so much as an “I found this” post. It’s about eyeglasses. That is, reasonably historical-looking eyeglasses for those of us who are visually challenged but don’t want to wear contacts all the time. If you’re looking for an inexpensive source for glasses that look pretty decent for dates after 1800 or so, try these:
I found them at Zenni Optical, and after a lot of comparison shopping at similar discount-glasses sites I determined that they were the best-priced pair I could find. The basic prescription glasses, with standard coatings and thickness, cost me under $12 (plus another $5 in shipping). They come in gold and silver, as well as a few less historical-looking colors.
I also picked up this pair (which I don’t like as much on my face because they’re kind of big, but which would still work). They were only $3 more and also come in other colors.
(I will note that both of these pairs have plastic nosepads, which are not historically accurate, but in general this is about as close as you’re going to get without actually seeking out reproduction frames.)
Get some the next time you feel the urge to stare disapprovingly over your spectacles at someone!
Once the dress was structurally complete I got started on the belt (which had to sit a certain way over the dress to look right). The original belt for the gown appears to have been made of metal links with a raised design on them– the belt wraps twice around the waist and ties in front with a length of twisted fabric.
Initially I thought I’d repurpose some belly-dancing belts with similar metal links to make my own belt, but they were pretty expensive and didn’t have the right overall look– too much filigree, not quite the right shape. I decided to make my own, because deciding to spend ridiculous amounts of time and effort to closely replicate a costume element that I’d intended to shortcut is apparently what I do.
Since I didn’t have the time, knowledge, or supplies to make my own stamped metal links (yet), I opted to use thick black cardstock– it’s called “museum board” and it’s pretty stiff while still being cuttable. I figured that once painted with metallic paint, the links would be close enough to pass for a stage costume.
Next up was the hat. The original hat (or a least one of the original hats shown in photos– there appear to be a few) was an almost lampshade-shaped straw hat:
Tough to find, particularly in winter, and hats can be expensive in vintage shops. Luckily, I found something very similar in the costume section on Ebay! It’s called a “coolie” hat (which I find kind of racist, for what it’s worth) and the photo was pretty close in terms of shape.
Of course, when it arrived it was a lot flimsier than the original hat looked to be, plus being more conical with a less defined crown. I decided to add some wire around the brim to stiffen it up– I unpicked the stitches holding the straw edge binding, then cut off about 3/4″ all around the edge (it was just a bit too big for my taste) before stitching some thick brass wire around the underside and reattaching the binding with hot glue.
To go with the “Bar” suit, I needed some bar-themed accessories that were in keeping with the overall look (so no shot-glass necklaces or coaster epaulettes).
I started with the handbag, which began life as an acrylic purse shaped like a perfume bottle.
It’s also shaped almost exactly like a bottle of Disaronno liqueur, so I decided to replace the “Paris” label with a faux Disaronno label to keep with the “bar” theme.
I took an image of the label and tweaked it to the proper dimensions (2.5″ wide x 2″ tall, in case you wanted to know), then printed it out onto ivory cardstock before filling in a few bits of color with a red pen.
As part of my Regency wardrobe, I wanted to make a white chemisette to fill in the necklines of some of my gowns– most notably the pashmina gown, which I specifically made for daywear.
Taking my cue from several other bloggers, I started off with the chemisette pattern A from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion I. It has a mostly-plain front with some tiny tucks at the shoulder line (not pictured in the illustration but they’re there in the instructions), and a triple-layered mushroom-pleated collar.
I did end up making a few structural edits– I widened the base width of the back, which otherwise would’ve been oddly pointy (and would not have matched the illustration at all), and did only two ruffles at the collar since my fabric was a bit heavier than what would’ve been used back then. And I didn’t bother cutting the neck band on the bias because it seemed wasteful and other chemisettes in the book had their neck bands cut on-grain, so it didn’t appear to be crucial.
Anyway, not having any graph paper on hand and not feeling inclined to figure out how to print out different sections of the original scanned pattern on different sheets of paper, I used a good old ruler and my knowledge of geometry to draw out the pattern for the chemisette. Honestly, I wouldn’t have done it if the pattern weren’t so simple, but at least on this occasion it worked out well.
The main body went together easily– I did a narrow double hem on the open sides and made my drawstring channels on the bottom with no problems. Then I had to figure out how to handle the neck ruffles.
To go with my fur-trimmed wrap I needed a hat to wear outside. Unlike all of my other bonnets, however (which are made of straw), this one needed to be winter-appropriate, so I took out my extra velvet fabric and got started.
I picked up a basic cloth-covered sun-hat at Goodwill (brand new, tags still on!), mostly to use its nice, wide brim.
I wanted the brim to frame my face without being too sunbonnet-y, and I wanted to have a nice big crown with room for a nice hairstyle that wouldn’t get squished. Something like this (apparently it’s called a capote):
I also really like the ruching on this bonnet from the 1995 Pride and Prejudice:
To go along with my winter Regency pashmina gown, I needed some winter-appropriate outerwear to take with me on the sleigh ride. However, I wasn’t up to sewing a pelisse from scratch in my limited timeframe, so I decided to wear a modern full-length black wool coat and just add a fancy fur-trimmed wrap to wear over it.
I wasn’t ready to learn how to sew real fur pelts, so at first I looked into faux fur; but when I added up the cost of an appropriately luxurious faux fur (the good stuff is expensive!), an outer layer, a lining, and an inner layer for warmth, it seemed like an awful lot of effort and money to sew something from scratch.
Since most of my Regency gowns were made for dance events or picnics, I’ve generally accessorized them with more formal items or bonnets. While these are appropriate for the occasion, I realize that I’ve been neglecting a standard piece of headwear for adult women– the cap.
Women (at least once married or deemed spinsters) would wear them pretty much all the time, whether alone (indoors) or under bonnets for outings. They could be made of plain or embroidered muslin, or even lace.
I thought that it might be nice to have one, either to cover up a not-so-historical hairstyle or just to add an extra touch of realism to an indoor outfit. The second cap pictured above is my favorite, with the embroidered net and delicate lace ruffles, so I started with that as my inspiration.
To make the neck ruff I did a little research about different methods of construction. Most costumers agreed that to make an authentic ruff, one needed to use starched linen and make stacked pleats to create the swirly-edged look. I was not about to do that, and decided that regular pleats would do just fine.
For this post I will refer to the parts and edges of the ruff this way: